Triviana

Harry Potter Harry Potter
and the delightful novel
by the great and wonderful writer

''Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix''
By J. K. Rowling
(Scholastic Press, 870 pps., $29.99)
Buy at Amazon


Reviewed by John Orr
June 2003

When J.K. Rowling is someday asked to visit Stockholm to pick up the Nobel Prize for Literature, it won't be just because her Harry Potter novels managed to get millions of families reading together instead of rotting their brains out watching TV.

It'll be because of the great humanist values of her books, which shine like beacons to the hearts of all those who embrace them.

Children who absorb this delightful series will not grow up to be racists, ageists or sexists, they will not grow up to blindly trust government or other bureaucracies.

They won't blindly follow leaders; they will watch the parkin' meters.

Like children who loved ''Tom Sawyer'' and ''Huckleberry Finn,'' they will grow up to respect the humanity in us all.

Case in point is Rowling's latest, ''Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix,'' whose major conflict can be summed up as The Forces of Good vs. The Evils of Bureaucracy.

Oh, sure, Lord Voldemort is lurking about, and eventually shows up for a great wizard's battle with Headmaster Dumbledore (who disses He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named by calling him "Tom"), but the main fight of ''The Order of the Phoenix'' is against the foolish pols and paper-shufflers of the Ministry of Magic, who refuse to believe that Voldemort is, in fact, back.

When last we saw our boy hero, at the end of ''The Goblet of Fire,'' Voldemort had magically regained use of his own full body, instead of surviving as a mere parasite. Harry witnessed the event, narrowly escaped being killed, and managed to get back to Hogwarts to warn the world.

RETURN TO 'GO'

No, if you haven't read books one through four you may not start with this one. There are too many subtleties you will miss, not to mention the absolute fun of reading the first novels.

For instance, there is a great scene in ''The Order of the Phoenix,'' very touching, with Molly Weasley attempting to dislodge a boggart from an old desk in Sirius Black's evil mother's house. What's a boggart, you ask? Well, if you'd read ''The Prisoner of Azkaban,'' you would know, and might well be moved to tears by what happens to Mrs. Weasley.

Most authors are forced to repeat basic information about their characters in series; Rowling doesn't bother here. And why should she?

Rowling expects readers of this book to know what a patronus is, how a pensieve works, why an animagus should be registered and why Dumbledore calls Voldemort Tom.

Rowling's creation is a stunning, towering achievement. It's easy and fun to read; but read the entire series to get it all.

Book One: ''Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone''
Book Two: ''Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets''
Book Three: ''The Prisoner of Azkaban''
Book Four: ''The Goblet of Fire,''
Book Five: ''Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix''

 

DOES HARRY FIND LOVE?

Well, he does have a date with that pretty Ravenclaw, Cho Chang, on Valentine's Day. But he is more prepared to fight Voldemort than he is to enter the battle of the sexes.

They go to a tea shop, where he sees a Quidditch player holding hands with a girl. ''The sight made Harry feel uncomfortable, particularly when, looking around the tea shop, he saw that it was full of nothing but couples, all of them holding hands. Perhaps Cho would expect him to hold her hand.''

At one point he muses, ''That's what they should teach us here, he thought ... how girls' brains work. .. it'd be more useful than Diviniation anyway.''

 

COOL NEW STUFF

A couple of highlights:

-- We finally get to actually visit St. Mungo's Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries, which has only been mentioned in passing before, and what a delight it is.

For instance, the floor guide, telling patients which floors to visit for ''MAGICAL BUGS (Contagious maladies, e.g., dragon pox, vanishing sickiness, scrofungulus),'' or ''POTION AND PLANT POISONING (Rashes, regurgitation, uncontrollable giggling, etc.)'' and so forth, which includes this bit of advice: ''If you are unsure where to go, incapable of normal speech, or unable to remember why you are here, our Welcome Witch will be pleased to help you.''

-- Fred and George, Ron's hilarious brothers, introduce a pile of new magic gags, including pills that can make a student vomit in order to be excused from class, then can be reversed to let them enjoy a free day. They also are part of many great stunts to irritate the evil Prof. Umbridge.

 

A FAVORITE NEW CHARACTER

Luna ''Loony'' Lovegood is an intelligent eccentric, the kind of student generally hounded mercilessly by the less gifted. (I am reminded of a fellow I knew in high school as Terry McKenna, who grew up to be Terence McKenna, a revered expert on hallucinogens. I remember him scaring away a couple of bullying morons by imitating the bark of some kind of seal. It was hilarious.)

Luna ''gave off an aura of distinct dottiness. Perhaps it was the fact that she had stuck her wand behind her left ear for safekeeping, or that she had chosen to wear a necklace of butterbeer caps, or that she was reading a magazine upside down.''

Dotty or not, she proves very intelligent and makes for a number of great laughs -- and, more importantly, becomes a fine ally for Harry and his friends. And she gets my early nomination as a possible Mrs. Harry Lovegood-Potter.

 

DID ROWLING ERR?

Ever wonder what pulled the carriages that take second-years and older from the train to school every year?

Turns out the carriages are pulled by Thestrals, which are magical winged creatures that look a bit like reptilian horses. They are invisible to most children, and Harry had never seen them before.

'''It's all right,' said a dreamy voice from beside Harry ... 'You're not going mad or anything. I can see them too.'

'''Can you? said Harry desperately, turning to Luna. He could see the bat-winged horses reflected in her wide, silvery eyes.

'''Oh yes,' said Luna. "I've been able to see them very since my first day here. They've always pulled the carriages. Don't worry. You're just as sane as I am.''

Well, it turns out the horses can only be seen by people who have seen someone die. And Harry, of course, had seen Cedric Diggory die just a few months before.

But, why hadn't he been able to see them before? After all, as a baby he'd been present when his own parents were killed by Voldemort.

Is this a mistake by Rowling?

Talk among yourselves. Form discussion groups and have your leader send in 8 inches of parchment explaining your theories.

 

BEST NEW WIZARD ADVICE

Harry, in the presence of several witches and wizards, stows his wand in the back pocket of his jeans.

'''Don't put your wand there, boy!' roared Moody. 'What if it ignited? Better wizards than you have lost buttocks, you know!'''

Trouble is, the world just didn't want to hear it.

Especially the minister of magic, Cornelius Fudge, who has convinced himself that Dumbledore wants his job and is just stirring up trouble to get it.

Harry asks his godfather, Sirius Black, '''How can he think Dumbledore would just make it all up -- that I'd make it all up?'

'''Because accepting that Voldemort's back would mean trouble like the Ministry hasn't had to cope with for nearly 14 years,' said Sirius bitterly. 'Fudge just can't bring himself to face it. It's so much more comfortable to convince himself Dumbledore's lying to destabilize him.'''

Fudge takes action against his imagined enemy by forcing Hogwarts to accept one of his staff, the toadlike Dolores Jane Umbridge, as this year's Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher.

Umbridge starts out horrid and gets worse, as new decrees come in from Fudge almost daily to give her more power, eventually naming her the High Inquisitor, who can fire other teachers and take away privileges from the students -- including quidditch!

Before long, that aspect of the book begins to look very much like Germany in the 1930s, when the Nazi party was coming to power and doing all it could to limit education, and to abuse people it didn't find sufficiently Aryan: Jews, Romanies, blacks, intellectuals, the handicapped.

The students are shocked to learn Umbridge plans to teach no practical magic, merely theory. Even Hermione Granger objects: ''How can Dumbledore have let this happen,'' she says, ''How can he let that terrible woman teach us? And in our O.W.L. year, too!''

(Ordinary Wizarding Levels are tests given to fifth-year students to help them plan their last two years of school and prepare for eventual careers in the magical world; worse than S.A.T.s, they've been known to drive witches and wizards to distraction.)

But Sirius knows the answer: ''Fudge doesn't want you trained in combat ... he's afraid Dumbledore's ... forming his own private army, with which he will be able to take on the Ministry of Magic.''

Dumbledore, of course, is doing no such thing, but he has founded the Order of the Phoenix, an adults-only congregation, which is doing what it can to prepare for the battle he knows is coming with Voldemort.

Harry, Hermione and their friend Ron Weasley, who have all fought Voldemort or his minions in the past, know they have to do something on their own to prepare Hogwarts students. And they do; read all about it in the book. It's great.

In a time when our own, non-magical world is tottering on the edge of conflagration; when our own government, in a panic, creates the Patriot Act, which takes away Constitutional rights that had existed happily for 230 years, this book couldn't be more apt.

And then there's the matter of Harry Potter himself, who in this book is quite the cranky teenager.

But, who can blame him? By the end of ''The Goblet of Fire'' he had, essentially, saved all of humanity, for the fourth year in a row, and what happens to him? He gets shuffled back for another miserable summer with his nasty relatives, the Dursleys.

When he finally is allowed to be with other wizards and witches again -- including Ron and Hermione -- he finds they have been together all summer, having a fine old time preparing to fight Voldemort.

He shouts a lot. ''I SUPPOSE YOU'VE BEEN HAVING A REAL LAUGH, HAVEN'T YOU, ALL HOLED UP HERE TOGETHER!''

And, when the school-list letters arrive, he learns that both Ron and Hermione have been made prefects. And he has not.

''Cranky teenager'' doesn't begin to describe it.

Why Dumbledore doesn't really talk with Harry, and why Harry has been kept out of the loop for so long, becomes one of the key mysteries of the book, and a significant part of Harry's character curve.

Because it becomes clear that while Harry is another year older and has seen and done amazing things, he is still prideful to the point of stupidity, as Prof. Snape has pointed out every year.

And while Snape, as always, is hateful to Harry, he still -- as always -- does things that are vital to Harry staying alive.

And toward the end of this book, we realize that Harry needs those summers with the Dursleys not just for the reasons explained to him again and in more detail this time by Dumbledore, but because he will need to learn what Snape has to teach him if he is to survive what is coming in books six and seven.

And we the readers? We have to survive the years it will take J.K. Rowling to write those last two books in this amazing, unprecedented series.