Fellow Potter nerds already know this, but Pottermore.com recently opened to the public.
I had a few predictions about this- I knew it would take us on a very thorough, personal journey through the books, and I knew it would be low-impact visually (not a ton of bells and whistles.) I also assumed it would be excellent. And it is.
Firstly, the store opened and we were finally able to purchase the audio books in mp3 format. I was actually happy to give them some money, as until now all of our books have been purchased secondhand, and we had gotten the Audio CDs from the library. As I'm a great supporter of secondhand things and the public library, I hope you can appreciate what this says about how much I love these books and how much we plan to use the audio versions. Until now, mp3 versions of the books haven't been available. eBooks are now available too, though I can't see a need for those. (But what I would have given to have not been that mom at swimming lessons last winter, toting around Goblet of Fire!)
The entire first book is available to experience on the site right now, and more will be added over many months/years. This is a very good thing- it builds anticipation, and you can't just devour the experience all at once. Users (particularly children) are encouraged to savor it. Here are some of my first impressions:
1. The format is lovely. Very clean, it has a simple design that doesn't sacrifice appearances. The site works in a way I would expect from Rowling. One must read and read and read the material. There is little instant gratification but instead you need to observe carefully and work through the scenes patiently. (Those who do so are rewarded.) And as I said, simple doesn't mean boring. The scenes are beautiful, lit wonderfully, and detailed- right down to dust motes in the library.
2. My favorite treat as a writer and book lover is all of the wonderful "extras" J.K. Rowling has given along the way. We get not only additional information about characters not given in the books, but we get personal glimpses into her writing process, how she selected various names and places, and the whys of it all. Granted she still keeps the lion's share to herself, but I really enjoyed learning all I could about her writing process and some of the background information that inspired the books.
3. The first book is a special treat as we "attend" Hogwarts with the characters, shopping for supplies at Diagon Alley, including a pet, and are even matched with a wand and sorted into a house, based on some relatively insightful personality testing (which is not the same for everyone- Jim and I answered many different questions, a few were the same.)
You might be aware that all first years are allowed one cat, rat, toad, or owl. I of course chose a lovely owl- a barn owl to be exact. Jim chose a screech.
My wand: Hornbeam with a core of unicorn hair (phew- I so badly wanted a unicorn core!), twelve and a quarter inches, supple.
Jim's wand: Ebony with a dragon heart string core, twelve and a half inches, and hard (though I might add, not unyielding.)
I was sorted into Ravenclaw (Wit beyond measure is man's greatest treasure!) and later Jim, too, was sorted into Ravenclaw right along with me. I was there while we waited for the "hat" to declare his fate- oh man, this is ridiculous but I sort of shrieked out loud when it was revealed. I was just so happy that we weren't in opposing houses and that we both, in our own ways, possess the qualities of true Ravenclaws...
Now that I have worked through the first book, I don't really have a reason to go back again until the next is revealed. It's just a wonderful experience that allows readers to dive deeper into the story once they have completed the series. They could also work through the chapters online as they read them at home as well. This site has staying-power, promotes literacy, and is a delight to those who love the books.
Grace and Patience are in the middle of Book 5 right now and Jim and I have really loved experiencing this series again through their eyes, sharing it with them. I can't believe how accurately they remember all the details or how excited they are about the story- I knew they would love it, but they've gone above and beyond. It was a perfect time to introduce them to it- I am so glad we let them dive in.
My initial reservations were twofold: is Voldemort too intense? And, is the storyline too intricate toward the end? For the latter, well, as I said, they have blown me away with their powers of reason and retention- when you are really listening and enjoying a story, it's "easy" to absorb it all. It is not over their heads in the slight. And as for Voldemort- he is truly evil- but with your Daddy right beside you and the knowledge that- though you don't know how the story will go- evil will be defeated in the end; it is a brave adventure to take. I can honestly tell that they have been empowered by taking it, which has been very neat to see.
I'd also add that essentially everything we need to know for living can be found in Harry Potter- I'm having a hard time thinking of a life experience that couldn't have an object lesson or parallel attached to the series. Just like Narnia, Hogwarts is a place we go to understand our own world better.