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  • Stolzi@aol.com
    Y all might all enjoy this review and perhaps one of you can explain this rather tart remark to me ... Narnia ... Harry Potter and the Order of the
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 13, 2003
      Y'all might all enjoy this review and perhaps one of you can explain this
      rather tart remark to me

      >On the third hand, those of us who had to explain ''The Chronicles of
      >to our children will be grateful that Harry isn't Parsifal.

      'Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix': Nobody Expects the Inquisition

      By J. K. Rowling. 896 pages. Scholastic. $29.99
      e first met the Weasley whereabouts grandfather clock in Book Four of
      Potter's Progress. Its nine golden hands, rather than pointing at numerals,
      stopped instead to suggest a location where each of Ron Weasley's family
      members might be found: '' 'Home,' 'school' and 'work' were there, but
      there was also 'lost,' 'hospital,' 'prison' and, in the position where the
      number 12 would be on a normal clock, 'mortal peril.' '' Mortal peril! By
      the time this wonderful clock reappears in Book Five, the witching hour
      will have arrived for almost everybody we care about.

      Yes, someone important to Harry dies. No, it's not who you think. Anyway, I
      wouldn't tell you. Still, ''Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix'' is
      an angry book, a lamentation and a thanatopsis, a ''Song of Roland'' and an
      ''Epic of Gilgamesh,'' with the usual chorus of doxies, puffskins,
      bowtruckles, spattergroits and thestrals, not to mention a crumple-horned

      While the Dark Lord and his Death Eaters are out to destroy Our Gang,
      another part of Harry's problem is hormonal. He is 15 years old, and so
      naturally he feels sullen, resentful, self-pitying, whispered about and put
      upon. Imagine being tried by a criminal court for under-age magic. Between
      dreams of serpents and anxieties about his O.W.L. levels, he's not getting
      enough shut-eye. The daily wizard paper keeps insinuating that he's a
      ''lying weirdo.'' Hermione wonders if maybe he loves playing the hero a bit
      too much. His first kiss can only be described as ''wet.'' He learns things
      he'd prefer not to know about his dead father. And the High Inquisitor of
      Hogwarts has banned him from ever again playing Quidditch.

      But the boombox terrors of childhood and adolescence are as pips and
      squeaks compared with the thunderous corruptions of adult power and adult
      greed. That High Inquisitor? Her name is Dolores Umbridge. She is supposed
      to teach Defense Against the Dark Arts. She is really a mole from the
      Ministry of Magic, which is in a state of denial about Voldemort's return
      and determined to get rid of Headmaster Dumbledore. Before professors and
      students combine to overthrow this inquisition, we are educated into the
      snobbery and arrogance of an earlier generation of the gifted young (poor
      teenage Snape was cruelly bullied), the racist ideology of the Dark Wizards
      (''mudbloods''! ''half-breeds''!), the hysterical politics of the recent
      past (witches hunting witches, kangaroo courts, torture, camps) and the
      disgraceful behaviors of the distant past (giant wars, goblin rebellions,
      werewolf segregation, elf serfdom and disgusted centaurs).

      All of a sudden, like puberty, everything is more complicated and
      ambiguous, besides the usual fraught. ''The world isn't split into good
      people and Death Eaters,'' Sirius warns Harry. Wizard history isn't a lot
      prettier than Muggle history, any more than Hogwarts is automatically a
      nicer place than your local junior high detention center just because the
      kids play with wands and brooms. The food may be superior, but otherwise
      there is the same malice, sadism, hierarchy and humiliation, plus, of
      course, unfair teachers and impossible exams. We probably should imagine
      these training-wheel wizards as the magical equivalents of students at a
      special school for the performing arts, the higher maths or the natural
      sciences. They bleed when pricked.

      J. K. Rowling is the real magician. If her first very long Potter, ''The
      Goblet of Fire,'' seemed to lump and lurch about, as if to suck in air
      before derring yet more do, ''The Order of the Phoenix'' starts slow,
      gathers speed and then skateboards, with somersaults, to its furious
      conclusion. (As in ''One Hundred Years of Solitude,'' there is a magic
      realist prophecy, although our hero is the last to know.) As Harry gets
      older, Rowling gets better. Even the modifiers she uses so promiscuously,
      in sudden bursts like cluster bombs, to cue us in on the emotions of her
      speakers -- the ''he said'' and ''she said'' gently, politely, faintly,
      earnestly, reverently, tonelessly, angrily, stupidly, gloomily, grimly,
      pompously, frantically, suspiciously or dismissively, when, like characters
      in Judith Krantz, he and she haven't already sniffed, flinched, roared,
      wailed, choked, hissed, gasped, squeaked, muttered, howled, barked, spat,
      snorted, bellowed, yawned or snarled -- disappear for hundreds of pages at
      a time. Meanwhile, as always, she has looted the shelves of literature and
      mythology, fairy tales and folklore, anthropology and comparative religion,
      firing up a pop-culture crockpot and adding pratfalls, wordplay and dread.

      Thus a multiethnic multiculture of warlocks, mermaids, mugwumps, trolls,
      vampires, fairies, dwarfs, ghouls, mummies, pixies, gnomes, banshees, wood
      nymphs, dementors, boggarts, veelas, animagi and parselmouths. And a
      colorful bestiary of gargoyles, gorgons, ravens, mandrakes, manticores,
      stags, porlocks, kneazles, crups, knarls, griffins, bubotubers,
      flobberworms, grindylows (water demons), hunkypunks (bog sirens),
      three-headed dogs, bat-winged horses, map-reading cats, ferret-eating
      hippogriffs and blast-ended skrewts. And a rich diet of eels' eyes, bat
      spleens, ice mice, butterbeer, armadillo bile, nosebleed nougat, pickled
      slug, fizzing whizbees, powdered root of asphodel, powdered spine of
      lionfish, powdered horn of unicorn and shredded skin of boomslang. In
      addition to which, a charm, a curse, a hex or a spell for everything from
      summoning to vanishing to freezing to disillusionment.

      ''Before we begin our banquet,'' Dumbledore told his student body in the
      very first Potter, ''I would like to say a few words. And here they are:
      Nitwit! Blubber! Oddment! Tweak! Thank you!'' To which I would only add:
      ''Obliviate!'' and ''Scourgify!''

      And this is to neglect Rowling's specialized, somehow domesticated magic,
      like the whereabouts clock, or the mail-delivering owls, or subjects who
      abandon their own painted portraits to visit or hide in other people's
      picture frames, or wizard wands with unicorn hairs and phoenix feathers and
      dragon heartstrings, or staircases that decide to go up to somewhere else
      on different days of the week, or getting around by portkey and Floo
      Powder, or a ''pensieve'' into which to deposit those thoughts and feelings
      and memories we'd rather not carry around in our heads right now, or the
      whole idea of Quidditch. All in all, this retro stuff seems to me more
      plausible, as well as more interesting, than its postmodern update of alien
      abduction, anal probes and sperm-sucking.

      You are probably as weary as I am of the one-note Draco Malfoy, who, when
      he isn't sneering, invariably sniggers, with or without a gleeful guffaw,
      which has to be hard when you also drawl. And Voldemort also repeats
      himself a lot, which is why each new novel needs a subsidiary villain, like
      Inquisitor Umbridge. But Harry Potter is a Seeker, and what he's after is
      the Golden Snitch. And that is all we really have to know about the
      narrative's jumping beans. Say hi to Aesop and Scheherazade, Joseph
      Campbell and J. R .R. Tolkien, Mother Goose and the Brothers Grimm. To
      shamans, foundlings, changelings and boogeymen, webbed feet and cloven
      hooves, Hercules belabored, Jason fleeced, Sinbad the Sailor and the Flying
      Dutchman. See Luke Skywalker and Jacques Lacan pedal hard on an Oedipal
      cycle. Welcome to Wonderland, Camelot, Brigadoon and Oz.

      In one way, the Leviticus-quoting fruitcakes who accuse Harry of Satanism
      have a point: there is not much Christ in Rowling's pagan pages. On the
      other hand, there used to be many more miracles and magics in that old-time
      religion of St. Teresa and St. John of the Cross than there are today. On
      the third hand, those of us who had to explain ''The Chronicles of Narnia''
      to our children will be grateful that Harry isn't Parsifal. And on the last
      hand, any series that celebrates courage, friendship, owls and brooms does
      more good than harm. Trust (of Dumbledore) and forgiveness (of Wormtail)
      are also recommended. And all of us could do worse than to model ourselves
      on Rowling's centaurs, who refuse for any reason to kill a ''foal.''

      Wendy Doniger, who knows everything worth knowing at the University of
      Chicago, explained a while back to readers of The London Review of Books
      all about Harry and the mark of Cain (that lightning bolt forehead scar),
      Harry as the ugly duckling and the Freudian family romantic (keep your eye
      on Aunt Petunia), Harry as an English public-schoolboy victim/scapegoat
      (George Orwell and Tom Brown), and Harry as the Cyrus of Herodotus, the
      Hindu Krishna, a Cinderella and a Superman (there will even be a telephone
      booth, as in ''Dr. Who'' and ''The Matrix''). From Lewis Carroll, talking
      chessmen; from Snow White, magic mirrors; from T. H. White, swords in
      stones; from Peter Pan and Mary Poppins, levitation.

      Whereas Stephen King argued three years ago in these very pages that one of
      the secrets to Harry's appeal was his fealty to the form of the whodunit,
      that Rowling's real mentors were Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers. And
      Robert Lipsyte, a few months later in the Times sports pages, added a
      wicked gloss on ''jock culture'' -- the sort of bully-boy World Cup
      hooliganism according to which a good sport like Cedric Diggory is doomed
      to die, which of course is what he did at the end of ''Goblet.'' This
      analysis may not quite persuade you if, like me, you found the death of
      Cedric too convenient, considering that he had a head start over Harry in
      the Cho Chang sweepstakes.

      But least persuasive of all are the nitpickers who disdain children's
      literature to begin with, which just means that they are tin-eared, tone
      deaf and born dumb. (Where do they think we begin to care about stories?)
      Or the furballs who would prefer that we read instead Tolkien, C. S. Lewis,
      Richard Adams, Enid Blyton, Roald Dahl or Philip Pullman. (As if we were
      choosing up for a secret society; as if we couldn't enjoy Hermione in the
      library while at the same time taking a bloodthirsty interest in Hazel the
      Warrior Rabbit.) And finally the world-weary and wart-afflicted who
      complain about the mediocre movies, the media hype, the marketing blitz,
      the embargo and maybe even the notion of a single mom becoming richer than
      the queen. (As if the filing of contrarian opinions weren't itself a
      standard component of media hype; as if Harry himself cares.) Me, I really
      liked standing in line at the first film with hundreds of talkative short
      people, all of whom had read the book.

      ''Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix'' is rich and satisfying in
      almost every respect. It also delivers a genuine apocalyptic shiver, as
      dated as Daniel in the Old Testament and Revelation in the New, or the Dead
      Sea Scrolls and the poems of Blake. Mortal peril! Every troubled age
      embodies its own worst fears in some equivalent of devil worship and
      demonic possession; of succubi, incubi, Gog, Moloch, Minotaur and Caliban;
      of dark nights, judgment days, lakes of fire and hellhounds, wet nuggies,
      mad jigs and erotic contraband. Magic went away awhile after Hiroshima, in
      favor of radiation mutants like Godzilla and cold-war science fictions
      about triffids, pods, blobs and body snatchers, about man-eating
      dandelions, meteoric slimeballs, bloodsucking carrots and collectivized
      Bolshevik killer ants. Which were followed soon enough by a conspiracy of
      satanic day-care child molesters. We long, like Harry, for a Dumbledore. We
      need the comradeship of Hermione and Ron. But we will have to grow up alone.
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