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JK Rowling casts another spell with Harry Potter e-book spin-offs

Three e-books give an insight into Hogwarts and popular Potter characters and traditions.
Short Stories from Hogwarts of Power, Politics and Pesky Poltergeists; Hogwarts: An Incomplete and Unreliable Guide; and Short Stories from Hogwarts of Heroism, Hardship and Dangerous Hobbies by JK Rowling are available as e-books now. Courtesy Pottermore
Short Stories from Hogwarts of Power, Politics and Pesky Poltergeists; Hogwarts: An Incomplete and Unreliable Guide; and Short Stories from Hogwarts of Heroism, Hardship and Dangerous Hobbies by JK Rowling are available as e-books now. Courtesy Pottermore

It sounds more like a humdrum exercise in housekeeping than another must-read Harry Potter adventure. When the director of product, creative and content for Pottermore – J K Rowling’s aptly named digital portal that promises further wizarding wonderment – said that the three short e-books published on Wednesday were a result of reading everything in the Potter archives, taking pieces written by Rowling and the Pottermore editorial team, and “sewing it all together”, it was difficult not to fear that the soul was being sucked out of Harry Potter with all the force of a band of ­Dementors.

After all, this year we’ve already had Harry Potter and the Cursed Child – the two-part stage play – and official eighth Harry Potter story – which, naturally, became a best-selling book when the script was published in late July.

And in November the film adaptation of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Rowling’s short story about the magical creatures in the Harry Potter universe, hits our screens. The book is only 128 pages long, and yet the film is the first in a planned trilogy, set in New York.

In April, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter theme park opened at Universal Studios Hollywood, adding to similar attractions at Universal Orlando and Universal Studios Japan, and the Making Of Harry Potter experience in the United Kingdom.

But the fact that there is still no discernible sign of Harry Potter fatigue is fascinating. And the Pottermore Presents series of e-books go some way to explaining why.

Rowling loves the world she created. And, just like her fanatical readers, she wants to explore it further. As a result of Rowling being so involved in every aspect of the Harry Potter universe, there has never really been any accusation of her cashing in or taking advantage with below-par efforts.

In Short Stories from Hogwarts of Heroism, Hardship and Dangerous Hobbies, for example, there is a gorgeous exploration of Professor McGonagall’s life before, during and after her time as headmistress of Hogwarts – followed by a little DVD-style extra where Rowling admits the character was named after the “worst poet in British history”.

Thematically, the rest of the e-book is similar, delving into the back stories of Hogwarts teachers Remus Lupin and Sybill Trelawny. Rowling reveals Lupin – played by David Thewlis in the films – was one of her favourite characters in the Potter series, and his struggles with lycanthropy (he is a werewolf) are a metaphor for any illness that carries a social stigma.

Short Stories from Hogwarts of Power, Politics and Pesky Poltergeists is darker, though similar. High Inquisitor Dolores Umbridge gets both barrels in her life story, and is described as “savage, sadistic and ­remorseless”.

Rowling makes an enjoyably catty remark about the inspiration for her character being someone she disliked intensely on sight, not least because she had a “pronounced taste for twee accessories”. Elsewhere, the list of Ministers for Magic is probably skippable, although the description of Albert Boot – “Likeable, but inept. Resigned after a mismanaged goblin rebellion” – does raise a smile.

Finally, Hogwarts: An Incomplete and Unreliable Guide works much like the other two e-books: a short tale about an interesting aspect of the famous school, followed by Rowling explaining her motivations.

So we learn that Platform 9 3/4 is at King’s Cross because her parents met on a train that departed from the station. The Sorting Hat, which chooses the Hogwarts House the students will be sorted into, is a “clever, enchanted object” that came into Rowling’s mind when she remembered that names are often picked out of a hat (initially she had plans for a clanking Heath ­Robinson-esque machine). She also admits that the Marauder’s Map, which allows its owner to track everyone at Hogwarts, was a mistake because it allowed Harry a “little too much freedom of information”. There are countless enjoyable nuggets such as this.

Still, it is true that these e-books are not essential. It feels ­ultra-critical to say the writing rarely soars, either – it is chatty and descriptive rather than magical – or that they all assume a lot of knowledge of the Harry Potter story. But Harry Potter fans will genuinely love these little addenda to an already spectacularly detailed world. And that, in the end, is the whole point of Pottermore Presents.

The spell JK Rowling’s fantasy epic has cast on more than one generation – consider that a 7-year-old who started to read Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone when it was first published would now be 26 – is truly remarkable.

For more information, visit www.pottermore.com

artslife@thenational.ae

Updated: September 7, 2016 04:00 AM

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