This has been quite the year for fans of the Man with the Lightning Scar. Nine years after the release of the last book, five years (I think) after the final film hit the cinemas, suddenly Harry Potter is booming once more. There was the play (don’t mention the trolley witch), there’s the film coming up shortly and now we also have these three releases from Pottermore. For the uninitiated, Pottermore is a website devoted to extra material surrounding the Harry Potter-verse. There was going to be an encyclopedia but instead there’s Pottermore. This was in no way controversial and nobody overreacted.
My issue with Pottermore is that I’ve never entirely understood what it was for. I dutifully got my ID and logged on, got my Hogwarts house (Hufflepuff, predictably) but when I started into the chapter by chapter ‘bonus material’, it felt as though I should be reading along – there’s extra information for every stage of the story, but then no text. It’s like an annotated edition without the edition. So I ultimately got bored and just started Googling whenever I heard there was new material. While a lot of people have bellyached that the information released in these books is by and large not new, for people like me, it’s in a far more convenient format.
This is not the first time that JK Rowling has released bonus books. There were the Comic Relief books, Quidditch Through the Ages and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, then Tales of Beedle the Bard about a year or so after the final book’s release. All three of these tended to feature some form of foreword from Albus Dumbledore, but with these new releases, we take a step away from the book’s universe and move more into the field of the series’ creator. I have always felt that Rowling is under-rated for the amount of work she put into the detail of her world and it was good here to see some of that being highlighted, particularly her attention to etymology and even the sounds within them. You can really tell that she is a linguist. I was impressed.
What people are really looking at these books for though is new material about popular characters. A big appeal about Harry Potter is that it is a complete universe, hence the widespread popularity of fan fiction, because it does genuinely feel as if there is room for real expansion of the story. Here, we do get some of these ideas, with the Rowling stamp of approval – Minerva McGonagall’s family background is explained, with her witch mother and Presbyterian minister father with the resulting tragic conflict between her Muggle and magical heritage leading to heartbreak and hardship. Then there is Dolores Umbridge, again plagued by family conflict but for whom social-climbing and ambition overcame all emotional ties. Rowling also provides details of possible inspiration, which also makes for interesting reading.
Most intriguing for me, and something which my otherwise stellar Search Engining failed to turn up before, was the story of Tonks and Lupin’s doomed relationship. This always felt like one of the more under-drawn areas of the story, mostly because it was so beneath Harry’s notice. The source of their attraction is explained, as is further information on Lupin’s lyncanthropy affliction. Somehow, I still struggle to believe in Lupin’s love for poor Nymphadora, but I still think back on him as a lovely character, it’s just that it always seemed to me that for him and for Sirius, the glory years had been their time at Hogwarts and that neither had ever moved on. Lupin spent around thirteen years believing that his best friend had killed two of his other best friends, so that the only three people who had ever accepted him had all vanished in one go. Sirius nearly went insane in Azkaban. It was difficult to believe in either of them ever forming functional new relationships.
Altogether, I read all three of these ebooks in a very short space of time – I think it took around half an hour for each one (I read quickly). They are a gift for fans with little or nothing to offer the Potter novice – if you have somehow missed out (and if so, I pity you), I would recommend going back to the beginning and read all about how Mr and Mrs Dursley are perfectly normal thank you. You cannot replace the original material – or rather, you can, since Jim Kay is now producing the illustrated editions of each of the books. I went into a kind of trance of happiness when I took a look at the illustrated Philosopher’s Stone and Chamber of Secrets looks just as beautiful if not more so. It is rare that I consider re-buying a book but the illustrated editions look truly special. It is so wonderful that all these years after the scar stopped hurting, Harry Potter continues to thrive.
One things that has consistently niggled me though is the intransigence and general brattiness shown by the Harry Potter fans out there who throw tantrums about a lack of new material, or that JK Rowling continues to not produce new books. The series is over, the story is concluded, we are not owed anything. This is a story which I grew up with and with a huge cultural touchstone of my childhood and adolescence. I grew up with Harry, reading the first book towards the end of primary school and then the final one while spending a summer in Michigan doing Camp America. The same is true for legions of other fans, but that doesn’t mean that we get to return to acting like spoilt children now that the party is over. I feel fortunate that Rowling is still engaged enough with the world that she created to want to dip in every so often to dispense fresh snippets – I would never have expected it. So let us say thank you, not drum our heels – it seems that the magic is here to stay.
Published by Pottermore Limited