New Harry Potter eBooks … They’re Not Short Stories, but They Are Pretty GoodSeptember 14, 2016
I went on a bit of a J.K. Rowling binge this past weekend (surprise, surprise), blowing through the three ebooks that she released through Pottermore last week. Since I’ve sort of established that I’m going to inhale pretty much any book J.K. Rowling puts out, I thought I’d write about them here. Here are the ebooks in question (they’re not being published on paper, by the way):
I liked reading these books, for sure. What’s not to like about hearing about McGonagall’s first love (and finding out she’s a preacher’s kid, which in my own experience of being a preacher’s kid explains a lot), getting details about the childhood werewolf attack on Lupin, learning more about why some portraits are chattier than others, and finding out how Azkaban prison was built and populated with dementors?
My only real issue with the ebooks — and it’s really just a quibble (such a Hogwarts-y word!) — is the decision to call them short stories; they’re really not stories so much as character sketches, glimpses behind the proverbial magic curtain, and scenes from the cutting room floor … sort of like the DVD extras. They’re well-written, though, and they enhance the reading experience of the original series; the back stories are fascinating, and the in-depth descriptions of wizard history show just how much energy Rowling dedicated to world-building.
Rowling’s writing about writing was my favorite part: We learn why she changed some scenes (originally Harry and Ron met the merpeople instead of the Whomping Willow at the beginning of book two) and cut others (like Nearly Headless Nick’s ballad). She tells us that she originally meant to put Harry in the Hufflepuff common room at some point but abandoned the plan when it didn’t make narrative sense, and we finally get a description of their Hobbit-eque clubhouse (it’s close to the kitchens, if you’re looking). I loved that she shared the origins of her character names, what she might rewrite differently now, and when she felt she wrote herself into a corner. The nuts-and-bolts of her imaginative process of creating the Sorting Hat was really fun, and it was great to hear about the inferior sorting ideas that she abandoned during her process.
All in all, these secrets definitely enhance, and in no way take away from, the original books. I wouldn’t classify them as must-read stories (I wouldn’t even classify them as “stories,” or even “new” — at least some, and maybe all, of the material was previously published as Easter Eggs, a.k.a. Red Quills, in the Harry Potter RPG Pottermore), but for even mild Harry Potter fans, they’re incredibly enjoyable. You can buy them on any ereader; my favorite is Kobo — you can get a free Kobo app for your phone and buy the Pottermore ebooks from Kobo here. (They don’t pay me to say that; I really do just like them.)
Carrie Rollwagen is a book reviewer at BookPage and Southern Living; she’s also Communications Director at Infomedia and wrote a book about local buying, The Localist. Find her on Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat and Twitter @crollwagen.