A wizard rebels
A wizard rebels
Enchanting Potter book features an angrier Harry — and a deeper, darker tale
By JACKIE LOOHAUIS email@example.com, Journal Sentinel
Tuesday, June 24, 2003
Harry Potter has had it.
He’s had it with the Dursleys keeping him captive in a household so terrible it would make Charles Dickens shudder. He’s had it with being lied to about his past. And in self-defense, he’s turned himself into the nastiest creature imaginable:
A troubled teen.
Yes, our little wizard is growing up in J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix,” and Harry’s not always cute anymore. Now 15, he lips off to grown-ups, sulks and even questions the worth of attending Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
But we needn’t worry, because Potter and Rowling are actually maturing together beautifully.
The fifth installment of Harry’s saga is darker and more layered than even the last book, “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire” — and at close to 900 pages, Rowling has a lot of room to layer here. But readers get sucked into Harry’s magical realm as quickly and as happily as ever.
“Order of the Phoenix” starts with the relative security of Privet Drive being breached. Harry and his bullying cousin Dudley get attacked in their own neighborhood by Dementors, soul-sucking wraiths in the service of the supposedly good Ministry of Magic. Harry — and, alas, Dudley — escape, but Harry realizes that his world is becoming an ever more evil place.
More evil, more problems
Indeed, a major schism has developed between wizards. Many in the Ministry of Magic refuse to believe that the Lord Voldemort has risen again in another attempt to become all-powerful and immortal. Minister of Magic Cornelius Fudge suppresses evidence of Voldemort’s return, a coverup many of Voldemort’s old followers gleefully encourage.
But a group of good wizards, the Order of the Phoenix, convenes to combat the Dark Lord’s menace. Among their members are some surprises and some delightful new faces, including a witch who changes the color of her hair with every appearance.
But the Ministry’s officiousness plays perfectly into Voldemort’s skeletal hands. So does Harry’s adolescent quarrelsomeness. Increasingly susceptible to Voldemort’s spell, Harry ignores the advice of friends who are trying to save him. The result is that he imperils not only himself but those he loves.
Yes, a “major character” does die during Harry’s struggles; Rowling tossed that tidbit to fans awhile back. But the author dangles enough artful red herring throughout the book to keep readers guessing about that demise until it happens.
Other plot twists work less well in “Phoenix.” Rowling seems to lose track of some of her threads, provoking in this book perhaps for the first time a “Huh?” or two among fans.
J.R.R. Tolkien fans might also wish that any copies of “Lord of the Rings” be removed from Rowling’s office. Derivative elements of that epic keep cropping up uncomfortably in the Potter books, from “The Dark Lord” to the thestrals; Rowling has too fine an imagination to need them.
In fact, her imagination shines forth wonderfully from “Phoenix.” Once again, Rowling summons wizardry, filling her pages not only with delicious throwaways (“Fanged Frisbees”) but with real philosophical conundrums that both adult and young readers can ponder. When is it dangerous to keep secrets? When is it more dangerous to tell?
In “Phoenix,” Rowling also takes chances beyond killing off a character. She gives us revelations about Harry’s Mum and Dad that are not all pleasant. She makes Harry walk to the edge of insufferable brattiness. She reveals Voldemort to be far more malicious than previously portrayed: A list of his victims, several “found in bits,” forms some of the most unsettling reading in this book.
Yet, the chances she takes come in as winners, bringing Harry’s story and Rowling’s writing to new levels. She crafts Harry’s family history with a poignancy that is heart-stabbing but never maudlin, and gives Harry a deeper understanding of himself.
“I’m not playing games,” Harry says significantly during the book’s action-filled climax.
Add to all this Rowling’s healthy dose of wit — from her justifiably famous names (“Dolores Umbridge”) to spot-on ribbing of the pop press — and you have a work of fun, frolic and weight for youngsters and grown-ups alike. “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” is yet another book of charms that no Potter fan will be able to resist.
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