‘Pottermore’ Secrets Revealed: J.K. Rowling’s New Site is E-Book Meets Interactive World

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Suzanne Plunkett/Reuters

Gulping gargoyles! Just when it seemed the Harry Potter franchise was finally avada kedavra-ed, J.K. Rowling has launched the website “Pottermore” to continue the story of the young boy wizard. (See what she’s doing with the wordplay there?)

The site, which Rowling launched via YouTube, will sell her seven Potter novels as e-books and audiobooks in several different languages. It will also reveal background details on characters and settings Rowling says she’s been “hoarding for years.”

Fans will have 18,000 words of new Harry Potter content to devour in a matter of hours. Meanwhile, Rowling has deftly cornered the market on proceeds from the sale of her books online, without having to pay Apple or Amazon one galleon.

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The site launches on July 31 (Mr. Potter’s birthday), when one million fans can compete in an online challenge to gain early access. Pottermore opens its gates to the masses for free on October 1, 2011.

But what is the site like? Those hoping for a sophisticated first-person odyssey may be disappointed. Pottermore isn’t a game: it’s a series of illustrated environments, themed around “moments” from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (material from the other novels will be added with time). The primary attraction for Potterphiles is access to arcana Rowling’s been squirreling away in her attic. Want to know why Harry’s uncle is called Vernon Dursley? Or learn about Prof. Minerva McGonagal’s early heartbreak?  You can find it on the site, although you may have to click around a bit to uncover the hidden treasures.

Users start out at Privet Drive, where they can explore Harry’s cupboard under the stairs (replete with scampering spiders) before moving on to Platform 9 ¾, the Hogwarts Express, Diagon Alley and Gringotts. Each new witch or wizard gets a personalized trunk (where they can store their chocolate frog cards), 175 galleons and a Hogwarts shopping list (don’t forget your crystal phials!) Then they’re directed to Ollivander’s, where they are asked a series of questions (eye color? Favorite artifact?) in order that their wand can choose them.

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With personalized wand in hand, users continue on to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry itself, where, wearing the sorting hat, they are sorted into a House via a unique series of character testing questions written by Rowling herself. Some test the super-ego: would you snitch on a fellow wizard pupil who used a cheating quill? Others probe the id: which do you choose, forests or rivers? (Those who are not placed in Gryffindor get access to special material from The Sorcerer’s Stone as compensation.) Once ensconsed in a house common room, users can read the secret lore of Ravenclaw or Hufflepuff, meet housemates, and earn housepoints through wizard duels and mixing potions to compete for the House Cup.

While the environments do have some animated features (Scabbers lurking behind the cabin curtains in the Hogwarts Express, owls and ravens flying about), Pottermore is no World of Warcraft. Rowling wanted to keep the emphasis firmly on reading and the “literary experience,” which is why Pottermore’s environments are more like digitized pop-up books than a graphic adventure game. (While the environments share some similarities to the films, they are not based on them. And there are no avatars.)

Rowling is also encouraging user contributions to Pottermore. Users can jabber on the site about the benefits of dragon heartstring vs. Thestral tail hair wand cores to their heart’s delight. Fans can even submit art.

Given the boxes of material gathering dust in her house, Rowling hasn’t ruled out the possibility of creating a Harry Potter encyclopedia. She says she has “no plans” for another Harry Potter book. From now on, Harry Potter will live in the digital age. Talk about magic.

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