Hold onto your wizard's hats Harry Potter fans, Hogwarts creator JK Rowling has unveiled a new project: Pottermore.
The author kept geeks like me guessing for a week what the website could hold, all the while taunting us with a countdown clock on YouTube populated by an increasing number of animated owls. Rumors were rampant across the web: could it be a new book? An encyclopedia of the wizarding world? A video game? The Pottermore teaser webpage – bearing nothing but a title, JK Rowling's signature and the words "Coming Soon" – racked up a million hits within 36 hours of its launch.
Then the countdown clock stopped, the website was revealed, and a video message from Rowling herself appeared.
In it, she describes Pottermore as a "unique online reading experience" for the digital generation, a chance for readers to rediscover the Harry Potter books. The website will officially open in October, although a chosen few will get to enroll early. In the meantime, the screengrabs I've seen make it look something like a fantasy social network, with a friends list to one side of the screen and a "Gateway" page that resembles Twitter or a string of Facebook updates. Oh, and perhaps unsurprisingly the eagerly awaited Harry Potter e-books will be sold there later this year. Aside from its money-spinning elements, we are told the new website will feature newly commissioned illustrations, and as readers move through the chapters of each book, they can access exclusive information from JK Rowling. For those fans, like myself, who can already recite large bits of the books – "Just because you have the emotional range of a teaspoon Ronald!" – and the movies – "Is that really what my hair looks like from the back?!" – those tidbits will be fascinating. I can only imagine many Muggles, I mean other readers, would find them tedious.
But that's not the really geeky good stuff. In a news conference Thursday, JK Rowling described how she is bringing the Sorting Hat and wandmaker Ollivanders' to life on Pottermore. She's revealing the questions asked by the Sorting Hat when it sorts students into Hogwarts' houses, and the magic behind the Ollivander's Wand Chooser. Each Pottermore user will be sorted into one of Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw or Slytherin, and get a wand allocated to them according to their answers. Oh, and there are 33,000 combinations of wands so you shouldn't end up with the same one as your friends.
No sign so far of the online treasure hunt that many had been expecting from Pottermore. A confidential PR document accidentally released to the British press on Wednesday hinted that users would be challenged to follow-up online clues to find real-life prizes. The concept was quickly refuted by the Scottish PR agency involved, but it would have made some sense. After all, fans had only learned of the project's name "Pottermore" by tracking down ten map coordinates scattered across nine Harry Potter fan sites and Twitter, plugging them into Secret Street View and spelling out the name from the letters revealed.
Still, there could be more magic to come. Trusty Harry Potter fan site The Leaky Cauldron points out that Pottermore is trademarked for digital audio, printed books, toys, online networking and much, much more. So it could be casting a spell on generations of web-savvy Potterphiles for years to come.
So what do you think of the new website? Are you raising a glass of butterbeer to JK Rowling in anticipation and appreciation, or puking up slugs with violent disappointment?
Me? I'm still holding out for the Mooney, Wormtail, Padfoot and Prongs prequel.