Harry Potter and the irresistable read

Review

I admit it – I was lured in by the hype. I can be honest about that, that a woman with a college background in critical literary theory, who has done extensive critical writing on the works of Samuel Beckett, Shakespeare, William B. Yeats and Salman Rushdie, was drawn to the new Harry Potter book like a moth to a flame. I even wanted to go to one of the midnight release parties. After talking myself out of that, I walked around on June 21 looking into bookstores, thinking “What if they’ve already sold out?” and “Maybe I should just buy it now, just to be safe.”

I felt surrounded. I went to the drug store around the corner and there it was, down the aisle from the toilet paper. I knew I had to get it. The extensive marketing campaign that started well over a year ago had got me.

I’d read the previous four installments of the Harry Potter series in a somewhat hidden manner. Though they have become some of the highest-selling books of all time, I didn’t want to admit that I was enthralled by the same books that my boyfriend’s 8-year-old cousin was hooked on.

But here I am, out in the open. Harry Potter and the Order of the Pheonix is a good book. I’m guessing that there are a number of readers who have dabbled in the Harry Potter phenomenon. Blame the kids, blame the hype, couch it in whatever excuse you want. They are good books.

Not only are they an entertaining read – although Order is a much less light-hearted affair than the previous books – they also have a political edge. The series is about a kid who finds out that to a community he knew nothing about, he’s famous. He learns that his parents died for the cause, not in a car wreck. He takes up the fight himself, commiting to the struggle against the “Death Eaters” in the name of his family, but also in a desire to see the world be a better place.

In Order we find Harry at 15. The author, J.K. Rowling, can be commended for her ability to capture the frustration we all feel at that age – navigating first dates while feeling that the adults around you must not know anything. On top of all that, Harry also feels the weight of the world on his shoulders – as in the other books, he feels it is his solitary duty to save the world from Lord Voldemort, the leader of the Death Eaters and the dark wizard who killed his parents.

Harry wants to see everything in black and white, good and bad, Order of the Phoenix and Death Eaters. The adults all try to explain that things aren’t that simple, that there’s a grey area to deal with. Harry gets frustrated that the Ministry of Magic doesn’t seem to take his warnings of Voldemort’s return seriously, and that the wizard newspaper is trying to discredit him and his more influential friends and allies.

Weighing in at 857 pages, Order is a remarkably quick read. You get drawn into the politics of the wizarding world – the “Educational Decrees” from the toad-like Ministry of Magic representative, the high-level connections of “war criminals” from the last rise of Voldemort, the predjudice against “mudbloods” and “half-breeds.” You start making the connections to the world we live in, to the similarities and differences between the Fudge administration and the Bush administration.

But at its heart, this isn’t something to read just for the political shadings of it. The books in this series – and perhaps especially this hefty part – are good books, that can be enjoyed, discussed, and – as anyone who knows an 8-year-old can attest to – reread many, many times. If you haven’t delved into the world of Harry Potter – and the movies don’t really count – you should. Make them your summer reading and hold your head high as you tear through the pages of Harry’s first five years at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Just don’t be surprised if a well-read kid asks what part you’re at and gives you a knowing smile in return.

The author can be reached at jbarnett@pww.org