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Posted by John Kirk (21st Jun 2003, 20:05)

It seems like the events of the previous four novels have all been building towards this, ready to kick into high gear, which is impressive since they were good stories in their own right. There's an all-star cast, with some familiar faces that I didn't expect to see showing up. We also see characters in a new light, and there are some surprising allegiances formed. I was particularly impressed by the events concerning Neville and Snape (who I think is the most complex character in the series).

It is clear in this book that Harry is definitely getting older. The main issue here is that we get to see more of the adults in the story; in particular, they interact with each other independently of Harry. I've been thinking recently about "the innocence of youth", and I think that it's not so much innocence vs guilt as it is a matter of awareness - young children tend to be fairly self-centred. It's similar to Tolkien's stories - when I read "The Hobbit", I sympathised with Bilbo, since Gandalf had sent him off in his quest, then basically abandoned him. When I then read "Lord of the Rings", it turned out that Gandalf did have other responsibilities to attend to, i.e. a life of his own that didn't revolve around Bilbo. There are similar themes that appear here.

To use a phrase from "Babylon 5", this is the year that everything changed. It was certainly interesting to read all the new developments. Following the trend of the previous books, the subject matter is getting darker, and some parts of it were genuinely unpleasant. However, there are funny bits spread around the book, to keep it from being too depressing.

One thing that did strike me about this book is that it's clearly aimed at people who have read the other four, or at least seen the films, which I think is a safe assumption. While there are a couple of brief recaps to jog your memory, there's no standard introduction. So, for instance, the book refers to Muggles without explaining what the term means.

Another impressive achievement is that I read about (yet another) Quidditch game, but it still kept my attention. I think it's quite a challenge to write about so many games, and yet keep them distinct.

So, all in all, a great book - well worth the money. And given the amount of publicity surrounding the launch, I'd recommend reading it sooner rather than later, to maximise your chances of avoiding spoilers. Oh, and incidentally, I definitely like the fact that the hardbacks are approximately the same height as the paperbacks, rather than being oversized - this makes it much easier to shelve them.

About item:

- Harry Potter And The Order Of The Phoenix

Related items:

- Harry Potter And The Chamber Of Secrets
- Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire
- Harry Potter And The Philosopher's Stone
- Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban

About author:

- Rowling, J K

Related authors:

- Rowling, J K

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read biography for - karne

 karne ( 24th Jun 2003, 10:24, Rank: GSV )  reply

People in my office keep complaining about spoilers ]:=8)

read biography for - John Kirk

 John Kirk ( 24th Jun 2003, 10:31, Rank: Patrician )  reply

H-L had an interesting approach - "As happens with most fiction, I've read the first 1/3 of the book in order (260 pages), and then have had to flick rapidly backwards and forwards to see what happens. Spoilers? What are they?! I basically enjoy stories much more when I already know the plot, because then I can concentrate on the interactions between characters and the style."

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 karne ( 24th Jun 2003, 11:06, Rank: GSV )  reply


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 Sulkyblue ( 25th Jun 2003, 10:51, Rank: Nazgul )  reply

I finally managed to finish it (damn work and things getting in the way) and would overall rate it very highly, definately one of the better books of the series.

My biggest issue with the book is that I didn't think it meritted being as long as it was. Obviously I'm interpretting this as a grown up, kids may well want it to move slowly and progressively. But I think that by losing a couple of hundred pages it really would have tightened up and been considerably better. I'm not saying that any particular plot elements should be removed, just tightened overall. That said, having waited this long for the damn thing it would have been irritating for it to be only 200 pages long ;0)

SPOILERS - highlight to view

A couple more negatives -
I felt a little cheated by the death. Having been enthused over I just felt it was a bit of a fizzle. Maybe I've been spoiled by various tv shows, but I'm afraid if I don't have a corpse left over I don't figure the character to be gone for good (and even the corpse doesn't always help). I thought Harry's grief was quite nicely written, althuogh overall I felt the whole end of the book came across as horribly rushed compared to the 700 pages that had come before it.

Another big shame for me was the way that the bullying in the book was handled. I really liked the fact that it turned out that all the kids (including the saintly father Potter) could be bullies, but the way the bullying by the teachers is dealt with (and has been shown throughout the series) concerns me slightly. Harry diligently doesn't tell the other teachers that another member of staff is hurting him, what on earth is *that* telling kids? And likewise for Snape penalising Harry and his house for something his father did, which the other teachers are aware of. I know life isn't fair, and kids at school are in a situation where they have to do as they're told. But when many of the teachers are displayed as caring about hte kids who they live with this struck me as rather distressing.

On the plus side I really liked where the characters were going. All of them got to do something with the new characters slotting in reasonably well and old characters returning, changing, developing and all the other things that occur. Overall I'd say maybe that was the point of this book - it didn't actually further the overall story that much (you can summarise it in a couple of paragraphs, being generous) but it did show where the characters are going and how the Wizarding World as a whole are dealing with things. As a set up for the next two books it's very encouraging and a thoroughly enjoyable read. Let's hope she gets a move on and writes the damn things.

read biography for - John Kirk

 John Kirk ( 25th Jun 2003, 12:20, Rank: Patrician )  reply

The length didn't bother me, although it did strike me at the time that it was taking longer than usual to move through the year. However, since this was because there was more detail happening, I didn't really see that as a pacing problem.

Moving on to spoilers:

As far as the death goes, I'd heard that there was going to be one, but I hadn't paid much attention to it - in Diane Duane's wizardry series, she normally kills off one major character at the end of each book, so this wasn't a major hook to draw me in. However, I did briefly think that it was going to be Hermione, when she got slashed across the chest. I know what you mean about the lack of a body - this seems like a literal interpretation of the euphemism "passing beyond the veil".

On the bullying front, I didn't see this as sending out a bad message, although that may have been the result (intentional or not), if children made the same inference that you did. I think it ties into the wider issue of Harry's character flaws - he's not good at asking for help (probably as a result of growing up with the Dursleys, where he knew it wouldn't be forthcoming). We saw that in book 4, when he screwed up Moody's plans by not asking Neville for help about the "breathing underwater" task. Similarly, if he'd opened the package containing the magic mirror that Sirius gave him, then he wouldn't have gone charging off to the Ministry, which means that Sirius wouldn't have had to rescue him, i.e. Harry's actions led to Sirius' death. I can understand why you'd be bothered though - I remember reading a school story when I was younger (in one of my sister's comics), where one of the girls goes to a teacher to report a case of bullying. The teacher just said "When I was a girl, if someone sneaked, all the other girls would line up and hit her with hairbrushes". Now, in that situation it was a fake report (the student was just trying to get someone else in trouble), so there was no harm done, but I really didn't like that kind of attitude coming from an authority figure.

read biography for - John Kirk

 John Kirk ( 25th Jun 2003, 12:53, Rank: Patrician )  reply

General SPOILERS for all 5 books.

Something else that I liked in this book is the increasing idea of grey areas. I've read a couple of fanfics that say "Draco Malfoy is actually a decent guy if you give him a chance", and I wouldn't go that far (particularly after he joined the Junior Inquisition). However, there have been some fair comments made about double standards. For instance, when the sorting hat puts someone in Slytherin, that child gets boo-ed by the other houses, but there's no mention that the reverse occurs (e.g. Slytherin boo-ing people who go into Gryffindor) - the worst they seem to do is refrain from applauding when Gryffindor win extra points. Ron said in the first book that "There's never been a wizard who went bad who wasn't in Slytherin". What I'm wondering about is the inverse proportions. So, if you say that 100% of Death Eaters came from Slytherin, but only 10% of Slytherin became Death Eaters, then it's rather unfair to be hostile towards the entire house. And if you imagine someone like Harry, who turns up at a new school, on the first day, not knowing anything about the houses (which he wouldn't have done if he hadn't met Ron on the train), it would be rather off-putting to get that reaction when the Hat puts you into Slytherin. So, this would then foster an environment where all the Slytherin students stick together, because nobody else will go near them. Based on the Hat's song in book 5, I think it's seen the same problem.

I also think that we have "unreliable narrator" syndrome a bit, since we tend to see everything from Harry's perspective. For instance, it seems to him that Snape gives special treatment to students in his own house. However, there was Snape's comment at the start of book 2 (after Harry and Ron had flown the car to school), that if they were in his house then he would expel them for it. So, if he's telling the truth, it's arguably not such a bad leadership style - "my students answer to me, and I answer to the headmaster, but I will shield my students from other people's criticisms".

In book 5, it was made explicit that Sirius and James Potter were bullies at school. But there were hints at this in book 3, when they'd sent Snape into the "haunted house", where Lupin was a werewolf. What were they hoping to achieve there? Either they were trying to get Snape killed, or they were going to get Lupin (their friend) kicked out of school. It was probably a lack of forethought, rather than any malice towards Lupin, but it's still not a sign of solid friendship and upright moral character.

I think lots of people have commented on the fact that Harry is clearly getting older, turning into a bit of a moody teenager. What surprised me more is that Ginny is also growing up. I think the issue here is that I've been thinking of her as "Ron's younger sister", rather than as being a specific age, so it was something of a shock when she turned round and said "I'm older now than you were when you started out". And when Harry was worrying about being possessed, it didn't occur to me that she'd have a good perspective on the situation until she brought it up, so it was good to see her getting a bit more fire.

One thing that did strike me as a bit odd was when Fudge didn't take Harry/Dumbledore seriously. He said "Ok, what's your unlikely explanation this time?", and referred to time-travel as one of the possibilities. I didn't think he knew about the way that Harry and Hermione had rescued Buckbeak and Sirius, since they'd be in trouble otherwise. On the other hand, since that has been established as a handy reset button, it's odd that they didn't try to use it here. I guess it's the whole "fear of creating a parodox" problem - there might not be a way to help out while remaining unseen.

read biography for - John Kirk

 John Kirk ( 26th Jun 2003, 12:06, Rank: Patrician )  reply

A couple of other thoughts that occur to me (SPOILERS again):

  • I'm slightly surprised that Snape didn't get the "Defence against the dark arts" job this year. I can understand why Dumbledore would give the job to a better candidate, but I'd say better Snape than Umbridge. Admittedly, this would then risk a Ministry potions teacher, but that's probably a less important role, given recent events. I'm guessing that the "meta-reason" is that if Snape got the job, he'd stay there for the next 3 years, so we wouldn't get a new teacher each year. But I'm assuming there's a more in-story reason, maybe along the lines of "you don't put an alcoholic in charge of a brewery"?
  • Aside from the ghost approach, could Sirius come back in the form of a painting? It seemed to work fine for his ancestors... Although I wonder whether the person needs to be alive at the time the painting is made... This actually reminds me a bit of the native American superstition about cameras stealing part of your soul - it would be a bit weird to have copies of myself hanging on a wall (unless you're a complete egotist like Lockhart).

read biography for - John Kirk

 John Kirk ( 27th Jun 2003, 09:05, Rank: Patrician )  reply

A thought on book 4, after re-reading it last week: it struck me that the fake Moody was making his plot over-complicated. If the goal was to get Harry to touch a portkey, then it would be much easier to say "Right class, we're having a test today. Please pick up the exam papers that I've laid out on your desks."

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 elvum ( 30th Jun 2003, 13:05, Rank: Triffid )  reply

I think having Harry Potter disappear after touching an exam paper you set would attract somewhat more suspicion to you than if he vanished in the middle of a maze full of traps and deadly creatures...

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