Who knew We'd be returning to this topic after fifteen years? Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is due in theaters on November 18. It's got the Salem witch Trials and the Magical Congress of America and Skinwalkers and New York City and...
and I am afraid.
JK Rowling is the source of a massive media franchise, see. One we young folks love. It's one of the series that we grew up with, like Toy Story. It has a massive amount of cultural weight in the United States.
And now all that weight is going to come rolling towards a literary and mythological tradition that Rowling doesn't appear to understand.
Does she even know what kind of magic this place has? What kind of mythology? It's not just Cowboys and Indians
. It's the eternal yearning for the apocalypse
, the constant calls to Awaken
, the desperate need to prove ourselves in the eyes of an angry God. It's Conjure Magic and it's the terrifyingly judgmental world of our urban legends, and it's tales of the Devil being bested by clever common folk, and it's the Superhero
who all on his own saves the day and upholds the status quo...
And Rowling is bringing to our metaphorical shores an entirely different literary and mythological tradition, one steeped in Fairy and The Door To Elsewhere and all sorts of British beasts.
From the looks of the screenplay and the trailer, it sounds as though Rowling believes she knows as much about American magic as Americans do.
Not that this hasn't been done before. I loved reading Neil Gaiman's American Gods. But Gaiman's work actually tried to understand the mythology of America, to come up with new gods that were based on our cultural mores. A god of computers, for example, as I recall, and something involving cheeseburgers. Perhaps not as detailed or as accurate as one might hope, but the story definitely started from within the American cultural space.
Whereas Rowling's story begins from the outside, by focusing on a magical immigrant from England. The book the movie is based on is set in England. Rowling's take on America feels so...English. She uses Indians as if she was trying to improve stereotypes she'd learned from her reading. For example, her Indians can use wandless magic, which takes more power but is less refined. Doesn't that sound like the idea of the Savage Strong Indian? And they do plant magic better then the Europeans!
And she takes the idea of the Skinwalkers -- a part of Navajo religion -- and says they're Animagi. She's yoinking something out of someone's religious tradition and glueing it to her massive media franchise.
And I'm angry and disappointed and jealous because I'm already writing a Fantasy story set in the America, and it's about the America, and I feel like Rowling's media franchise is going to completely crowd out whatever cultural space there might have been for my own work.
Granted, I'm writing about a Black Jewish girl who's learning about the literal magic of city life, which is to say I'm writing about things that are outside my wheelhouse. But I can do it better than Rowling! I can actually do my damn research and try to figure out how to avoid stepping on anyone's toes. This is America, dammit! I was born here! I know what I'm doing with its mythology!
Damn foreign writers coming here to steal our plots. We ought to build a wall.