Stuff We Like: Pottermore

Oct. 14, 2011, 3:00 a.m.
Stuff We Like: Pottermore
Courtesy of Sony

Here in Intermission, we like to geek out on “Harry Potter.” Fortunately, this has become more than socially acceptable, judging from the millions of people waiting in lines at midnight to snag seats to “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows,” shrines of Rupert Grint that surely exist in some 15 year-old’s closet, etc.

When the book and film series finally ended (a moment of silence, please, for all we lost on July 15, 2011), the sun seemed to be setting on the “Harry Potter” franchise. However, we all know that J.K. Rowling wouldn’t be where she is without having a team of incredibly savvy PR people. This, combined with her four-year hiatus, probably should have alerted fans to the fact that something was in the works.

This summer, Rowling announced her newest project to the public, simply called “Pottermore.” With only a vague, paragraph-long description to work with, the most anyone could deduce was that it was an interactive website, which in itself sounds pretty boring.

But the real masterstroke was the decision to make a beta website. Rowling announced that one million people worldwide would have the opportunity to explore Pottermore before the site opens to the public at the end of October. We all know “Harry Potter” fans are willing to wait in a line from Buenos Aires to Beijing if it means that they get a new “Harry Potter” item first. All of a sudden, Pottermore became the new “It” thing.

Fast forward several weeks, and I found myself sitting in front of a computer screen on the final day of beta week, trying to decide if trying to get into Pottermore would be worth it. I figured I might as well, went to the website and happened to find the “magical quill,” which gave the clue to get into the website, out of its inkpot. A few minutes later, I was a member, and three weeks later I was finally allowed into Pottermore.

Pottermore is best described as an interactive supplement to the Harry Potter series. When users enter the website, they are presented with the “gateway,” a winding trail that leads through the every chapter of the seven books. The first novel, “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone,” is available to beta users, and a click leads to a crimson red plaque entitled, “Chapter 1: The Boy Who Lived.”

Rowling picked several moments from every chapter of the book to explore interactively. The first moment of the series, for instant, is called “Number Four, Privet Drive”–a tabby cat perches next to a street sign in the foreground, while zooming in shows a cloudy November sky, a slowly revolving weathervane and a homogenous row of houses. On the left hand side, clicking “Read About Number Four, Privet Drive” reveals all you ever wanted to know about where it all began: Privet Drive as defined by the novels, as well a short essay of Rowling’s thoughts on why she picked the name and number of the street.

This is Pottermore: the entirety of the series as imagined by Rowling, uninfluenced by the limits of technology. Though the eight Potter films gave us a glimpse into Rowling’s psyche, Pottermore is perfect for fans who always wondered how exactly the author envisioned the Potions classroom or the Ravenclaw common room. As a bonus, the illustrations are incredible; they’re highlight of the website by far.

There are also the dozens of pages that Rowling wrote for the website, for readers looking for even more backstory about their favorite characters. “Sorcerer’s Stone,” for instance, reveals the life of shady character Quirinus Quirrell, as well as the surprisingly romantic and painstakingly detailed story of Minerva McGonagall.

If you care less for trivia, Pottermore is also somewhat of a Facebook for Potter fans. Users can like particular pages, comment on supplementary information and add others as friends; there’s even a little owl in the top right hand corner that shows notifications and a newsfeed at the bottom of several pages.

The best part about Pottermore, though, is the ability to follow Harry through his defining moments. Users can go to Diagon Alley and purchase a pet from Eeylops Owl Emporium & Magical Menagerie (although Harry already took their snowy owl), store money in Gringotts Bank, or find wolfsbane at the Apothecary. Ollivander’s is down the street, and after you answer a few questions, Garrick Ollivander himself will present you with a wand. You can learn more about his background or sort through the pages upon pages of additional information from Rowling about what your wand’s core (unicorn hair, dragon heartstring or phoenix feather), wood and flexibility say about you.

And finally, “Chapter 7: The Sorting Hat” makes you a true Hogwarts student as you officially get sorted after some ridiculously cryptic personality probes (but hasn’t every Potter fan wondered what house they would be in?). After a video from Rowling and an introduction from your house prefects, users can earn points for their house and unite with their fellow first-years.

Pottermore is nowhere near perfect–to be honest, there’s not much to do once you’ve sucked up an afternoon or two going through “Sorcerer’s Stone.” You may have been satisfied by the movies or are simply ready to move on from a series of children’s books. But for the little kids reading through the Potter novels for the first time, Pottermore lets them finally be just like Harry–right down to the Hogwarts letter in the mail.

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