J.K. Rowling unveils another school of magic -- in the Berkshires
From the Berkshires to Boston, the muggle world welcomed the revelation Tuesday that “Harry Potter” author J.K. Rowling had chosen the state’s highest peak as the site of an ultrasecretive school of magic, “hidden by forest, cloud and spell.”
A new story Rowling released on pottermore.com tells the background of the Ilvermorny School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, founded in the 17th century on the summit of Mount Greylock in the Berkshires.
According to the account, part of the backstory to “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them,” now a film about magic in 1920s America set to be released in November, the school has managed to operate concealed from nonmagical eyes “by a variety of powerful enchantments, which sometimes manifest in a wreath of misty cloud.”
Confronted with news of wizardry in the Berkshires, some nonmagical humans — known as “muggles” in the Harry Potter series, they are called “No-Majs” by American wizards — expressed genuine delight at the thrill Rowling’s announcement would create.
“It’s pretty exciting,” said Debbie Turnbull, assistant to the town manager in Williamstown. “There’s a lot of magic on that mountain, and a lot of history. I’m sure it will create a lot of buzz.”
Rowling’s backstory has it that an orphaned Irish girl — Isolt Sayre, “the offspring of two pure-blood wizarding families” — came to Massachusetts on the Mayflower. Sensing that the Puritans wouldn’t tolerate a witch in their midst, she wandered through the wilds, ending up on Mount Greylock. There Isolt, with the help of magical beings she rescued and a human defector from the Plymouth colony, built a stone home that became a school for aspiring young witches and wizards.
The account is written in studious form, like a history textbook, and playing on the lines between fact and fiction, some officials had fun with the idea that wizards and witches may have been operating, undetected, for so many years.
Mount Greylock State Reservation is run by the state Department of Conservation and Recreation, whose spokesman said the agency was not aware of a school of magic located at the summit. The spokesman, Troy Wall, also pointed out that both wizards and nonmagical people are subject to the agency’s detailed permitting process.
“Mount Greylock is known for its stunning, expansive views and receives visitors from not only around the Commonwealth, but the world,” Wall said. “The agency continues to encourage people of all walks of life to visit one of Massachusetts more loved natural resources.”
Governor Charlie Baker’s office also reacted playfully to the notion that the school has until now avoided state regulation.
“The governor believes that small businesses are the backbone of the economy whether they are owned by witches or mortals, and because the institution has operated for nearly 400 years without incident, the administration plans to revisit the matter sometime in the next century or two,” read a statement from Baker’s office. “The Department of Revenue’s spell-detecting technology procurement will be in its final stages at that time.”
Closer to the summit, the general manager of a lodge located just beneath the highest point of the 3,491-foot mountain said he had seen “no evidence of magic to speak of.” The manager, John Dudek, did say, however, that Bascom Lodge has a spooky vibe that he has long attributed to the way the wind howls through the fireplace flues.
“It’s a little bit like ‘The Shining’ here when you’re alone at night,” Dudek said, referring to a movie about a different spooky hotel.
Dudek could not say whether that creepiness might be a byproduct of the supernatural goings-on in the magical school located just yards from his lodge, though he did allow that “there are days when we’re just locked in clouds and you can’t see anything.”
While Ilvermorny is obscured from No-Maj sight by spells, what anyone can see at the very top of the mountain is the War Veterans Memorial Tower. It is currently under repair, and is closed through 2017.
Jude Stull, visitor services supervisor at Mount Greylock, wanted to make sure that anyone rushing up to the summit be aware that the monument is closed.
“At the risk of sounding like a muggle,” he said. “The tower is off limits to the public right now.”