Eds note: Updated on June 8, 2015 to reflect Rowling's tweets.
Initial post: July 24, 2007:
The first Harry Potter book came out when my daughter, Liz, was in grade school. We do a lot of reading-aloud in our home, and we read the HP books aloud, taking turns reading.
Liz went out late Friday night to pick up a copy of the seventh book. Saturday morning we began reading it aloud. We finished last night (Monday).
(If you're reading the book and do not want to know any of the content until you've finished it yourself, you should stop reading this post.)
I was reading aloud when we got to page 216. At that point in the book, Harry is looking at a photograph of Albus Dumbledore's family. We were surprised to read this:
The mother, Kendra, had jet-black hair pulled into a high bun. Her face had a carved quality about it. Harry thought of photos of Native Americans he'd seen as he studied her dark eyes, high cheekbones, and straight nose, formally composed above a high-necked silk gown.
Liz and I were surprised and yet not surprised, given the degree to which pop culture uses Native imagery.
Harry/Rowling may be referring to the engraving of Pocahontas, shown above. There is an oil painting based on the engraving, in the National Portrait Gallery. From the Smithsonian website is this info:
Oil on canvas, after the 1616 engraving by Simon van de Passe, NPG.65.61
National Portrait Gallery,
Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.
The engraving was acquired from Maggs Brothers, in London. You can see a larger image here. There's another one here. Note the differences in hat/earrings. There are other paintings of her that Rowling may have seen, but they don't show Pocahontas in the "high-necked silk dress," so I'm pretty sure it is this engraving she's being influenced by.
So what to make of Rowling's inclusion of this passage? Many readers of the books would assert that race /racial purity is a prominent if not THE theme on which the entire series is built on. The cast of characters is diverse, too, but till Deathly Hallows, there had not been anything with regard to American Indians. With this passage, can we say her book is more inclusive now? Is it, really, though? Or, does it matter?
(Note: There's a provocative on-line article about race in Harry Potter... Called "Harry Potter and the Imbalance of Race," its author, Keith Woods, points to the normalization of whiteness in the books.)
As Liz and I read that passage in the book, we wondered if/how it would be developed in the remainder of the book. But, that was it. Given all the romantic new-age imagery associated with American Indians, I wondered if Rowling was going to go there. She didn't, and I am glad she didn't.
I welcome your thoughts on this topic.
Update, June 8, 2015:
One of my close friends, Sarah Hamburg, wrote to me about a series of tweets Rowling sent out on June 7th. Here's a screen capture of a question to her, and her answer:
Rowling followed up with another tweet:
And then one more:
Definitely unsettling, and something to keep an eye on!