Saturday, February 10, 2007

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

(Originally published in 2005.)

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

J.K. Rowling

Date: 21 June, 2003   —   Book

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Fiction, Fantasy, Juvenile

I worked the release party for the fifth book, singing filk. Naturally, the song most requested (by the circle of ten-year-old girls, who were fascinated) was way low, and I had to start changing the notes so I could still sing it— but it was about a phoenix. Anyway, right after midnight, we started selling the book, and one of my co-workers read the first chapter out loud to the line of 200+ people. After everyone had gone (and I had my copy), I asked him what he thought.

"Harry's a dick," he said.

I thought a moment, and replied, "He's a fifteen-year-old boy."

"But he's a dick," he insisted.

Naturally, I figured that since he had actually been a fifteen-year-old boy, he couldn't see what it looked like from the outside. I stand by my assessment, which is that Harry, by and large, is acting like a typical fifteen-year-old boy.

The large majority of which are dicks.

(Incidentally, I very properly went to bed when I got home, and read the book the next day, then handed it off to my husband, who likewise finished it. It afforded great amusement to me to sell the book to someone, have them ask if I'd started, and to reply that not only had I finished it, so had my husband. And people wonder why we have so many books.)

This is a book straight out of history. One can draw parallels to the fall of the Weimar Republic, to certain totalitarian regimes solidifying power, and to the Hitler Youth, but the obvious place Rowling gets the feel from is Britain in the early thirties, because there was an official sentiment that was deliberately ignoring the horror ramping up in Europe, and hoping to quash any dissenting voice. At the head of the Potter parallel is a truly nasty person who believes she is doing right— obviously not one for deep philosophical questions on the nature of evil— and who thinks nothing of using repression and fear in her quest to force the Hogwarts students into a particular mold.

She also apparently not one for applied sociology.

There are, unfortunately, far too many examples of such people throughout history, but Rowling is speaking from a particular historical perspective that is good to understand. (Mention Neville Chamberlain to a Brit above a certain age and you'll see what I mean.) The U.S. was more focused on problems stemming from the Great Depression at the time, and entered the war in Europe long before we got into such a situation as outlined in the book, so we may not understand the feeling engendered by "official" versions of events that include undermining the credibility of those telling the truth. (Oh, and Percy is an utter jerk.)

Also present in this book are certain things hinted at in the last volume (and which one of my friends successfully figured out; read the text carefully!) as well as a new dimension for Harry's obnoxious Aunt Petunia. She's still nosy, hateful, and unwilling to even speak about her sister— but she is not about to let Harry die, and shows a fundamental decency surprising to someone who has been looking at her as simply the horrible aunt. Sure, she's nasty... but she has a line she will not cross. And in sheer nastiness she is far surpassed by the new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, someone who is supposedly good. (As a very minor spoiler, Aunt Petunia is not the person who dies, and is not even in danger of dying, as several major characters are.)

Anyway, the sixth book is out this summer, and the last one will be a few years after that, and then they will be done! Yay!

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