Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

By J.K. Rowling

The web is full of reviews of this book; indeed the world seems to be filled to its edges with copies of this hefty tome. No doubt if you were to stack them, they would reach to the moon and back. Not that I suppose it can be done, but still. And the astonishing thing is that the book’s popularity is not the result of careful marketing, product-placement, audience-targeting, hype-spinning or media-doctoring. The Harry Potter phenomenon is a grass-roots phenomenon, to use the old-fashioned term. People read part one, and told their friends to do likewise. And then they hungered for part two, thirsted for part three and were nearly famished and dehydrated waiting for part four. And now we’re five.

J.K. Rowling doesn’t seem to have lost her touch. Yes, The Order of the Phoenix is a lot less cosy than the previous parts, and that makes reading more challenging. It’s a book full of anger: for the first time, Harry Potter begins to approach Voldemort in the anger he feels. But Voldemort should be adult; Harry’s anger is the anger of a boy in puberty. Rowling has depicted the mindset of a sixteen-year-old perfectly.

People have complained that Harry doesn’t have sex, and have ascribed that to Rowling bowing before censure. I don’t buy that: it’s perfectly normal that 16-year-old boys don’t have sex. Lots of them don’t, especially glasses-wearing, sensitive boys with a difficult past and a worse present.

The story of the book is something I will leave for you to discover (but if you don’t want to read the 776 pages, a quick google will help you out), but it is perhaps a bit flabby. I didn’t feel that there was a strong structure, more a ‘this happened, and then this happened, and then this, and meanwhile there was this, too’ kind of structure. There is a whole lot that has to happen, of course, which is inevitable in something that’s sequel number five.

One does get tired of seeing Dumbledore fired to make place for an evil replacement; equally one does get tired of Quidditch again (the matches can be quite safely skipped: indeed, Harry and Hermione skip a match themselves…). But there is interesting character development all-round, from Harry to Dumbledore, from Hermione to Ginny. And Luna Lovegood is a trouvaille, even though here it’s clear that Rowling is very limited, stylistically.

We are informed, through the incessant use of the adverb ‘vaguely’, that Luna is vague. Very well. So she is. But if Rowling had perused the works of the Master on the goings-on at Blandings Castle, then she would have had a wider repertoire of techniques to put down a really vague character.

And that leads me to another thought that entered my mind while reading. Which was: ‘does this Rowling read herself?’ — except for Blyton and so on. There is so much more fun, invention and interest in Diana Wynne Jones’ Witch Week alone than in the whole of the Potter Canon. Why is the crypto-fascist (even though Harry and Dumbledore hotly deny it, they are exponents of a world where there are Superior Beings and Inferior Beings, and the Inferior Beings have to Fend for Themselves because it is Good for Them — which is pretty patronizing and fascist in my book, and I’m not even talking about house-elves who should not be given freedom because their lot is their fate and they don’t want anything else. Heard that before, about slavery in the Americas), imperialist (where only Great Britain can lay claims to civilisation) claptrap (it’s full to the brim of those easy, handy emotive stock-words and phrases my literature professor warned us about) so incredibly popular? It cannot be the excellence of the style…

I think it’s a combination of the thoroughness of the world-building, the easy writing, the homely evocation of the boarding-school books that have always been popular, and yes, the appeal to our fascist, imperialist inner nature. Nobody imagines themselves a muggle or a squib while reading Order of the Phoenix, and nobody imagines themselves to live anywhere but in age-old, civilized Britain.