Pottermore: Harry Potter's world opens up to 1m fans
A million of Harry Potter's most devoted fans have been given an early glimpse of Pottermore, the website set up by JK Rowling to meet the insatiable demand for detail about the young wizard's world.
A select few from the series's global following have been allowed to see the site, which reveals the inspiration for Harry Potter's dreaded relatives, the importance of different wood types in magic wands and why non-muggles prefer imperial measurements.
On Monday, a first wave of visitors was allowed to read some of the 18,000 words the author has penned in addition to the seven-book series. The site will open to the general public in October.
Among the insights and explanations offered through a series of short videos and written messages was an apology to the people of Dursley – the Gloucestershire town that lent its name to Harry's wicked aunt and uncle, Petunia and Vernon.
"I have never visited Dursley, and I expect that it is full of charming people. It was the sound of the word that appealed, rather than any association with the place,” Rowling said.
Meanwhile, 'Petunia' was probably the product of a bland government information film the author saw when she was younger.
“Petunia is the name that I always gave unpleasant female characters in games of make believe I played with my sister, Di, when we were very young. Where I got it, I was never sure, until recently a friend of mine played me a series of public information films.
“One of them was an animation in which a married couple sat on a cliff enjoying a picnic and watching a man drowning in the sea below. The husband called his wife Petunia, and I suddenly wondered whether that was where I had got this most unlikely name.”
Rowling's sister Di features regularly in explanations and her irritation with the imperial system of measurements is credited with ensuring that it was rolled out in Potter world.
“Di is never funnier than when infuriated, and among her many pet hates is the old-bufferish adherence to the old ways just for the sake of them,” Rowling said.
Around 5,000 words are devoted to an explanation of which woods are suitable for which wands, with an online sorter helping readers to find the right one for them.
For those more interested in the hard realities of money-making than the fantasy world of wizards, Pottermore still has something to offer.
The website is being hailed as a revolution in online publishing, creating a wealth of extra value around the printed books that may become an expected element of children's fiction.
Rowling is also using the site to sell e-books directly to fans, bypassing Amazon and other online sellers.