Monday, July 23, 2012

Guest Post: Inside "Pottermore"

Raighne Davidson's nerd specialties are Harry Potter (naturally), The X Files, Star Trek, 50s sci-fi, and Sherlock Holmes (retro nerdery!). She recently undertook a voyage through Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone on Pottermore, the new online interactive Harry Potter destination, and reports back.

First of all, Pottermore looks beautiful. Really beautiful. The colors are rich (and I’m on a laptop with a regular screen, nothing fancy), the texture is deep, and the illustrations pop off the screen. Please don’t crucify me for this, but I love these visuals so much more than Mary GrandPre’s original book illustrations. They are a beautiful, velvety representation of the world of the books – you just want to crawl inside them and stay there.
Platform 9 3/4: Your gateway to murder, persecution, and terror! Exciting!
Here’s how Pottermore works: you go through the standard sign up/confirmation email/log back in stuff, but when it comes to choosing your screen name, you get offered these wonky compound non-words with numbers as your only options. Part of me understands why this is (there will be no SnapeLove69 or OneEyedMoonyPants14 on this site!) but receiving the odd pairings and having that be it, no ability to change or request more options, eh, well, let’s just say that is my least favorite part of the whole experience.

You start off, quite properly enough, in Chapter 1 of Sorcerer’s Stone. Everybody wants to just sign up and get sorted into their house at Hogwarts, but hold onto that Thestral, fanboy, all in good time. You read about Privet Drive and you see Hagrid in the sky on his flying motorcycle delivering Baby Harry while Professors Dumbledore and McGonagall wait on the street. As you move through the chapters, you visually hit all the high points: setting the snake loose at the zoo, receiving the Hogwarts letter, moving to the shack in the middle of the sea, the arrival of Hagrid. Once Hagrid joins you, however, the experience becomes much more involved. He takes you to Diagon Alley where you visit Gringott’s and receive your wizard gold. You then have to purchase all the items on your school list before you can proceed. This includes your wand, of course, and even though you can’t hold it in your hand, you do think your little mouse pointer has been chosen by this particular wand to be yours and yours alone.

After a quick trip on the Hogwarts Express, you arrive at the castle to be sorted (which is what everybody is waiting for). In a nutshell, you answer several questions that I think used to be a personality quiz in a magazine somewhere. And there are more of them than I expected. After the fourth or fifth one, I thought, wow, this is thorough. At the end, the Sorting Hat thinks awhile and pronounces your house. I know the Hat is supposed to take your choice into account, but it doesn’t ask here. I was sorted correctly. I will not tell you where. Let’s just say I know I ended up where I belong.

Once classes begin, the interactivity continues. You learn spells and can duel to win house points. You can brew potions (which can sometimes be difficult), also to win house points. At the end of the year, all of the collective house points are totaled and a House Cup is awarded and the Great Hall is decorated appropriately. Let’s just say I was very happy with the colors in the Hall at the end of last term...

Inside Pottermore, JK Rowling explains how she transfigured Matthew Lewis
from bumbling pre-teen into Clive Owen, Jr. 
The "more" in "Pottermore" refers to the fact that J.K. Rowling has added new information about the world of Harry Potter that you can unlock as you move through the chapters. This is, hands-down, my favorite part of Pottermore. Digging deeper and learning more background on the people and things you love in this world is so fascinating. Rowling also includes some info that is utterly unique, like the list of ‘The Original Forty.’ It’s her original list of forty student names from Harry’s year. We only see the names themselves, but in Rowling’s notebook, there are also notations of their parents and which house they were sorted into. There are also extended descriptions and backgrounds on characters themselves. I loved reading about Professor McGonagall – from the development of her name, to the struggles of her mother, to the men she loved – I read it all and still wanted more.

I think that statement right there is the reason everything to do with Harry Potter has been so utterly successful. I still want more. A single experience is not enough. We read the books and then we want the movie. We see the movie and we want to read the books again. We experience the books in a new way as part of an interactive website and want to move to a castle in Scotland that is Unplottable. Then we catch ourselves telling our children things like, “No, the proper way to mount a broom for flying is like this...”

We, the collective fans of all things Potter, wanted more. So JKR provided. Pottermore. I will keep coming back. For more. Always.