Like many people, I sort of grew up with Harry Potter. I didn’t read the first book back in 1998, but around the time that I began high school I began reading the novels, racing through the published novels up until that point and then eagerly awaiting the next release. When that came, I’d sit up all night reading as far as I could before sleep demanded me. While I think the Harry Potter books are far from being the best literature I’ve ever read, that sensation of following the character and the anticipation of the next instalment is one that I’ll be unlikely to experience again in my life time. Why then does the concept of Pottermore fill me with so much dread?
I’m not going to pretend that I was entirely satisfied with the ending, but it felt like an ending. Harry Potter dying and coming back to life was something that didn’t sit entirely well with me, though I’m not completely sure why. Possibly because it felt like the right thing to do was to let Harry die having completed this act, rather than magically come back to life. It was magical, there’s little doubt about that. The prophecy ‘and either must die at the hand of the other for neither can live while the other survives’ is rather confusing. Either must die, means one or the other, can be killed, while neither can live, suggests neither one nor the other, can live, while the other one is living. Yet the concept of Voldemort using Harry’s blood protecting Harry from harm negates the suggestion of the first part of the prophecy, while the second part suggests that so long as they’re both alive, they’re both safe, so one would have to die for the other to also die. How much cooler wouldn’t it really have been for Harry to die and then see Neville run that sword through Voldemort? Not that Neville, or anyone else, would have gotten all the glory, but Harry’s sacrifice would have been at the very forefront. J.K. Rowling herself has said that the main theme of the series is dealing with death, and over the course of the series we’ve seen a lot of tragic deaths, such as Sirius; wouldn’t it have been marvellous for the series to end, not with a tragic death, but with a heroic sacrifice? That said, Pottermore has nothing to do with any of that.
I could go on, especially since I haven’t even touched on the hilarious child names in the epilogue or how Harry just refused to kill Voldemort, and instead attempted to disarm him. Pottermore however, is actually more like a fan site. It will sell digital copies of the Harry Potter novels, and audio books. Also available will be additional content, but more like author’s notes than any extended literature, as well as fan contributions. My main question about this is how is that any different than deviantART or fanfiction.net which has been hosting fan made contributions to the Harry Potter mythology for years? Not to mention, Pottermore will be heavily supervised, so any of the art and stories that people have been able to indiscriminately post on the internet won’t see the light of day on that sight. Obviously some topics are vulgar and their characters or plotlines can be rather inappropriate, but even legitimately good stories might be completely discarded due to characters not being portrayed in a light that Rowling or her agent deems to be in line with their vision with the Potter universe. Why bother with this when it would be so much easier and allow for so much more freedom to just post on websites that already allow for this sort of thing? Honestly, it reeks of attempting to put a rein on fan works; for anyone who gets included it’ll certainly be commendable, but it’s unfortunate that so many legitimately well written works will likely be ignored for minor reasons. While as a writer (although unpublished…so far…) I can understand why you might like to control people’s opinions of your creations, I also know the internet, and trying to hold back the tidal waves of opinion on the internet is absolutely foolish.
Returning to the additional content, well, it might be interesting. J. R. R. Tolkien created an entire world from his notes and additional content that enriched the novels and created a powerful history behind the stories that we all know and love. Done right, additional content will do exactly what it says on the tin: it will add to what is already in the canon and help us, the reader, to appreciate it all the more. Setting and maps will likely do this, but I’m a little concerned that, rather than getting a rich history behind the halls of Hogwarts, all I’m going to get is more ‘Dumbledore is gay’ notes. I mean, Dumbledore may certainly be gay, but reading back the novel with that in mind adds nothing to the established canon. It affects nothing. What will we find out next? Ginny is a fan of Muse. Hermione is an avid fan of Calvin and Hobbs. Draco is a secret fan of How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days. Let me point out that none of these are specifically bad details. It’s entirely possibly for a character to have certain joys and fears, not all that may come out in the process of the story, but an author will likely have to know about these because an author, after spending so much time with a character the author will likely know this character better than they know their own mother. Problem is, as much as you might like all these little details about your characters, they don’t make it into the main story for a reason. They might be interesting but they don’t add to the plot or further the story, and adding them to this website just won’t be helpful. It won’t enrich the history of the series.
Above and beyond all that, the site is reportedly going to be a huge slap in the face to book stores and online retailers. You can read hereabout the reaction of physical book stores to the decision to use this site to exclusively sell the series as audio book and e-book formats. As I said, this can be surmised as a slap in the face. The stores which sold the novels to Rowling’s initial audience are being pushed to the side. While it is Rowling’s creation, and in the end up it’s to her what she wishes to do with the series, it’s obviously rather arrogant to turn your back on the very places which set you up as an author in the beginning. The site seems, in part, to be about giving back to the readers and fans. It’s certainly not about giving back to book stores. It’s also absolutely exclusive. The Apple store which currently supplies all your audio book needs will no longer even be allowed to sell the novels in audio form. That’s just a little bit insulting, no? Like, ‘oh, you did well, but now we’re going to do it ourselves’. Again, J.K. Rowling has the right to do whatever she wants with the franchise, but I can’t see this as anything other than, again, trying to limit the outlets to which people are exposed to Harry Potter, and how they can then interact with the franchise. Not to mention, if this site, backed by Sony, has exclusive rights to the audio and e-books, then they can charge ridiculous prices because you obviously don’t have the option to look elsewhere. Furthermore, whatever you plan on reading the e-books on, I hope it isn’t a Kindle. Amazon’s current e-book reader doesn’t support the format that the Harry Potter e-books are rumoured to be sold in, though I imagine that this may soon change so that Amazon’s customers will be able to read some of their favourite novels on Amazon’s product and, therefore won’t feel left out. Older Kindles however will probably be the last to feel the change, so if you bought a Kindle as soon as it came out, you may have to be patient.
This site is rather indicative of the literature industry as a whole really though. More and more time is being devoted to creating written word that can be accessed electronically or audibly, and I think this process is only going to continue. Already almost all major authors have some sort of online presence from Stephanie Meyer’s forums to Neil Gaiman’s blog. The literary world has always been about words, and so long as you have a point to make, you’ll try to make it across the most accessible field to the people. This is what the internet has become. Whatever you want, you can find it here, sometimes for free, sometimes at a price. I think this site does nothing more than affirm this, but it’s not really subtle in its execution. It’s going to annoy a lot of companies, some long time fans as well, but generally most fans will be accepting, even if it is at a price.
If nothing else, after the disaster Sony has recently faced, Pottermore should at least keep them in business.