Pottermore: Bad Fanfic? Divergent, Divisive. Different.

Posted on 23/07/2011 by

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*More what I’d like to see, than necessarily what it is we’re going to get, don’t hold me as a futurist.

Imagine signing in to Pottermore as a first year (of course, we must all learn to run before we can fly). Term starts in September, but you can still come in as a late transfer if you join after—Pottermore runs in realtime, you know?

When you arrive, you’ll find a community of profiles, some famous (like Harry and Neville), some infamous, and also new faces like yourself. If you are late, you’ll find the profiles of characters auto-update to reflect what’s happened to them so far throughout the events of the Philosopher’s Stone. Here’s a place for those much-vaulted 18 000 words of Ms Rowling’s—what they’ve done in the book, but also additional information and rumors around the indeterminacies of the character narratives.

Of course, within the site, you will be able to interact with these other readers, and hopefully, at times with Rowling herself, with the film actors and other experts (in a kind of online convention space.) There will also be access to the vaulted platform-independent ebook versions of the texts. That’s not an insignificant web publishing venture itself (though it’s something we’ve already seen via Baen Books and others for some time.) But…

Now the fun stuff! Whether Hogwarts is displayed in 3D, or in the more traditionally textual format of a chat room, you can literally follow the story. Most of the time, if you pop in to the Great Hall, you’ll meet other (likely age-appropriate) readers and can chat. But… if you happen to come in at midnight on the 12th… (or you know, an appropriate date of the HP calendar), you can ‘eavesdrop’ on that section of the book which is happening there and then.

As such, a reader can plan their reading over the whole year (and subsequent years), touring the narrative.

Planning dates with the books, with all the anticipation and timeliness of getting to the church on time.

Of course, once you’ve gone past a certain date, you can roll back the calendar and check out missed scenes, or visit scenes that had occurred simultaneously to your reading a scene elsewhere.

Fanon?

Those book scenes may be cannon, but how about elsewhere in the castle? They are a great place for readers to situate their fanfics, fics which, voted up or down in general popularity, may also be toured. I can imagine a whole raft of rules on how these scenes should fit into the canon framework, but am particularly excited by the evolving, mosaic form; promoting re-readings.

Such a setup makes a perfect framework for (w)readers to write back in to the story, and help grow-out the extended world and characters.

However, this opens up the big issue of just who owns what? While it may be safer (and more pedestrian) for Rowling to say that anything on the site, and in the community, belongs to her, I think that would be a great shame—and a disservice to all. Fanfiction is one thing, but I can imagine Pottermore being much greater: a publishing platform all its own.

Rowling has the money and the clout to achieve this. What’s more, I believe she has the will to transform HP into more than just a phenomenon, but into a legacy.

As I said, fanfiction is one thing—often a wonderful thing, I know I’ve read HP fanfic that I actually considered better written than Rowling’s own works—but good fanfic is limited in one main way: it resembles the source material closely. It is this good fanfic which would be promoted by Rowling’s ownership; its goal is to fit in to the legitimized context.

But what about bad fanfic? Divergent, divisive. Different. More than just ‘that character should have done,’ and instead, ‘I could write a better book.’ This kind of site meta-structure allows for readers to take inspiration from inside the existent Harry Potter books, to grow-up from within, but also to grow-out from them, as well.

Only by letting members own their own work, will that lively readership stay and grow.

Often authors and corporations seek to defend the boundaries of their properties by attempting to own all derivative works, I don’t think that is generally necessary (and certainly not in this case). Rowling’s strength comes from the affective power she has had over a generation of new creators. Allowing them the (dignity?) ownership of derivative works will not drive them away, or create fractious opportunities for competitors, but encourage greater engagement within the Pottermore structure. That is a sign of a successful venture.

Personally, I would rather see this reworking of ownership taken further, where Rowling’s own texts were opened to derivatives outside the walls of Pottermore itself. Again, this isn’t really going to promote competition, because of Rowling’s own gravity. It could only encourage further engagement and usage. If those users/readers tried to take their material, her material elsewhere, and they could monetize it, that’s not in competition with the ‘legitimate’ site, but in spite of it.

More awareness is greater value (it’s not as if anyone could hide that HP was originally her work.)

Hyperwork

Hopefully (if you’ve been paying attention to my ramblings) you’ll see that this view of Pottermore.com is a direct, visual interpretation of what I’m hoping to do here with Bibliotek. (W)Readership writing interpretations back in to the seed text; by annotations, out-links and original work. Work which they are encouraged to make use of (theirs, other’s, mine), and to grow-out the broader community of the seed text.

The general lynchpin of this idea is one of moral rights to attribution, a right which I believe Rowling and HP would be in a wonderful position to benefit from.

Posted in: Hyperwork, Paul