11 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars
Harry Potter and the Gargantuan Page Turner, 23 Aug 2003
Three frustratingly long years after the publication of Harry Potter and the Goblet of
Fire, J.K. Rowling's legions of fans were rewarded for their patience with the release of
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix - launched simultaneously in Britain, the USA,
Canada, Australia and in other English-speaking countries at one minute past midnight on
21st June 2003.
This fifth book in Rowling's incredibly successful wizarding series is a challenging 766
pages long, containing over 255,000 words and weighing in at 2.8lb (1.3kg). In Britain
alone, it sold 1.8 million copies in the immediate hours following its release - a Nielsen
Book Scan estimate revealed that one person in every 28 possessed the Order of the
Phoenix. In the US, five million copies were sold during the same period. There can be
little doubt that Harry Potter is a global literary phenomenon.
Trivia aside, Potter is no longer the awkward 11-year-old boy wizard that readers were
introduced to in the first book. Phoenix sees the tangle-haired Harry in his fifth year at
Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. He is now an angry adolescent, a survivor of
various hair-raising escapades who often finds it difficult to control his emotions. He
frequently finds himself "consumed with anger and frustration, grinding his teeth and
clenching his fists", and occasionally takes his "growling resentment" out on his best
friends Ron and Hermione.
Phoenix is an enormously harrowing adventure for Harry and definitely not ideal bedtime
reading material for the squeamish or fainthearted. He is attacked by dementors,
threatened with expulsion from Hogwart's, banned from playing Quidditch, discredited among
much of the magical population, haunted by dreams, visions and stories of his dead
parents, accused of being a liar by the atrocious Dolores Umbridge, forced to endure the
loss of a dear friend - and all this before his destiny is finally revealed to him by
Dumbledore, who sits Potter down in his office and tells him "everything".
The book is considerably darker than the first four novels as Voldemort begins to spread
his evil influence, opposed at each stage by the Order of the Phoenix, a protective circle
of benevolent witches and wizards.
Once again, serious issues such as slavery and racism are touched upon in subplots such as
Hermione Granger's quest to liberate the long-suffering House Elves and in Malfoy's
fascistic hatred of "mud bloods" and "filthy half-breeds". Rowling's books reflect rather
than condone prejudice and Harry continues to take people at face value. Indeed, in their
steadfast determination to shield the weak against the evil forces of Voldermort,
characters like Professor Dumbledore quite clearly advocate open-mindedness and empiricism
at great personal cost to themselves.
Unsurprisingly, Phoenix, like earlier books in the series, has been subject to intense
political and moral analysis. Since Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (the Sorceror
's Stone in the US), first took the American reading-public by storm in 1997, there have
been vicious attacks by Christian fundamentalists who believe the series is cultivating a
generation of "evil-doers". Indeed, the more extreme of these groups have accused Rowling
of deliberately "spreading witchcraft". After the release of book four, the Minnesota Star
Tribune reported that a New Mexico town had actually held a book burning, and the People
Magazine informed its readers that parents across the country were seeking to ban the book
from their children's school libraries. Mercifully, the vast majority of American families
have taken Harry to their hearts and Phoenix has broken all US sales records, outselling
even the biography of former first lady, Hillary Clinton.
In a far more agnostically inclined Britain, critics have tended to complain that Potter
and his palls are a tad too "Middle-England" for their liking. However, I can only surmise
that there must be a distinct lack of humour amongst present-day literary commentators
because Rowling is quite obviously being ironic when she writes of the curtain-twitching
residents of Privet Drive and the Minister of Magic in his pinstriped robes.
The Order of the Phoenix is by far the most sophisticated and mature book of the series so
far; it is also a more confident work than its predecessors. Although the earlier books
were far more comedy-driven, there are still many hilarious scenes in Phoenix that will
amuse children and adults alike. The narrative moves at a cracking pace as Harry struggles
to convince the wizard world that Voldemort has returned, and the book's prodigious size
allows Rowling to weave in serious themes.
With two books to go, it remains to be seen which direction Rowling's storytelling will
take, but it seems likely that the link between Harry and Voldemort will lead to ever more
elaborate plot-twists and sensational revelations. In the meantime, Pottermania will
continue to inspire children across the globe to read - a truly magical achievement in