“Welcome to Ravenclaw House!” Those were the words that greeted me. After weeks of waiting and late-night vigils, I had been sorted. As many readers may know, JK Rowling’s “Pottermore” is an interactive website currently deployed in beta that acts as an augmented reading companion to the “Harry Potter” series of novels. Announced this previous June, Pottermore promised a complete experience for fans – including around 18,000 words of additional content from the author herself. Last month, I along with millions of others stayed up until the early hours of the morning to find clues posted on the website which, along with references in the books themselves, would allow us to find the registration page for the site and possibly obtain a sneak preview before the official launch in October. After weeks of waiting, on Wednesday my welcome email finally came – I was one of the million selected to beta test Pottermore.
I had high hopes for the site. After the release of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2,” the capstone to the highest-grossing movie franchise in history, I remembered all my childhood emotional connections to Rowling’s books. With such a mindset, it would be hard to be disappointed by Pottermore – a fact I’m sure the marketing team at Sony, the corporation behind this site, is banking on. Accessing the site was a breeze. Registration had been completed on that late night in August, so it was easy to get right into the content, which was by all accounts excellently-rendered.
The first thing you see is beautiful art depicting the iconic first scene in “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” – Albus Dumbledore flicking his deluminator to douse Privet Drive (Little Winging, Surrey, UK) in darkness. The scene is somewhat interactive – you can double-click to focus on different parts of the art, and certain objects can be clicked to bring up some of the aforementioned exclusive material. Most of the core book experience follows this pattern – readers follow major events of the chapters to see new art and writing. This is, after all, supposed to be an augment to your reading.
Going through the content alone, however, feels a bit sparse – on some pages, there’s nothing at all to do, and it feels like a bit of a waste to just look at the art quickly before continuing to browse. Also of note is the lack of sound. The site is certainly unfinished. I suspect, though, that the reading experience is not what many came for. Rowling spoke at length about the accuracy of both the wand-selection and sorting process (two important milestones in the life of any young wizard), and in my view they did not disappoint.
Choosing my wand (or rather, having my wand choose me) was a quick process, with a simple quiz asking vague questions to gauge my temperament. One your wand is unlocked, exclusive newly-written content about wand lore unlocks simultaneously to teach you about what your selection means. It was fun learning about wands, and it will be interesting going back through the books and applying the traits associated with the many different woods, cores, and flexibilities to their respective characters (for the record, my wand is fir, fourteen and one-half inches long, phoenix feather core, and unyielding).
Soon after wand selection comes the sorting. The process is similar, with a slightly-longer quiz placing you in a house. A lifelong fan, I was sincerely hoping for Gryffindor, home of all the series’ main characters. Instead, I was placed in Ravenclaw, home of those strong in intelligence and wit – not a bad landing. Once in your house, your options are actually quite limited. There’s a house cup contest on, but the only ways to earn points currently are to find a friend (a tough order in a site currently with only around 150,000 members) and duel them or to brew potions. The wizard duel system is little more than a typing-accuracy test to cast different spells, but the potions game is mildly interesting – differing ingredients must be pummeled, mixed, and heated in exactly the right way or your potion will explode. Unfortunately, potions also take many hours to brew, so the game isn’t very engaging. It is worth it to note, however, that despite these flaws my house is currently in the lead by a comfortable margin.
Overall, Pottermore has the makings of a great experience – it is fun, well-crafted, and the expanded content is genuinely interesting. One bit about the life of Professor McGonagall was very moving. The word that seems to describe it best, though, is incomplete. In beta stage, there’s simply not much to do. For those of you still awaiting your welcome email, you’re certainly in for a treat, but for all the others who must wait until October, there’s equal benefit in waiting for a completed product. Unless, of course, you’re sorted as a Hufflepuff. Even in real life they’re losing the house cup competition quite badly.