July 2003

Michael Farrelly

fiction

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J. K. Rowling

I don't like Harry Potter all that much.

He seems like one of those weasely kids who always get the warm looks from the instructors, have lots of girls fawning over them and money to burn. He's got cool friends (giants, criminal masterminds, and elves) and he's the jock of the school to boot. Oh yes, and he's a wizard, too. Jerk.

In high school Harry Potter would have been the pushy kid who knocks your books out of your hands and makes up lewd rhymes about you.

And now, Harry "The Bully" Potter enters his fifth adventure at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.

Is it "magical"?

Short answer, no.

It is, however, quite predictable and easy to read. Since it's a children's book this should come as little shock.

The kindly editor at Bookslut has been seeing a blow-up in spoiled bandwidth from people, most of them adults I would wager, dying to know who dies in Harry Potter Book Five. As William Shatner once so eloquently said, "Get a life!"

It's a kid's book. Yes, someone dies. Someone major, too. Oh yes, a major character dies in a very bad way and it makes everything so much more complicated and I'm not telling you a damn bit of it.

I wager this is the work of adults because children want the whole story. Spoilers require context, and kids want the whole of the story, not just the chalk outline of who buys it. Again, that's a MAJOR character who dies in the Fifth Harry Potter book. Underline the word "Major."

The story of the book is quite simple. Harry's repellent cousin is assaulted by agents of the foul Voldemort (and unlike other simpering reviewers I am not calling him "he-who-cannot-be-named" because he is fiction. Again, get with the life-getting, folks), which leads to all manner of misunderstandings, leading to his expulsion from the aforementioned Hogwarts.

And then he begins a life on the run. Eating anything and anyone he comes across. Harry Potter, magical cannibal.

No, not really. Stop shaking like that; it's embarrassing.

Of course, by hook and by crook, Harry ends up back at Hogwarts. Why? Because that's the setting of course. This is why it's hard to review these books, because they are blessedly relieved of the normal burdens of believability and consequence. No matter how much trouble young Potter ends up in, he's Deus Ex Machina-ed right out of it. Huzzah, on with the next book.

The gist of the plot is that Harry and the whole of the magical world are readying for the coming war with the dark lord Voldemort. There are factions, political bodies (Ministry of Magic), and individuals with stated agendas in play to complicate this wizardly Armageddon. As usual, surprises abound. Along the way Harry finds out some facts that every teenager must learn, like that your parents aren't always the nicest people, in a scene that reveals that Mr. and Mrs. Potter were really not all that polite in their youth. Or that good people die for bad reasons; who it is, I'm not telling. A terribly hard lesson learned, that people we dislike are sometimes our greatest asset, which is where we learn why Harry continues to stay with those beastly relations of his during the summer. Sometimes we have to confront our idols and see their clay footprints too, something Harry does with gusto towards the end of the book. Oh, and there are girls too, which for a boy in the throes of high puberty seems like a bit of a late blossom, but then again, it is a children's book.

It's a fascinating concept, the ramp-up for war with a foe you know is coming. Babylon 5 had the science-fiction equivalent with "The Shadows" skulking about. Neil Gaiman's Sandman had the kingdom of dreams dealing with an onslaught by the Kindly Ones. War stories are predictable, but the story of how war comes about is fascinating. Just this week I watched The Pianist, which like Schindler's List is a catalogue of human barbarism, but it's also about how a thousand small indignities pave the path down.

We all know that in book seven Harry will face Lord Voldemort in a final and terrible magical combat. I wager that the herd of Harry's pals will be thinner for the effort, but that's just logic talking. It's the process, the method, by which the inevitable occurs that fascinates readers of the Potter books. Even the tiniest tot knows what will happen. It's a matter of getting there.

In a way, that is the greatest part of the Harry Potter global phenomenon (It is indeed global. I was in the United Kingdom last month and I can attest that next to the resurrection of the dead and the new Jerusalem, Harry Potter is the biggest thing to happen since the fall of Camelot) -- that those reading, whether they are the child audience or the adults sucked in, are enjoying the story and not the plot details. Type "spoiler" into your search engine and be stunned at how many reams of electronic paper are devoted to ruining everything from TV shows to movies to video games. In an age of instant cocoa and instant news perhaps the slow method of finding out what happens is just the thing to soothe the ritalin-addled youth.

Of course, a major character does die. Horribly. Ickily. Ouch. Dead.

Stop picking at the internet and read the book, damn it.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J. K. Rowling
Scholastic
ISBN: 043935806X
870 Pages