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Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix    by J. K. Rowling order for
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
by J. K. Rowling
Order:  USA  Can
Raincoast, 2003 (2003)
Hardcover, Audio, CD
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

It's been a long time coming and my memories of the backstory have been confused by movies of earlier episodes. But despite the lack of a Pensieve, I soon sorted them out, and dug into another enthralling episode in Harry's ongoing epic of life, the universe and Lord Voldemort. Be warned that this one weighs in at ten kilos and tops the previous tome by over a hundred pages! As usual my teen sons and I argued about who would read first. This time we compromised on a timeshare arrangement, which left me reading late into the night ...

Poor Harry begins back at Privet Drive, desperately seeking news of the wizarding world and Dudley (why am I not surprised?) spends his days as a bullying, vandalizing gang leader. Harry is plagued by memories of Goblet of Fire (in which his friend Cedric died) and by dreams of a corridor of locked doors. The action heats up quickly when Dementors show up in Little Whinging and Harry is accused of improper use of magic. This is a different Harry from the boy we have seen so far. He has a growing confidence in his abilities and shows regular symptoms of teen testosterone. He's emotional, even cantankerous (though often with good cause), and unwilling to accept that adults know best. He views his elders critically, even those closest to him, like Professor Dumbledore and his godfather Sirius. His anger at being kept in the dark spills over to the reader.

When Harry is about to explode in frustration, a bunch of witches and wizards show up in the Dursley home. They are members of the Order of the Phoenix, formed to quietly work against You-Know-Who, who is busy recruiting and sowing discord. They escort Harry to their headquarters, a depressingly haunted house that happens to be Sirius Black's family home. There's a reunion with Harry's friends but the students are neither enlightened nor invited to join the Order. Rather they do magical housecleaning - of course, Rowling makes it hilarious and I totally agree with Harry's impression that housework involves 'waging war on the house' and not necessarily winning.

After a brief sojourn with Sirius, Harry and crew are back at Hogwarts, but where is Hagrid and why does Dumbledore avoid Harry? It seems that both headmaster and student have been getting bad press in the Daily Prophet, under pressure from the Ministry of Magic where Cornelius Fudge and a traitorous Percy Weasley are in extreme denial about Lord Voldemort's return. Fudge paints Harry and Dumbledore as self-promoting and delusional, and sends the vicious Dolores Umbridge to Hogwarts as Chief Inquisitor. She steadily encroaches on Dumbledore's authority, and refuses to teach any practical application of her Defense Against the Dark Arts subject, which provokes the setup of a resistance group calling itself Dumbledore's Army (DA).

Harry and Cho Chang develop an awkward relationship, haunted by memories of Cedric. Ron has a serious (but not always successful) go at Quidditch, and Ginny has a boyfriend and takes an active role in events. Rita Skeeter makes a brief unpleasant appearance and we see only a little (unfortunately) of Remus Lupin. There's a Back to the Future sequence in which Harry accesses surprising memories of his parents. Wonderful new characters include Metamorphmagus Nymphadora Tonks (who first appears with short spiky violet hair), the criminal Mundungus and dotty, dreamy, delightful Luna Lovegood. And we finally meet a Giant, who seems to have settled into the series for a long stay.

But some things never change. Hermione knits away at her SPEW ('Society for the Promotion of Elfish Welfare') crusade on behalf of supremely uninterested house elves. Fred and George add light relief as they build a business empire with creative magical inventions like 'Extendable Ears' and 'Skiving Snackboxes' ('Fever Fudge' and 'Puking Pastilles' are popular items at Hogwarts). Indeed my favorite part of this episode occurs when the full potential of Fred and George is unleashed on unsuspecting villains (who definitely and deservedly come off the worse for wear) - can't wait to see that in a movie!

As Harry's scar throbs painfully, his dreaming escalates and brings him closer to the Dark Lord and his Death Eaters. Our young hero is not alone in the final confrontation though, as quite a few DA members join him against overwhelming odds, and we finally get to see what Dumbledore is capable of. As we all heard in advance, someone close to Harry dies. Naturally he has trouble dealing with this and receives comfort from a most unexpected source - in these scenes, I appreciate the fact that the series has matured along with its main characters. As this volume ends, Harry finally is informed of what he is up against.

J. K. Rowling not only gives her readers what they expect - in Fred and George's antics, conspiracies at Hogwarts, and eccentric wizardly figures - but takes us into new territory in ongoing character development and in the reality of death, grief, and fear of the future. With countless others, I eagerly await volume 6.
Note: I reviewed an adult edition of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, which has a different (and, IMHO, much better) bookcover. The story is exactly the same, which led me to wonder about the value of reversible bookcovers ... perhaps something for Fred and George's bag of tricks?

Review of the Audiobook CD (Random House, ISBN 0807220299):

Jim Dale does an outstanding, magical job as narrator of the unabridged audiobook version of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. His remarkable talent at creating a wide variety of voices (including quite a few regional Brit accents) adds extra dimensions to the story.

Main characters, such as Harry, Dumbledore, and the sneering Snape sound close to how they speak in the movies. There isn't quite the same range in female characters, but Dale does Dolores Umbridge with appropriately sinister light and girlish tones. Lupin sounds sincere. And many of the minor characters are incredible. It's worth the cost of the CD just to listen to Sirius' mother's shrieking portrait. Other notable portrayals are Dudley's nasty dad, the crazy poltergeist Reeves, and the trite recommendations of the homework journal that Hermione gives to Ron and Harry for Christmas.

Listening slows down the story so that you pick out details missed in reading, like the 'Ludicrous Patents Office' or the verses of the Sorting Hat song. And Fred and George are even funnier taken in through the ear than via the eye. Which brings me to what I liked most about the audiobook version - when passages (like the twin's fireworks or some Hagrid humor) tickled my own funnybone, I could catch my sons chuckling at the same thing out of the corner of my eye. It's a shared experience that we chat about, in between listening sessions, and we can enjoy those during car trips as well as at home.

As I listen, I'm amazed once again at how the author continues to make Harry an outcast, despite his heroics in each book, and I wonder how it will be achieved next time. Loony Luna, and her interest in Ron, comes across more clearly vocally than it did through text. And I wonder how Ms. Rowling will sort out the tangle of teen relationships that is developing. I look forward to the next episode to see where all this goes, and I definitely want to listen to it (en famille), as well as to read it.

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