I just accidentally found out about Pottermore. Guess what it means? More Harry Potter! In the form of more backstory explaining more answers to all your questions. Worried that you would never find out exactly why so and so did such and such? Tired of speculating about it with fan friends? Losing sleep in the middle of the night because new theories occurred to you that fit textual evidence and opened up new possibilities about characters and their motivations? Well, worry, tire, and lose sleep no more! JK Rowling is thoughtfully creating a new online experience to put to good use all those pages of background information that didn’t make the cut into the books (for lots of reasons, as many of them literary as practical).
Because I am not on any of the mailing lists, I have not been aware that I should be hotly anticipating the launch of this mysterious project that people were suspecting would expand the Potter universe. How expansive Pottermore will be remains to be seen; right now the only option is to register your interest, and there’s an invitation to return July 31, 2011 for more details. The whole shebang is scheduled to open in October.
Click here before proceeding.
The Story of How I Found Out about Pottermore
I was killing time while the eggs cooked surfing the web from the laptop. I was reading the post “Bad Parents and Go the F*ck to Sleep” at Feministe, and clicked through to the original article, “Why So Angry, Dad?” by Katie Roiphe, published at Slate.com. I enjoy my share of Internet Rage, and I was browsing the comments, and one of the people there linked to an article by the same author about a Twitter feud, “Battle Weary.” Beneath that article I saw a teaser for yet another article: “Will JK Rowling’s Pottermore be as lame as JRR Tolkien’s Silmarillion?” Of course I’m going to click through anything that has “lame” and “Tolkien” in the same sentence, which is how I ended up at the Slate Brow Beat blog, where Chris Wilson was “Live-Blogging the Pottermore Announcement (From the Couch).” The phrase “Pottermore or Potterbore” intrigued me enough to start Google-searching on my own, and the best article I could find about what Pottermore is known to be was this one at FirstShowing.Net, “JK Rowling Reveals New Online Reading Experience in Pottermore,” written by Ethan Anderton. Because it satisfied my curiosity sufficiently and I read in it everything I wanted to read to confirm all my biases, I stopped looking.
You can close the window with the music now.
JK Rowling made a statement via YouTube about her plans for Pottermore, and described some of the things that would be on it. Here it is:
Anderton summarizes part of the video and includes transcript excerpts. Why am I writing about this at all? Well, here’s a blurb:
There will be material on a certain romance between Professor McGonagall and a Muggle when she was a young woman, how Vernon and Petunia Dursley met each other, more extensive information on Slytherin, Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff houses (we know quite a bit on Gryffindor already) and plenty more.
Anderton is very positive about Pottermore, and concludes his article with this:
I’m definitely intrigued by this new venture, and anything to get more background on characters and such is fine by me. But of course, I’m always going to want another book from Rowling.
UGH! UGHUGH! UGH! Didn’t we just go over this yesterday?
Now, I know people love Harry Potter and that JK Rowling is pestered probably every day more than once for more information about the characters and places she has created, and that this Pottermore online adventure is going to be a rich, exciting experience that makes a warm place for fans to meet each other and their mutual friends from Hogwarts and the Wizarding World. But I’m dismayed that there are 18,000 words of material that explains even more about the books than has already been explained in external sources, and limits further my ability to enjoy them as possibilities. I’d LOVE another Harry Potter book, but can’t it be set in a future time, after the events of the seventh novel (and maybe even after the reviled epilogue)? Can’t people get new stories? Must every single goddamn mystery about what the characters have ever done to or with each other and where be solved? Every single one? Do we have to know what it was really like to be a flepuff in the Hufflepuff common room? Can’t we leave that to our imaginations and argue with each other about who’s scenario is more likely, and back it up with details from the books?
I know there’s no one right way to interact with a text, but I’ve always found the exploration of a story far more exciting than the discovery of one. I read (or watch–these laments can apply to television episodes, too) in order to learn what I’ve got to work with, and then I go to town on what it all means. I love talking interpretations with other people who have read the books. I do not love postulating an idea and then hearing from someone who has, in the case of Harry Potter, read two more interview transcripts or supplemental texts than me and can shut down my ideas with one remark about “what JK Rowling already said.” I am of the opinion that once an author or creator lets go of a work into the public sphere, that author or creator no longer has any authority over what the text is supposed to mean.
Which means, of course, I have to accept that people who insist that an author or creator can keep adjusting the significance of a text have to be right, too, and that’s fine. Usually the books I read don’t get a lot of input from authors in the press, and the people I talk books with don’t often uncover them. Television is iffier, but for as many fans as there are for things the first time they are broadcast, it takes a lot more effort to listen to commentary tracks on DVDs, and there is frequently a group of writers who take turns and no one person controls all the story. But with Harry Potter–holy crap! So many people hang on every word Rowling says about the books that there’s nowhere left to talk about the stories where there won’t be at least one person correcting me at every turn. It stifles me. I don’t really want to be limited to a conversation along the lines of “So didja hear how Vernon and Petunia met?” You either have or you haven’t, and you either liked it or you didn’t. What else is there to say about it? So you move on to the next revealed piece of backstory. Lather, rinse, repeat.
I don’t understand why so many people are so much more interested in what the author has to say about every last detail of a fictional universe than what they could think of to say about it if there were a break in the data dumping. If Rowling is spoonfeeding her fans it’s because they are begging for it. But why are they begging for it? What’s the fun in going over the same story again and again but at increasing levels of detail? (Don’t they know that fractals induce madness?) Why don’t people want to sit with a finished story for a while, process it, and then ask for a new one? It’s so much less stressful, and it frees you to read about brand-new things in brand-new places. Even in Harry Potter’s world, there’s got to be more than backstory to read about.
Perhaps this is a mistimed rant, too late to be relevant (my years of discussing the books as they came out are long gone) and too early to be accurate (maybe Pottermore is nothing at all like I’ve painted it, based on one newspaper article and a two-minute speech). Maybe the eBooks that will launch with them will be full of the new stories I’d like to see, about new characters facing new problems in the Wizard and Muggle worlds. Harry, Ron, and Hermione had their day in the sun, and they used it well. Bravi! But enough already. It’s time for them to find something else to do.