A Brief History Lesson
Well folks it’s true, Simpson/Hemstead has found its way into Pottermore! For those of you who don’t know, Pottermore is the online experience from J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter books. If you who don’t know what a Harry Potter is, you probably have just arrived here from the 19th century by way of a time/space anomaly. And we do commend you for being clever enough to not only learn how to use a computer, but possibly teach yourself english and find your way to this website. Welcome to the future!
But before you go along thinking “Harry Potter” is slang for a woman’s doo-dad, let me explain what the phenomenon of Harry Potter is so you can understand what’s coming next:
Harry Potter is a series of books about three awkward 12 year old kids who go to a really exclusive private school for wizards called Hogwarts that many believe to be located in Scotland. These kids are consistently NOT ONLY left unsupervised, but often times put into harm’s way INTENTIONALLY by the staff of the school, with predictably tragic results. Also it would appear that one of the pre-requisites for graduation is the murder of at least one of your classmates or instructors in a “winner takes all” pass or fail final exam against the school’s biggest bully. Not just YOUR class’s biggest bully, but the biggest effing bully the school has ever seen, who kinda hates you and your whole family for trying to kill him.
These wildly successful books about wizardry, witchcraft, and really spotty supervision begat wildly successful films about wizardry, witchcraft, really spotty supervision. The films themselves created an almost epidemic level of “when will he/she be 18 so I can stop being confused by my thoughts” throughout 20/30 somethings, but that’s another post.
And so now the highly successful book series about consistently endangered magically-inclined youths that spawned a highly successful film series about consistently endangered, magically-inclined youths has spawned Pottermore,* the highly successful web experience that recounts the adventures of consistently endangered, magically-inclined youths; all the while allowing the reader/watcher to become part of the experience.
The general overall experience of it is entertaining, if not a little unintuitive for the beginner. The first book (all that is unlocked at the time of writing), is presented as chapters along the ornate vines on a golden gate. Chapters for all the books are found woven into this gate, and it becomes the launching point for your adventures through the books. The player, or student, relives important details from each of the tomes told through multi-planed digital paintings rife with clickable content and collectable items. These are things you will ultimately need during your tenure at Hogwarts. Things like galleons for purchasing items in Diagon Alley or ingredients for potions, or chocolate frog cards. Each chapter also contains excerpts from the book, as well as some original “behind the scenes” content such as J.K. Rowling’s character sketches, interviews, and occasionally video messages from the blonde creator herself.
Outside of touring the books, the player/student can also learn and make potions for points toward their house (this idea of houses will be discussed later), as well as learn spells to duel other player/students. Although at the time of this writing that function has never worked and has been down for maintenance. It is a beta release after all.
And that, in a rather large nutshell is the basic idea behind Pottermore, so now let’s get into the cool stuff.
Where Things Start Getting Interesting:
Part of the experience of Harry’s first day at Hogwarts, and chapter seven in Pottermore, is the sorting hat. In the books, the sorting hat judges the character of a young wizard on their first day at Hogwarts School of the Possibly Criminally Insane and Infinitely Powerful, and puts them into one of four houses; Gryffindor (the brave), Ravenclaw (the nerdy/smart), or Slytherin (the cunning/devious), and Hufflepuff (the emotional core). These are somewhat like fraternities or sororities, or fraterorities since they’re mixed company. I think it’s in place to help introduce the Future Sociopaths of Great Britain with a friendly way to compete, hate, and be afraid of one another while being taught God-like powers*citation needed. Picture Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters, but where Captain Picard holds gladiator games with the students on Thursday nights.
In Pottermore, the experience of the sorting hat is a series of questions written by J.K. Rowling herself, run through an algorithm that I believe assigns a point value to each answer, and subsequent questions are asked based upon the values tallied in different categories (but I am just guessing, I have no idea.) Simpson/Hemstead ran through this process and it’s pretty well done, leaving very little room to attempt to fix the results (we didn’t try, we wanted to see where we fit into Rowling’s universe honestly), and asking some fun and thought provoking personality questions to boot.
The interesting thing that has come out of this is that there are many people, male and female, mostly around high school/college age, who are going through severe identity crisis over their house placement by J.K. Rowling. At first I thought it was kinda funny, the way that people who started support groups after Avatar came out to help them get through the idea that they can’t actually go to Pandora are funny. But then I started talking with people, people who have lived with Harry Potter since 1998 and grew up into adulthood with Harry Potter as their contemporary. I came to the realization that in many cases the first culturally significant role-model of their lives who is still AS relevant 15 years later. I don’t have something from my childhood to compare that to.
I had Star Wars. It was groundbreaking. It created a new mythology and new characters that fueled imagination like nothing in it’s decade. But I didn’t grow up with Luke Skywalker as a contemporary. He was older than me. He lived a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. I had no means of travel to get to where he was, no TARDIS, Time Machine, or Transwarp spaceship to be found.
My generation could only WISH. Also, we only had 3 movies, spread over 7 years to contend with. Well, that and a shit-ton of marketing, toys, a weird Christmas special, a bitchin’ Muppet Show episode, and some non-canonical books.
We had no internet. We had no books that became movies. We didn’t have interactive gaming, and easy to access fan fiction. It was just those three movies, our toys and our imaginations; and for most of us probably countless futile hours straining to roll a Matchbox car or turn the page of a book with gnarled, white-knuckled fingers tensed against our outstretched arms.
In stark contrast, the Harry Potter universe is set in a world that could very easily be our own, and indeed happening as we speak. Any muggle-born child with an aptitude for magic could find themselves standing on platform 9 and 3/4 at King’s Cross Station sometime around 10:45 in the morning waiting for a very special train.
Beyond that, the Potter generation has had, since 1997 the following: 7 books, 8 movies, 10 videogames, internet forums, fan fiction, tumblr, fan art, facebook groups, myspace groups, fan films, toys, clothing, and now an interactive immersive web experience. This is a generation that has grown up, part and parcel with Harry Potter as a constant participant in their lives, as an external entity constantly rife with fresh input in some manner rather than the imagination of childhood playtime. Although I imagine every kid who saw an owl in the woods, barn or even a zoo hoped and prayed it would fly right to them carrying a letter in his talons…
To illustrate the bombardment, here is a list of release dates for the Harry Potter franchise in the US (the first two books released a year earlier in the UK)
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone 1 September 1998
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets on 2 June 1999.
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban 8 September 1999.
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire on 8 July 2000
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix 21 June 2003.
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince 16 July 2005,
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows 21 July 2007.
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone 14 November 2001.
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, 15 November 2002.
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, 4 June 2004.
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, 18 November 2005.
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. July 2007
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, 15 July 2009.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1 19 November 2010
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 15 July 2011
That is an astounding assault of input! Look at those numbers: from 1998 to 2011, that’s 14 years, there have only been 3 years WITHOUT a new Harry Potter intellectual property released from the creator of that universe. 11 out of 14 years! For many in the Potter generation, that’s 50% of their lives, the same as kindergarten through middle school.
Harry Potter is a friend. Dumbledore a mentor, Hagrid a weird uncle that you only see on holidays and who always is the most fun to be around, and Tom Riddle is that kid in class that scares the shit out of you who seems to hate you for some reason. You’ve imagined yourself having a feathered messenger drop out of the sky with an acceptance letter. You’ve fantasized about standing before the Sorting Hat and being placed in Gryffindor (the brave), Ravenclaw (the nerdy/smart), or Slytherin (the cunning/devious). Just please God not Hufflepuff (the emotional core). You knew where your loyalties lay, and you knew, without a doubt, where the hat would place you.
Where It Goes Wrong?
In Pottermore, you get closer to that dream of your childhood. You got a digital letter delivered by a painted owl. You went to King’s Crossing Station. You stood on platform 9 and 3/4. You walked through the shops in Diagon Alley. Your wand chose you. And then, you answered the questions J.K. wrote herself. You were sorted…
…into a different house.
How could this be? The creator of the world that has been a part of your life since early childhood told you that you were someone different in her world than you had always imagined. Maybe you always felt like the hero and were sorted into Slytherin, or maybe you always thought you were the brain and you were sorted into the dreaded Hufflepuff. It didn’t make sense. Was it a feeling of confusion? Betrayal? Gassy rage?
Where did the feeling come from?
I’ve been asking a number of people this question, both from the Potter generation and from the Skywalker generation to get opinions. I tried asking the baby boomers but they’re too concerned with making sure Social Security doesn’t collapse they had no time for it, and the Great Generation just says, “are you f@cking kidding me?” From both the Potter and the Skywalker generations, these are the most likely culprits:
- The feeling that you are not who you wished you were.
- A feeling of having been somehow dressed down by a person who has helped shape your life.
- A disassociation of brotherhood/sisterhood from the characters for whom you have felt a strong kinship.
- The feeling that this thing that you have put so much love and energy and money and attention into, that you know like you know your own voice, doesn’t love you and know you back the same way.
What are your thoughts? I’m really very interested to hear your experiences, good and bad with the sorting hat. The phenomenon is unlike anything we have ever as a culture been presented with, and Simpson/Hemstead is very interested to understand it from the point of view of those who have gone through the process.
Please comment below, please forward to others, and leave your house assignment and screen name as well if you’d like.
Oh, and for those who are curious, we are Simpson/Hemstead. We are Slytherin.* And we are called GoldVine100.
*Yes, that’s the house we thought we’d get in.