Images courtesy of pottermore.com.
On July 21, 2007 critics said it was the “beginning of the end:” all seven Harry Potter books had been released and there were only three movies left to enjoy. This past summer, as the world approached the epic conclusion to one of the most celebrated children’s book franchises in history, author J.K. Rowling — via mysterious coordinates to famous fansites and an interactive YouTube video — announced to an unsuspecting audience that the Harry Potter experience was only beginning with the introduction of Pottermore.
As its name suggests, this virtual experience gives Harry Potter fans a chance to learn and live more Potter than was ever available to them before — quite literally from the mind of the master. As Rowling herself stated in the online video, fans would be given the chance to earn early entrance into the website “Pottermore” to be used as beta testers for what was coined “an interactive, online reading experience.” Beginning on July 31, 2010—the birthday of not only Rowling, but also her famous titular character — those who were capable could attempt to take the Magic Quill Challenge. At the end of the challenge 1,000,000 fans would have early access to the well guarded website.
I was one of them.
After accepting and mastering the Magic Quill Challenge — a feat I stayed up until 4 AM on July 31 to do — I was redirected to an image of my very own name written by the Magic Quill, hovering above such famous characters as Harry, Ron and Hermione. It turns out that students no longer have to be 11 to go to Hogwarts.
One of most prominent, and well-established concepts I discovered simply from registration was that the creators knew and prepared for the fact a large percentage of their registrants would be under the age of 18. As such, they implemented numerous safety precautions, for example, users are not allowed to pick their own username, but are instead given a choice of five Potter-themed names. Pottermore is not a social media site: there is player interaction, but rude comments, “dislikes” and “flames” are not allowed. Pottermore is wholly and truly about the Potter books.
Once inside the site itself, I was taken on a journey, witnessing and interacting with different “moments” outlined in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone: from meeting the Dursleys, going to Diagon Alley and opening my own Gringotts vault, finding a wand, being sorted, facing Voldemort and possibly most important, reading new information about the books and characters written by Rowling specifically for Pottermore users. Rowling specifically designed the wand-choice and sorting hat questionnaires so that, if answered correctly, players will be chosen by the wand that actually fits them and sorted into the house to which they would actually belong. The wand that chose me was an alder wood with a dragon heartstring core of 12 and a half inches, and I was sorted into Gryffindor, of course.
The graphics and images within the site are breathtakingly beautiful such that I cannot even begin to describe them and yet they also leave enough ambiguity that everyone is able to complete each design with their own imagination. It is suggested upon entering Pottermore that users read the novel as they enjoy the website, which allows for the site to act as a virtual picture book. Each chapter has two or more “moments” and the level of detail within each image rings true to not only the descriptions within the book, but also within the imagination. Players are able to zoom in and out, and in doing so objects focus and distort just like when eyes move and concentrate on different objects and situation.
The more interactive aspects of Pottermore are dueling and potion making which are deceptively challenging. My first attempts at both were embarrassing. By winning a duel with another online player or correctly brewing a potion, students gain House Points, and the House with the most points directly before the release of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, will win the House Cup. Even after having experienced all of the moments in each chapters — which can be completed in a couple of hours — users are encouraged to keep returning to assist their House in winning the Cup.
The one negative aspect that I, and most beta testers, seem to agree on is the lack of a musical score or appropriate sound affects in the background. While the visual components are more than satisfying, the lack of auditory interaction is the most common complaint to the creators.
All in all, Pottermore is a website and virtual interaction that has never been seen before. The fact that Rowling chose to create something of this magnitude as simply a way to give back to her fans exemplifies the impact that Harry Potter has had, not only on the world, but on Rowling herself as well. Pottermore is 100 percent free for all users – there is no buying of galleons, sickles and knuts, making it simply another medium with which to enjoy an epic story, not to mention a means through which fans can unite over more Potter for the next seven years and beyond.