x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Teen Life: Pottermore could overtake Facebook in popularity stakes

Pottermore is fast threatening to overtake Facebook as the principal time-gobbling arch enemy of homework among teenagers.

"Mr and Mrs Dursley, of number four Privet Drive, were proud to say they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.” There are some opening lines that you only need to hear to be able to instantly place the title of the book. The few works that hold this sort of status are nothing short of classics. “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times ...” might be one of these lines. The Dursley allusion is, of course, the beginning of JK Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. Literary purists might scoff at Harry Potter even being mentioned in the same breath as a Dickens novel. Critics, while appreciating the former as a compelling read for children, have all too often accused it of a lack of substance and having characters without depth. Classics, however, don’t go down in history because of a load of deeply hidden meanings, but because of their timeless appeal to human nature and the ability to keep the reader gripped from start to finish – and Harry is as skilled at getting his adventures to fly off bookshelves as he is at Quidditch.

A generation of Potter-mad teenagers mourned the publishing of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows as the end of a magical era, adolescents being able to relate to the high school pupils Harry, Ron and Hermione well. When Rowling announced the birth of Pottermore, a complementary website to accompany the books, the Muggle community exploded with excitement. The news was relayed to me on the phone a few months ago by my friend Jodie, so breathless she could scarcely get the words out but finally managed to convey her message with a range of squeaks and eeks.

We had given up all hope of Rowling ever charming us again with another Potter-related masterpiece. The most you could say about her novellas – Magical Beasts and Where to Find Them, Quidditch Through the Ages and Tales of Beedle the Bard – was that they were readable but uninspired – or perhaps we’d begun to expect rather too much from her. The parodies Potter spawned, meanwhile, such as the imaginatively named Barry Trotter, were simply unbearably awful. Now, however, we have her adult novel The Casual Vacancy to look forward to, which will probably see a mass stampede go down at the local Magrudy’s.

It was with great anticipation, then, that I created an account on Pottermore last week, the site having been opened to the public earlier this month. (The testing phase, where you had to complete the Magic Quill challenge, had begun last year, but an unshakeable habit of procrastination made me miss the deadline.) A fair proportion of my class had been rather more proactive, having already brewed potions and won duels as Potterfever ran high and usernames were actively swapped.

“Are you magical?” demanded the screen, and although it probably displayed the same result to every user who ticked the box that said that they had agreed to Pottermore’s terms and conditions, it was with a feeling of great satisfaction that I found out I most certainly was. I thoughtfully pondered the list of available options for my username. “FrogFirebolt” (followed by a string of numbers), I thought, had a nice ring to it, jaunty and slick, and hopefully intimidating to potential duellers.

A trip to Diagon Alley later, I clapped my hands in delight as I bought a Natterjack toad called Salazar and was conferred a surprisingly swishy English oak wand with a core made of unicorn hair. Finally, I entered the hallowed halls of Hogwarts, where the Sorting Hat’s character test stuck me in the Slytherin house – the one renowned for turning out all the baddies. Perhaps not too flattering an induction, but as a prefect informed me in a welcome message, Merlin himself was a Slytherin – and so was the many-layered Snape.

My favourite part was the bit where you find a key to your vault at Gringotts, the Wizarding bank, and receive a bagful of 500 fat, gleaming gold galleons to spend – even virtual money allocated to shopping can make a girl happy. The establishment seemed as impressive as the Bank of England museum, where, a few years ago, I completed their Easter egg hunt. I had to solve clues about the bank’s history for a delicious Cadbury Creme Egg. Pottermore’s a bit like that: traipse around doing little puzzles and hunting for books to be awarded house points and galleons.

The site is fast threatening to overtake Facebook as the principal time-gobbling arch enemy of homework among teenagers. Adults may raise their eyebrows at (almost) mature people hankering after collectable Chocolate Frog Cards, but then my Facebook news feed fascinates me on a daily basis with news of grown-ups having discovered that their chicken has laid an egg on Farmville – something no self-respecting teenager would be seen dead playing. It takes all sorts.

In the meantime, I’ll just go and check whether my Potion to Cure Boils is ready yet.

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