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.

Demons and Dialects and Writing

Right, so recently I started the rewrite of Possession and Other Invitations. I’m taking the story slow this time and making sure to compile all the needed notes for things that–well most of this will never get a mention, but there’s something gratifying about being able to answer literally anything about my story and world setting. This doesn’t mean I’m writing every little thing down. I focus on crafting the world setting guidelines. See, with enough principles in place, knowing every detail is easily done and doesn’t actually take up that much headspace (which when you’ve got multiple worlds competing for brain power, simplicity is a mind saver).

I made a heinous mistake in my last draft of the book when I didn’t name the infernal dialect used by the demon in the opening scene. So, I started digging through what I knew about my world and researching languages. Since I was talking the other night to my friend about how I developed character and world together for Starfell, I thought I’d share a bit of my process on how world setting and ideas affected each other to establish a world setting rule in Possession and Other Invitations.

All right, first step in adding new world building–decide which rules are relevant. World settings are huge vast, things, and while most rules will interplay, it’s easier to start with the basic block and then build up from there. In this case, languages spoken by demons, the building begins with Belief = Power. The second being Low Level Psychic Fields Exist.

Those two rules affect nearly every decision made about the world setting and are the basis for the magic system in Possession. See, the idea is that the more something is believed, the more likely it is to be true. You get enough people thinking the same thing and it starts warping reality to that thing. The opposite is true, too. If too many people don’t believe in something, it gets nearly impossible. The magic system example I like to use is a fireball. People–even the wizards of the Society–don’t believe that magic fireballs are possible in our world. That shared thought/belief creates a psychic field which in turn helps the physics of the world stay in place. Okay, that’s something that gets harder, what gets easier? Well, there’s a lot more people believing in ghosts and the ability to talk to the dead. Get a room with the right people and the right mood and contacting the dead is like flipping a switch.

Okay, I’ve got to add in the rules The Spiritual Plane Is Linked To Our World and Belief = Greater Power in Spiritual Plane. While the Spiritual Plane exists on its own, it’s highly influenced by the world. In fact, Religions have enough psychic fields behind them to create realms inside the Spiritual Plane. Possession‘s world has a multitude of Heavens, Hells, Purgatories, Nirvanas, and other after-mortal-life areas.

How does all this affect language choice? Well, Religion is a cultural aspect (see another rule slip in there?) and culture is passed from person to person primarily through language. Language then becomes a part of that psychic field that has an effect on the Spiritual Plane. That part of the plane is influenced to adapt to the language component. So human languages are spoken in the Spiritual Plane. However, many people think that demonic/angelic/other worldly languages are going to sound different, which has also had power over how the denizens of the Spiritual Plane speak.

That all sounds a bit obtuse, doesn’t it? I’ll run through an example.

Catholicism is a large, multi-cultural, international religion. In modern era, masses are said in local dialects and the religion will take on cultural aspects from where it’s being practiced. But Latin is still an important language to the religion and is still used for some ceremonies. Latin helps bind a few of the bigger Catholic concepts (one God, redemption through Christ, Heaven for the saved, Hell for the unrepentant) and gives the large psychic field a strong foundation. So, Latin is spoken in those related Hells, Heavens, and Purgatories. In fact, the older a demon (or angel for that matter) is, the more likely it will speak a dialect of Latin–assuming it lives in one of those related realms. If it comes from, say, an older Lutheran realm, it’s more likely to know a dialect of German.

I say dialect because it won’t be exactly Latin. First of all, there is no exact. There’s a standardized version, but each place that speaks it will have variance. The same is true of the Spiritual Plane. Demonic dialects of Latin are going to snarl, hiss, and spit more than the standardized according to region. The specifics of their dialects are going to be based on region. So if there’s, say, Seven Layers of Hell, the First Layer is going to have differences from those demons in the Seventh. To an outsider, it’d be like picking out the difference between the Midwestern Illinois Dialect versus the Chicagoland Dialect. A lot of it comes down to word choice (like soda versus pop), but get someone talking long enough and you’ve got an idea of where they come from. A skilled exorcist, like Wes in Possessions, is going to need to be a linguist as well. While some basic chants will work, an exorcism is going to be more efficient if the demon is bound in its native language. That’s going to take some knowledge and a keen ear.

Knowing all of this is going to help me create a naming system, so that the next time I need to name a dialect, or hell to even know what language is important, it’ll be a bit of research and then bam! idea. Uh, this was also a glimpse into the insanity of how detailed my brain can get on a subject. Deepening world setting can be easy if keep asking ‘why does it work this way?’ That’s all I did here. Just a repetitive cycles of ‘whys’ until I understood Possession‘s world that much more. Thanks for reading. Got any interesting world building factoids of your own?

Dark Angel, A transgenic soap opera worth hunting

Okay, so, a friend and I are pretty huge Jensen Ackles fans and a couple months back I pointed out that he was in the show Dark Angel. She, wanting so badly to rewatch it again anyway, bought up copies of the DVDs and we were set to go. I was expecting to have to hold my sides and groan through the whole thing, bearing through it just to get some glimpses of an actor I liked watching. After all, I’d already put myself through Shark Attack 3 for John Barrowman, Red Faction Origins for Gareth David-Lloyd, and The Grudge for Sarah Michelle Gellar. So what the hell, I figured, why not?

However, Dark Angel turned out to be an amazing gem. Sure, it’s got its imperfections, but there’s a whole lot of good going on in it too.

Let’s start with some of that good. Dark Angel is set in the not-so-distant future (having been made/written during the early ’00’s, that means it’d be happening about, oh five years from now…) in a post-Apocalyptic Seattle. The cause of this little Apocalypse was something referred to as the Pulse–when a giant EM bomb catastrophe happened over most major cities. This event’s the background radiation of the entire show. It’s why everything’s run down, why it’s a big deal if you can manage gas, why resources are something that the characters continually struggle with. It creates a world setting in which characters struggle to survive, complimenting the main character Max’s struggles too.

Another awesome aspect is the diversity of characters. In the first season, for main cast regular characters, you’ve got a three main women and four main men. The second season sees that skew to two and five, which was a disappointment. However, not everyone in the background or filling up the guest spots is a cis het white dude (I’m pointing at you, season 9 Supernatural and so many other mainstream shows.) Plus, the show gave us Original Cindy, the only black lesbian on a cable television show I can name. (Hell, I keep up on way too many tv shows to count and sadly could name off probably less than ten queer characters on current running programs.)

Okay, so one of the negatives. The show writers (or maybe the control of the producers on the writers?) created some of the most cliched lines and plots that the world has seen. I’m all for being able to predict what’s coming next–that’s simply good storytelling really–but Dark Angel severely lacked some original plot ideas. Part of the problem was the focus on the Max/Logan relationship and making sure that didn’t work. These two characters then wind up in an emotional stand-still, forced into wanting each other always ’cause of the script and the writers/producers/someone-in-charge not letting them move on. That wound up creating a lot of wasted story time. The government conspiracy plots were laid on thick too, and the secret cult of season 2 that had been around for virtually forever was, well, bland. It feels like the PTB of the show concluded that it was going to be around for at least three or four seasons and so allowed plots to develop too slowly. That allowed for too much mystery and not enough answers or even building towards solutions. Characters often repeated themselves for four or five episodes about their opinions on a certain plot and when the plot’s already so cliche it stings, that doesn’t help.

Back to the good. The actors, nearly every single one of ’em even when you include the recurring/guest ones, actually manage to pull of the stereotypical characters. While the lines sometimes make you want to groan, roll your eyes, or shove your face into a pillow, the actors did their best to make you believe these were real people with real problems. They interacted well with one another and very rarely did it ever feel like the actors talked *at* each other instead of *to* each other. Acting is like playing catch–one actor pitches the line at the other, that actor corresponds by reacting to the line and pitching it back. In scenes with a large amount of actors, that can get way more complicated, but the Jam Pony scenes always had energy, atmosphere, and believability–no matter what crazy ass plot was going on that week. I think, now that I’m done with the show, I’m going to wind up missing Jam Pony the most, because you don’t get massive scenes with actors coming and going, background characters from all kinds of histories, or feel like you’re that much of a television’s show’s world nearly often enough.

All in all, I’d recommend it if you’re looking to see something different and maybe heckle some plot decisions. It’s not a priceless diamond in any respect, but it’s a nice little find if you’re tired of seeing the exact same level of bland on current programming. The only sad part is that the program’s only available via DVD, unless you go hacking. Hopefully that’ll change some day and make this more accessible ’cause it’s at least worth checking out.