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Getting Personal with Harry Potter

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Getting Personal with Harry Potter

Cassie Jeong

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Fans of the Harry Potter franchise, hold your hippogriffs. Pottermore.com, a website designed by author J.K. Rowling with TH_NK and Sony, officially opened to the public on April 14. The site was previously only available to a “very small number” of beta testers, who gained access in 2011 by completing one of seven challenges in the week of Harry Potter’s birthday (July 31st, muggles). Rowling describes Pottermore on her website, jkrowling.com, as “a way for ‘Harry Potter’ to live on in a medium that didn’t exist when I started writing the books.” The site follows Harry’s adventure through chapters that correspond with the books’, each page an interactive environment with animations and extra information about the books, and featuring a total of over 18,000 words of new Potter material.

I was among the frenzied fanatics scrambling to complete the “Magic Quill Challenge”, which consisted of clicking an icon of a quill, available on the Deathly Hallows website for a limited time, which led to a page saying, “What is the number of the chapter in which Professor McGonagall cancels the Quidditch match between Gryffindor and Hufflepuff? Multiply this number by 42.” Answering correctly allows one to become a beta tester, and before I knew what I was getting myself into, I received a registration email on August 1st, and gained access to the site on August 30th. Wicked.

While I enjoyed reading exclusive content about the characters I loved and grew up with, chapter seven was where I put my foot down. Horror of all horrors, the Hogwarts Sorting Hat placed me into Ravenclaw house, and not my desired Slytherin! Hurt and cheated, I abandoned my Pottermore account and let it gather Acromantula webs for months before handing the account details over to a friend.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had more than my fair share of Pottermania. I’m not proud of being as obnoxious a Potterhead as I was, and that half of my life is a dark one because I became a total Potter elitist. Can’t give two different names for wolfsbane? You haven’t read the books properly. Can’t recreate the Black family tree from memory? You should be ashamed of yourself. Oh, so you don’t watch J.K. Rowling sleep at night? And you call yourself a fan?

The main problem I had with Pottermore was the Sorting Hat. The site boasted the only “true” Sorting Hat test, written by Rowling herself, but the questions seemed trivial and extraneous. Questions like “What is your favorite musical instrument?” and “What is your favorite time of day?” cannot sufficiently assess my character, and the biggest disappointment with Pottermore is the missed opportunity for the author to create an exclusive, official, and accurate Hogwarts House sorting test. I actually don’t mind Ravenclaw, but because the questions asked were so irrelevant, it is annoying that I had an equal chance of placing there if I answered at random.

The second issue was that because the website is not a game, but an “experience”, many required activities are a waste of time rather than fun. In chapter five, Diagon Alley, the user must pick up a certain number of Galleons (currency in the wizarding world) from the ground, and then go through every shop individually purchasing the one object listed on each shopkeeper’s list.

Some features of the site, as well as serving no purpose other than to fill time and make the user jump through hoops, were just plain stupid. Right off the bat, when one registers for an account, their name appears at a top of a page titled “List of magical folk”, below which are listed names like Harry Potter, Ron Weasley, and Cho Chang. By Dobby’s sock, how is Cho, Harry’s first girlfriend, more important than Hermione Granger, one of the main characters of the entire series? How is this list organized in the first place, and who in their right mind would bother compiling a “List of magical folk”? Though it is merely one of many quirks to please small children, the painfully arbitrary nature of such a list makes my brain bleed.

Old habits are hard to break, and it’s very difficult for me not to look at Pottermore hubbub now and say, “Yeah, I had an account before it was cool,” like I’m such a big shot. It’s easy to be critical of a franchise as huge as Harry Potter, but anyone interested in gaining a deeper understanding of the series’ background and process of its writing, regardless of whether they have any history with Pottermania, should definitely check the site out for themselves. Though my overall experience with Pottermore has been negative, the extra context given by Rowling’s newly released online texts are insightful and engrossing, and the visual graphics, however ornamental, are flawlessly designed.

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