| His own brand of magic
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix By J.K. Rowling, Bloomsbury, Rs 795
Not so very long ago, when HP still meant Hewlett Packard, and you didn’t have to imagine the visage of Daniel Radcliffe every time you thought of Harry Potter, reading J.K. Rowling was a rare and unspoiled delight. Not so any longer. In 2003, Harry Potter, the brand, has grown to bizarre proportions. What with plans for Moaning Myrtle toilet seat covers and Harry and Ron alarm clocks, the Harry Potter merchandizing machine has long subsumed the character of Harry, the young, likeable boywizard, coping with his extraordinary powers and the often alarming circumstances in which he finds himself.
In Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, alternatively monikered HP5, Harry has grown into an awkward, adolescent fifteen-year-old. This is one aspect that has always distinguished Harry and friends — unlike the Kirrins in Enid Blyton’s Famous Five, or the Secret Seven gang, these children are not stuck in time, but actually do grow up over the years.
Harry, at fifteen, is angrier than he has ever been before. He is upset with his Muggle relatives; he is upset at the undue attention that the media has given him; he is peeved with his best friends Ron and Hermione for being secretive; and he is even fed up with his headmaster Dumbledore for ignoring him. So, in 2003, almost thirty years after Amitabh Bachchan hit the silver screen as the Angry Young Man, he has a most qualified successor in young Harry Potter. Harry shouts, screams and rants at all and sundry; and when he is VERY ANGRY, he shouts in ALL CAPITALS.
To be fair to him, Harry does have his share of problems and disappointments: he has nearly been expelled from Hogwarts for unauthorized practice of magic; he has largely been kept in the cold about matters conducted by the Order of the Phoenix (a secret society formed to combat Voldemort); and he has been superseded by both Ron and Hermione, who are now Prefects. On top of everything, Harry has been having a series of dark, complicated dreams — which he can definitely do without.
As in her previous books, Rowling follows a fairly standard formula: twenty-five-odd pages of life in Privet Drive, flash forward to Hogwarts via a quick detour through the Weasley household, some Quidditch (the proportion is regrettably low in this, the longest of the five books so far) and a new Defence Against the Dark Arts Teacher, in this case the delightfully villainous Professor Umbridge. And from Book Four onwards, a modicum of romance and a compulsory death — things one expects to be recurring motifs.
But the great thing is that the formula works. If you can ignore the hype for as long as it takes to read this book from cover to cover, Rowling is an able and extremely competent raconteuse, making us smile, getting us involved, so much so that even in this huge, sprawling 766-page enterprise, she has us turning pages eagerly to move on in the story.
Of course, it doesn’t hurt if the advance publicity has already let it slip out that there is a death, a secret, and Harry’s first kiss. The first two items come at the fag end of the book — reasons enough to read on. As for the kiss — Harry’s crush does kiss him on Christmas Eve, and they do set up a Valentine’s Day date. But then the date proves an unmitigated disaster with the usual Mars-Venus complications.
Delightfully, we find Miss Goody-Two-Shoes Hermione Granger being instrumental in breaking a couple of Hogwarts’ rules, although her activist obsession about houseelves makes one want to shake her up a bit. And if one is looking at a great resolution in the Potter-Voldemort duel, there is disappointment in store. The final countdown is obviously saved for Book Seven. In the meantime, dear reader, please make do with medium-sized conflicts, with Harry being ahead on points. Also, the bits about Hagrid’s giant brother, Grawp, make for rare tedious reading.
So finally, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, though not nearly the best of the five titles, is definitely the most adult and complex in the series so far. It depicts, with rare empathy and a wry humour, the grey shades of the adult world which Harry is entering. And as it does so, it also tells a rattling good tale. Meanwhile, let’s be glad that Rowling has already started work on HP6, and the final chapter in the heptalogy is already composed and saved. After all, she has singlehandedly brought people — children and grown-ups alike — back into the world of books. In doing so, she has worked a magic of her own.