No two wizards are alike. When the first Harry Potter novel landed on American and British bookshelves, it carried two titles: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in the states, and Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone across the pond. However slight the verbiage may be, it marked the first point of diversion between two types of wizards: those who practice magic in Europe, and those who do so in North America.
With Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them arriving in theaters, we thought it a good time to delineate the differences between both parties. For the past 15 years, we’ve enjoyed "living" in Hogwarts, Hogsmeade and the Ministry of Magic, but director David Yates’ latest movie demands that we divert our attention to New England, where we’ll meet Newt Scamander and the rest of his ragtag team. It’s a brave new world, one that is similar but distinct.
Here are the 15 Differences Between American and British Wizards:
North America was discovered not by Amerigo Vespucci or Christopher Columbus, but by the wizarding community, long before 1492. Indeed, many wizards and witches across Europe had engaged with the Native Americans before beginning their mass migration to the “New World.”
In her chronicles, The History of Magic in North America, J.K. Rowling briefly mentions the struggles for European emigrants to adapt to this untamed land: “…They had come to a country with few amenities, except those they made themselves.” Back in the mainland, wizards simply had to pop in at the local Apothecary to stock up on potions, but in America, they had to make sense of the many foreign plants and vegetation before them. These pilgrims had no resident wandmakers, no trusted communities, and hardly any of the luxuries found back home. Still, while the wizarding world had a rough start in America, it didn’t take long for them to make it their home.
Throughout the original Harry Potter novels, much hullabaloo has been made about Muggles, but none of that fervor can eclipse the Internet-based outrage over the word “No-Maj.” The hyphenated term speaks to non-magical Americans born to two equally non-magical parents.
Indeed, legions of fans have rejected J.K. Rowling’s American lexicon, with some Twitter users claiming “no-maj” simply sounds like a washed-up ‘90s rapper. To be fair, while Muggle is a charming and evocative word, American linguistics are typically less endearing than their English counterparts. After all, we can only thank those in the UK for popularizing terms like “snog,” against which no American counterpart can effectively compete.
Since no magical spells could quell the “no-maj” uproar, Daniel Radcliffe himself took the stage to seek a peace treaty. “I have no strong opinions about this. We have different words in England, so it makes perfect sense that there should be a different word for it in America.” Wherever you stand on the issue, know that “no-Maj” sounds like Shakespeare compared to some of the House names at Ilvermony. More on that in a moment.
The humble beginnings of magic in North America extend to the formation of Ilvermorny, the distant cousin of Hogwarts (and over 600 years younger). High atop the peak of Mount Greylock in Massachusetts lies the great North American school of magic. Like many other constructions in the wizarding world, the famed academy is hidden to the No-Maj eye thanks to ancient enchantments (that are known to appear in the form of a cloud layer).
Though the academic fortress is a secret, the history surrounding it is well established. Unlike the regal history behind Hogwarts, Ilvermorny started in a small cottage with two young students and a faculty of one. The story begins with Isolt Sayre, a lowly Irish-born orphan who found her way to the Americas via the Mayflower. After a series of twists, turns and disappearances, Isolt married a No-Maj, James Steward, with whom she adopted and raised two magically-gifted boys, Chadwick and Webster Boot. Though Isolt was unable to immediately acquire wands for her sons, she established Ilvermorny (named after the home in which her parents were killed) and watched it thrive in the decades to come. She, James and their sons each named one of the four houses in the school.
Ilvermorny embodies the cross-pollination between J.K. Rowling’s The History of Magic in North America and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (her writings on Pottermore serving as a wonderful appetizer before the upcoming movies). When Isolt and her family were tasked with the responsibility of naming the houses of Ilvermorny, they elected to do so based off their favorite magical creatures. Chadwick chose the Thunderbird, while Webster went with the Wampus (a nearly invincible panther-like animal).
As for the founder of Ilvermorny, Isolt named her house after the Horned Serpent, a figure near and dear to her heart. James, however, struggled with the selection and made the snap decision of calling the fourth house Pukwudgie, after a creature that closely resembles a goblin. Just when everyone thought Hufflepuff could not be outdone, James came through with a real doozy.
As for students being accepted into each of these however, however, a key difference remains. Unlike Hogwarts, there is no sorting hat, but a large Gordian Knot symbol upon which the students must stand. The “enchanted carvings” of this relic will then declare the child’s house, unless all four symbols compete for the student (this happens only once per decade).
The success of the wizarding community in the new world was largely owed to the Native Americans. As European immigrants discovered, the denizens had such command of magic that they could operate without the assistance of wands. Indeed, wandless magic has been featured on several occasions in Harry Potter, like when Voldemort was up to no good, or that time Dumbledore saved a free-falling Harry from certain doom.
Rowling herself notes that the ability to practice wandless magic is usually a hallmark of the world's most accomplished witches and wizards. While the Native Americans were able to practice magic without wands, they ultimately determined that in order to produce effective charms and enhance their transfiguration, they would need wands of their own. Later, students from the Wampanoag and the Narragansett tribes were instrumental in forming the first major graduating classes at Ilvermorny. In exchange for learning the technique and rudiments of wandwork, the Native Americans revealed their most ancient spells and secrets to the teachers and pupils of the academy.
Though Quidditch has existed in North American wizarding circles for centuries (and just became a very real professional sport outside the wizarding world), Quodpot remains the fan favorite sport. The eponymous “Quod” functions quite like the quaffle, except this American variation is essentially a ticking time bomb. Two teams of eleven race to get the explosively-charged quod inside the proverbial pot before it blows, and as soon as it's accomplished, the quod's detonator is neutralized via a carefully-crafted serum. That’s only the beginning, however, as new quods are brought onto the field of play each time a point is scored.
The genesis for this bonkers and patently dangerous game started with the bumbling Abraham Peasegood. In seeking to assemble an American Quidditch team, the British recruiter accidentally touched his wand against the quaffle, effectively turning it into an airborne explosive. As soon as it got passed around between parties, the quaffle combusted and left Peasegood wearing the damages. Rather than be embarrassed, the man recognized an opportunity for invention and established Quodpot, or Quidditch on steroids.
The history of American wizards and witchcraft is marked with chaos. In 1790, an executive order was instituted by Emily Rappaport, head of the Magical Congress of the United States of America (MACUSA). Named after the leader herself, Rappaport’s Law affirmed the absolute segregation of the wizarding world from No-Maj communities.
This wizardly version of the “separation of church and state” was created in the aftermath of a romance gone wrong between a comely witch, Dorcus Twelvetrees, and her intolerant No-Maj lover, Bartholomew Bareborn. Dorcus, the daughter of a high-ranking MACUSA official, got lost in her emotions and told Bartholomew a great many secrets of the wizarding world, even revealing the location of Ilvermorny itself. Little did she know that her boyfriend was a distant relative of the Scourers, a group of overzealous witchhunters bent on catching criminals, or as J.K. Rowling confirms, “anyone who might be worth some gold.” Armed with a righteous indignation, Bartholomew turns the tables on Dorcus, steals her wand, and tells all of her secrets to the American press corps.
Though the damage was ultimately contained, this incident was deeply embarrassing to all involved, especially the MACUSA. Henceforth, Rappaport’s Law was built to prevent such a scenario from ever happening again, and wizards and No-Majs were kept apart.
In The Crucible, Arthur Miller captured the very worst of the Salem witch trials. Unfortunately, the same hysteria from 1692 and 1693 continues in early 20th Century America, where a group known as the New Salem Philanthropic Society is alive and well. Don’t let the word “Philanthropic” fool you, because the Second Salemers make it their life mission to search out and kill wizards and witches across America. This cabal of No-Maj’s not only know about and believe in wizards and witches, but they follow their daring leader, Mary Lou (Samantha Morton) and her son, Credence (Ezra Miller), as they seek to expunge the wizarding world from the United States of America. Like the Puritans in the 1690s, whose prosecutions resulted in the deaths of 20 people, these No-Maj’s will stop at nothing.
As it turns out, the Second Salemers are the malicious descendants of an equally repugnant group, one that was active during the Salem witch trials of the late 17th Century: The Scourers.
While the Salem witch trials were a stain on American history, they were a rallying cry for the wizarding world to band together. Indeed, as J.K. Rowling reveals, many of the victims in 1693 were witches, while other casualties were innocent bystanders caught in the madness. In the early days of the American wizarding community, there was no sanctioned form of law enforcement, no police task force to protect their people.
The need for defense resulted in the involvement of the Scourers, a band of tyrannical vigilantes who acted with immunity, tracking down criminals and anyone deemed a threat to wizards and witches. Unfortunately, the Scourers' absolute power led to absolute corruption, and their numbers swelled throughout the colonies. “Such Scourers enjoyed bloodshed and torture, and even went so far as trafficking their fellow wizards,” Rowling reveals. Indeed, it has been proven that several of the “Puritan” judges in the Salem witch trials were in fact Scourers, traitors of an egregious order. As we’ll likely learn in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, the Scourers continue their covert reign.
Casting is underway for the young Albus Dumbledore in the Fantastic Beasts sequel, as well it should be. This wizarding clan is not only a fixture of Hogwarts, but they are integral parts of the North American magical scene, as well. While seemingly everyone knows all about the one who beat Grindelwald, most may be unaware that he also has distinct ties to the United States of America.
Kendra Dumbledore, Albus’ dear mother, has been described as looking Native American. Indeed, while gazing at a photo of the Dumbledore clan, Harry Potter also thought Kendra’s visage had a “carved quality” to it. If The Boy Who Lived is right, then Albus’ mother may actually have American roots, therefore making the headmaster of Hogwarts a naturalized American citizen. Though he has debuted a thickly British accent in the movies, you can bet Albus’ popularity will only grow if his heritage is revealed to have ties to the USA -- a reveal that would make all the more sense of his inclusion in Fantastic Beasts 2.
The wizarding community doesn’t consist solely of darkness and suppression, of course. According to J.K. Rowling, the magical world in North America is filled with far less prejudicial angst and discord than in Europe. As Hermione Granger and many others will declare, racial standards of being a “pureblood” are a major part of the British wizarding conversation. The Malfoys and Voldemort himself have needlessly sought to uphold bloodlines and ensure the perfection of wizard and witch reproduction.
Who do we have to thank for the lessened bigotry? Ironically enough, the Salem witch trials proved so devastating to magical morale that it drove countless wizards and witches to abandon America altogether and reside elsewhere around the world. Through the 1800s, North America contained the smallest population of wizards of any country on the planet, so pure-bloods were few and far between. As a result, an dramatic increase in No-Maj-born wizards and witches flooded the Americas and helped normalize the culture of miscegenation.
Following the enormous security breach courtesy of Dorcus Twelvetrees (whose first name fittingly became associated with a fool), all wizards and witches had to register their wands and acquire a permit to use them. The intention behind this mass registration was to keep tabs on everyone and hold the magical community accountable for their actions.
While Ollivanders was the monopolist wandmaker in Britain, the North American wand market was quite competitive. With four different makers in all, curious buyers had their pick of the lot. Shikoba Wolfe made wands particularly suited to Transfigurers (made out of Thunderbird feathers), Thiago Quintana made his out of the spines of White River Monsters, Johannes Jonker featured wands with a mother-of pearl core, and Violetta Beauvais' creations were compromised of what J.K. Rowling describes as, “swamp mayhaw wood.” Rumor has it that Ms. Beauvais’ wands were particularly in demand with more nefarious clients and those who practice the dark arts.
There’s the American dollar and the English pound sterling. Stateside, we have pennies, while the UK has pence. British wizards have Galleons, Knuts and Sickles, while American wizards use the Dragot (presented in both octagonal and circular coins) and the Sprink (presumably a subunit of the larger currency). If the Dragot reminds you of another form of money, it should, because the ancient Greek word for coin is “drachma.” In revealing the primary currency for the American wizarding world, J.K. Rowling also tells us that the Keeper of Dragots has basically the same job as the United States Secretary of the Treasury.
Though we don’t know much else about the economics of American wizardry, we’re confident we’ll learn more in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. And since the British have Gringotts Vault, we’re crossing our fingers that the Keeper of Dragots oversees an equally fascinating, roller coaster ride-worthy bank.
Butterbeer is a necessary part of Hogsmeade, and in America, many wizards enjoyed the occasional (or frequent) celebratory spirit. Thanks to the strict era of Prohibition, however, it wasn’t an easy choice to allow wizards and witches to continue drinking alcohol. Given the many laws in place for their protection, the magical community strived to live silently alongside their No-Maj counterparts, most of whom were as sober as could be.
Thanks to Seraphina Picquery, President of the MACUSA from 1920-1928, alcohol remained a certifiable right. Knowing the difficult life of persecution and fear that many wizards and witches faced, Picquery mandated that alcohol be available to all, stating, “The Gigglewater is non-negotiable.” Given her otherwise serious nature, this jovial affirmation of the people made Picquery quite popular in certain circles. As for the beverage itself, Gigglewater is true to its name and guaranteed to give the imbiber fits of gut-busting laughter. Who could ban such a thing?
Essentially the western equivalent of the Ministry of Magic in London, the Magical Congress of the United States of America (MACUSA) operates in New York City, the cultural hub of the world. Housed within the Woolworth Building, the MACUSA (pronounced like yakuza) was established in response to the tragedies of the Salem Witch Trials. Born out of necessity, the MACUSA was the first formal government to be built in the United States, beating the Founding Fathers to the punch by the better part of a century.
To maintain secrecy and allow room for its many stories and departments, the MACUSA has moved five times in its history, from the Appalachian Mountains, to Virginia, Baltimore, and Washington before landing in the Big Apple after the Great Sasquatch Rebellion of 1892 (a story for another day). Rest assured, our new protagonist, Newt Scamander, will surely be visiting the MACUSA as he seeks out those fantastic beasts.
What other traits define American wizards from their British counterparts? Let us know in the comments!
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them arrives in theaters on November 18th, 2016.