Today, J.K. Rowling released what is definitely her best work of the recent spate of stories related the wizarding world of the United States. Possibly because it has so many familiar Harry Potter elements: Orphans, purebloodism, the power of love and so on.
The whole story of the founding of the Ilvermorny School of Witchcraft and Wizardry can be found on Pottermore, and is worth a read. It’s very long, but thankfully it mostly focuses on a single person, Isolt Sayre. It’s her story, but we also learn some important things about the school through her, as well as the answers to a couple of Ilvermorny’s bigger mysteries.
Its location is revealed to be on the “highest peak of Mount Greylock” in Massachusetts. That’s because Isolt had gone to America disguised as a man on the Mayflower, and then had just wandered alone into the mountains, having figured out that the Puritans weren’t exactly the most tolerant of witches by then.
Isolt was raised by the tyrannical hand of her maternal aunt, Gormlaith Gaunt. If that last name sounds familiar to you, it would be because “Gaunt” was also the name of Voldemort’s relatives, the ones that made him a descendant of Slytherin. Unsurprisingly, Gormlaith had those pureblood ideals, too. So of course, Isolt fled to America and followed in her ancestor Salazar Slytherin’s footsteps, starting a school. Also, she buried his wand and a snakewood tree sprung from it on the grounds of the school.
Rowling takes care of Voldemort being the heir of Slytherin by having Isolt’s two biological daughters be a squib and childless, by the way. In case you were worried about the plot hole.
According to Rowling, Ilvermorny is the “least-elitist” of the big wizarding schools, which makes sense, since it was run jointly by Isolt and her Muggle husband James Steward. Marble statues of both of them flank the doors of the castle entrance. But this leaves me with the question of whether or not other Muggle subjects are taught there.
(I’d like to point out now that Ilvermorny is an awful name, typographically. Some fonts make it look like it’s spelled with two Ls, like it’s Welsh. Also “James Steward” makes me think instantly of “Jimmy Stewart”.)
Rowling’s story also confirms the house names that were discovered a while back: Thunderbird, Wampus, Horned Serpent and Pukwudgie. All named for the favourite magical American animal of Isolt, James (who just picked the name of one from his wife’s stories) and the two orphaned boys that they were raising. Yes, creatures from Native American culture are the basis for the names of the houses in a magical school founded by people named Isolt Gaunt, James Steward, Webster Boot and Chadwick Boot. Also, Isolt has a deep connection to the Horned Serpent, even though she didn’t inherit the Parseltongue thing.
The houses aren’t chosen for students nearly as dictatorially as they are at Hogwarts. Instead, in the entrance hall, students stand on a Gordian knot symbol and carvings representing the houses react. If more than one carving reacts, the student gets to choose. As with Hogwarts, the houses have stereotypes. Rowling writes, “the mind is represented by Horned Serpent; the body, Wampus; the heart, Pukwudgie and the soul, Thunderbird” or, less poetically, “Others say that Horned Serpent favours scholars, Wampus, warriors, Pukwudgie, healers and Thunderbird, adventurers.”
The school colours are cranberry and blue — blue because Isolt wished she had been able to go to Hogwarts and be in Ravenclaw and cranberry because James liked pie. Hey, there are dumber reasons behind school colours.
Actual Pukwudgies work for the school, on a contract formed by one with a long history with Isolt that includes the usual life debt that often bonds humans and nonhumans.
As also rumoured a while back, you can be sorted into one of the Ilvermorny schools on Pottermore. You should read the whole story, which actually feels more like a Harry Potter book than anything else we’ve gotten in a long time. It is also is by far the best, and least appropriative, of the American-set pieces on Pottermore.