The final “Harry Potter” book may have been released in 2007, and the movie just this summer, but with the announcement of J.K. Rowling’s new project, “Pottermore,” it seems unlikely that fans will have to go without a HP fix for long.
For those of you who may be out of the loop (read: not as much of a loser as I am), Pottermore was announced on June 15, although the announcement of the trademark didn’t include an explanation of what Pottermore actually was—Rowling wanted to leave the message boards guessing. There were many popular theories: some (deluded) people were convinced that she was writing a Potter-related sequel, others anticipated the long-hoped-for encyclopedia of the wizarding world, and others had all their bets behind a MMORPG (massively multi-player online role playing game, similar to World of Warcraft) of the Harry Potter universe. Luckily, we weren’t kept in suspense for very long, as Rowling released a YouTube video a week later stating that Pottermore was actually a new website:
“I am thrilled to say that I am now in the position to give you something unique—an online reading experience unlike any other,” she said in the video. “Pottermore will be the place where fans of any age can share, participate in, and re-discover the stories…I’ll be joining in too, because I’ll be sharing additional information I’ve been hoarding for years about the world of ‘Harry Potter.’”
The video also revealed that the site would launch Oct. 1, and that there would be a chance to beta test the site starting on July 31—Harry Potter’s (and Rowling’s) birthday, of course. I must have watched the video four or five times, but I still didn’t quite understand what the hell was happening. I mean, I love J.K., but “online reading experience?” WTF. But my interest had been piqued, especially by the possibility of getting to read previously unreleased information, so I returned in July for what ended up being the “Magical Quill Challenge.” Potter fans around the world stayed up until ungodly hours in the morning waiting for clues to appear on the site (I stayed up until 5 a.m. I suck). If you answered the clue correctly, you would be linked to a partner site which would feature a garish purple ink bottle with a flamboyant quill sticking out of it—click on this, and you got to register early.
As silly as it sounds, registering was actually pretty cool. You get to pick from one of five pre-generated names (a feature of Pottermore’s child safety policy) and then your real name “magically” appears on a list of Magical Students. I would be lying if I said seeing my name alongside Hermione Granger’s didn’t give my sleep deprived brain more than a bit of a thrill. To give fans across the globe a more equal chance of getting in through early registration, the Magical Quill Challenge ran for seven days, with each clue released at a random time. When it was finally over, I was still forced to endure a long period of waiting for my “Welcome Email”—since they can’t let a million people into the site at once, everyone who registered to beta test the site received staggered entries.
Just when it seemed I couldn’t possibly wait anymore, the holy grail of emails finally arrived—five minutes before I was slated to go to a three-hour lecture (life’s a bitch). When I finally got the chance to sit down at my computer, typed my log-in (runepotion117) and entered the world of Harry Potter, I was actually a little disappointed. When you first click on the option to “Explore Chapter 1,” you are directed to a webpage with an illustration of Privet Drive, accompanied by a few lines of text from the book. By scrolling your mouse around the scene, certain objects will move or (the jackpot) glow purple. A glowing purple object means that you have uncovered some new information about the Harry Potter world that Rowling has included on the Pottermore website. Still, even the thrill of getting new information doesn’t exactly make clicking around on a bunch of different screens exciting. You progress much the same way through the story (usually two to three still scenes per chapter) until you reach the part of the first book when Harry must go to Diagon Alley to buy his school supplies. This is where the “reading experience” really picks up, as you get to open your own Gringotts account and enter a variety of wizarding shops to buy cauldrons, spellbooks, potions ingredients, and most exciting of all, a wand.
Any devoted reader of HP knows that “the wand chooses the wizard,” and Pottermore attempts to emulate this by asking you a series of questions. The best part of this segment of the site is the information unlocked after you pay for your wand—Rowling offers deliciously lengthy information about wand-lore, expanding on magical cores, types of woods, wand length, and even the renowned wand maker himself, Olivander. If this is a taste of what the rest of the new information revealed on the site will be like, bring it on. The facts revealed in previous chapters were mildly interesting, but this is the first time I started to get really excited about Pottermore.
Of course, after getting my wand I was headed off to Hogwarts and towards the most anticipated feature of the new site—the sorting. The Sorting Hat quiz included in Pottermore was reportedly developed and tested by Rowling herself, and she swears by it. It’s not what many people might expect; many sorting quizzes which have popped up on the internet over the years feature a question and four answers which broadly (and obviously,) correspond to one of the Hogwarts houses. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t incredibly anxious leading up to this point—I think my actual words were, “If I’m in Hufflepuff, I’ll kill myself.” It didn’t help that the Sorting ceremony was so ambiguous. There weren’t even any questions asked. Instead, a series of cards with words and images on them were presented, and you selected the one that appealed to you. One set of options was just a black chess piece or a white chess piece. Another prompted me to select either a castle, a wooded path, a building-lined street, or the beach. I almost didn’t want to press “submit,” but I was well rewarded when I did: GRYFFINDOR. I always knew it.
Sadly, I haven’t gotten to progress much further through the site, being a junior loaded with horrendous amounts of work (although I did get to make a potion last night), but getting my wand and getting sorted has me excited to make my way through the rest of the story. A thing to keep in mind, however, is the fact that the site is still technically under construction, and though I anticipate it will be largely the same when it opens in a couple of weeks, there is still time for changes to be made. Pottermore may not be quite as satisfying for me as Rowling publishing, say, “Hogwarts: A History,” but it is proving to be a fun and innovative way to keep the franchise alive in the hearts of fans both present and future.