The University is a hotbed of Harry Potter fandom. There’s the maize-and-blue spirit wear for the Michigan Muggles club, the pride students may feel when the Law Quad is compared to Hogwarts, the Michigan Quidditch team founded last year and how the University’s placed itself on the “Harry Potter” map with Team StarKid’s “A Very Potter Musical” and its sequel.
After the eighth “Potter” movie was released, however, the explosion of fandom finally seemed to quiet down — even at the University — for the first time in the 14 years following the genesis of “Harry Potter.”
But all this was before J.K. Rowling, abandoning owl post for the more conventional communication medium of YouTube, invited Harry’s fans to a new web-based interactive experience she called Pottermore.
Pottermore is not a game; there is no objective. Instead, players participate in some of the quintessential Harry Potter experiences, including shopping in Diagon Alley, buying a wand, riding the Hogwarts Express, getting sorted, casting spells and earning points for the House Cup by brewing potions and dueling fellow wizards.
The site was open for beta testing for Potter enthusiasts who could answer trivia questions during a seven-day Magical Quill challenge.
The challenge began on July 31 (Potter’s and Rowling’s birthday) and featured questions ranging from “How many Deathly Hallows are there?” to “How many owls are on the Eeylops Owl Emporium sign?” Rowling invited the 1 million fans who could answer one of the seven questions during the brief window of time it appeared on each day of the challenge to participate in shaping Pottermore. Three months after Rowling’s announcement, Pottermore was temporarily shut down yesterday so it can be updated based on the feedback of beta testers. When the site eventually opens for registration, on an as-yet-undetermined date, access will be granted to fans in waves.
LSA freshman Nina Papp, who considers the title of “superfan” to be an understatement for her devotion to “Harry Potter,” was unable to participate in the Magical Quill challenge. For her, the opening of Pottermore to the masses will be a much-anticipated event, and she plans on joining Pottermore as soon as possible.
“The excitement for the books and the movies was ridiculous for me, but I’m looking forward to anything Potter-related,” Papp said.
So how exactly would University students who were granted early access describe Pottermore?
“It’s like someone paraphrased each chapter into a painting that kind of moves,” said LSA sophomore and Michigan Muggles executive board member Heather Cooper. “It’s not as interactive as a flash game … but there are only a few things on each page that you can do. But the graphics on each page are just absolutely beautiful.”
Cooper, who was sorted into Slytherin on the site, has played through the entire story of “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.” The first book is the only one currently available on the site, though “Chamber of Secrets” is slated to be added in early 2012. The Pottermore version of the book is divided into the same chapters found in print. Each chapter has several illustrated scenes, and each scene has layers through which participants can click and explore.
Perhaps the most anticipated aspect of Pottermore is the extensive amount of background information released by Rowling exclusively for Pottermore. By clicking on different items in the illustrated scenes, fans can unearth new information about the series, like how Hogwarts knows which children are witches or wizards, and biographies of beloved characters like Professor McGonagall.
This new content has been the most rewarding part of Pottermore for Public Policy senior Emily Byl, a Pottermore Slytherin and Michigan Quidditch team founder.
“It makes the stories richer and gives you an appreciation for the development of characters that is often left out in the plot of the books,” Byl said.
Pottermore will also be the exclusive site where “Harry Potter” e-books and audio books can be purchased, starting in 2012. While Cooper and Byl have not decided if they will purchase the e-books or audio books, both expressed varying opinions on what Pottermore might mean to the future of literary fandom. Cooper said she does not believe Pottermore can replace the books for the diehard fans, who grew up reading the print copies.
“I don’t think Pottermore can stand on its own,” Cooper said. “It’s more of a supplementary thing. If you haven’t read the books, I don’t think Pottermore will make sense.”
While Byl also said she believes Pottermore makes little sense without first reading the books, she thinks the site could be a pioneer in the realm of virtual textual experiences.
“When the e-books are put online, children will be able to read the books online and experience the images and the games at the same time,” Byl said. “I don’t think Pottermore will replace the books, just maybe the physical books.”
Byl added, “Books of the future will probably model things off of Pottermore — things like the ‘Twilight’ series … that have a similar passionate fan base.”
In fact, a new official “Twilight” fan site, called the Twilight Time Capsule, was launched on Oct. 18. Though the site isn’t a Pottermore copycat — Twilight Time Capsule enables users to share their favorite “Twilight” memories — it brings into sharp relief the potential of more literature crossing the gap between physical books and popular new media experiences.
However, these new media experiments with literature are exactly that: new. Sites like Pottermore are not fully developed and drawbacks are inherent.
Perhaps because the site is still in beta testing, University Potter-heads aren’t entirely satisfied with Pottermore. There is no chat feature on the site and this, according to LSA freshman and Hufflepuff Skye Payne, leads to little fan-to-fan interaction.
“Each house has a common room with a comment board, but people don’t really talk to each other,” Payne said. “You can’t message each other or anything … so it’s very much like your own journey through the books.”
Byl agrees that one of Pottermore’s main weaknesses is its lack of mediums for social interaction.
“It’s not like a role-playing game,” she said. “This makes sense because of the age differences (of players on the site). But I think it’s frustrating for people who were looking for more.”
Byl also noted because Pottermore is the first facet of Potter fandom to be created exclusively by Rowling (besides the books), fans may react negatively to the note of finality implied in Rowling tightening the gaps in the story. With many of the characters’ backstories revealed and so much of the magical world explained on Pottermore, Potter fans wonder if there will be creative fan content in the future like “A Very Potter Musical,” wizard rock groups like Harry and the Potters or the more than 57,000 results for “Harry Potter” on FanFiction.net.
“I feel like superfans might feel that Pottermore is taking away from that process of people being able to create and add their own things to the story,” Byl said. “Quidditch, wizard rock, fan fiction — that’s all fan-produced. Those are all creative outlets people have taken because they love the books so much.”
The tagline of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2,” “It all ends,” stands corrected in light of Pottermore and fan-created content, especially at the University. Potter fandom has not yet run its course, though perhaps it will not continue with the same innovation Potter devotees have exhibited in the past. But what this means for some members of the University community, for whom “Harry Potter” has been a magical component of their lives, is unclear.