Pottermore: other wizarding schools

04 Feb

The next chapter of Philosopher’s Stone is in progress. In the meantime, have some decade-overdue attempts at worldbuilding. Continuing my new policy of avoiding the mess that Pottermore has become, you get Tor’s summary of it instead:

To summarise, Rowling has named four more of the eleven wizarding schools allegedly serving the entire planet.

Castelobruxo, in Brazil – according to the comments this is very dodgy linguistics and should more properly be Castelo dos Bruxos, though either way it just translates to ‘witch castle’ which is really boring. Looks like a ruin in the rainforest and has random magical creatures stopping Muggles trying to explore it. Serves the whole continent of South America (current population around 388 million, for reference). They’re good at herbology and magizoology.

Uagadoo, in Uganda. Presumably serves all of Africa (current population over a billion) but this isn’t explicitly stated. Seems to have its own magic system that doesn’t work along any Potterverse rules:

“Instead of owls, Dream Messengers leave tokens with chosen pupils; African witches and wizards practice wandless magic, opting instead for using fingers and hand gestures; and students have performed synchronized transformations into elephants and cheetahs, panicking other Animagi.”

Good at astronomy, alchemy and self-transfiguration. Apparently all magic originated in Africa too, which makes it even weirder that their magic doesn’t exist anywhere else. What the hell is a Dream Messenger?

Mahoutokoro, in Japan. More linguistic failure, apparently this collection of syllables simply isn’t possible in Japanese and should be spelled slightly differently according to someone in Tor’s comments, but I know precisely zip about it so I’m staying out of it (also, at best the name translates as ‘magic place’, which is perhaps even worse than ‘witch castle’). Random jade palace on an uninhabited island. They take children from 7 years old as day students who are flown back and forth on giant birds. Pupils wear colour-changing robes that show what they’re studying and how well they’re doing at it, so clearly they have a horrific bullying problem. No idea what they’re good at, but they have a Quidditch team, so probably ‘bugger all’.

Ilvermorny, in the USA. Why the American school has such a thoroughly Scottish name is not explained. Implausibly serves the entire continent of North America, population 528 million. Apparently Native American tribal magic was very important to the founding of it – hence the Scottish name, clearly… – and Rowling refuses to say where it is except ‘not in New York’. They don’t seem to be any good at anything either.

Mitchell is a masochist and chose to read the actual Pottermore articles, linked in the Tor summary, and he’ll throw some of the best/worst bits at you now.

Let’s have some fun with quotes. From here:

The wand is a European invention, and while African witches and wizards have adopted it as a useful tool in the last century, many spells are cast simply by pointing the finger or through hand gestures. This gives Uagadou students a sturdy line of defence when accused of breaking the International Statute of Secrecy (‘I was only waving, I never meant his chin to fall off’).

Silliness over consistency yet again, which I suppose is consistent with Rowling’s writing over the years but still disappointing. This is really not how ‘wandless magic’ has been depicted in the rest of her series.

There is also this:

Much (some would say all) magic originated in Africa, and Uagadou graduates are especially well versed in Astronomy, Alchemy and Self-Transfiguration.

I can’t decide whether or not I think this is horribly racist (it seems sketchy to me considering various Magical Negro tropes and/or Backwards Superstitious Africa tropes, but at the same time ‘humanity originated in Africa and therefore so did magic’ shouldn’t be objectionable…), but regardless there’s something very odd about the African school’s specialities being alchemy and astronomy when those are very thoroughly European/Western concepts.

From here:

the school offers very popular exchange programmes for European students* who wish to study the magical flora and fauna of South America

It would’ve been nice to have some indication in the actual stories that things like this existed (maybe this is what happened to the students like Sally-Anne Perks that Rowling forgot existed?). That asterisk indicates the following charming footnote:

* It was one of these trips that Bill Weasley’s parents could not afford, causing his disappointed penfriend at Castelobruxo to send him something nasty in the post.

As I said, charming. (Loten adds this is in fact canon, Ron mentions it at some point; I believe it was a cursed hat that made Bill’s ears shrivel up, or something.)

And whilst we are at least vaguely on the subject of quidditch, the article about the Japanese school tells us that they were taught the game

centuries ago by a band of foolhardy Hogwarts students who were blown off course during an attempt to circumnavigate the globe on wholly inadequate broomsticks

I’m too lazy to look it up, but the sport isn’t much more than a few centuries old according to Quidditch Through the Ages and she tried to depict a timeline of developments in the game in that book, so it could be interesting to see what she said the game would have been like at a time this could have happened. And then we get this gem

Every member of the Japanese Quidditch team and the current Champion’s League winners (the Toyohashi Tengu) attributes their prowess to the gruelling training they were given at Mahoutokoro, where they practise over a sometimes turbulent sea in stormy conditions, forced to keep an eye out not only for the Bludgers but also for planes from the Muggle airbase on a neighbouring island

We’re really returning to form here, this is the same stuff we got in the first book with Draco and Ron boasting about nearly encountering hang-gliders and helicopters and things. It’s still just as stupid; I understand what she’s trying to do to some degree, but if you want to maintain a hidden world you probably shouldn’t write its inhabitants as being so completely unconcerned about being seen, and imply that in essence the entire population of the world are unobservant idiots.

Relatively unrelated, but someone has already edited the Wikipedia article of the volcanic island Rowling chose as the location of the Japanese school to add that information. I looked it up because I wanted to see how old the island was and whether or not it would be completely uninhabitable; it looks like a pretty barren place, but it’s at least vaguely plausible I suppose.

Wasn’t that entertaining, boys and girls. The phrase ‘quit while you’re ahead’ has never been so apt. Tor implies we’ll eventually see details of the last four schools; presumably one in Australia or New Zealand, one in China, maybe one around the southern Mediterranean (Italy, Greece or Turkey perhaps) and one out in the Pacific somewhere? This all just makes it even more ridiculous that Britain gets a school to itself, with our population of 64 million.

And why does the entire wizarding world just plain suck at naming things? [Well, it’s a natural consequence of the fact that Rowling does, at least most of the time.]

Have fun discussing this latest mess, the next chapter of our adventure will be done… sometime next week, I should think. See you all then.


Posted by on February 4, 2016 in loten, mitchell


Tags: , , , , , ,

6 responses to “Pottermore: other wizarding schools

  1. wolfheart

    February 5, 2016 at 6:17 am

    First, I have to say that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed all the content on this site, especially digging into all the problems in Harry Potter. I’m terrible about leaving comments or feedback, but just know that you have a silent, very appreciative, reader. Thank you, Loten & Mitchell, for your thought-provoking and entertaining efforts. ❤

    Second, if Ilvermorny or w/e "represents the entire continent of North America" (according to the Tor article, at least), then what happened to the Salem Witches' Institute?? There were a couple witches who attended school there at the Quidditch World Cup in GoF. What happened there, Rowling? (This is hardly the most pressing issue, but from the very start of the Tor article – "There are 11 established wizarding schools, which means that in addition to these new ones and Hogwarts, Beauxbatons, and Durmstrang, there are four more schools to be announced" – I was chanting "what about the Salem one what about the Salem one??")

    • Loten

      February 5, 2016 at 8:58 am

      ‘Canon, what canon? Canon is whatever I say it is, quiet peasant! Just because you’re a fan of my stuff doesn’t mean you’re allowed an opinion or any knowledge!’

      At this point I’m genuinely convinced that this is her thought process.

      But anyway, let’s assume the Salem institute is a university. God knows the wizarding world needs quite a lot of them.

    • janach

      February 6, 2016 at 6:08 am

      The Salem Witches Institute isn’t necessarily a school at all. It might be a women’s club. Or a research laboratory. Or a think tank. Or something else altogether.

  2. All-I-need

    February 5, 2016 at 1:02 pm

    Okay, so if Castelobruxo is famous for its Herbology and Magizoology classes, why the hell is Neville not all over that like a rash? Seriously, can you imagine the look on Hermione’s face when Neville starts talking about doing an exchange year in South America for an in-depth study of Herbology? I don’t believe for one second that he does not know about the existence of this other school. Perhaps he never mentions it while Harry and Ron are around because they’d think wanting to get away from Hogwarts was some sort of blasphemy instead of the smartest thing a person could do.

    From this moment on, it shall be my headcanon that he went there after the battle of Hogwarts and studied there for some years before coming back to teach at Hogwarts. I better not think about it for too long or I’ll accidentally plot a spin-off series. “Neville Longbottom and the Brazilian Bowtruckle” or something.

    I do like the side-note about Bill Weasley, though. I mean, *gasp*, was that continuity?! Amazing.

    No comment on the lack of mention of Salem – I’m not surprised she forgot about it.

    I actually like the idea that African witches and wizards have evolved their own system of wandless magic but I strongly suspect it works entirely differently from wandless magic in Britain and the “I was only waving!” excuse would only work on the British Ministry of Magic.

    I also imagine that the Japanese version of Quidditch may be considerably different from the European one, after all those years, so perhaps they did away with the Snitch? Let’s just pretend for the sake of our sanity that someone realised how pointless it is and changed the rules.

    As far as the as yet unknown schools are concerned, I strongly suspect there might be one in India, based on my hope that even Rowling can’t fail that spectacularly at numbers to think that one school would be enough to cover all of China and the rest of Asia (What can I say, I’m an optimist).

    Also: correspondence classes? Yes, because as demonstrated in “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix”, it is entirely possible to learn things like Defense Against the Dark Arts just by reading about it in a book (or, in this case, a letter) … oh wait. No, it isn’t.

  3. Obfuscobble

    February 7, 2016 at 8:56 pm

    I can explain how dumb the Japanese name is. Yes, in a way, the sequence of sounds in Mahoutokoro is illegal. Yes, it literally means “magic place” and is super dumb. In Japanese, when words like 所 /tokoro/ “place” are smooshed together, they go through a process where the first syllable of the second word in the combination becomes voiced: t > d, k > g, h/p > b . For example, “here and there” as a phrase is /tokoro-dokoro/. Thus when putting together the words 魔法 /mahou/ “magic,” and 所 /tokoro/ “place,” the correct version is maybe /mahou-dokoro/.

    Why do I say maybe? Because 魔法 /mahou/ is already a combination of two characters being read with their “Chinese sound,” whereas 所 /tokoro/ is a character being read with “Japanese sound.” These two reading systems for characters usually don’t mix. It’s much more natural in a compound word to use the same sound reading for all components. So, it would be better to use the “Chinese sound” for /tokoro/, /sho/. This would lead to /mahousho/. /sho/ is not voiced to /jo/ because rules are different with “chinese sound” combinations used when naming institutions. Yet /mahousho/ is still kind of weird as a name for an institution. Many institutions are named with the words 館 /kan/ “private store, mansion” or 堂 /dou/ “hall, government office” which both ultimately mean “-place” in the way that Rowling was searching for.

    Therefore the most feasible choices for naming something unoriginal as “magic place” would be 魔法館 /mahoukan/ or 魔法堂 /mahoudou/. The latter could be an interesting play on 魔法道 /mahoudou/ which is said the same but means “the way of magic.”

    (As a side note, if Rowling didn’t want /mahou/ read as ma-hoo, which I guarantee will be the incorrect pronunciation from many readers, she could use a Japanese romanisation system rendering long vowels with h: /mahoh/. Same as in Noh theatre or Johto in Pokémon.)

    • mcbender

      February 7, 2016 at 10:12 pm

      This is very thorough, thank you! And fascinating.

      As for the pronunciation, issue, it’s actually worse than you think. Rowling actually endorses the mispronunciation, the official one given in the article is “[Mah – hoot – o – koh – ro]”. Even I know that’s absurdly bad, and I know next to nothing about Japanese (I think I only know how ‘mahou’ is supposed to be pronounced because of ‘mahou shoujo’).

      With all the resources at her disposal, she couldn’t have consulted a Japanese speaker? I wouldn’t be surprised if she got the name from Babelfish/Google Translate manipulation, at this point.


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