I have been buried in owls about the Pottermore.com website that Ms. Rowling will be launching Thursday. You can read about it at countless sites across the Web, and there is a good conversation in progress at The Hog's Head. An excellent summary of the best guesses of what this new site will be about -- seven conjectures gathered from the global speculation the teaser announcement has inspired -- can be found at The Week.
I'm sure that the other Potter Pundits posting at my site, the Hogwarts Professors, will have more to say about Pottermore after the reveal on Thursday, as they will about the movie franchise's last installment in July. I want to note one thing now, though: we have been assured that the new site's launch is not the occasion for the announcement of a new Hogwarts saga book publication.
My two responses, consequently, to the new website are so what? and please don't patronize me.
The so what? reflex reflects my primary attraction to the Hogwarts saga: an edifying, engaging imaginative experience in a written story. An online encyclopedia to replace the Lexicon, a published version of same, new e-book versions (!), a role-playing game, a UK theme park, and the other possibilities listed by The Week mean little to nothing to me compared even to the idea of another ancillary work, such as Tales of Beedle the Bard or the Hogwarts textbooks. This is franchise marketing, akin to the billion-dollar investments and multibillion-dollar payoffs in the films and theme park, that does not augment and perhaps somehow diminishes via distraction from the reading experience that is the heart and spirit of my personal bit of Potter-mania.
Don't patronize me is my reaction to learning about how the site was revealed: pieces of the puzzle were given to 10 fan sites, from which some particularly eager devotees deduced the 10 letters of Pottermore -- and then clicking on the few objects on that placeholder site brought them further revelations. (You can read about that process of discovery at Entertainment Weekly and BuzzFeed.)
While I am grateful, I guess, that fans teased out these facts, I confess to being startled or perhaps even amazed that intelligent people have bothered. Tracking down the site in Manchester on Google Maps? Staring at pictures of lounge chairs and libraries for hours, clicking randomly in various sequences on the objects therein for hidden secrets? Really?
Forgive me, but What Would Dumbledore Do? Would he be chasing down the clues? Would he as gamesmaker create a virtual reality maze for the fan rats to run?
I doubt it.
This is demeaning manipulation of readers using their fascination with a written text, or, I fear, using their identification with the larger cultural consequence -- the movies, the Fandom, the Wizard Rock music, the Wizarding World, etc. Sadly, even if we get it and decipher the clue, find the hidden Internet passage, we're inevitably (and, because of our success, perhaps more profoundly) a rat in the franchise-sponsored manipulator's maze.
We could wake up tomorrow and learn that Pottermore is another charity vehicle for Ms. Rowling, i.e., that she has taken on another cause in addition to curing MS, saving Eastern Europe's Caged Children, and financing the UK's Labour Party. On my more charitable days, I like to think that Jo Rowling participates in the theme park and Warner Bros. films money engines to keep afloat the various Good Works boats she has launched.
We might wake up to that pleasant surprise Thursday, or to a septet prequel or sequel of some kind. Sadly, the run-up to Pottermore suggests something else. A book series about the power of love, specifically selfless, sacrificial love is being, for lack of a better word, hyped, and its fandom teased into performing somersaults in the warm up to the roll-out.
Have we arrived at a point where the franchise has lost touch with the core meaning of the books? Has it jumped the shark, if you will? I worry I am playing the Ebeneezer Eeyore here and lamenting what for others may just be good fun. If so, please forgive and ignore me.
I am curious, though, if anyone else finds this kind of thing sad, borderline pathetic with respect to the parts both the Rowling Franchise and fandom are playing in roll-out merchandising. If Potter-mania is being played for all it is worth, the counter-cultural artistry and meaning of the reading experience we have had in these shared texts will have been subverted by the anti-culture it aimed to subvert itself.
Literary critic John Granger is the author of numerous books on Harry Potter, including The Deathly Hallows Lectures and Harry Potter Smart Talk. The original Hogwarts Professor, he has been described by Time as the Dean of Harry Potter Scholars. This piece was originally posted on his website, www.hogwartsprofessor.com.