J.K.Rowling has expanded the Wizarding World through a series of short stories and ebooks, but are they worth reading?
I was 8 years old when the first Harry Potter book was published (June 1997). I’ll admit to you now, I don’t remember reading it immediately. I do remember buying a collection of the first three books, and I remember buying the fourth book in hard back as soon as it was released. I guess that means I was a little late to the party. I was, however, part of the generation for whom the Wizarding World was an integral part of growing up.
The deeply rich and complex nature of the the fantasy world created by J.K. Rowling has attracted a certain level of intellectual curiosity from fans. Readers have always demanded further information from Rowling to increase their understanding and to explore her fantasy realm further. Because the narratives of the books only touch on a fraction of the history and mythology created by Rowling, there has always been a desire for ‘Potterheads’ to glean further details and backstories; oh how fabulous it would be to read Rowling’s extensive notes!
The announcement of a Harry Potter play in 2013 was greeted with rumours that the story would be a prequel to the original book series; perhaps we would finally learn more about some of the adult characters and the cipher characters who were mentioned in passing but critical to the history of the magical world? Although the initial announcement regarding the play suggested that the play would focus on Harry’s youth, when further details of what would become Harry Potter and The Cursed Child were released, and fans realised that the action would actually be set some nineteen years after the events of the final book, the yearning for embellishment on the history of the Wizarding World was given renewed vigour.
Readers were given a greater insight into the magical beasts of the Harry Potter universe when, in 2001, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them was released. The book (referred to in the Harry Potter series as being a textbook used at Hogwarts) was published along with Quidditch Through the Ages, and the proceeds from the sale of both books were donated to Comic Relief. The books provided detailed information about the weird and wonderful creatures that inhabit the Wizarding World, and the history and evolution of Harry’s favourite sport, respectively. Critic Jeff Jensen (Entertainment Weekly) hit the nail on the head when he concluded that Fantastic Beasts ‘adds a vital new dimension to the Potter mythology’.
The next in-universe book to be published was The Tales of Beedle the Bard (2008), which, like Fantastic Beasts, had been referenced in the Potter series. Originally appearing in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the book contains a collection of Wizarding World fairy tales; the Grimm stories of their universe, if you will. Whilst Fantastic Beasts and Beedle in particular gave a greater understanding of elements of the Wizarding World, fans were still left with a myriad of questions. Although J.K. Rowling has proved to be very accommodating when it comes to answering questions from fans via Twitter, 140 characters can be quite limiting for explaining the complexities of fantasy fiction.
In 2011, the beta version of the website ‘Pottermore’ was released. Described as ‘the digital publishing, e-commerce, entertainment and news company from J.K. Rowling and […] the global digital publisher of Harry Potter and J.K. Rowling’s Wizarding World’, the website (fully launched in 2012) started as a hybrid online community, game, and online collection of the Harry Potter texts. Although fully revamped in 2015, the site’s ethos, as the definitive Potter archive, remains. Users can buy the Harry Potter e-books and audiobooks via the site, as well as accessing some unpublished texts and notes from Rowling. The new content, although a little thin on the ground, has provided a brilliant insight into the Harry Potter universe.
Following the overhaul of Pottermore, Rowling published three new e-books in 2016. These books have provided some of the most comprehensive examinations of the Potter universe yet. Hogwarts: An Incomplete and Unreliable Guide introduces different aspects of Hogwarts, from the Sorting Hat, to the previously unseen Hufflepuff common room. The other two new books (Short Stories from Hogwarts of Power, Politics and Pesky Poltergeists and Short Stories from Hogwarts of Heroism, Hardship and Dangerous Hobbies) are a collection of stories, writings, and mini essays by Rowling on a plethora of Wizarding World characters, objects, and anecdotes, around the central themes named in the titles.
Could it be possible that this is what we can expect from Pottermore in the future: previously unpublished writing from the Potter universe, released via the site, providing greater insight for fans? I for one certainly hope so. They may be short, but the recently in-universe publications have been some of my favourite pieces by Rowling. They are expertly crafted and laced with such humour and wit that their minuscule size seems irrelevant.
If you enjoyed the original Harry Potter books, I highly recommend the Wizarding World short stories/e-books; they enrich our understanding of one of the most complex and elaborate fantasy worlds in literary history, and yet they are also very enjoyable short works in their own right. They’re most certainly a must for any Harry Potter fan.
What about for those who read the Harry Potter books but wouldn’t consider themselves diehard fans? That’s a little more sticky. The three recent e-books are probably going to be less interesting for you. The two Short Stories from Hogwarts books are short reads, but they are entirely dedicated to probing further into the background of characters and aspects of the novels. If you aren’t interested in learning about the childhood of some of the Hogwarts members of staff, for instance, then I’d steer clear of the two e-books.
However, Hogwarts: An Incomplete and Unreliable Guide is more likely to appeal to someone who is less interested in the complexities of the novels. The magical school of witchcraft and wizardry is, arguably, one of Rowling’s greatest literary achievements. The richness of description around the school has captivated readers since the publication of the first Potter book. The e-book guide to the school gives further information, history, and behind-the-scenes details that makes it much more readable than the other two e-books.
Personally, I thoroughly enjoyed reading more about the Hogwarts portraits and their creation, the history of school transport, the Hogwarts ghosts, and the secrets of the castle. Anyone with a passing interest in Hogwarts would find this book informative, entertaining, and useful for answering some of the questions we have all wondered about the school.
As for the other short books from Rowling? Quidditch Through the Ages was my least favourite of the e-books. Whilst it is written with Rowling’s trademark wit, the book is only going to interest die-hard fans and quidditch enthusiasts. I flicked through it really quite quickly. At least it’s an easy read.
The Tales of Beedle the Bard is probably the best stand-alone book. Whilst the tales are connected to the Harry Potter books, they read well on their own. It’s also nice, as a fan, to read what is referred to in the books. Though I don’t share Harry’s level of enthusiasm for quidditch, so maybe that explains why he enjoyed reading that book more than I did.
Fans of the recent Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them may be a little surprised by the original book. Whilst it has since been released as a film script (which obviously has more of a concrete plot), the original short book is a miscellany of the beasts and creatures of the Wizarding World. It has no plot to speak of, and just tells the reader about the history, appearance, nature, and habitat of the beasts. It does provide a little history about beasts in the Wizarding world, and the process by which they came to be called beasts. We learn very little about the film’s protagonist, Newt Scamander, from the original book. It’s a short read, very easy, and laced with creatures from mythology as well as those created by Rowling. Not a bad read, and worth dipping into for people who don’t consider themselves to be a big fan of the Potter books.
Overall, the short stories by Rowling are a great peek into different aspects of the Wizarding World. If you’ve got a little spare time, or are looking for short stories that make ideal holiday reads, then give them a go. They are enjoyable, even for people who don’t consider themselves to be fans of the Potter series.
Have you read the short stories and e-books from J.K. Rowling? What did you think? And how do you think they add to the Wizarding World and our knowledge of it?
I’d like to take this opportunity to thank you for checking out my blog. I’ve wanted to get writing about my passion (books, books, and more books!) for quite some time, and I sincerely appreciate anyone who has taken the time to read this.
Don’t forget to let me know what you think about this post and anything you see on the blog. Questions, tips, suggestions, comments, criticisms, and even just a quick line to say hello; it’s all very much welcome. You can contact me via this page.
– CK –