Hey Pottermore, You Need to Think Before You Speak
Since its makeover and reintroduction, Pottermore has incurred quite a lot of criticism from fans, especially from those who miss the old site. The new site, introduced in 2015, took Potter fans in a markedly different direction; instead of interactive illustrations and games, the new site features articles, editorials, and quizzes written by Pottermore staff. Given its powerful voice as the official hub of Potter information and discussion, I feel it is reasonable to hold Pottermore to high standards of depth and care in the content it produces. Much of what I’ve seen from Pottermore, however, seems to be poorly thought out, leading to shallow and uninteresting results.
Some feature articles start off with an interesting premise but offer fairly shallow support. An article exploring the similarities between Sirius and Harry offers a couple of good points but also resorts to their shared fame and penchant for rule-breaking, both of which are superficial points. Similarly, Ginny is the Weasley child most similar to Molly in part because “they are both incredibly significant others” and “they like a good crush.” Editorial or analysis pieces are meant to provoke discussion and bring new interpretations and perspectives to light, but in many of their pieces, Pottermore writers seem to do neither of those things in a meaningful way. When attempting to engage a community of people who pride themselves on their careful analyses and the depth of their discussions, Pottermore, you need to think before you speak.
Quite a few featured editorials I’ve come across on Pottermore attempt to start conversations that just aren’t worth having. Take Pottermore’s monthly defense of “more questionable characters” for example. The defense of Lockhart focuses mostly on the fact that “he’s really handsome” (a point repeated three times) and on his dedication to preserving his false fame, neither of which are particularly redeeming qualities. Rita Skeeter, meanwhile, has a unique sense of style, a cool quill, and wasn’t a Death Eater, which must count for something, right? Even though her character was meant to exemplify the idea that not all villains were Death Eaters? Apart from a brief moment of entertainment, I’m not quite sure why either of these conversations was worth having.
Some of the characters it attempts to defend are not at all worth the endorsement. One article puts forth a maddening defense of the reprehensible Igor Karkaroff, who has no actual redeeming qualities to speak of. The best the article comes up with are his rise to power and influence at Durmstrang – where most of his students hated him – and his cowardice in revealing Rookwood’s duplicity to save his own skin. In trying to defend him and many other “questionable” characters, these articles seem to either downplay the most deplorable aspects of the worst characters or exaggerate the shortcomings of characters who weren’t so bad, like Ernie Macmillan. This doesn’t make for a worthwhile discussion about the value of these characters to the story; it just comes off as ill-conceived and insubstantial.
Speaking of downplaying the nastier aspects of unpopular characters, there does not seem to be much of a diversity of viewpoints when writing about characters such as Severus Snape. There is a definite slant to Pottermore’s feature articles on the subject of Snape, with most of them discussing his heroism and devoting a mere couple of sentences to his worse characteristics. Shouldn’t Pottermore be able to represent the diverse perspectives of the fandom in its articles? Judging by their other pieces, Pottermore writers have no problem with attempting to challenge common interpretations of canon. There is plenty of room to represent multiple perspectives on controversial characters like Snape, Sirius, James, or Dumbledore while still being canon-compliant. Sticking to one interpretation only hinders real, thoughtful discussion among fans.
To be clear, it is not inherently wrong for Pottermore to promote this kind of content, but it is immensely disappointing when what seems to be an interesting discussion topic becomes something so shallow. Potter fans of all levels of intensity are known for their commitment to exploring the depths of the wizarding world, and this is a commitment that Pottermore should honor as well. There is a real opportunity for feature pieces to provoke the thoughtful discussion among fans across the world that is so characteristic of the Potter fandom, but as long as its content remains so superficial, Pottermore cannot be the hub of the wizarding world that it wants to be.