In four days, those of you who weren't part of the exciting early-access team, will finally be granted entry as Pottermore opens to the world. I've been talking all things Pottermore for a few weeks now, and have remained surprised when people suddenly stop me and say: "Wait... what is this thing?" So in the interests of trying to make sure everyone is ready when the Hogwarts Express leaves the station this weekend, I present to you my brief run-down of how the site works.
Firstly here is J.K. Rowling's somewhat ambiguous announcement from earlier in the year:
As you can see, the ideal for Pottermore is for the site to function as a sort of Potter-related social network, and interactive reading experience. Mostly it does these things pretty well. Privacy concerns make the social aspects well stripped back, so chances are you'll be doing a lot of your negotiating and working out whose username belongs to who through other websites, but it's quite fun to read through people's comments about various parts of the story, and check out what they're are saying on your house's wall too. The site has a whole lot of other stuff going on too, and while in Beta testing the online shop doesn't work yet, it will theoretically have a store which will crucially be the sole outlet of the Harry Potter ebooks. This has many people watching with wide eyes, because good ol' J.K may just have a deciding vote on how ebooks are sold and particularly how much for.
To be honest though, the part of Pottermore that I'd really like to sell you is the actual experience. I think it's a smashing idea, and while I got through all there was to do without repetition in about a night (The Chamber of Secrets and the other Potter books after Philosopher's Stone have not yet been opened, enemies of the heir need not beware) after an initially skeptical start Pottermore took me immediately back to a time when the Harry Potter novels were everything to me. The beauty of the website is that it absolutely relies on a knowledge of the books, and exists around them, rather than aside from them. One of the crucial challenges at the end of the first section was finding the Philosopher's Stone, and without the final chapter held firmly in my head, I would have had no idea where to click and receive my reward. The site is gorgeously illustrated (hope they bring out editions of the books with these pictures!), and while sparse in terms of interactivity in most scenes (I also noted no sound), it's a lot of fun to just look at the places you've been reading about. Rowling herself also provides massive chunks of background detail, and it's fascinating clicking things and reading back-stories and hidden details about their construction. There is a lot to learn about writing here, as well as the world of the books.
For me, the pinnacle of the experience was exploring the world for myself. If you're anything like me you will have fantasised about what sort of wand and pet you would have at Hogwarts, and above anything else, what house you would be in. Pottermore answers all these questions, and in my opinion is the last word on each subject. From thousands of wand configurations I was delighted to discover at the end of a questionnaire that I in fact share the elements of my wand with Harry - Holly and Phoenix feather - which I am told through the personality information in the wand guide is a notoriously problematic but incredibly powerful combination. As far as houses go, I was momentarily distraught, but eventually accepting of a placement in the humble house of Hufflepuff, presumably due to my championing of imagination over intelligence, bravery and ambition, as well as my apparent fondness for badgers. These things change the site experience for good, making it possible for you to score and lose points for your house in competition for the year's house cup. Playing part of the Potter world is the greatest asset the site has, and if, like me, you lament the loss of all things Potter, the site has come at an opportune (and perhaps strategic) time.
Longevity on Pottermore is an issue, and the site's enduring success will rely heavily on maintaining the excitement and experience produced by its initial offering. It's hard to see how you could possibly top being sorted by the sorting hat, but I'm hoping the crew behind the site have some canny ideas to make it something that maintains appeal in the long run. For now though, your first night on Pottermore will be a delight, and if you find yourself missing the books and films you better cancel all your appointments for October the 1st, and simply enjoy a night experiencing all that Pottermore has to offer. I look forward to hearing what all of you get when you gain access, and (if you are particularly charming and attractive) hopefully communing with you in the Hufflepuff common room!