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June 2003
© 2003 Ernest Lilley / SFRevu
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US EditionUK EditionHarry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Book 5) by J.K. Rowling
Scholastic HCVR: ISBN043935806X PubDate: June 21, 2003
Review by Pat Nash (US) / John Berlyne (UK)

896 pages List price 29.99
Buy this book and support SFRevu at halfprice.com

A Harry Potter Party

Harry's Latest Adventure Reviewed:

by John Berlyne (UK)
by Pat Nash (US)

As if you needed anyone to tell you that Harry Potter continues to draw the kind of crowds that movie producers dream of and book publicists do not even dare hope for let me just say that if an undiscovered Heinlein manuscript were suddenly unearthed, preferably a juvenile, I would expect less contention over who got to review it than I saw with Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. As it is I held the line at two reviews, refusing to take bribes from perfectly good writers to be included. At least I think they were bribes. Anyway, we start out with Pat Nash's tale of the search for Harry...and continues with John Berlyne's review.

A Harry Potter Party

The hoopla about Harry Potter has reached a point where the process of buying the book takes up almost as much time as reading it. I’ve read estimates that it takes 24 to 27 hours to read The Order Of The Phoenix, though . I got through all 870 wonderful pages in about 12 hours. Getting the book, however, took somewhat more effort.

I made reservations in my local bookstore back on June 11th, and decided to put the book on my charge card – as it turned out, a prophetic decision worthy of Professor Trelawney. “Are you coming to our Harry Potter party?” the saleswoman asked. Thinking that my nine-year old would enjoy it, I wrote my phone number on the reservation list. The afternoon of the 19th, I stopped by the store with my daughter, to inquire about the party, to discover that it was in full swing, with the front windows decorated to look like the Hogwarts Express, and the streets, the selling floor, and the basement crammed with be-robed, be-spectacled, and be-wanded children.

They had no record of my reservation, but suggested I come back later, as some of the children might be too tired to hang in there until midnight. Due to the normal household circus, I wasn’t able to get back until 11PM, and my daughter had fallen asleep, so I arrived at 11:54 PM to find a line longer than a full-grown basilisk snaking its way through the bookshelves and a CBS news crew recording the madness. When I reached the back of the store I discovered that there were in fact three lines – one for people off the street buying the books, one for those wise souls who had reserved pre-paid copies, and another ascending from the basement, consisting of Harry Potter party-goers who were both overtired and over-stimulated – and they were just the parents.

Some of the children seemed to be victims of stunning spells, as they were draped over their fathers’ shoulders, oblivious to the surrounding uproar of bewitched, bothered, and bewildered people shouting, “Is this the end of the line?” “Are you sure you want to do this?” and “Why don’t we just go home?” Because of my foresight in pre-paying, and a native New Yorker’s ability to size up the speed of a moving line, it only took 30 minutes to reach the reserved table, and by dint of waving my Master-Card receipt like a talisman, I was back out the door clutching a copy of the two and a half pound book. All the way up the street to my car I passed prior purchasers standing under street lights and the theater marquee, diving into the first pages and looking pleasantly sheepish to be caught reading on street corners.

UK EditionHarry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Book 5)
by J.K. Rowling
Review by John Berlyne
Buy this book and support SFRevu at halfprice.com

As a hardened critic and jaded old cynic, I have tried hard to turn a blind eye to the Harry Potter phenomenon. Let’s face it – it is all too easy to be disparaging about these novels depending on your level of snobbishness – well, they’re for kids aren’t they! And there as popular as gin used to be amongst the great unwashed. And why would one wish to fatten the cash cow any further by buying a copy? And why would such a book win a Hugo – I’ll bet J.K.Rowling never even heard of a Hugo… Such cynicism is just as easily countered though by the simple act of reading the books. I challenged you not to enjoy them.

Though I don’t think Rowling is by any means a great literary writer, I do think she’s a genius in so much as she has tapped into something that leaps across generations and cultural barriers. I mean, these books have been translated into every living language spoken on the planet – and some dead ones too! Their appeal spans every continent and has introduced more children (and adults) to the joys of reading than any schoolteachers cane ever managed.

Unless you’ve spent the last few weeks living on the moon, you’ll know that the latest title – Harry Potter And The Order Of The Phoenix – has just been released, and, always a sucker for hype, I’ve just finished it. And you know what…? It’s great!

There is a set formula with these stories – we follow Harry’s year at Hogwarts and the inescapable adventures that befall him along the way. The underlying thrust of this is his longstanding troubles with nemesis and arch enemy Lord Voldemort, but weaved into this are the other strands we have come to recognise as part of the furniture of these stories – Harry’s friendship with Ron and Hermione; comical and magical goings on at school; Harry falling foul of Snape and Draco Malfoy; Harry’s evil muggle family, the Dursleys, etc, etc. All these elements are present again and good job too, because these are the very things we love about these novels.

But Rowling is not simply regurgitating a proven formula in this new book – she’s far too clever to do that. The Order Of The Phoenix moves the main story arc forward beautifully and further develops our favourite characters in the process. Harry, now in his fifth year at school, is (unsurprisingly, given what he seems to go through every year) showing signs of being every bit the troubled teenager. Hormones are raging (a topic Rowling is admirably not ignoring), guilt and confusion are gnawing at the boy’s mind and he comes across here as a fallible and very human (albeit with a bit of wizard added) protagonist. In reflecting this, Rowling too is able to remind us of the fun and thrills of being that age. She said recently in an interview when asked how she accounts for the staggering popularity of her characters that if she can do one thing, it is to remember and encapsulate exactly what it is to be a child. She’s right.

And The Order Of The Phoenix is full of wonderful Rowling moments that positively fizz with mischief. It is appealing without being twee, and hats off to the author for never once dumbing her writing down. The language remains resolutely grown up and the tone and tensions of the novel are never softened for the younger audience. This uncompromising approach perhaps too accounts for the length of the novel – at over seven hundred pages, the longest so far. I should think that Rowling now heads the list of writers that editors dare not mess with, but truth to tell, the novel doesn’t feel over-long at any point.

There are other elements in this one that are particularly notable. Having been the focus of much gutter press interest herself, I enjoyed the author’s playful swipes at newspaper misreporting. And yes – she kills off a character in the book. A brave choice and one which, above everything, serves the story.

You’ll note I haven’t even attempted a plot summery here – I don’t need to! The likelihood is that you’ll buy the book whatever. But you can do so with confidence as it is a real treat for fans of the series – and that’s a significant proportion the planet’s population. Hoorah for Harry and long live J.K Rowling!

Harry's Latest Adventure Reviewed (by Pat Nash)

Though Pat's finished reading the 896 page story we're letting her get some sleep before she writes the review. Pop back in and see what she thought (Yes, she said it's worth the price of admission) in a few days.

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