Tuesday 16 August 2011


The first reviews of Pottermore are coming out, and I feel like I'm glimpsing the future of something. Maybe it's the future of how we consume 'books'; maybe it's the future of a new relationship with authors.*

Even as a non-avid Harry Potter reader (I think I've read most of the books, but I'm not sure**) I can completely see the appeal of this massively immersive experience. Pottermore only features the first book in the series so far, but Rowlings has added reams of backstory, notes, ideas that were ditched, and the kinds of activities fans (and non-avid readers) will likely go nuts for. From Bryan Young's review on Huffington Post

As I went through to choose my wand, I was asked a series of questions, written by Rowling herself, before a wand chose me.

I was assigned a Hawthorne wand with a unicorn core, 10 and 3/4's inches, and of a slightly springy flexibility. It was very cool and seemed very personalized, but you don't realize how personalized until the next screen where you're able to explore what all the different sorts of wand cores and woods mean. There's hundreds of possible combinations, thousands maybe, and somehow when I read about typical personality traits of wizards with my wand it seemed oddly accurate. Magic? Maybe.

It goes deeper from there:

You're sorted into a house at Hogwarts through a series of questions. The questions don't seem to have obvious paths to any specific house but, again, the results seem oddly prescient. As I read the books, I was quite confident I'd be sorted into Ravenclaw and this only confirmed my suspicions.

From there, you're granted access to the common room of your house and the majority of social networking begins. You can link up to Facebook and find friends of your own inside Pottermore, assign them nicknames, comment on their activities, and give them gifts of the loot you've found throughout the book.

But there's even more to do. You can cast spells and duel with fellow (live) students, you can make potions, and keep track of house points in the Great Hall. In fact, there is an active competition for the House Cup and you see the house points for all four houses in the Great Hall.

For every kid - and adult - who wanted to be The Chosen One, swept off into a magical world of spells and portent and symbolism and best friends, this is it. It's some new form of entertainment/social networking/fanfic/alternate reality that I can't put my finger on yet, but that intrigues me.

First review of Pottermore - the Guardian
Background on Pottermore - Wired

*One of my first thoughts was - do I want to be this close to authors? I can see the appeal for Neil Gaiman fans, or George R.R. Martin fans, or Terry Pratchett readers. But do I want BloodMeridianMore? No. No, I don't.
** I recently read the last book. I read the epilogue first. I was Disappointed.


staplegun said...

What I think is clever about Pottermore is it will recreate the gradual globally-shared experience (that made the series a success) with a whole new generation.

This thread http://snarkmarket.com/2011/7231 describes how a large part of the excitement of reading the Potter series was anticipating the release of the next book and that young readers grew up at the same rate as the characters... comparing it possibly to like being a Beatles fan.

However, now you can read the whole series in a week! But then you miss out on the community and shared experience around it.

I think they figured out the Potter series developed a winning formula, and with the wizardry of the internet (pun intended) they can repeat it over and over with each new wave of muggles (more pun intended). Plus, by releasing new 'secrets' and activities they can also hook-in existing fans. My guess is we'll see one book added per year, to mimic the original release schedule.

Of course online communities and offline communities (eg. LARPs) around particular books aren't new, but they are often fragmented - it is certainly more enticing if you know the author is involved.

Possibly it's not so much a new form as mainstreaming a combination of existing forms?

Either way, the way everything seems to have a 'social' component to it nowadays (even our poet laureates ;-> ), yes, I think it is something authors and publishers will have to come to grips with.

talkingtothecan said...

I've somehow managed to not read any Potter books, see any of the films, or visit Pottermore. It's not intentional but I guess it's become a thing.

So I can't comment on that, but what I do think is interesting is the idea of authors becoming more social and what it means for authors who aren't by nature social. How many books aren't going to see the light of day thanks to their author's social discomfort, anxiety, introversion? Call it what you will, but at the same time remembering that it's some of these traits that make great literature - the tortured soul, working alone, focused only on crating their Great Work.

And what of the flipside - a world of literature dominated by writers who might be better at self-promotion than actual writing? Like you say, do we really want that close a relationship?