Flashback to July last year. Potterheads all over the world were celebrating the joint birthday of J. K. Rowling and her beloved character Harry Potter, when lo and behold came the Magical Quill Challenge. Rowling promised an immersive website that would keep the Potter fandom’s status safe in the wake of the release of the final Potter film, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2. For the next week, the world was set afire by Potter Pandemonium, as only one million fans would get the chance to become a BETA tester on the new site. Die-hards stayed up for nights on end for their shot at an elusive account, and Facebook pages held contests with extras they had procured.
I was lucky enough to win a BETA account on the seventh day of the challenge. But BETA was to be a mixed bag experience. The vivid graphics, supplementary Rowling writings, and spot-on quizzes in the Sorting Hat and Ollivander’s were praised by the media and web alike. If only fans didn’t have to wait so long to enter – the Magical Quill Challenge ended on August 6, and the last emails (to poor Day 7 entrants like me) were finally sent out on September 27. Once in, glitches, slow loading, and frequent down times in busy hours also plagued the site. But at the very least, we had our Pottermore, with the promise of more users flooding in near the end of October.
That didn’t happen. In fact, it took until April 14, 2012 for the site to admit anyone and everyone to the site. Since, the first eleven chapters of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets have been released. Now that the site is open to everyone and on a clear track ahead, let’s look at some of the things we love about Pottermore – and some of the things we love to hate.
Things to Love: Pottermore’s artwork continues to be stunning and immersive, capturing the tone of the film’s renderings while remaining, through and through, a literary interpretation of the characters and locales. There’s plenty of hidden items to keep completists searching for days within each moment, and as more chapters open up the items available for purchase in Diagon Alley will as well, allowing for a more personalized experience. The sorting hat and wand quizzes were rightly lauded, but the single best aspect of Pottermore is J. K. Rowling’s exclusive new content. Her anecdotal essays are forming the basis of a frequently updated encyclopedia, an excellent addendum for Potter fans. The writing is in-depth and whimsical, ensuring you’ll speed through chapters so you can read Rowling right away. Who else but Rowling would name a character Cantankerus Nott?
Things to Hate: As awesome as the artwork is and as plentiful as the hidden items are, the moments are kind of… boring. You know you’re in trouble when the most exciting feature on your web page is zooming. At least Rowling’s official website featured easter eggs and hidden animations and tasks! Immersive Pottermore may strive to be, but interactive it is not. Spells play like poor computer games, and the easiest potion takes 30 to 40 minutes to brew. (This is one place when we can forget about verisimilitude… to fictional worlds.) The House Cup is significantly lacking in stakes, and the comment boards are rendered pointless without forum capabilities allowing users to organize comments into topics, or at the very least reply to each other. Furthermore, the user-generated artwork is a fantastic idea, but there is currently no hub or searchable database for this feature – meaning it’s virtually impossible to peruse creations. But most importantly, Pottermore seems to be averaging a book a year. Who (besides diehard Potterheads like me) will even consider waiting seven years for all the books to be released – especially with the knowledge that, as the books climb, the number of chapters and “moments” that must be created climb as well? The sad fact is that once you’ve sped through the chapters and read all the Rowling you can, there’s little point in sticking around until the next book is released.
Pottermore has great bare bones and a built-in fanbase. It is an ideal place to publish J. K. R.’s ancillary writings. But, so far, it isn’t much of an experience, let alone a website. Regardless, I’ll be following the site closely – if only to smile at inventive new character names.