Harry Potter casts a new spell on the internet and how


In its new format, Pottermore is more of a site that will keep Potterheads up to date with wondrous news of the wizarding world.pottermore

I have reclaimed my magical name and Hogwarts house – Ravenclaw in case you were wondering – and am pleased to report that I am back on the revamped Pottermore site.

Until now, it was a space where I would slink off during writing breaks to brew a potion (I was usually T for troll), cast a spell (was a little better at that) and unlock secrets from the Harry Potter stories.

But now in its new format, Pottermore is more of a site that will keep Potterheads up to date with news of the wizarding world of Harry Potter.

A voice message from JK Rowling welcomes fans to Pottermore, which she calls her “magical corner of the internet, a place where you can explore her writing, both familiar and new. And where you can read features, articles, and news from the Pottermore team”.

If you’re already a member, then you can retain your user name and house. I was quite tempted to sort myself again, but then I was a little scared that I would get Hufflepuff this time around. So I decided to let sleeping Hippogriffs lie and stayed with fellow house members, Cho Chang and Luna Lovegood.

At Pottermore, you can still revisit the books, along with JK Rowling’s thoughts about the characters, the plot or the setting.

The newest post by the author takes muggles into a previously forbidden world – an exploration of “11 long-established and prestigious wizarding schools worldwide”.

The jade palace of Mahoutokoro is an ancient Japanese school where robes change colour as the wizards grow wiser (or darker). Quite like karate’s many coloured belts, I imagine.

Then there’s Uagadou which is situated in the Mountains of the Moon in Africa. At this largest of all wizarding schools, spells are cast by hand gestures or pointing fingers.

The Brazilian Castelobruxo sounds quite intriguing with its golden rock edifice guarded by the Caipora spirit-beings. Apparently, Peeves is nothing compared to these feisty beings.

If you recall, Bill Weasley had got something nasty in post from a penfriend – turns out it was a Castelobruxo student who was disappointed that his friend couldn’t afford the trip to Brazil to visit him.

The fourth one, Ilvermorny from North America, is yet to be revealed but Rowling’s hinted that smart Potterheads will be able to figure this one out.

I have a few thoughts, but am currently trawling the internet for more ideas. So far we have learnt about seven wizarding schools – including Durmstrang and Beauxbatons – which means we can expect to hear more from Rowling in the future.

Browsing through Pottermore makes you feel like a beetle on a window pane – nudge, nudge Rita Skeeter – and getting a sneak peek into the very busy Potter world.

For instance, we sit far-away-from-London wishing that we had a portkey to see Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, the eighth story that unfurls 19 years later.

We read longingly about the casting of the play – good going there, and the creative process between Rowling, director John Tiffany, and writer Jack Thorne.

Thoughts threaten to overwhelm us, until we need a pensieve to mull over the many strands – how and when will we get to see the play which officially premieres in July, and will the production come to India.

Dementors hover over that thought, after all it’s not like Harry Potter: The Exhibition, the international travelling exhibition has come down here.

There are also updates on Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, a movie spin-off that will be out in cinemas in November 2016.

Set in 1926 in New York, this is the story of Magizoologist Newt Scamander, the author of the eponymous textbook on the wizarding world’s magical creatures.

Scamander, played by Eddie Redmayne, comes to New York with a suitcase full of magical creatures. And in what sounds like a Pandora twist, the creatures are let loose in New York by mistake.

A new behind-the-scenes preview has just been released and it reveals details about the casting.

Porpentina Goldstein, played by Katherine Waterston; her sister Queenie Goldstein, played by Alison Sudol; and muggle Jacob Kowalski, played by Dan Fogler, come together with Scamander to form an unlikely quartet in this film’s quest.

Colin Farrell plays a powerful MACUSA (Magical Congress of the United States of America) Auror, we are told. In the behind-the-scenes preview, Redmayne says, “This world, it’s been a wonder really.” Yes, we know that.

Harry Potter’s message of inclusion



On February 4, Potterheads will celebrate JK Rowling’s book series by hosting Harry Potter Book Night parties in different parts of the world. Once again, I will sit with my co-host to cut out paper dementors, draw owls on white balloons with a marker, and make fudge flies with chocolates. But more importantly, apart from being a celebration of these fabulous books and fudge, our February gatherings always remind me of a key Patronus message tucked inside the Harry Potter stories: of inclusion and empathy.

In 2014, a study titled The greatest magic of Harry Potter: Reducing prejudice showed the books go a long way in teaching young readers tolerance and compassion. Rowling’s seven-book series constantly shines a light on systems of social hierarchies, like class and caste: there are the privileged magical people, and then there are the others. Muggles are non-magical people and some refer to them as mud-bloods, a filthy word for Muggle-born wizards who have often been ridiculed, tortured, and even killed. Only Pureblood wizards are considered worthy of magic.

Discrimination and prejudice, privilege and merit, inequality and diversity, tolerance and inclusion are an inherent part of our social structure. Yet, we don’t always talk to our children about these issues, and if we do, it’s often framed as something that’s alien to our social fabric. Instances are not contexualised, instead they are viewed as external, far-away phenomena. Children have nascent opinions about what’s right and what’s wrong, and it’s something that has to be nurtured. Especially in our society, with all its complexities. As children grow older, these perceptions, values, beliefs, and attitudes are shaped and solidified by parents, educators, peer groups, and the media they consume (among other things). These become the frameworks within which they’ll go on to interpret people, events, and issues as adults.

Look around us — children’s literature, artefacts, and the visual media are dominated by Hindu mythology and narratives. In comparison, fewer books are published about other folk tales or oral histories of minority communities. Nor do we see that many games, apps or films on these traditions that are equally rich and intricate. In such a scenario, where representation is selective, how do you begin to understand diversity? Most school textbooks are ill-equipped to explain India’s caste system and how it continues to exist in latent and manifested forms. How do you then explain to a young adult what it means that Rohith Vemula, a Dalit scholar, felt forced to commit suicide because of the way society treated him in a city as big and supposedly modern as Hyderabad?

In his suicide letter, Rohith Vemula, wrote, “My birth is my fatal accident. I can never recover from my childhood loneliness. The unappreciated child from my past.” Those words are haunting, as is the rest of the letter. A friend of mine read the note and said that’s how his own childhood feels in hindsight, centred around his identity of being a Dalit. It was like the child didn’t matter, he said, because he grew up in an environment that constantly reinforced discrimination.

As children, we are rarely made aware of our own positions of privilege and as a result, we soak in prejudices — after all, how will we think of examining them if we’re not told prejudice exists or that it’s a topic of discussion? A subtle sneering at the children who play in public parks, or the ones who are “not like us, no” is all it takes sometimes. That difference is always palpable, embossed like an invisible line, whispered in school and college corridors, and even in staff rooms.

To not talk about this inequality, to ignore it, makes us equally culpable. It can only lead to a generation of citizens who would rather not question these complexities, the status quo, or their own source of privilege: caste and class. This further snowballs when it comes to the idea of merit, whether in college, the workplace, or in any other part of our lives.

If by reading a book, children can become more empathetic, then as adults, we can do so much more to encourage them. Maybe start by opening a dialogue. Answer questions. Listen to them with an open mind. Surround them with stories, books, films on inclusion and human rights. And lead by example.

Children are quick on the uptake. In the first Potter book, Draco Malfoy holds out a hand in friendship to Harry, “You’ll soon find out some wizarding families are much better than others, Potter. You don’t want to go making friends with the wrong sort. I can help you there.” Harry didn’t shake his hand.

Bijal Vachharajani writes about education for sustainable development, conservation, and food security. She’s the former editor of Time Out Bengaluru.

There’s a bit of magic in the illustrated Harry Potter series


Jim Kay’s attention to detail is a fitting tribute to JK Rowling’s fabulous story.

Over the last few months, Potterheads have been getting email owls from Bloomsbury announcing the launch of an illustrated Harry Potter book series. It was reported that Jim Kay, who won the Kate Greenway Medal for his gothic illustrations of Patrick Ness’ A Monster Calls, has been commissioned to illustrate one of the most popular books of our times. In an interview to The Guardian, Kay said that he reacted to the news with an “explosion of delight, followed instantly by an implosion of brain-freezing terror”. An understandable reaction.

After all, every Potterhead in the Muggle universe has a distinct visceral idea of how the staircases in Hogwarts move, what the chaos on Platform 93/4 looks like on the day the Hogwarts Express leaves for the Best School Ever, and how the castle changes as autumn slips into winter. The world of Harry Potter which was created by JK Rowling some 18 years ago continues to exist in the collective imagination of Muggles across the world.


Given that I own all the Potter books and the spin-offs, a handsome army of figurines, and bits and bobs such as the Elder Wand and the Gryffindor pen, I had told myself sternly that I did not need to buy this book. My imagination was good enough. Further, like all Potterheads, I had already had to contend with the film versions and my opinionated thoughts about the adaptation.

But merely hours after the book launched on October 6, I succumbed to temptation. A shiny copy of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone has been added to my considerable collection. And I don’t need Veritaserum to admit that I have no regrets. The new book is a coffee table tome (costs like one too), resplendent with colours and quirky characters. A word of warning: If you are planning to tote it around to show it off to your Muggle friends, think again. The book is Hagrid-size.

Also read: Five spells every Indian could learn from Harry Potter

As I opened the book reverently, it took me back to my childhood, to the eighties, when we read beautifully illustrated books from Russia, UK, and Europe. Those books were interspersed with dreamy water colour illustrations sandwiched between the stories. Kay’s book is reminiscent of those classic stories, but with his personal, quirky twists.

The good news is that The Boy Who Lived has green eyes, while Dumbledore has piercing blue eyes. On that happy note, let us reread the beloved tale. Each chapter starts with a detailed illustration which gives the reader an inkling of what’s about to come. In a YouTube video, Kay explains how he even made 3D models to understand how the light would fall before illustrating the final version.

And Merlin’s Beard! The details are what make the book a treat. For instance, he puts the hog in Hogwarts with boar gargoyles on the intricate castle of his imagination. Backgrounds are richly textured, as is the landscape.

The illustrations get richer as Harry steps into the wizarding world. Diagon Alley will make you gasp with delight. This is Harry’s (almost) first glimpse of the wizarding world, and true to Rowling’s prose, the illustration shows a cobbled street that twists and turns with shops piled high with strange wares. Draco Malfoy makes an appearance – pale, pointed face (check) with cold eyes. On his website Kay says that he achieved the slightly unsettling effect using a simple trick – “If you illustrate a person’s eyes perfectly symmetrical, there’s something creepy about their appearance”.

Also read: Why I feel Harry Potter made the world a better place

The Sorting Hat is a wonderful surprise. Rowling described it as patched and frayed, and Kay’s Hat is all of that. But it’s also bright and happy with textured, colourful patches – poles apart from the comparatively surly movie version. On his website, Kay describes the making of the Sorting Hat, “One of the fabrics is from a beautiful book of fabric samples I saw years ago in the Royal Museum, Edinburgh. Never know when you’ll find a use for the little notes you make.”


It’s evident the Kay has drawn Hagrid with much affection. The bearded half-giant sports a skull and bones scarf and has little badges on his coat, an idea that Kay borrowed from his school caretaker. A lot of Kay’s inspiration comes from the world around him – whether it’s strangers he bumps into or people he knows well. Like Rowling, Kay seems to love metaphors and symbols. Dumbledore sits at his desk, choosing a Sherbet Lemon while a praying mantis sits close by. In an interview to Pottermore, Kay said that the mantis, which means prophet, depicts the headmaster’s honesty.


Most of the characters only appear once or twice in the book, which is a bit of a disappointment. Like Oliver Twist, you can’t help but want more. But don’t get your wands into a knot – when you have majestic Norwegian Ridgeback dragons flying across the page and Mountain Trolls thumbing their snouts at you, there’s really not much room for complaint. Wait until you get to Quirrell/Voldemort, the tantalising peek will ensure impatience for the second book to come out soon.

At the back of the book, Rowling says that she was moved profoundly by Kay’s illustrations. The attention to detail, the masterful paintings, and the thoughtful deliberation on the characters, all of it is a fitting tribute to her fabulous story. The illustrated version is something that Madam Pince will guard fervently in her library, and as will us Potterheads.

Why I feel Harry Potter made the world a better place


It’s been 18 years since the first book took the world by the storm, and the magic hasn’t tarnished still.

At the turn of the millennium, it was definitely uncool to be caught reading a children’s books and that too one with bespectacled wizards riding strange beasts on the cover. I ignored the relentless jibes from my friends (yes, you all know who you are) and lost myself in the wizarding world of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. I reread the books, watched first days, first shows of the movies, did marathon viewings with friends and spent pots of money on merchandise. Potter and his motley crew saw me through good times and bad.

In happier times, I curled up with a mug of masala chai, wishing it was butterbeer, and laughed and cried with the stories. Even now a figurine of Professor Snape stares at me from the top of my desk, threatening me with detention if I don’t finish this article.

It’s been 18 years since the first book took the world by the storm, and the magic hasn’t tarnished still. I rummaged through my pensieve of memories to revisit why the boy who lived continues to beguile us Potterheads.

Harry Potter was a highly unusual boy in many ways, but: Although Harry Potter is a wizard and the Chosen One, young readers were quick to realise that he’s not that different from them – for starters, he’s got unruly hair that makes him look scruffy and the adults keep wanting him to tidy up, he’s an average student who keeps procrastinating over homework and he feels the same fear of a first Quidditch match or exams as any one of us would when faced with a daunting task. In fact, his best friend Ron Weasley was the sarcastic, funny one and we all know that Hermione Granger was truly the brightest witch of her time.


The biggest battle Potter fights is against prejudice: In July 2014, theJournal of Applied Social Psychology published a study titled, “The Greatest Magic of Harry Potter: Reducing Prejudice”, which revealed that children who read the books were less prejudiced and more open minded towards immigrants and homosexuals. Earlier this month, another message behind the stories spilled into real life when the Harry Potter Alliance, a non-profit initiative led by fans of the books, won a four-year campaign with Warner Bros studio agreeing to make all Harry Potter-branded chocolate Fair Trade or UTZ certified by the end of this year. Clearly, the HPA took JK Rowling’s words to heart – “We do not need magic to change the world, we carry all the power we need inside ourselves already: We have the power to imagine better.”


The books inspired a generation to read: In the year 2000, three years after the first Potter book hit bookshelves, The New York Times Book Reviewannounced that it would print a “separate best-seller list for children’s books… The change is largely in response to the expected demand for the fourth in the Harry Potter series of children’s books, editors at the Book Review said”. JK Rowling’s best-selling series made room for a new brood of children’s books as more and more kids took to reading them. Alas, it also meant we had to suffer certain vampire-related books, but well, we can’t have it all.


It’s all about team spirit: Let’s face it, without Hermione, Harry just wouldn’t have got the philosopher’s stone, entered the chamber of secrets, rescued the prisoner of Azkaban… You get the drift. And then there was Neville Longbottom who had to finish off the last horcrux, Dobby who rescued them all, at (sniff, spoiler alert) great personal peril and Ron, erm… who managed to make us all chuckle.


It’s all about the choices we make: When Dumbledore says, “It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities”, it’s reminiscent of how the world – wizarding and muggle – is not just black-and-white. We were all convinced that Snape had it in for Harry, only to be surprised by his goosebump-inducing story, which showed that he was protecting the boy. Tom Riddle was the perfect student but took on the mantle of the Dark Lord with his prejudices and his own fear of death. And Hagrid faced a lot of stigma for being half-giant but is one of the most gentle of the characters in the book series. Except, of course, for his love for Blast-Ended Skrewts, giant, carnivorous spiders and biting books.


Spell check


Young Potterheads keep the magic alive with fan fiction

Harry Potter, Fan Fiction, JK Rowling, Mugglenet, Shipping, Fictionalley

(Yes, those are all my figurines)

“Yes, He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named is gone for good. His body was found last night, in a Muggle graveyard. Though this is good news, two valiant warriors also perished in the fight. Ginny Weasley, 16, was found near a burnt tombstone…it is believed Harry Potter was killed in the fire that burnt the tombstone.” This isn’t the ending you remember from the last installment of the JK Rowling bestseller series Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. It’s actually an excerpt from elphaba731’s The Last Battle on Fictionalley.org, a site set up by Potter’s American fans.

Whether they’re crazy about the Harry Potter books that pit the teenage wizard against dark wizard Lord Voldemort. or Stephenie Meyer’s Twilightseries about a teenager falling in love with a vampire, fans across the world have dedicated many gigabytes of websites to writing their own version of their favourite books, TV series and films. Since 1997, when the first Potter book released, the seven-book series has gripped the imagination of children (and not a few adults) across the globe. The series has spawned eight movies, a theme park in Orlando, and Harry Potter tours in Britain but Potter maniacs, it seems, can’t get enough of “the boy who lived.” And even after the last cinematic adaptation of the series has hit the theaters, young super fans are busy rewriting some of the scenes on fan sites.

On Fictionalley.blogspot.in, stories are divided into four categories or “houses” as the site refers to them – The Dark Arts for drama, mystery and angst; Schnoogle for novel-length stories; Astronomy Tower for romance; and Riddikulus for humour. Another site, Harrypotterfanfiction.com boasts of over 70,000 fan stories and podcasts while on Fanfiction.net, there are several twisted plots where Potter joins hands with his arch enemy Voldemort.

Before the Potter series finished in 2007, readers used sites like these to predict how Rowling would end the tale. Some people also posted documents they claimed were leaked copies of Rowling’s draft. The editors of Mugglenet.com, a fan site founded in the US by Emerson Spartz (who claims he was 12 and bored when he started the site), published a book,What Will Happen in Harry Potter 7: Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Falls in Love and How Will the Adventure Finally End?

Another common strategy of fan fiction is “shipping”, where fans especially plot the romantic relationships of characters. For instance, disgruntled fans who aren’t happy with Rowling’s pairing of Potter and Ginny Weasley can write their own chapters in which the teenage wizard could fall in love with his best friend Hermione Granger or his earlier crush Cho Chang. These internet stories often take a darker, sexual slant, which is why sites such asMugglenet.com have stringent rules and don’t accept submissions that are explicit. Further, copyright rules are complicated and most sites include disclaimers to ensure no legal action is taken.

Mumbai’s Zuni Chopra, 10, writes fan fiction but doesn’t post it online. She’s written Hallory Powers, where Harry Potter teams up with Darrell Rivers from the Malory Towers by British author Enid Blyton for a superhero story. “Something that excites me is that a story can be told in many different ways,” said Chopra, who has written The Land of Dreams, a book of poems and short stories that was published in 2011. “For examples, Dementors [the soul-sucking guards of Azkaban prison] could enter Hogwarts or Darrell and Alicia could become best friends. I like to use these characters and tell new stories.” For eight-year-old Aarnav Chaturvedi, the Potter books have sparked an interest in writing. He doesn’t write fan fiction but wrote The Friendly Dragon, a short story which was published on the Words and More blog.

Ultimately, fan fiction is a way to revisit the wizarding world “I’m sure everybody will want to read the books and watch the movies over and over again,” said Chopra.

By Bijal Vachharajani on July 07 2011 6.30pm
Photos by Parikshit Rao