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Staking a claim by Nigel Roth

There’s an imaginary school, in a faraway land, by a lake, that teaches magic.

The extraordinary students are handpicked to attend, and study for seven years. They’re taught how to speak with animals, guided on how to connect with the natural world on a more ethereal level, shown how to control the elements around them, like the weather, and taught how to ride dragons. And most importantly of all, they become experts in the casting of magic spells.

At the end of their time at the academy, the students graduate with a celebratory dinner, and are given various awards for individual student achievement.

The name of the school, of course, is Scholomance.

And, rather than be tutored by a Defense Against The Dark Arts teacher, like Severus Snape or Gilderoy Lockhart, they are tutored by a Dark Arts teacher, called, simply, the Devil.

This is traditional folklore from central Romania, and, in particular, a place called Hermannstadt, where the school is said to thrive. And, if you live in that region you’ll be well aware of this preternatural legend.

If you lived in London during the late nineteenth century, though, you would have no doubt learnt about it from a book, The Land Beyond the Forest, and from an essay Transylvania Superstitions, which is exactly where Abraham ‘Bram’ Stoker got it from to use in Dracula, along with the vampiric stereotype that the essay introduced.

So, while Bram Stoker gets accolades for establishing the ‘conventions of vampire fantasy’, and JK Rowling gets $1billion for penning a series of books about a school of magic, we may want to reflect on Jane Emily Gerard, who appears to have brought these devilish ideas out of the shadows in the first place.

Gerard was born in Jedburgh, Scotland, in 1849, just north of the one-hundred and fifty-four kilometer border with England. No historic plaque celebrates the birthplace of a writer who inspired a literary genre, though there is one, strangely, that commemorates the fact that William Wordsworth went past in a coach once.

The daughter of a colonel, granddaughter of the inventor Sir John Robison, and a direct descendant of the great philosopher Alexander Gerard, Gerard was sensibly and brilliantly home-educated, before finishing her studies at the Sacre Coeur at Riedenburg, in Austria.

Her career began with short stories written for the Blackwood's Magazine, which was later renamed, rather scarily, Maga. Being multilingual, she also reviewed literary works of French and German authors for The Times. Then, in 1879, she began her first novel.

Around forty years after Gerard wrote the first lines of Rea