For more than a decade, J.K. Rowling added magic to the lives of countless children and adults with her tales of witches and wizards battling the forces of evil in a world so similar, yet so different, from our own. The spells she’s cast over our imaginations for so many years show no signs of abating. Now, Rowling is drawing Muggles even deeper into Harry Potter’s world via a new interactive Web site, Pottermore.com.
On Monday PW received advance access to the beta version of Pottermore, which officially launches in October. For the next six weeks or so, waves of the people who signed up for advance access earlier this summer will receive invitations to enter the site. What follows is my exploration of the site, along with my teenage daughter.
By the time we checked out Pottermore on the first day visitors were allowed to enter the site, more than 5,000 other visitors all over the world had already logged on. Pottermore took Rachel and me through two or three key moments in each of the 17 chapters in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. One can read backstories about characters, creatures, and objects in Harry’s world, as well as collect treasures all along the way, and even amass points for one’s house.
Pottermore is an elaborate virtual tapestry seamlessly streaming published text, new writings by J.K. Rowling, animated images, and social networking elements, including Facebook links. Unlike the movies, which can be enjoyed even by those who haven’t read the series, this site is best enjoyed by those who’ve read the books. Visitors to Pottermore are even advised to read the books at the same time they visit the site, so as “to make the experience more rewarding.”
Pottermore can only be described as a magical portal. It’s a brilliant marketing tool that both builds up the brand and draws together the global community of fans. It will satisfy even the most voracious Harry Potter devotee, as well as engage new fans who’ve just discovered the books and/or movies. Even though we are vacationing in Hawaii and the beach beckons, Rachel and I spent hours going through each and every feature on the Web site. I felt almost as if we had somehow been transported inside the pages of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone itself.
As with the novel, we, or, rather, my Pottermore alter ego, “BludgerLumos72,” began our adventure with the opening words in Chapter 1, “The Boy Who Lived.”
This was followed by an image familiar to those of us who watched the first movie about Harry Potter’s adventures.
This three-dimensional image of Four Privet Drive is evocative, but the screen shot doesn’t do it justice: as Rachel moved her mouse over each object on the screen, the car’s tail pipe spewed fumes, the car’s rear lights flashed, the windshield wipers swept back and forth, and the cat flicked its tail. It was only the first of many images that sprang to life right before our very eyes as we clicked our way through each chapter.
We were thrilled when we read the next screen.
We kept our eye out for the red quill throughout our visit to the site. Frankly, neither Rachel nor I can get enough of Harry Potter stories. We were rewarded with such backstories as the inspiration for J.K. Rowling setting Harry’s childhood home on a nondescript street in a nondescript suburb. We discovered why Petunia Evans married Vernon Dursley. We learned the history behind the antagonistic relationship between the Dursleys and the Potters. An especially poignant backstory involved Professor Minerva McGonagall. Hers is a story of love and loss, resilience and heartbreak, that merely whetted our appetites for more revelations about the other secondary characters in the series.
As we clicked through the key moments in each chapter, it was like leafing through Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone all over again, retracing Harry’s steps during his first year at Hogwarts.
We visited Diagon Alley to open a bank account at Gringott’s and purchase school supplies.
Our stop in Diagon Alley to buy school supplies included Ollivander’s (of course). After I answered seven questions, a wand chose me.
We took the Hogwarts Express to Hogwarts, prompting Rachel to practically jump up and down on the couch, she was so excited.
After answering a series of questions, I was placed in Hufflepuff.
We cast spells and brewed potions, including a potion for boils. Brewing potions wasn’t so easy, but after about half-a-dozen failed attempts, Rachel finally succeeded in brewing her potion. As in the book, Harry triumphed against Voldemort in the first of many battles between the two, and we celebrated alongside him at a virtual end-of-year feast.
We’re not quite sure yet what we are supposed to do with the 19 objects we collected in my trunk, as well as the 11 books and six chocolate frogs we found along the way. But it still was a lot of fun clicking on objects in each key moment captured on our screens, and discovering these hidden treasures. We even picked up some extra galleons and added them to our Gringott’s bank account, and we earned 25 house points for Hufflepuff.
Best of all, though, we have six more books to explore in depth on Pottermore, through backstories, games, and interactive activities unique to each novel. I don’t know who’s more impatient to experience the rest of the series on Pottermore.com, Rachel or me. The fact that e-books will also be made available for sale exclusively on this Web site might even cause these two die-hard lovers of print books to embrace digital formats. After all, anything is possible when it comes to Harry Potter.