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Old 22nd Jun 2003, 14:10   #1
Colyngbourne
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Default JK Rowling: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

I spent a good six+ hours last night reading this, only intending to begin it (there was a sleepover happening too so I was on sprog-duty until past midnight anyway). The following contains huge spoilers about the latest Harry Potter so don't read on if you care for such things....


...Harry and Ron being fifteen have started calling each other 'mate' - this gets grating after a while.
...for a fifteen year old Harry is as thick as can be when it comes to emotions not his own. He is clueless about his rather wet tentative relationshp with Cho and appallingly uncaring and blase after many personal details about Snape come his way. Yes, he is a grumpy self-absorbed angst-ridden teenager (as one of the portraits in Dumbledore's office repeatedly points out) but he is lacking a certain emotional range, especially when the major death in the book occurs and he rages a lot but comes over as emotionally frozen. He is still persistently (ridiculously) stupid in Potions, and repeatedly irritates the same dangerous new DADA teacher. Any sane 15 yr old would have clubbed him to death by now. HE EVEN SHOUTS LIKE THIS WHEN HE'S ANNOYED, LIKE INTERNET IDIOTS OR OWEN MEANY.

Any development of Malfoy (which everyone is screaming for) has been shelved/dropped altogether. The death-eaters are reduced to cartoon-style baddies with no nuances of personality or doubt. A wasted opportunity, I think.

Dumbledore has a great moment halfway through the book but at the end becomes a woeful example of plot failing when he explains to Harry all the stuff he should have told him at the start of Book 1, before H had five life-threatening adventures against Lord V and two+ people ended up dead.

Yes, the death. Well, I was wrong in my guess and JKR lays at least three red herrings before hitting us with it. Shocking, upsetting, yes; necessary, well perhaps. I felt more for the character's other particular friend rather than Harry. I look forward to more Harry/Snape interaction in future.

And please will someone drop Hagrid from a high building? His appearance was worthless and pointless. He's become a cartoon of himself.

I liked several small things - Neville is getting a chance to shine (as we all knew he would); the Fortean times-type Luna Lovegood girl is great; good riddance to Cho Chang; Winky is a traumatised house-elf who gets drunk still.

JKR's world and plot is extending so much that we are (over)reaching the limit of characters she can cover in a book. It is wasteful to make the Slytherins so pathetically evil and unintelligent. We need more about Snape - in fact we are more interested in the adults in this drama than Harry's grumblings.

Last personal query - how big is the wizarding world if the only school in the UK is Hogwarts? There was mention of possibly 700 students in one book. So tiny wizard population overall if their wizarding 11-18 yr olds all go to Hogwart's. So this isn't a huge community for Voldemort to be fighting in - a small market town's worth if we squashed them all together? JKR makes it sounds like a nation of many many thousands.

An overlong telling, a dim grumpy teenager, a 'weapon' which turns out not to be, an unscary Voldemort, two genuinely scary moments and one regrettable death of one of JKR's more believable serious characters. No wonder she had to kill him off. :(
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Old 23rd Jun 2003, 9:11   #2
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Colyngbourne, as someone who clearly reads a lot of children's/teenage literature, what is your opinion of Harry Potter overall? I've never read any, haven't seen the films and must admit I've been rather sniffy about the whole "phenomena".

I guess I got turned off when the craze first broke and I could walk down a train and see dozens of adults with their Harry Potter's reading away. Unaccountable, that annoyed me. Or maybe I'm just a snob!
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Old 23rd Jun 2003, 12:29   #3
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I think Harry Potter has become horribly problematical for the readership and the author. I think JKR started out writing for 10/11 yr olds (ie Harry's age) and it made sense that these readers would grow up alongside Harry, but obviously younger ones joined in as well as adults (who quite reasonably enjoyed a fun read). Now she has the situation of a readership from aged 6 (far too young) to the discerning adult who wants more character development (especially Draco Malfoy and Professor Snape and Harry himself) and a coherent 'world' (eg. if the wizarding world in the UK is small, how come it can sustain at least two wizarding joke shops? If Lord Voldemort is so evil and Dark magic and torture is part of this world, how can teenage wizards be interested in joke-tricks and sweetshops? etc etc etc).
The marketing hype is ludricrous, the films passable, the books themselves are pretty formulaic and the end of OotP in particular is very weak and cliched. Nethertheless the combination of the well-worn template of the school year, good fighting evil, mean teachers, is very well managed. I have to say I really enjoy reading them because the adult characters have histories and personalities that could well be developed and the style is so reader-friendly and lively - basically she can tell a cracking good story for children.

But now we have Harry aged 15 but acting far younger (because JKR has to market to 10 yr olds and younger); and likely even when he's 18 in the last book, children as young as 7 or 8 will be wanting to read about him. I feel very strongly against this - I think she should have revised her style to an older audience as Harry grows. He is theoretically meant to be in the same kind of era as ourselves, with the same kind of teenagers as in Melvin Burgess's books who are well into sex and drugs by 14.

She also challenges very few stereotypes - Dudley (Harry's cousin) is as fat and thick and bullying as he was at the start, as are Malfoy's goons, Crabbe and Goyle. There's a very close relationship between Harry's old teacher Remus Lupin and his godfather Sirius Black and adults tend to read between the lines here :wink: . Most adult readers wish she was braver.

She has a well-developed magical world but it doesn't seem to be serious most of the time - in Ursula Le Guin's 'Earthsea' books, the magic is deep and philosophical and more holistic, as it is to a lesser degree in Diana Wynne-Jones 'Chrestomanci' series. In JKR-land magic is used for fun or convenience or for attacking one another.

That's more than my two-pennorth (I have a couple pf quids worth boiling inside me actually, at the thought of Hagrid being alive and Sirius Black being dead, especially as it seems she changed her mind on who to kill half-way through writing OotP).

I'll shut up now! :)
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Old 23rd Jun 2003, 15:20   #4
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Just wrote a huge reply to this, and then accidentally deleted it.

Aaaaaaaaaarrrrrgggghh!
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Old 23rd Jun 2003, 16:39   #5
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Wah! :( You've got to write it again! No-one else I know has a) read it b) will discuss it in case les enfants pick up on the spoilers about Sirius dying.
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Old 23rd Jun 2003, 16:45   #6
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It's annoying, let me tell you!

I'll try (probably get on later this evening when I don't have a bus to intercept, as I do in 15 minutes). For some reason it mentioned Trainspotting so I'm not sure if I'll get the same vibe going.

I'd just like to say that before I get into rant mode, I do enjoy the books (well, 2, 3 and 4) and anything that gets the kiddies reading is fine by me.

That said...
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Old 23rd Jun 2003, 19:25   #7
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It was always JKR's intention that the readership would grow up alongside the characters, that was why the plan was to release one a year...not a co-incidence that the release was delayed to coincide with school exams either?

I think you have a valid point when you say the hype is making it difficult to establish who it is being written for...that said there is a definite darkening of the subject matter as the books have progressed...

That said your critique failed to tell me whether you actually enjoyed reading the book... I actually enjoyed it enormously, I find it quite easy to suspend my critical faculties the first time I read it...

And the bottom line is that I am sure that for many kids this is highlight of their reading year and I don't think JKR let them down, it will be a rollercoaster ride for them...
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Old 23rd Jun 2003, 19:35   #8
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Yes, I did omit to say that I really really enjoyed reading it, and ultimately I know it's for 10-12 yr olds, who can cope with the darkening gloom around Harry these days. I just don't get how Harry doesn't appreciably age in the books - or gain a bit more appreciation of the less understood members of the cast. I know he's hormonal now (and he rants rather a lot and throws blame everywhere) but excessively so.
Then there are gruesome sentences like 'Harry's heart pounded against his Adam's apple'. :?

Still, my second child (9) is thoroughly enjoying it so far and I may well re-read it next weekend to take a more measured look at its qualities.
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Old 24th Jun 2003, 9:06   #9
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Thanks for the responses - I'm a huge fan of Ursula Le Guin's "Earthsea" books (actually, all her work), so I'm not sure I'd take to HP too well.
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Old 24th Jun 2003, 11:23   #10
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I'll try and pick up where I left off yesterday.

Have just re-read the series in preparation for HP&tOotP, which is not as daunting a prospect as it might sound, since you can effectively knock out 1 and 2 in a weekend (actually, Philosopher's feels like it was written in a weekend, but I'll come back to that). Now, I wouldn't do that if I didn't enjoy the damn things, and I do, but I have reservations and I might as well exorcise my demons in front of you good people.

Hope you don't mind.

Firstly, it's obvious JKR is warming to her task. The books get better as they go along (although 3 is my personal favourite). The first is, and I'm amazed I carried on afterwards, frankly awful. In fact, I probably hold the very unfashionable position that the movie is better IMO. My beef is mainly with the climax which is fudged terribly. How confusing; I had to re-read the relevant pages two or three times before I really got it. I'm not even sure JKR is that certain what's going on. The film tidied it up a tad, I thought. Most of Chamber continues in the same vein, and it was only until I got to Azkaban that I started to 'get' it. That's a terrific book, by the way. Very dark, in the best traditions of kids' stories. Goblet carries on where it leaves off and benefits from a much more thoughtful exposition. Hence the housebrick size.

This general progress through the series really makes me question JKR's claim that she had the whole seven years planned out. Oh, she probably does now, but did she really, back then, at the start? I can't imagine, reading the first one, that she had such a massive vision of Harry's future. 1 is rushed and glib and fairly so-what all the way through. Would she really give us that ending if she saw a full seven book range? I'm not so sure.

Secondly, names. Much is made about her use of names and how wonderfully incisive it is. Hmmm. There are some good examples; Dumbledore is great, especially when you know that it's the Old English name for a bumblebee. Also the new council, the wizengamot(sp?) is a good pointer that she knows her subject well. What I don’t like are the lazier examples. Her names do a lot of work for her, and sometimes she leans a little too heavily on them (the Dursleys are dull, the Malfoys are maleficent, the Weasleys are working class…). The Dursleys living in Little Whinging is simply unimaginative. And don’t even get me started on Professor Sprout. Oh, and there’s the whole Everyman thing, too. I mean, the hero is called Harry, while all around we see Cornelius or Albus, or Draco or Gilderoy; it seems the most important or the greatest or the worst or the most eccentric just happen to be named relative to their character traits. Does that mean Harry is a bad wizard? No, he’s supposed to be a star. I guess he’ll just have to change his name when he graduates.

Third, and this is probably my main problem, not just with the whole HP thing, but fantasy and sci-fi and all books dealing with any sense of otherworldliness – special powers. I’ll give you a movie example. In the jaw-droppingly appalling Episode II: Attack of the Clones (or The CGI Strikes Back) the wee green chappie is able to sense when troubled teen Annekin goes a-slaughtering in a far off solar system (similarly, Alec Guinness was able to tell that there had been a disturbance in Da Force when the Death Star destroys its first planet some billions of miles away). However, Count Duckula, in one of those I’ll-just-explain-the-whole-plot moments is seemingly unaware that Renton from Trainspotting is six feet away evesdropping. In short, I’m afraid I just don’t get the whole special powers thang. You create a fully working world (and that means people, social structure, interaction, etc) and you do it very well (well, Rowling does, George Lucas has simply created a franchise), but then you get to cheat by having people do incredible things that you have only really sketched out up until the point you need ‘em to get out of a plot cul de sac. And you can play it up or play it down or forget it whenever needed. I’ve never really bought that. The Mirror of Erised allows JKR to avoid slowing the action up, by suddenly confronting Harry with his old family … sorry, but just plain lazy for me. But like I say, that’s a general thing with genre, and not necessarily HP.

But, they are cracking adventure stories. JKR has created a set of page turners, no doubt about it. And they Get. Kids. Reading. Not a bad thing, especially if it drags the parents (who might not have read any fiction in twenty years) along with them.

Bit rambly, sorry.
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