Friday, September 9, 2011

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J. K. Rowling--the dark arts

Bibliography: Rowling, J. K. (1997). Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. New York, NY: Arthur A. Levine Books.

Summary: Harry Potter has never been the star of a Quidditch team, scoring points while riding a broom far above the ground. He knows no spells, has never helped to hatch a dragon, and has never worn a cloak of invisibility.

All he knows is a miserable life with the Dursleys, his horrible aunt and uncle, and their abominable son, Dudley--a great big swollen spoiled bully. Harry's room is a tiny closet at the foot of the stairs, and he hasn't had a birthday party in eleven years.

But all that is about to change when a mysterious letter arrives by owl messenger: a letter with an invitation to an incredible place that Harry--and anyone who reads about him--will find unforgettable.

For it's there that he finds not only friends, aerial sports, and magic in everything from classes to meals, but a great destiny that's been waiting for him...if Harry can survive the encounter (Arthur A. Levine Books).

Tool: the dark arts (in collaboration with and

In preparation for the opening of Pottermore, I wanted to show how Web 2.0 has affected J. K. Rowling's series. It is unclear right now whether or not Rowling's new interactive website will allow users to collaborate and create, Web 2.0-style, and critics have argued that Pottermore's survival will depend not only on its "transmedia storytelling" as told by Rowling but also on its support of fan contributions to that storytelling process...because Harry Potter has been living in the digital world for quite some time already.

In an article entitled "The Boy Who Lived Forever," Time details the underground culture of fan fiction, beginning with "J.K. Rowling probably isn't going to write any more Harry Potter books. That doesn't mean there won't be any more. It just means they won't be written by J.K. Rowling." (Grossman, L. (2011, July). The boy who lived forever. Time. Retrieved from,8599,2081784,00.html). Web 2.0 has taken fan fiction--and the Potterverse--to a whole new level. Because my site focuses on visual storytelling, I will explore the unique relationship between the dark arts, a graphic design forum, and, the oldest site completely dedicated to Potterverse fan fiction (or "fic"). is already an excellent example of the Web 2.0 facet of self-publication. People share their fics and leave them open for others to post reviews. With the dark arts, however, writers are able to access other elements of Web 2.0: collaboration and visual storytelling. the dark arts is a forum for graphic designers to create Harry Potter-themed art. If you have a validated fic on, you are eligible to request an accompanying banner for your story, and an artist will visually interpret your fic. Writers can request specific characters and images; however, the final product is the result of the artist's imagination.

Here, for example, are banners for two different Marauders-era fics (used with permission).

"By the Light of the Moon" by Queenie Shacklebolt. Banner by violet ephemera from tda.
""By the Light of the Moon" is the compelling tale of the werewolf, Remus Lupin. Follow Remus from his days at Hogwarts to the rise of the Dark Lord Voldemort and, eventually, to the birth of Harry Potter and the Dark Lord's downfall. Find out how Remus deals with the prejudice and hate he is faced with when people discover his secret...he's a monster."

"The Padfoot Chronicles" by Lady Snape of Spinners End. Banner by angelic. from tda.
""The Padfoot Chronicles" is the story of Sirius Black--the rebel, the friend, the brother, the-risk taker, the wizard, the prisoner."

The collaboration between writers on and artists on the dark arts is a really neat example of Internet culture fusing with fan culture, and the process of acquiring a banner is a relatively painless introduction into the weird, wide world of Internet forums. Also, users should take note that the artists on the dark arts are committed to respecting intellectual property--they will only use images available for public use, and writers must commit to crediting the artist when posting his/her banner.

Because I assume that most teacher-librarians are already very familiar with the first book in the Harry Potter series, I am going to do something a little different with this post. Rather than review Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, I am going to preview my own fic, inspired by Rowling's first novel.

Fan Fiction: Chapter One of "The Skeptical Chemist"
England is on the brink of the Enlightenment, and who should be setting the stage of the Scientific Revolution but Albus Dumbledore? Joined by his partner in alchemy, Nicolas Flamel, and by Robert Boyle, known today as the "father of modern chemistry," the young Dumbledore struggles in his work both on the Philosopher's Stone and in understanding his professional--and personal--relationships. Note: This story contains material of a sensitive nature and is for mature audiences only.

Gramercy, as the Elizabethans would say, to (sol) from the dark arts for this banner!

“Paracelsus be naught but a hasty-witted jolt-head, plaguing all pursuit of chemick with his gibble-gabble,” the young man muttered to himself, thrusting his flask down so vehemently that Albus feared the glass would crack.

“Corpus bones,” Albus thought, shaking his head silently and continuing on at the fireplace, the small laboratorium growing more stifling with each suck and pump of the bellows. In—“God’s wounds!” Out—“God’s teeth!” Each successive curse was accompanied by a fiery blast from the furnace, like licks of hellfire…or the merciful end to the suffering Albus endured at the bickering tongues of Masters Boyle and Flamel, morelike.

“In the writings of our philosophical father,” Master Flamel replied loudly and acidly, “Paracelsus doth admit that his pursuit of alchemy is not for the making of gold but to consider only what virtue and power may lie in medicines, thou great ape. Though why one would shun the making of gold, I know not.”

Boyle looked up from his labor with a shrug, although Albus saw that his eyes glittered angrily. “Forsooth, Paracelsus did do much for the study of toxins, but what of chemistry? My experiments be corrupted by his hokum on the spiritual attributes of mercury, sulfur, and salt. These elements be elements only, not the very foundations of our spiritual disposition, and to say otherwise is to keep company with fools.”

“Careful, thou Irish wastrel, with thy criticisms, or thou will lose thy position here with us as alchemist. Master Dumbledore, please kindly remind Master Boyle of what are the actual elements and of what kind of knowledge he will be able to pursue as a beggar on the Londontown streets. These blasphemies have put me in ill humor, and I must relieve myself.” And with a pointed look at Boyle, Flamel swept from the room to locate the nearest privy.

“D’anam don diabhal!” Boyle muttered under his breath. Albus knew that Master Boyle only used his native speech when truly vexed. He wondered at the meaning of the Irish words but thought it better not to ask. Rather, he lamely offered: “Master Boyle, the four basic elements are earth, fire, water, and ai—“


“Pray pardon?”

“Please. When you speak at me, speak at me as Robert…Albus.”

Startled, Albus stopped with the bellows, and the laboratorium grew silent other than the burbling and babbling of this or that potion. He and Masters Boyle and Flamel had known of each other for several years past but only in the capacity of alchemical colleagues. To be addressed so informally…

Albus looked up. The laboratorium was a small, cramped chamber perched precariously at the top of the rather run-down residence of Master and Mistress Flamel, or the House of the Silver Crescent, as it was so-called, for every house within the City of London was blessed with a name. Although the room spanned several strides, crossing that space would be nigh impossible for all the equipment crowding every available surface, and it was even less feasible for one to stand upright beneath the roof’s many gables.

At Albus’s back stood the open furnace. As one of the four natural elements, fire was key to much of his and the others’ work—essential for the distillation and transmutation of silver and mercury, as was his focus; for the creation—theoretically—of the Philosopher’s Stone, as was Master Flamel’s; and for whatever observations Rob—err, Master Boyle was making on gaseous properties. Of course, the other elements were present in the attic as well. Earth, in her metallic splendor—antimony, arsenic, bismuth, zinc—lay strewn across his own workspace like a not-so-blushing bride upon her wedding bed. Water flowed swiftly through tubings knotting Master Flamel’s table, as though she, too, were in a rush to transfigure herself into the aqua vitae, the Elixir of Life, that the alchemist had so bent his head upon.

And air? Why, air was in the very name of the device upon which Master Boyle labored so intently: the air-pump, although of what be its designated purpose, Albus could not yet fathom. As his eyes roved over the mess of tools—aludels for condensing vapors, alembics for distilling mixtures—and texts—ancient scrolls of Zosimos of Panoplis, Andreas Libavius’s Alchemy, fresh from the printers—they settled on the odd contraption and the long, white fingers fiddling with its knobs. Slender yet strong, connecting to a well-muscled forearm used to holding tinctures over heated coals for hours on end. As the man stretched to lift a lever on his machine, his back arched and then tensed, sending his muscles a-rippling beneath his length of burnished hair like kelpies galloping about beneath a river’s surface. He reached back down, doubling over, showing off a firm, shapely—

“—Pigeon pie for the good sirs?” Albus’s mouth watered as Mistress Flamel shuffled into the room, laboring under a tray laden heavy with vittles and nearly upsetting Master Boy—err, Robert’s air-pump as she did so. “Pray pardon, Master Boyle,” she mumbled, as the man quickly righted his experiment.

“Twas naught, good lady,” he reassured her kindly. “It be our fault for littering your attic with our noisome machinations and odorous potions. Let me lighten your load—verily, I can ne’er resist a pie made by the right beauteous Mistress Flamel!”

The frailsome woman—who surely was no beauty—blushed at the compliment, but her rosy coloring paled quickly, as she heard her husband’s heavy tread in the stairwell. The room fell silent.

“Wherefore thou be bothering these men, Perenelle?” Master Flamel said, as quiet and cold as the grave. Mistress Flamel stared, unseeing, at a point fixed somewhere beyond Albus’s head.

“Answer thy husband, thou witless slattern.”

“Nicolas, I—I—“

CRACK. Albus winced at the blow, which sounded for all the world like the whip lashing ‘cross the backs of the poor souls in the stocks on the street below. Mistress Flamel crumpled to the floor, whimpering and clutching her left cheek in both hands.

“When thou speakest at me, thou willt address me as thy lord and master, slut. Now leave us to our business. We work for the greater good and will suffer no more interruptions.”

Albus stared at the stone floor. He did not look up as he heard Mistress Flamel stagger to her feet and stumble out of the laboratorium. He did not look up as he heard Robert say coldly, “I am finished with my work this day,” and briskly follow her down the staircase. And he did not look up as he heard Master Flamel say, “Master Dumbledore, the fire is in want of building.”

Albus again picked up the bellows.

To find out what happens next to the young Dumbledore, please click here: