The XX Factor

Will Pottermore Be More Potter, or Just More Time Online?

Photo by PATRICK KOVARIK/AFP/Getty Images

It started with my 10-year-old’s vacation carry-on, which weighed 17 pounds. Was he planning to explore his rock collection on the plane? No—to reread volumes five and six of the Harry Potter series. If I download them to the Kindle, I asked—a thing he’s never much liked—would you be willing to read them that way? Just this once. Reluctantly, he agreed, but—as any real Harry Potter fan knows, but I (in spite of having been among those early fans who ordered book two from hadn’t realized—you can’t do it. Not yet.

Again, real—by which I guess I mean digital—Harry Potter fans already know that J.K. Rowling, who’s long resisted making the books available as ebooks, has instead partnered with Sony and an online gaming company to create a website, Pottermore, where “fans of any age can share, participate in, and rediscover stories. It will also be the exclusive place to purchase digital audiobooks and, for the first time, e-books of the Harry Potter series.” Exactly how those ebooks will be made available still isn’t clear—as the Atlantic Monthly said, Rowling has the power to disrupt the entire digital publishing system, and she may. The advent of Pottermore at least means that when my three younger kids are taking Harry along on our vacations, no one will be injured in getting the carry-ons through security. But it also means that there’s something—no one knows exactly what—still to come from J.K. Rowling and her magical world, and I’m more excited by that than by the prospect of leaving the 700-plus-page tomes at home. Excited—and just this side of worried.

Harry Potter’s magic lies at least in part in the fact that to really appreciate him, a reader has to create her own magic as she turns every page. You could argue (and I would) that the movies took something away from that: They replaced whatever inner vision a reader had of the characters and scenes with actors and sets whose images are very nearly unavoidable, even if you don’t see the movie until the book is read. But Pottermore holds the promise of being something more than the movies. If it’s a “safe, unique online reading experience,” as Rowling says, that suggests that there may be something more, not to play or to watch, but to read. Online. And reading online, while it’s something I spend hours doing myself daily, isn’t something any of my children have tried. A few days ago, I’d have said I didn’t want them to—not yet. But this is Harry Potter. It’s J.K. Rowling. The woman who turned my son into a reader, inviting him into more of her world.

I couldn’t resist. He’s already signed up for early access. When opens, he’ll be there, and we’ll have to figure out together what taking his reading life online means for him.