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Pottermore
June 23, 2011 5:55 PM   Subscribe

Seven days ago, a new YouTube channel teased the creation of a mysterious new website called Pottermore. Today, JK Rowling released details about the new site. Pottermore will be 1) the exclusive place to purchase Harry Potter e-books, 2) a Harry Potter interactive experience/social networking site of sorts, and 3) a (free) repository of many pages of back notes about the Harry Potter series, similar in content, different in form, and possibly replacing the existence of the Harry Potter encyclopedia long-teased by Rowling. Fans react.
posted by lewedswiver (54 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

 
Man... just when I thought we were beginning to move past this..
posted by ReeMonster at 5:57 PM on June 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


Much like I have no interest in Caprica, Fight and Frack, or any other post-BSG show, I don't care about any new Harry Potter material.

Endings are good. Let them be. Please.
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 6:00 PM on June 23, 2011 [6 favorites]


Interesting; I'd always thought she would rather gargle with Drano than see her work in electronic format. I wonder what motivated the change of heart.
posted by Mooski at 6:01 PM on June 23, 2011


Beat me to this. Bloody hell...

Anyway, The Telegraph is calling it "a landmark for digital publishing".
posted by Trurl at 6:04 PM on June 23, 2011


a Harry Potter interactive experience/social networking site of sorts

Isn't that the entire Internet? LiveJournal, DeviantArt, YouTube all seem filled with Potter stuff. Even my GRIMDARK WARHAMMER AND LOVECRAFT little bro watches Potter Puppet Pals. And don't get me started on Stephen King's awkward and embarrassing HP tributes....

The world does not need another place to discuss what is a pretty decent entry in the 'wizard school' young adult sub genre.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 6:08 PM on June 23, 2011


Much like I have no interest in Caprica, Fight and Frack, or any other post-BSG show, I don't care about any new Harry Potter material.

Endings are good. Let them be. Please.


I couldn't agree with you more about HP but what this is enticing and exciting "Fight and Frack" BSG spinoff you speak of and where can I watch it?
posted by Bwithh at 6:13 PM on June 23, 2011 [5 favorites]


Yeah, I know, MOAR SOCIAL NETWORKING. Oh fucking goody. Because we're not inundated with that or anything.

Otherwise, I dunno, it's okay... nice to know umpteen years later they're finally getting e-books, and she's putting her encyclopedia whatever up there. I like HP but I am not rabid about it, so this is not exciting me. But the rabid people will be happy, so that's all that matters, I guess.
posted by jenfullmoon at 6:13 PM on June 23, 2011


Now, children of all ages will be able to revel in the world of Harry Potter!
posted by Threeway Handshake at 6:16 PM on June 23, 2011 [3 favorites]


Beat me to this. Bloody hell...

Well, it's my first post on the blue, so *there.* Hee hee.

Personally, I'm only excited about this because of the prospect that by getting her back notes all out of the bottom of her desk, she might be free to work on something entirely new and non-HP-related.

(Actually, at one point she had said that if she wrote anything post-HP, she would post it under a pseudonym, so it's possible she already has published something and no one knows, because lightning doesn't strike twice.)
posted by lewedswiver at 6:22 PM on June 23, 2011


Much like I have no interest in Caprica, Fight and Frack, or any other post-BSG show, I don't care about any new Harry Potter material. Endings are good. Let them be. Please.

Please. Like Battlestar Galactica had an ending.
posted by kirkaracha at 6:27 PM on June 23, 2011 [14 favorites]


Harry Potter is what taught me about the internet.

So here I am, 11 years old, and the internet's a big, big world and I wouldn't know for the life of me how to get started looking around at it until a friend tells me about FanFiction.Net. She mostly writes crossover stuff-- she's a big Cardcaptor Sakura fan and likes to write stuff where the CCS characters meet the denizens of Hogwarts, stuff like that. I'm a straight-up Harry Potter fan, for the most part, and there's this whole big world of people writing about, talking about, loving the things that I love.

I consume, and create, fan material by the bucketload. I learn about Elfwood and Side7-- the spiritual precursors to DeviantArt-- through Harry Potter fandom.

It's my introduction to this life-changing idea that there are people like me on the internet, and that's permeated my life in a lot of ways. I moved through fandoms, spent a lot of time on Livejournal, created a Neopets guild, hung out on a myriad of webcomic forums, hung around on Facebook, on blogs both local and international, and eventually found an internet home somewhere around the feminist blogs and Metafilter and the like. At the same time I became a fiction writer and an artist, things I'd never really done before I got the introduction to art and fiction the internet gave me.

So I guess what I'm saying is, the more sites there are for Harry Potter, the better, because I still have that lonely 11-year-old kid in me that wants to meet people like her and has no idea where to start. Because reading anything I could get my hands on with extra knowledge about the books, from name origins to interviews with Rowling to Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them was how I learned about the side of myself that loves reading extensive, in-depth works about alternate universes; that informed the part of me that tore through the in-universe books in Morrowind and Dungeons and Dragons manuals.

I'll read all the supplementary material now; the depth of the universe and the people that populate it is always what made Harry Potter sparkle for me. This has the potential to be another one of those websites that, at 11, could've changed my life.
posted by NoraReed at 6:32 PM on June 23, 2011 [35 favorites]


Well, I'm off to read fandomwank. Can't be long before this hits there.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 7:02 PM on June 23, 2011


So, apparently, it's called Blood and Chrome. I think my name is better.

Anyway, I think BSG did have an ending. Not a great one, but it was there. And I'm not saying everything has to be tied up in a bow, either. You could've never told me what happened to Starbuck.
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 7:03 PM on June 23, 2011


This part is huge, y'all:

Although Rowling is selling her e-books via her own ecommerce site, she wants to ensure that people can enjoy them on whatever device they have -- be it a Kindle, an iPad, a Sony Reader or a Nook....

Currently, both Amazon and Apple have restricted their e-book files so that they can only be read on the Kindle and the iPad respectively. But in order for Kindle and Apple to be able to offer their owners access to the e-books of the biggest selling author of the decade, they will have to create an exception to this rule, and forgo the 30 percent commission that they usually charge authors or publishers.


I've never read the books, but with this move Rowling has just become my favorite bestselling author. Seriously, this could be fucking huge.
posted by mediareport at 7:05 PM on June 23, 2011 [31 favorites]


I still dont quite get what it is. But im signing up regardless.
posted by AzzaMcKazza at 7:13 PM on June 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'm going to sign up and chase around it, but she's said so much apparently contradictory stuff about what's not in the books already that I'm going to feel free to pick and choose from what she adds here to match my own headcanon for what's outside the original texts.
posted by immlass at 7:20 PM on June 23, 2011


Hedwig d... oh, forget it.
posted by cog_nate at 7:24 PM on June 23, 2011


More about the publishing ramifications of Rowling's move. I absolutely *love* that she will be paying royalties to her US publisher and not the other way around:

Scholastic is the U.S. rights holder for the "Harry Potter" series but the company will receive royalties from sales of the book in U.S. editions from her...

All of Rowling's seven "Harry Potter" books will be released on Pottermore.com in the fall. She's even giving fans who buy the digital books direct from her site a magical treat -- 18,000 more words that will be distributed throughout the series...

Amazon holds more than 50 percent of all e-book sales, while Barnes and Noble gets about 25 percent of the market and Sony 8 percent. But since book publishing is a business where a small percentage of many authors, the blockbuster writers like Rowling, John Grisham, James Patterson and Danielle Steele, command the vast majority of the sales volume, just a few [defections to Rowling's model] creates a very big problem.

If Rowling makes a go publishing e-books herself, essentially bypassing both traditional means and new digital means trying to become traditional in recent years, more big authors are sure to follow -- meaning that the e-book market share held by Amazon, Barnes and Noble and Sony may have far less value than the companies and shareholders have argued and believed.


So, Rowling is using her strong position to 1) pressure the big e-book players into opening their formats and 2) remind them that the promise of increased access doesn't necessarily include 30% commissions for middlemen. Fascinating move on her part.
posted by mediareport at 7:25 PM on June 23, 2011 [5 favorites]


Either you "get" Harry Potter or you don't. I'm not saying Harry Potter is some ultra-deep work of art which is beyond people's understanding. In fact I'm saying the opposite: What makes Harry Potter wasn't just the books, but the social phenomenon that erupted up around it and transformed it into a cultural icon the likes of which megacolossal successes like Twilight wish they were half the size of. Harry Potter spawned hundreds of bands who wrote songs exclusively about the Potterverse. It spawned a league of college Quidditch teams that's been growing steadily for the last few years. It's very goofy-silly and very loving and a lot of young people have formed communities around it which I can only think is a positive thing.

The books themselves are excellent books. They're not my pinnacle-favorite children's literature, but they're in my top three. And very few experiences have affected me as much as getting the seventh book the day it came out, curling up for eight hours, and reading it through twice in a row. When I was eight years old and in the third grade, Harry Potter was already big enough that a quarter of the kids in my class had read the first two books, and we performed a play based on Sorcerer's Stone. In the nine years from then to the final book, Harry Potter didn't so much grow as exploded. There has never been another cultural reaction to a book series like it.

This seems like an attempt to provide a core for the world of Harry Potter fandom, to spread Harry Potter-loving to a newer, younger generation, and possibly to take the Harry Potter universe out of Rowling's head and let fans build on it themselves. Like fanfiction without the cultural negativity. Possibly much more. Rowling's working with a completely unique fanbase, one of the largest and most passionate fanbases of anything in the world. She has the potential to create something truly lasting.

I don't know if this will be that. Nobody does yet. But this is exciting, both because it's never been done before and because it might be something extraordinary. In any event, I don't think there's anything wrong with trying to extend Pottermania another decade by pushing it to a new medium. It's been a little while since somebody tried to start a new religion. And few religions are as rooted in friendliness, bravery, and geekery than Harry Potter is.
posted by Rory Marinich at 7:26 PM on June 23, 2011 [5 favorites]


Please. Like Battlestar Galactica had an ending.

I'm pretty sure it had, like, at least three. Maybe more.
posted by heathkit at 7:28 PM on June 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


Pottermore may be the only place you can purchase HP e-books. You can get them for free everywhere else on the internet.
posted by scruss at 7:33 PM on June 23, 2011 [3 favorites]


I'm not reading a single Harry Potter book or using related medium until JK Rowling dies. I don't want to be led by the nose through decades of canon changes and retrocontinuities based on her whimsy. Potter won't be done until she is done writing it. Till then, I'll stick to JRR Tolkien, thank you very much.
posted by Renoroc at 7:37 PM on June 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


How much canon changing do you anticipate? Is this a big problem with other living authors/creators?
posted by maryr at 7:40 PM on June 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


By the way, some of Rowling's quotes from that second link excite me a lot.

On Sorting:
"In the main narrative you only ever see the other houses through the eyes of the three, my three heroes. What I’m basically saying is that it’s not a terrible thing to be in Slytherin. And in fact I have always seen Gryffindor and Slytherin as the two closest houses. I think that Harry himself could have gone either way very easily. I don’t think it’s very guessable. You must be answering honestly. You just get one shot at this, it’s like a Mensa test, there’s no going back, you’ve got to do it properly the first time."
On the sorts of content that will be available:
"The world has kind of outstripped me in the sense that back in 1998 I generated a lot more material than would ever be put in the books. It was simply ridiculous that anyone - to me at the time, I thought, who would ever want to know the significance of these types of wand woods? This was all in my head. So the only way I could imagine I could get that material out there was in the form of a printed book. Now, you can go and look and see what the significance of the wand wood once what you’ve got your wand. You have to read it all, but it’s such a rich experience to do it this way."
On how much there is:
"Oh god, I don’t know. Lots. There’s lots. 18,000 words at launch but I’m adding to it. I’m still digging up boxes and I will write more as well as we hit subsequent books. In fact I’ve already given material on the other six books. We’ve been working on this for about two years so this has been int the works quite a long time."
On the rules of Quidditch:
"I love geeky people so I do not say this in a pejorative way, but the number of geeky men who have come up to me to argue with me about Quidditch - I’d be a lot richer if I had a quid for every one. They just think it’s illogical. But it’s not illogical and I had a speech by Dumbledore in the first book that never made it in explaining why Quidditch is not illogical, so at some point I will put that on the site. Thank you for reminding me."
This sounds like my 15-year-old self's wet dream. It sounds like a dream to me even now. Rowling says she's done writing novels about Harry — his story is over and done — but now she wants to expand the universe, make a place for people who want to explore.

Rowling began work on Harry Potter years before she started writing the first book. She has, according to her, sheaths and sheaths of writing about this universe that simply never made its way into the books, because the books were first and foremost narrative works (and they are written deliberately from the viewpoint of a character who wasn't born knowing anything about this universe). But a work like this could give incredible depth to the universe, while sidestepping the problem of narrative entirely. A grand imaginative work of a sort which kids who never played Dungeons & Dragons are rarely introduced to. The creative work of not telling a story, but creating a universe in which to dwell.
posted by Rory Marinich at 7:45 PM on June 23, 2011 [7 favorites]


Rowling hasn't made any notable canon modifications ever as far as I'm aware. I could be foolishly optimistic, but I doubt she's likely to go the George Lucas route with the existing canon.

And furthermore, there was a large amount of information that she created in notebooks and sketches that she either didn't find a place for in the books, or used as background for the content.

On balance, I don't think she's likely to become either a George Lucas (a creator who never even fully understood the depths of his own previous work, making future creation pale in comparison) OR a Tolkien (forever tinkering with the canon and never actually arriving at a single even remotely coherent whole).
posted by chimaera at 7:48 PM on June 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


I liked the Harry Potter books well enough to read them all, and not much more than that.

But I LOVE JK Rowling for what she's about to do to ebooks and DRM.
posted by jacquilynne at 7:50 PM on June 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


she might be free to work on something entirely new and non-HP-related.

Good gods, you say that as if it were a good thing...
posted by OneMonkeysUncle at 8:21 PM on June 23, 2011


I was once a part of this community. I stayed fiercely away from Harry Potter until 2001, when I was traveling between my second and third years of college, and on a plane with nothing else to read, I relented and cracked open my friend's copy of sorcerer's stone. When we landed, I immediately bought the next three books.

(Amusing side-note: I found them at a Christian bookstore in Crested Butte, CO. This was at the time when some Christian groups were burning the books. I asked the proprietor about this discrepancy, and her reply was something like, "Have you read them? They're about good and evil, and the difficultly of doing what's right, and choosing the greater good over what's good or easy for yourself. Of COURSE I sell them." I like liberal hippy Christians.)

Anyway, no zealot like a convert, and so I soon started writing editorials for Mugglenet. One odd night Emerson, the owner of Mugglenet, IMed me out of the blue just because he was having some tough times and needed to talk to someone. We had never spoken before. It was strange, but very cool, in a way, that I was suddenly a member of the upper echelon of fandom. One of the cooler things JKR did back in the day was that with the release of (I think) Half-Blood Prince, the only interview she gave that night was to Emerson and the woman who ran The Leaky Cauldron, treating her fanbase as paramount on the eve of what was to be the biggest publishing day in history (until the next one.)

Anyway, there was a book being sold around this time, "The Unofficial Guide," which was chock-full of tea-readings and theories and horseshit and was treated like prophetic gospel around those parts. I wrote an article tearing down a lot of what they'd written in the guide, going based on story structure and character rather than oblique references and anagrams, and it was the big thing on Mugglenet that week, which would have been gratifying enough, but for what happened at the end of the week.

Rowling's website had, at the time at least, a page where it would honor the "fansite of the month," and at the end of that week she praised, "The Mighty Mugglenet." She questioned why it had taken her so long to get around the the largest HP fansite out there, and rounded out her list with, "the wonderful editorials (more insight there than in several companion volumes I shall not name.)"

This will not be the first nor last time that I give myself too much credit for something, but this felt like a greater message than almost any I've ever felt across the web (save for one from nickyskye) because, well, here was a woman whose works had inspired me greatly, enough where I blasted a bunch of theories out into the internet trashing other theories that I found simple and silly, and this woman was saying (without saying it) "I've read what you wrote. You are right. They are wrong. You get it."

I haven't been a part of that community in a long time, but I will be on Pottermore. This is awesome.
posted by Navelgazer at 8:53 PM on June 23, 2011 [13 favorites]


Either you "get" Harry Potter or you don't. I'm not saying Harry Potter is some ultra-deep work of art which is beyond people's understanding. In fact I'm saying the opposite: What makes Harry Potter wasn't just the books, but the social phenomenon that erupted up around it and transformed it into a cultural icon the likes of which megacolossal successes like Twilight wish they were half the size of. Harry Potter spawned hundreds of bands who wrote songs exclusively about the Potterverse. It spawned a league of college Quidditch teams that's been growing steadily for the last few years. It's very goofy-silly and very loving and a lot of young people have formed communities around it which I can only think is a positive thing.

That's awesome. What's weird about Harry Potter is that when I read them they seemed like well-written wizarding school books. It's a strangely fertile subgenre, and I'm not sure why it was HP and not So You Want To Be A Wizard or Wizard of Earthsea or The Dark Is Rising (my personal favorite) that became such a massive hit.
I do really enjoy wizard rock and Wizard People Dear Reader, but any fandom would have generated stuff like that. I'm not saying that Harry Potter is bad, I'm just not sure why they got picked out to be so huge.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 8:57 PM on June 23, 2011


Don't get me wrong -- I think Pottermore as announced is a fine idea. As a games nerd, though, I was kinda hoping it would be a straight-up MMO. I don't know that I personally would play it, but if they did it right that shit would've given World of Warcraft a run for its money.
posted by danb at 9:01 PM on June 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


People, will this website explain why Sirius had to tumble beyond the eerie veil rather than die normally (or, preferably, not at all)? I have been waiting a long time for a straight answer to this question.
posted by Mael Oui at 9:12 PM on June 23, 2011 [6 favorites]


"I wonder what motivated the change of heart?"

She needed a few extra bucks to buy Iceland.
posted by sneebler at 9:34 PM on June 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


Don't get me wrong -- I think Pottermore as announced is a fine idea. As a games nerd, though, I was kinda hoping it would be a straight-up MMO.

I'm personally waiting for a TV version of HP, hopefully an adult version like A Game of Thrones on HBO. The ratings on that show would be astronomical if done right.
posted by jmd82 at 9:35 PM on June 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


jmd82: I have long wanted to create such a show, spanning one season per year, exploring the edges of Hogwarts, but alas I am just one man with almost no industry connections.
posted by Navelgazer at 9:42 PM on June 23, 2011


I'm just not sure why they got picked out to be so huge.

Something something lightning never strikes twice something. But there's more than that. J. K. Rowling has a singular creative voice. Other people do all the things that she does, but nobody combines them in quite the way that she does. It comes across in the way she writes non-Harry Potter works, and the way she speaks too, to some degree.

She's got a certain combination of accessibility and warmth and dry wit. Her writing isn't combative at all, not like Le Guin or Duane (whose first book I loved, but the rest of the series frustrated me for how unnecessarily it twisted itself around); she slowly paints this world and it's such an appealing one that you just want to lose yourself in it.

We open with the Dursleys, who simply don't put up with weirdness. The one has the thick neck and the other one has a thin neck. Uncle Vernon works at Grunnings, the drill factory — what a nice detail! — and Aunt Petunia spies on the neighbors. They have their nasty little monster child.

Then the weirdos start to creep in. The playful people in the colorful robes. Silly, yes, but with serious intent: they insist that today is a blessed day. Something important has happened. And we don't know what until the cat who's been watching this whole family feels safe enough to turn back into a woman, who speaks about the tragedies of the day — most importantly, that Lily and James Potter are dead.

For a chapter we see just how tragic this is. We see the young Harry, bright, nastily witty, trapped in a family of relatives who hate his existence and hate the world that he comes from. In small instances we see that he comes from a place of color and surprise — Harry runs from Dudley and winds up on the roof. Then the snake and the vanishing glass. The Dursleys' world is oppressive, but we get through it because we only see the moment when Harry for once triumphs over them.

It's only now that we see the magical world intrude at full force. Owls and letters that find you anywhere. The giant, the umbrella, the pig tail. And the cake! The indication that this is a world of love and caring, a world where it matters that Harry's parents are dead. And we depart for Diagon Alley, and Nine-and-Three-Quarters, and finally Hogwarts, where Harry for the first time is accepted for who he is, and free to explore himself in a way he never could anywhere else.

I disagree with the theory that Harry is a male Mary Sue. His magic doesn't lift him above the Muggles. His celebrity doesn't lift him above the wizards. All the celebrity means is that people care about him; they all have formed some kind of an opinion of him without meeting him. That rings true to me. And at Hogwarts we do see Harry's limitations: he's lazy and quick to anger and awkward and a whole bunch of other things. But we can forgive him all this because it's Hogwarts, and even the most dire fight between him and Ron doesn't stop our fascination because this is Hogwarts! and everything is magic! and even in the later books with the darkness and the shades of grey there is something special about simply being alive in this world!

...by the way, here is where I point out that Rowling is excellent at a number of styles of writing. She's not a master of all of them, but she's ultra-competent. She can write a killer mystery. She's decent at comedies-of-manners, and the bildungsroman. She's got a sense of absurd humor that makes Pythonites proud. And it's all wrapped around this truly incredible symbolic place, Hogwarts, which is deliberately framed to be a safe haven for all the outcasts of the world. There's a line in The Deathly Hallows which I can't find right now but which brought me to tears the first time I saw it, and it says exactly this: Hogwarts was built for the lost and the lonely children, to give them a home where the only thing that matters is magic.

(And you can interpret the entire series as "How do people who know about magic respond to its existence?", and the whole series falls open like an orange, and Harry's heroism stems from his wonder, and Voldemort's villainy is that he sees this wonderful thing only as a means to get revenge... but Harry Potter can be dissected like this on literally a dozen lines just as perfectly, which is one of its secrets.)

For all that Harry Potter's universe is built upon a lot of archetypes and cliches (versus those books you named whose universes are deeply original), the structure of the books is very clever and multilayered and symbolic, and the triumph of Rowling's style is that it's so simple, so accesible, that you're affected by all these things without even realizing that they're there. But you notice the parts that matter.

An entire generation decided that it wanted to go to Hogwarts, wrote songs about being at Hogwarts, played the Hogwarts sports game, dressed up like Hogwarts students, because Hogwarts was not just a location. It was a symbol for acceptance, for happiness, for fitting in, for being strange without consequence.* Rowling knew this from the very beginning, which is why the first book teases Hogwarts into existence, bit by bit. From the first line about the "perfectly normal, thank you very much" aunt and uncle, we are yearning for the place which isn't like the others, and Rowling delivers in a big way.

That's the thing Harry Potter has that nothing else does. There are other gripping mystery novels (see: Dan Brown). There are other dramas about growing into your sexuality (see: Twilight). There are other books about dry, wry British magic (see: Diana Wynne Jones), and about intricate fantasy universes (see: Tolkien). But what makes Harry Potter so addictive to children, and what makes people rally so fiercely around it, is that it's fundamentally about a place where it's okay to be you, in all your weirdnesses and imperfections, and to be fascinated with every little detail about the world, no matter how trivial or supposedly mundane.



* Another way you can dissect the whole series is that each book's relationship to Hogwarts is different. The first book is about the pilgrimage to and exploration of Hogwarts. The second book is when Hogwarts is threatened for the first time. The third book is about a present terror loose on Hogwarts (both Black and the dementors). The fourth book sees it truly compromised for the first time, and a student is killed. The fifth book is Hogwarts subverted by the bureaucracy, and no longer truly that magical place. In the sixth book it isn't hallowed grounds at all; it is as dangerous and forbidding as anywhere else in the world. And in the seventh book it is taken over by the enemy, until Harry's final duel in its Great Hall vanquishes the evil and restores it as safe ground.
posted by Rory Marinich at 10:28 PM on June 23, 2011 [33 favorites]


Hogwarts is a lot less magical once you learn that its based on real schools. My little siblings' schools even have House Points, which I thought was a neat Rowling invention to increase inter-character tension.

...by the way, here is where I point out that Rowling is excellent at a number of styles of writing. She's not a master of all of them, but she's ultra-competent. She can write a killer mystery. She's decent at comedies-of-manners, and the bildungsroman. She's got a sense of absurd humor that makes Pythonites proud. And it's all wrapped around this truly incredible symbolic place, Hogwarts, which is deliberately framed to be a safe haven for all the outcasts of the world. There's a line in The Deathly Hallows which I can't find right now but which brought me to tears the first time I saw it, and it says exactly this: Hogwarts was built for the lost and the lonely children, to give them a home where the only thing that matters is magic.

Stephen King argues that part of her gift is writing old fashioned mystery novels in a new setting.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 10:36 PM on June 23, 2011


Hogwarts is a lot less magical once you learn that its based on real schools.

Well, yeah, but the point system isn't what makes Hogwarts Hogwarts. Hogwarts is Hogwarts because you sail to it on boats over an octopus-infected sea, and the dining hall looks like the sky, and the paintings talk, and the suits of armor walk, and the manservant Dazzler Finch and Mrs. Norris stalk the halls looking for out-of-place wizarding students they can send out to the Forbidden Forest.
posted by Rory Marinich at 10:39 PM on June 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


But the magic seems less magical than similar magic. It feels restrained. So You Want To Be A Wizard had a sentient white hole. Wizard of Earthsea had ancient name magic. There was one I read that had a patchwork creature unraveled by singing. The Dark Is Rising had ANCIENT prophecy that went farther back than one generation. Harry Potter's magic is okay but it feels a bit cozy and off-the-shelf. Clanking suits of armor? Magic wands? Latin spell-names?
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 11:06 PM on June 23, 2011


Rory Marinich, I love your novella of a comment, though as much as the mysteries enticed me, I believe the bildungsroman was what truly set this apart from other series. Rowling wasn't cruelly moralistic about growing up, as C.S. Lewis (horribly) was. She didn't abandon the nature of her characters in order to follow her own random ideas, as Pullman did. She was firmly with the children through and through, as they became adults. SHe knew the process was hell and put them through it truthfully anyway (with the one admitted exception in that she didn't give Harry acne, because she felt he had enough to deal with. I'm okay with that. I didn't have acne either and felt adolescence challenging enough still myself.)

Here's where I'd like to discuss the literary brilliance of the biggest SPOILER in the Harry Potter universe, Snape Kills Dumbledore. I remember the day before Half-Blood Prince came out. I'd recently gotten my oldest brother and his family into the series, and they became as obsessed as I was (or am.) I had avoided reading any spoilers (my dad had already read the first two chapters, in a weird breach of security where the book was on the shelves at the Wal-Mart retail convention earlier that year, but he didn't tell me anything) but still Jeff calls me up all upset. He tells me that Dumbledore dies.

ME: Well, of course he does. (I had written on Mugglenet that this was an assured, forgone conclusion of the sixth bool.)
JEFF: I know. It's not that, so much as how he dies.
ME: Don't tell me.
JEFF: I won't.
ME: But, I mean, as long as it's not Snape...
JEFF: (silence)
ME: Oh god dammit.

But the thing is, obviously the killer information there isn't that Dumbledore dies, but that Snape kills him. This is what matters. This is what makes it the dramatic high-point of the series. And this is what proves Rowling's abilities. Snape is presented to us as a villain. He hates Harry for irrational reasons, and is an outright dick to him and his friends. He wasn't the villain at the end of Sorcerer's Stone, no, but he's still an outright asshole. When Hermione is hit with a curse to make her teeth grow, he taunts her that he sees no difference. He continually brings up Harry's dead father unfavorably, so as to anger Harry. He is awful.

And yet, as much as we fear him when viewing events through Harry, we also begin to understand him somewhat. This former death-eater who wormed his way into Hogwarts after giving Voldemort the information that would lead the the death of Harry's parents - somehow we like him, a little. A lot, actually. But not through what we read of him, so much as in our hopes that he can be redeemed.

Think of what this arc demands of a child reading this. This character has been horrid to the main characters, while offering almost nothing redemptive in return. And then he commits the most unspeakable crime possible in the universe provided. And with hindsight we understand the act, but at the time, readers were divided. I, like many, defended Snape. He was surely acting under Dumbledore's orders, which would also keep Snape from suffering the results of the unbreakable vow. Moreover, he used the opportunity to rush the Death Eaters out of Hogwarts before they caused any other fatalities, and coached Harry a bit in the chase. Others saw only Dumbledore's death at the hands of the man who he never should have trusted at all.

But that's the point. Roughly half of the readers became champions of the villain because he killed Dumbledore, who we loved. In a series that was about Good vs Evil, but also about Doing Right vs Doing What's Easy, the more mature readers took the second interpretation and defended the asshole, and were well rewarded for doing so.

He began as a dick in the first book, and ended as a heroic martyr in the last book, without ever really changing his character. The only real change was how Harry understood him. That, my friends, is a bildungsroman. That is an accomplishment.
posted by Navelgazer at 11:32 PM on June 23, 2011 [23 favorites]


Hogwarts is a lot less magical once you learn that its based on real schools.

Ah, that explains why it has enjoyed so little popularity in Britain.
posted by NoraReed at 3:41 AM on June 24, 2011 [3 favorites]


Okay so sarcasm aside, I was thinking about Harry Potter recently and about fictional worlds and the people that live in them, and I think I find the wizarding world so compelling because I feel like I could go to any of the people in the world and they could tell me a good story about their life. Like, there's a reason the proprietor of the ice cream shop knows so much about wizarding history, and Neville's grandmother is sort of a badass in her own right, and Diggle had to get those fireworks somewhere, and there's just something that glistens about all the bit characters. And every character matters; in the 7th book you learn of the Grey Lady's history and her relationship to the Bloody Baron and that applies to the story; even Crookshanks is an important enough character to weave into the plot.

Maybe this is what the previous posters are saying about her being good at writing mysteries in new settings, I'm not sure. But I think it's what makes so many of us want to go to Hogwarts; maybe it's what Rory said about a world where your weirdness is accepted but it goes beyond that-- it's a world where you WILL matter, because almost every character that is mentioned in the book does something for the plot of the story, and you really believe that when they go off screen they are going to do something interesting.

I guess what I'm saying is that Hogwarts and the world around it simply feels more real than almost any stories I've read, seen or played. There are other authors who do something similar-- the way Garth Nix in the Old Kingdom trilogy and Neil Stephenson in Snow Crash introduces side characters and redshirts by giving you sort of their brief history and what they're up to on that particular day are similar, but both of those authors have to... well they use a lot of paint creating a portrait of the Royal Ancelstierran Navy, or of the rat-thing's mind, and while those do pay off Rowling does it by putting a bit of detail here, a bit there, and the reader who's paying attention can connect all of those dots if they want to: the mention of Sirius' motorcycle in the first book, the way Lavendar, Parvati and Neville all grow up, the personality of the Fat Lady.

I guess this is why I never found the movies all that satisfying, because while I do like Harry, Ron and Hermione it's the detailed tapestry of the world that surrounds them that made me spend middle school aching for a place like Hogwarts, obsessing over those books, and you just don't have time in a movie to show every interaction with the Creevey brothers, the relationship between Firenze and his herd, the genuine fondness in contrast with her stern outer persona that McGonnigal has with Harry.

The only other fictional place that has really inspired the same feeling of realness in me as Hogwarts is the Galactica.
posted by NoraReed at 4:06 AM on June 24, 2011 [7 favorites]


I'd say Alex Day's got the best reaction so far.
posted by litnerd at 5:30 AM on June 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


Harry Potter's magic is okay but it feels a bit cozy and off-the-shelf. Clanking suits of armor? Magic wands? Latin spell-names?

So? Are we not allowed to have enchanted armor and magic wands, just because somebody else did them first?

In Harry Potter, the suits of armor get drunk on Christmas and get image-conscious when people visit Hogwarts. In Harry Potter, if you try and use a broken wand, it'll have you belching up slugs for a week — and more than that, the reason you used it is that somebody called your best friend a racial epithet.

I wrote in another comment in another thread that another thing Harry Potter does really well is combine banality with serious intent. Kids fighting? Banal. Kids being racist scumbags? There's something important to say there. And both of these are wrapped in magic which is both colorful (slug belching) and banal (because this is utterly ineffective at making Malfoy think twice; if anything it makes him cockier). Which is why I loved Arthur Weasley; his job as a character is to get excited about all the banalities in the Muggle world. What we take for granted, he sees as an exciting, absurd, beautiful world.
posted by Rory Marinich at 5:33 AM on June 24, 2011


An entire generation decided that it wanted to go to Hogwarts, wrote songs about being at Hogwarts, played the Hogwarts sports game, dressed up like Hogwarts students, because Hogwarts was not just a location. It was a symbol for acceptance, for happiness, for fitting in, for being strange without consequence.*

Oh, you're going to love what I found the other day here, written in chalk from kids playing.
posted by jenfullmoon at 5:59 AM on June 24, 2011 [2 favorites]


And of course, there's also Finding Hogwarts.
posted by litnerd at 6:04 AM on June 24, 2011


I greatly enjoyed the HP books (and movies), but if you asked me right now I'd say the best thing Rowling has ever done was provide the setting for Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality.
posted by dmit at 7:38 AM on June 24, 2011


On the rules of Quidditch:
They just think it’s illogical. But it’s not illogical and I had a speech by Dumbledore in the first book that never made it in explaining why Quidditch is not illogical
posted by Rory Marinich


Dumbledore is wrong. Quiddich is a sport where in almost all matches, only one player on each team matters. The only example of a team winning without catching the snitch was I believe Bulgaria v. Ireland, when Viktor Krum caught the snitch. However, even in this instance it was a stupid move and only served to bolster his own ego, as all he had to do was have his team score twice and THEN catch it (by preventing the other seeker from capturing in the meantime) and they would have won (final score was 170-160). He at least could have waited for his team to be losing by more before deciding to pack it in and grab the personal glory.

Quiddich is "exciting" for books or movies and sure, you get to fly, but it is essentially a pointless game as Rowling wrote it. She needed to lower the point reward for catching the snitch. Also I don't believe she addresses what happens in the case of a tie. If Dumbledore thinks it's logical, he's wrong.
posted by haveanicesummer at 8:55 AM on June 24, 2011


haveanicesummer: the thing with quidditch scoring though is that it is cumulative over a season. It'd theoretically be possible to win every one of your games via immediate snitch-catching and still be at the bottom of your league.
posted by Navelgazer at 9:58 AM on June 24, 2011


haveamicesummee, Krum caught the Snitch then because the Irish Chasers were so good that the Bulgarians were completely outclassed, and stood no chance of catching up even enough for the Snitch bonus to make a difference. By ending the game early, he got his team a dramatic but dignified close defeat instead of an embarrassing rout.

(I do agree with you that the Snitch bonus is just too much, actually, but that game it worked.)
posted by bettafish at 10:02 AM on June 24, 2011


I'm personally waiting for a TV version of HP, hopefully an adult version like A Game of Thrones on HBO.

You mean something like this?
posted by fight or flight at 10:35 AM on June 24, 2011 [2 favorites]


bettafish: I know that's what the book claims, but I don't buy it. It was a stupid move. His team was wildly outclassed, but they didn't have to come anywhere close to the Irish, they only had to score twice for the win or once for a tie, not exactly far fetched in a game like Quidditch, even if the other team is far better. Any coach in any sport would rather try for a win rather than go down closely in defeat (like pulling the goalie in hockey).

Navelgazer: That's interesting and I wasn't aware of that, out of curiosity was that in the books themselves, or from Rowling's Quidditch book? Of couse in a knockout tournament like the World Cup, it would still make instacatching render the other players nearly pointless.
posted by haveanicesummer at 11:23 AM on June 24, 2011


It's in the videogame, that's for damn sure, but also a brief plot point in one of the books (Prisoner of Azkaban, maybe) where it was the last game of the season, and Slytherin or whoever was up by 170 points going into the match, and so Harry needed to hold off on catching the snitch until Gryffindor had scored at least three goals, or else Gryffindor would win the match but lose the cup.
posted by Navelgazer at 11:31 AM on June 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


Ahh that sounds familiar now, thanks!
posted by haveanicesummer at 12:08 PM on June 24, 2011


Yesterday I saw a group of teenagers in Hogswarts uniforms (coats off, of course, it's hot as hell here) and it was just super-adorable.
posted by The Whelk at 7:44 AM on July 18, 2011


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