- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 26, 2003


By J.K. Rowling

Scholastic, $29.95, 870 pages


“The headquarters of the Order of the Phoenix may be found at number twelve,GrimmauldPlace, London,” Harry Potter reads after his premature departure from number 4 Privet Drive (Muggle land) to return to the world of boggarts, house elves, ghosts and giants.

J.K. Rowling’s latest installment in the Harry Potter chronology, “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix,” is a suspenseful ride from Privet Drive to London to the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry and back again, as she depicts family betrayal, mistrust and murder with her characteristic alacrity, reminding not only her youthful fans but adult readers as well why they placed their orders on Amazon.com weeks before the book’s release date. And, for the most part, Miss Rowling does not disappoint.

Once again the reader is transported to an endearing magical world, one so inviting that its fat book spine could not deter the estimated five million consumers who purchased the volume on its first day of release. But, for once, Harry is not the unequivocal hero and the most popular boy in the magical world.

Rumors abound that Harry’s tale about the return of Lord Voldemort, “He-Who-Can-Not-Be Named,” (at the conclusion of “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire”), is nothing more than a pack of lies from an attention-seeking boy (“a tale worthy of Harry Potter,” they say).

But Voldemort has returned, and old alliances are rapidly reforming. Just as the followers of Voldemort, a.k.a. the Death Eaters, are reuniting, beloved Hogwarts headmaster Dumbledore reinstates the Order of the Phoenix, the group of wizards and witches who fought Voldemort 15 years ago.

But even within the “good” wizarding community, mysteries and power struggles prevail. In a desperate attempt to discredit Dumbledore, whose popularity he has always seen as a threat, Minister of Magic Cornelius Fudge appoints the truly odious Dolores Umbridge as the new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher and “High Inquisitor” of Hogwarts. And perhaps not surprisingly, but most definitely disappointingly, Percy Weasley has forsaken his family for advancement at the Ministry of Magic and a position under Mr. Fudge.

It is a dark time for Hogwarts, and any child who has the misfortune to be a student at the school at this time. Miss Umbridge rapidly enforces Orwellian-like measures, as she hopes to keep a careful eye over the magic that the children are allowed to practice in order to ensure that nothing Mr. Potter says is ever mistaken as credible.

As has been widely advertised, a character does pass from one magical world to the next. However, whether or not, it was a “key character” remains subjective; Sirius Black, Harry’s godfather and falsely accused magical felon on the run, dies in an attempt to save Harry when Harry embarked on a mission (he thought) to save Sirius — yes, rather a bit contrived.

But although Miss Rowling was doing her readers — and perhaps herself — a favor by not killing off one of Harry’s youthful companions, she did Harry no favor at all. As Dumbledore says, “the one person you [Harry] would go to any lengths to rescue was Sirius Black.” By killing him, she destroyed Harry’s last significant tie to his parents and his true parental role — the one person who perhaps made him forget that he was after all, an orphan. It seems almost cruel to take this figure away from him when he discovered him only in book number 3. It also eliminated any creative means for Sirius’ exoneration in a future book.

This is a book where Harry and his comrades prove that while they are not yet full-grown witches and wizards, they are outgrowing their childhood. Harry teaches an underground class of his peers in practicing magic that might prove useful in fighting Voldemort and the Death Eaters. And surprisingly, the formerly fearful and insecure Neville Longbottom is starting to show that he does possess the gene pools of his now mentally ill but formerly great wizarding parents. And the onset of puberty is prominently evident, as Harry has his first relationship with a girl, Cho Chang. However, being an adolescent male, he of course manages to botch it entirely before the school year’s conclusion.

Despite the controversy that surrounds them in some regions of the country, Miss Rowling’s books do in fact address moral questions in an age-appropriate manner. From obedience to civil disobedience to trusting authority to self-sacrifice to the house-elf situation — which is blatantly symbolic of the slavery debate during pre-abolition days — there is plenty of moral instruction to be found.

It is also true that each book surpasses the previous in its level of seriousness, and the series has gotten a bit dark. Harry Potter’s 309-page world in “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” has transformed considerably since that first year at Hogwarts. While at the beginning of his magical adventures, there was a sense of happiness and anticipation at the prospect of Harry’s ensuing years, now the reader is quite certain although the future will hold plenty of adventure, and maybe some joy, death and misfortune are also inevitable, as the innocent slowly die in the fight against Voldemort.

Although one must applaud her for an almost supernatural ability in its own right to convince a child to read such a lengthy book, the story truly does not begin until roughly around page 500. And in it, some mysteries have been solved at last: Dumbledore finally tells Harry the secrets of his past and the reader is now fully aware of just why Professor Snape loathed Harry’s father.

So yes, Miss Rowlings, your devoted readers shall return for the next installment of the Harry Potter adventure, for other questions yet remain: Why does Dumbledore undividedly trust Professor Snape? Just who is Finch’s cat Mrs. Norris, anyway? Is there hope for Ron and Hermione as a couple? Will Neville Longbottom become a leading wizard? And who ultimately will cause the demise of the other, Harry or Voldemort?

For some of these queries we can wager a guess, and others, since we have no crystal ball and are not skilled in divination, will just have to wait until Miss Rowling sees fit to reveal the answer.

But until the next year at Hogwarts, “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix,” has proven that it is indeed a tale worthy of Harry Potter.

Stephanie Taylor is letters editor at The Washington Times.

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