I have been in Pottermore now for a week and have worked my way through the first nine chapters of Philosopher’s (Sorcerer’s) Stone. When I first heard that J. K. Rowling planned on doing Pottermore, I was unsure as to what a website could add to the books. What I have found out, however, is that there is a lot to be added to the world of Harry Potter. In this review, I will share screen captures, a review of the site/layout, and the experience itself. I will not spoil any of the new information provided by Rowling or give a chapter-by-chapter run down of what you will experience. That is for you to explore whether you are waiting for your Beta invite or the full release in October.
I will begin by saying that the website is very stable. There was some concern as to whether or not the site was built with Adobe’s Flash technology, but it appears that Sony has chosen to go with HTML 5 or some variant. Which means that Pottermore will work on tablets and phones without Flash. In fact, Pottermore runs very smoothly on my iPhone! There have been only a few occasions where the site has been down for maintenance, but that is to be expected since this is a Beta period.
In each chapter, the layout of the page remains the same. The above image is from Chapter 9 and I will use this to explain the element on the page. (1) This the the “main menu” for Pottermore from which you can jump to Diagon Alley, Gringotts, the Great Hall, or your Common Room. There are also links to Spells, Potions, your Trunk, your Friends (you can link your account to Facebook), and pages that you add to your favorites along the way. Along the top it also shows you how many House Points you have earned and how many your house has in total. (2) This element presents all the information available in the chapter. Character biographies, places, collected items, books, etc. are all located in this sidebar. A little feather icon appears next to one of the menu elements if there is something new in this chapter. (3) This is your navigation bar. From here you can move forward to the next element, go back to the last element, or get a brief description of the chapter. The layout of Pottermore is extremely user friendly and functional.
The adventure through the books begins at login. After logging in with your chosen screen name, you are taken to a gateway (pictured above) which is outlined with the books and chapters. This serves as your navigation tool through the site and the books. From here you can continue through the book or jump to a previous chapter. This serves as the welcome page as you enter the website.
Although I said I would not spoil any of the experiences of Pottermore, I will highlight a few of the key experiences in the early chapters. The first of which would be shopping in Diagon Alley. Here you get to do many things including visit Gringotts to open your account (you are given 500 Galleons to begin with). After you have opened your account, you must purchase the items on your shopping list. This list is identical to the one Harry received in book one. You visit each store individually and make your purchases, including your choice of pet. The most important stop, however, is your last….choosing your wand.
Vising Ollivander’s is one of the most exciting parts of the trip to Diagon Alley. Receiving (well paying for!) your wand is the first step to becoming a wizard. You are asked a series of simple questions and a wand is chosen, or rather, a wand choses you! Although this is a short and easy process, it is key to the story.
After visiting Ollivander’s, you board the Hogwarts Express and head to Hogwarts. Upon entering the castle, you are taken to the sorting ceremony. Before you are sorted, you are presented with a short video from Rowling explaining that this is the crucial point of the experience. You will be a member of this house for the remainder of the books and there is no changing of houses. You are asked a series of more complex questions and you are then added to a house. I was sorted into Hufflepuff. You are then taken to your Common Room and presented with an exclusive history of your house (only members of your house has access to this information from Rowling).
The Great Hall is the center for your information about Hogwarts. Here you can find out how many points each house has, how many students are in each house, and how many students are enrolled at Hogwarts (currently there are approximately 360,000!). What I have found interesting about this page is the equality in numbers between the houses. One would think that the sorting hat ceremony could be easily swayed so that you could be in the house of your choice, but the numbers suggest otherwise. In fact, the numbers are so equal (look closely at the picture above), that there is obviously some filter in place to ensure that one house does not have 20,000 more than another. Right now the gap between the house with the most and least members is less than 1,000. Seems almost too close to be going completely by your answers.
Throughout the chapters, the reader is presented with a great amount of information. Character biographies, room descriptions, Rowling’s extras, etc. that there really is a lot to take in. Rowling’s extras are the best part the chapters and include backstory on the Dursleys, background on the Hogwart’s Express, and the backstory of Professor McGonagall. She also includes descriptions of all the woods and cores available to wand makers and their abilities. Her additions to the story are very thorough and written in the same story as the books so that readers will feel right at home.
In addition to readings, there are hands on activities as well. Casting spells and brewing potions are the two most challenging tasks on the site, in fact, they are damn near impossible to complete. The site administrators have admitted there are some issues that they would like to address to make these tasks easier, but casting a spell should not require a complicated system using both the keyboard and the mouse. Potions making should be detailed, and it works, until you get to a certain point and then I was stuck and ran out of time.
Despite these few issues, Pottermore is an exiting way to experience the world of Harry Potter. This site will thrill fans both young and old and will provide years of entertainment. It is important to note that what I am working with now is a Beta and may change before October, although I cannot image it would change much. Rowling said at her press conference introducing the site that the goal of Pottermore was to bring Harry Potter to a new generation of readers by incorporating technology. Pottermore hugely succeeds.
Keep up with the latest Pottermore news by visiting the Pottermore Insider.