A US Magic School History

Oftentimes, when I go to criticize something, I do so because I was really hoping that the product would be better. Why did GoT have to have more rape than the books? Why can’t a woman-loving-woman survive this season? When I get truly disgruntled, I begin thinking of ways to fix the problems. Last time, I ranted about J.K. Rowling’s Ilvermoarnuy (okay, I still haven’t learned how to type that). And since I have such issues with it, my imagination is determined to spin up a ‘what could have been’ for a US-centric wizarding school system that brings its history into play. (US-centric because they didn’t really teach Canadian or Mexican histories in my schools and this subject alone is so massive that I worry about tackling it in one post).

Okay, ahem—

Let’s start with, there were no magic schools before Europeans came over because they weren’t needed. Native tribes taught magic to their children in the fashion their culture dictated and that worked for them. Oh, and since I’m changing stuff up, we’re going to implement this rule–Magic does not need a fucking wand. A wand is a tool to strengthen your magic. Native tribes had (and have) their own instruments to assist their magic users.

Colonization begins. Seeking a place safe from the scrutiny and persecution of their homeland, a group of young British wizards settled deep in the Massachusetts forests around 1637. As time goes on, young magical students who need them managed to stumble their way into town and in 1654, the town establishes the first magic school in the colonies. (This town’s name, btw, shall be Arkham. Yes, Lovecraft’s Arkham. He came across it one day, stayed a while, saw a bunch of weird shit, and a wizard incorrectly modified his memory–unable to get it all. It left Lovecraft a little messed up).

The Massachusetts school grows as the nation does, sending letters to students who live all throughout British American colonies. Problems in the wizarding community arose when the slave trade brought so many people to America that there was a substantial amount of magical children born to owned parents. Abolitionist and equal rights wizards argued that the children deserved to be taught at the Massachusetts school, but slave-owning wizards and their supporters argue that those children shouldn’t be taught at all. In 1817, the southern wizards establish a school in Georgia (in the woods somewhere between Atlanta and Athens). They claim it’s because the northern school is overcrowded and just too far away to send their children. Only a fool considers that the only reasons and tensions in the wizarding community mirror growing tensions in the US Congress.

In 1819, another school is founded outside New Orleans with the sole purpose of training young black wizards. The founders of this school chose a secluded spot in Louisiana’s swamps and to this day, the school has a reputation of having the best protective wards. No one has ever stumbled across this school on accident and the students have always felt safe here. Two years after the Civil War ended, this school announced itself at a meeting of the Americas High Council and demanded the same rights and privileges as the other schools. Only ignorant textbooks will claim that the school began in 1867 (though that misinformation was spread in the wizarding community for a long time).

As pioneers expanded westward, the wizarding communities followed. Several villages were founded on the principles of ‘utopia,’ but most of these failed. One that worked was not too far from St. Louis. Since the crowding of the east coast and the hunt for opportunities drove so many westward, these wizards realized that both the Massachusetts and Georgia schools were too far away and too likely to be overcrowded quickly. They began a new school in 1854.

With continued population growth and the migration westward, even the St. Louis and New Orleans school quickly became overcrowded. In 1871, a new school was founded outside San Fransisco. For the first time, the school’s students were not predominantly one color or another. Not even one culture dominated this school, creating a mixture of Chinese, Irish, Black, Southern, and Northern cultures. (Causing the seniors of 1899 to declare the Year of Celebration, having at least one day a week where they skipped class to celebrate one of the many holidays.)

And yet still there were students who needs weren’t being met. With the dramatic changes to the Native tribes’ populations, there was a fear that their way of magic would be lost entirely. At the same time, many Hispanic wizards believed that the other schools weren’t providing their children with the education they wanted. Two prominent wizards met at one of the Americas High Council meetings and after an all-night discussion, came to the conclusion that they could help each other out. They co-founded a school in northern New Mexico in 1896.

–so that’s one idea for the founding of six major magic schools (meaning that they have more than 100 students per year taught) of the US. (I did see a post on tumblr that suggested four or five schools, but it only went into locations (the only specific one they mentioned was New Orleans I think) so that was one of the seeds for this history as well (and sorry I can’t remember where I saw it)). There ought to be several smaller schools as well, due to philosophical differences if nothing else. Maybe sometime in the future, I’ll go into how the 20th century changed the wizarding schools and what they ought to look like today.

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The Anti-Ilvermoarnyey Rant

Okay, so I can’t help it. Everyone’s all excited about the new Pottermore reveals and honestly, each one has been pissing me off more and more. Chatter would have you believe that Potter-universe is a deep, wonderfully magical place, but there are giant holes and gaps that increase each time that Rowling posts a new bit.

All of my problems with the recent additions have to deal with J.K. Rowling’s blatant ignorance of American cultural history and present (something pointed out since the first posting). Sure, she wrote up a new magic school and you can get sorted into one of Ilvormony’s (is that misspelled? Not sure. Don’t care) houses! It ought to be cool as an American to have a piece of Potter-verse on our doorstep instead of being completely ignored (I mean, did the US, Canada, or Mexico get even one mention? What about the rest of the world?). Unfortunately, the new houses are stolen from indigenous tribes’ religions! As that second link points out, the ‘history’ that Rowling was setting up for North American wizarding world’s relations to indigenous tribes was bad enough in the first place, but this reinforcement is terrible.

Perhaps as bad as the Ilvermoney’s (Did I get it that time?) houses is the ‘histories.’ First, there’s no distinction made between Canada, US, and Mexico. We’re all lumped together as ‘North America.’ Time frames where incredible amounts of change happened are lumped together and glossed over that the lack of details makes the fiction meaningless. Harry Potter’s wizarding world has always been removed from the ‘Muggle’ or ‘No-Maj’ world (which, okay, what the hell? How does ‘No magic’ become ‘No-Maj’ and why is North America using a different name anyway? A multitude of languages has always been spoken on this continent, but if we’re predominately English, French, and Spanish speakers, why aren’t we using Muggle or another language’s word? No one would reinvent the wheel. If Muggle’s the Brit word since forever, then our word should be at least related to it.) Ahem, anyway, magic history and muggle history often seem divided, which honestly makes the wizards seem rather stupid. Why doesn’t Mr. Weasley know how to work the damn Tube station? People manage initial contact with the concept without having a teenager describe it to them. But particularly in the case of US history, divorcing the magic and muggle worlds is a huge slap in the face. Consider, for a second, coming from Virginia in the Civil War and getting a letter telling you to go north to learn how to deal with this weird crap you’ve been doing. Or being a slave-child or coming from a reservation and going to school that tells you ‘Never share your power with your (filthy) Muggle parents!’ Those examples are from over a hundred years ago, sure, but recent considerations aren’t much better. Conflicts were numerous (and ongoing) when America began desegregation, didn’t this affect the magic school as well? Everyone just, got along?

Oh, yeah, and despite the population of an entire continent, we only have one wizarding school? Where does that begin to make sense? My imagination has been running away with me on what America’s wizarding history ought to look like, and I can come up with six schools and one university just for the US. I will admit too much ignorance in Mexican and Canadian histories to write up schools for them as well.

I just find it completely ironic that Rowling’s twitter has been exploding with Brexit texts this week, even ones calling out racism, and she (and whoever’s beta-ing this shit) has completely participated in cultural erasure. As an anthropologist, I’m angry at the disregard for myth structures. As a writer, I’m angry at the lazy world-building. As a reasonable human being, I’m freaking pissed at the mistreatment of non-white culture. Stay as excited as you want to about the new products being unveiled this year, but this has firmly placed Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them in my “Do Not Watch” list.

Preacher: Take Me to Church

I’m sure in recent weeks the pun on Hozier’s song and AMC’s new show Preacher has been made more than a few times, but I couldn’t resist the urge. There’s something about the slow, steady rhythm and blasphemous nature of ‘Take Me to Church’ that fits right in line with the attitude and delivery of Preacher.

That delivery is amazing so far. I’ve enjoyed the show so much that I’m having hard time finding a place to start talking about it. The episodes are tense, character-driven, cinematic beauties with a dark humor and a flair for violence. What could wind up being ridiculously unbelievable characters are acted (and directed and written) with just enough down-to-Earthness to make the ludicrous things that happen sympathetic. Cassidy is just a fun loving guy (well, vampire) that just happens to wind up in these terribly bloody fights. Tulip is smart, clever, and completely capable of getting whatever she wants in a scene (respect, a map, surviving) except for Jesse. And Jesse wants a quiet no-hassle life but people won’t stop pushing for him to do his new job and he feels compelled to protect innocents.

I’ve only seen the first three episodes so far, but there’s some great dynamics happening with the main three characters and the other lead supporting cast. The relationship between Tulip and Jesse is the hardest to figure out so far, but that’s half the point of the presentation. The audience meets Tulip in the middle of a fight, who then goes on to prepare for the next wave of attack, protect a couple of kids by getting them out of harm’s way before the fight even starts, and then she’s off. While she gives a small speech about love during all of this, she never brings up Jesse’s name or any details about this ex of her. That part becomes clear later on. Without this early scene, she’d likely come off as the psych-exgirlfriend. She still does in some of her scenes with Jesse, but bits and pieces of their past are coming to light through the show and it’s obvious that something deeply traumatic and wrong happened–something that pushed Jesse away from their old lives and made Tulip cling to it and her mental image of Jesse even harder. There’s unfinished business and Tulip seems to need Jesse to complete, not because she needs her man, but because he was there when the business started. All parties need to be there to see it through–including Jesse if she has to drag him back kicking and screaming (which she just might at this point…) So, really, the greatest part of Tulip and Jesse’s relationship is the fact that it pulls double duty as a plot.

One of the other fantastic aspects of the show is the sets and cinematography. Like other AMC shows (Walking Dead and Hell on Wheels come to mind), Preacher‘s not afraid to use longer, wider shots. Instead of bouncing from face to face, as most shows do during conversations, Jesse and Cassidy lounge on pews, furniture, whatever’s handy. The show loves to feature the long, dusty road up to church. You get to see Jesse’s truck sitting in the background when he goes into a place. Basically, there’s a strong sense of world in this show that helps envelop you in its reality.

I’m really liking this show so far and hopefully we’ll get many more seasons of Preacher (and hopefully it doesn’t eventually disappoint like some things). Definitely go check out the first few episodes on amc.com or double check your On Demand for access.

Didn’t see this coming

Urban Fantasy is a genre filled with wizards and witches, vampires and werewolves, monsters and heroes. There’s so many books in this genre that it can be hard to find one, or even a series, that can keep entertaining for more than a few pages. Everyone seems to need a gimmick and that can make the world setting either unbearable or inconsistent. About eight months ago I stumbled upon the Alex Verus series by Benedict Jacka. Almost literally too–I was in the library and just happened to pick it off the shelf to see what it was like.

In many ways, Verus is just like a lot of others in the genre. He’s a loner wizard with a couple of friends, a little bit of magic, and even more powerful enemies. However, he stands out in a lot of ways. Instead of becoming a massive superpower inside of a few books, Verus has actually been losing power in some ways. The books have been more about stripping Verus down until he’s relying solely on himself. His wits in the climatic moment have been the solution far more times than any grand plan (like Dresden) or sheer magical ability (like the Iron Druid or Anita Blake). Verus is a reactionary character, which is sort of ironic considering his magical power is divination.

That’s the beauty of the world setting here, too. Divination can be a tricky, tricky magic to have and that’s Verus’s one trick. In his world, if you’re good at one magic, you tend to only have the one magic. It seems to break down into mental abilities versus elemental abilities and about the only thing that can be used by most mages are gate spells, but that’s not something Verus can actually do on his own. Divination, or at least Verus’s understanding of it, doesn’t seem to lend itself to the gate magic very well. He also has a hard time looking far into the future because of a very basic world setting rule: Everyone’s got free will. This rule means that until someone makes a decision, it’s impossible to know what they’re going to do exactly. Verus’s magic runs more along the lines of predictions and probable outcomes–his magic basically makes it easier to compute what people are going to do given certain variables. In a conversation that can be tough, since people’s word choices change how the dialogue would go. Combat situations or long searches are easier for him to predict because the cause and effects are more formulaic.

One of the other big details I’ve noticed about Alex Verus is that it’s not very hard to interpret the character as asexual. Sure, a couple of times Verus has found a woman attractive, but he’s never really flirted with them. His bed’s unoccupied except for himself and that doesn’t seem to bother him in the least bit. (In fact, he’s so used to sleeping alone and being alone in his flat that in like book 2 or 3 it throws him off when someone’s sleeping out in the living room). Verus doesn’t go on for great lengths on how attractive the people in his world are. He doesn’t have a long list of ex-partners that crop up and make his life hell. Hell, in the seven books that are out so far, Alex hasn’t mentioned ex-partners, or trying to date. At this point in most series, the protag has had notable on page sex, but not Alex. He seems to like Anne and possibly wouldn’t mind coming to some sort of romantic situation with her, but he’s not obsessed with any one part of her anatomy. When she’s reintroduced each time, there’s no overture of how sexy she is and how much he can’t stop thinking of her. She’s simply Anne. The only key to how much Alex likes her is relayed through others, who point out that everyone else believes Anne is downright creepy. Alex never sees that in her, just treats her like a person like everyone else. There’s only one character in the series that has gotten the ‘attractive’ character tag multiple times in a row and Alex turns that around saying that the woman is the kind of attractive that makes her super-intimidating. The only other woman to which Alex showed a bit of obvious attraction turned out to be a charm mage–meaning that she was manipulating Alex’s hormones and brain waves into liking her (which when he figures that out makes her suddenly unattractive to him). In a genre where characters are often bumping uglies when they’re not dealing with monsters, Alex stands apart. I’m not sure the author intended for this to be true about Alex, but I’m going to keep my fingers crossed and hope Alex stays this way.

The series does have some downsides (somehow, for being full of Brits, my brain isn’t translating them that way. It could be American bias, but I’m thinking there’s something about the syntax that’s just slightly off), so it’s far from a perfect read, but if you’re looking for something a little different in a genre filled with fairies, fireballs, and overwhelming odds, Alex Verus might just be the breath of fresh air you’re looking for.

Houdini & Doyle

All right, so Houdini & Doyle has started playing in the USA on Fox. I first heard about the show back at 221B Con at the beginning of April. The show premiered over in the UK first and is re-airing over here. I don’t mind the delay, really. The original broadcast was back in March, which would have been lousy timing since like all of television was coming back for their final halves. I probably would have over looked this drama and never realized the fun I missed out on.

Because that’s the first thing I noticed about the show, it’s fun. In an era of too many detective shows and too many supernatural elements, finding an enjoyable take on the genre can be a challenge. But Houdini & Doyle does its best to escape from repetitive dullness of the case-of-the-week formula with engaging, complex characters. The main cast captivates, but so do the side characters. This last week we got more details about the police chief and what’s likely to be a recurring plot with Houdini’s mother.

Of course, the really intriguing ones are Houdini, Doyle, and Constable Adelaide Stratton. The show focuses on these three characters and their evolving relationship as Houdini and Doyle assist the police investigations into crimes where the ‘supernatural’ may occur. Doyle is attempting to prove the supernatural each time and Houdini is trying to disprove it. In a lot of ways, it’s like putting Richard Castle and Adrian Monk head to head while giving Detective Juliet O’Hara (Psych) the lead on the case. In the show, Doyle and Houdini share an adversarial friendship so that even when they disagree (which is about every time one of them opens their mouth about the case) they still display a healthy amount of respect. After gushing at their first meeting, Stratton shows them the same respect, often being the one who will engage with both the supernatural or mundane explanations. The other two might be the initial draw, but without Stratton in the mix, this could easily become another too-quirky buddy-cop dramedy (like Battle Creek or The Good Guys).

One of the things that keeps the trio interesting is also the limits and abilities of each character. You could make a character sheet easily out of what we’ve seen so far. Houdini, naturally, knows how to lockpick, pickpocket, escape bonds, and a host of other tricks involved with his time on stage. Doyle has medical knowledge and research skills. Stratton has her police knowledge and access to those records. They wind up complimenting each other beyond personality and even into their abilities, creating a much more cohesive investigation team.

The show takes place in the early 20th century, a notably sexist time frame, and instead of ignoring this, the show has made opened commentary on it. We as an audience know when Doyle and Houdini are sent to Stratton that it’s because no one is taking her or them seriously. Stratton even directly addresses this point. And she even points out when they whack her with a paradox when interviewing a particular witness, “So if I fail, it’s because I’m a bad investigator, but if I succeed it’s because I’m a woman?” Doyle and Houdini like to puff themselves up on occasion as being defenders of women, but they’re quickly called out on their microagressions as well. At the same time, this element of the storytelling isn’t overdone. It’s there and acknowledged, but not to the almost teeth-grinding way Agent Carter addressed the same topics.

We’re already in the middle of the season with only six more episodes to air. I’m already keeping my fingers crossed for a second season. It’s been a while since I’ve enjoyed intelligent dialogue and interesting characters and I’m hoping the rest of the show won’t disappoint.