One School of Magic for the Entire United States?

There’s one thing about Ilvermorny that just doesn’t work, and that’s the idea that all young witches and wizards in North America go to the same school. I don’t know about you, but I can’t imagine parents from my state (Texas) sending their kids to boarding school in Massachussets, not to mention how big a magical school would have to be to serve all of North America. I enjoyed reading about Ilvermorny, but it shares a common flaw with the rest of the Magic in North America series: it vastly underestimates the size and diversity of the United States.

I think that in a more realistic magical North America, there would be at least half a dozen schools, if not more. Ilvermorny for New England, and another for the Midwest. One in the Deep South formed by Civil War era witches and wizards who refused to send their kids “up north” for their education, and a historically black school left over from the days of segregation, because it’s not realistic to think the worst parts of our history wouldn’t touch the magical community as well. A school in California for students from the west coast, and a school in Kansas for the central part of the country. Of course, Alaska and Hawaii would have their own, and as someone who lives in Texas, I can assure you that we would, too. And that’s not even starting on Canada, which I imagine would also have its own schools.

How might these American schools be different? First of all, no houses. I know, it’s fun to think about which house you would be in, but houses are not common in American schools. I’m sure I’m not the only one who had never heard of them before Harry Potter. I can buy into Ilvermorny having them, because it was founded by an Irish woman who had always dreamed of going to Hogwarts, but I can’t imagine them being common throughout the U.S. The schools also wouldn’t be castles, for obvious reasons. I think you might be more likely to find American schools of magic hidden behind innocent-looking shops the way that Diagon Alley is hidden behind the Leaky Cauldron, or even masquerading as ordinary private schools.

I also think that some American schools might not be boarding schools, because much like the idea of school houses, boarding schools are much less common here and most people don’t “go away to school” until college. The distance would be a problem, but we’re talking about wizard families, so there are ways around that. I can easily imagine American parents dropping their kids off at school each day by side-along apparition, or flying them in on brooms. Maybe there could even be an equivalent to a school bus that picks up the kids from muggle families and those whose parents don’t have the time to take them to school themselves.

And finally, I suspect homeschooling would be far more common in America, especially if there’s only Ilvermorny for the entire country. Homeschooling is very popular in some parts of the muggle United States, and the lack of a nearby school of magic would only increase that. Of course, that doesn’t fit with what Rowling has said about Rapport’s Law and students not being allowed to carry a wand outside school until they turn seventeen,  which make the magical education process seem very strict and centralized, but that in itself doesn’t seem realistic for America.

It’s not that I don’t like the idea of Ilvermorny. I’ve wondered ever since I first read the Harry Potter books whether there was a school like Hogwarts in America. But it doesn’t quite work for there to be one school, a boarding school like Hogwarts when most American students go to day schools, with four houses in a setting where that’s almost unheard of, serving all the young witches and wizards across a vast and diverse continent. I can easily imagine kids from England and Wales going to school in Scotland, but it’s harder to imagine kids from California and Texas going to school in Massachussets, so I would rather think of Ilvermorny as one of many American schools of magic, perhaps the most well-known, but certainly not the only one.

Making Sense of the Ilvermorny Houses

I don’t think it’s possible to come up with a one-to-one equivalency between the Hogwarts houses and the new Ilvermorny ones. Horned Serpent has a snake mascot like Slytherin, but represents the mind and chooses scholars, which sounds more like Ravenclaw. Wampus and Thunderbird both sound quite Gryffindor, although they are very different from each other and could certainly include people from other houses. And Pukwudgie sounds like a subtype of Hufflepuff, but certainly not the same thing. Even if all the descriptions lined up, the vast number of people across the internet reporting all kinds of different house combinations would be enough to show that there are no perfect equivalencies.

Instead, I think the two different house systems measure different aspects of personality.

The Hogwarts houses represent what a person values. Gryffindors value bravery, Ravenclaws value knowledge, and so on. These values do not even necessarily line up with one’s personality. Hermione, for example, is extremely intelligent, but outright tells Harry at the end of Sorcerer’s Stone that friendship and bravery are more important than books and cleverness. However, characters who start out quite different from their Hogwarts house description usually grow to fit it. Neville is timid and awkward in the early books, but by the end, he is leading Dumbledore’s Army in Harry’s absence and stands up to Voldemort himself when Harry seems to be dead.

Ilvermorny houses, on the other hand, don’t have anything to do with the values that the Hogwarts houses represent. In the Pottermore article, J.K. Rowling explains:

It is sometimes said of the Ilvermorny houses that they represent the whole witch or wizard: the mind is represented by Horned Serpent; the body, Wampus; the heart, Pukwudgie and the soul, Thunderbird. Others say that Horned Serpent favours scholars, Wampus, warriors, Pukwudgie, healers and Thunderbird, adventurers.

Therefore, it seems that the Ilvermorny houses represent the ways in which a person makes choices:

  • Horned Serpent is for “scholars” who make decisions based on logic and reason (the mind)
  • Wampus is for “warriors” who focus on the practical and immediate (the body)
  • Pukwudgie is for “healers” who are driven by love and emotions (the heart)
  • Thunderbird is for “adventurers” who are guided by their beliefs (the soul)

There may be certain correlations, Hogwarts houses and Ilvermorny houses that go well together and even overlap in some ways. However, in the end, the Hogwarts and Ilvermorny houses measure two separate aspects of personality: one is based on values, whereas the other is focused on decision-making.

House Thunderbird

The latest from Pottermore is an article on Ilvermorny, the American school of magic, and a sorting quiz for its houses: Thunderbird, Horned Serpent, Pukwudgie, and Wampus. I got Thunderbird.

Thunderbird

Interesting. I wasn’t expecting that, but I like it.

On a side note, I loved the story of Isolt and James and the founding of Ilvermorny. You can read it here. It’s very different from Hogwarts, aside from the four Houses. The idea of a girl fleeing from her abusive aunt, a muggle man, and two orphaned wizard boys coming together to form a family, and then eventually founding a school almost by accident, because somebody has to teach the kids magic, is actually very sweet.

Because I made my old account back before the site was remodeled, I had to make a new one and do the Hogwarts sorting quiz again, too. I was holding my breath as I clicked the button, because you can’t let me think I’m a Ravenclaw for years only to put me somewhere else now, but then my result came up and I got Ravenclaw again. 🙂 I guess Pottermore thinks I’m a bird person.