Summer Substance: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
Originally written for TTBA, the magazine of the Cambridge University Science Fiction Society
Warning: contains spoilers for books 1-4
Unless you've been hiding under a moonrock, it can't have escaped your notice that the fifth Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, is due out on June 21st. Why on earth, you may be thinking, should a grown-up literary magazine like TTBA (!) be concerned with wizards, flying broomsticks and other fantastical things? When the fourth book, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire was released in the summer of 2000, I was finishing off a Masters degree in Leeds and, despite spending a large amount of my time procrastinating in Borders (I'm so glad they got round to opening one in Cambridge), was seemingly immune to the hype. It took eighteen months, a severe bout of insomnia and a perusal of my housemate's bookshelf to change my mind.
First of all, the adventures of Harry, Ron and Hermione are not just for kids. They're *fun*, dammit. Who hasn't drooled over the Halloween feast, wished they had their own house elf or yearned to race around the sky on a broomstick? Who hasn't dreamed (even if it was only a dream) of battling side by side with loyal and courageous friends (a la Buffy the Vampire Slayer) and (in the words of Rick O'Connell from The Mummy) rescuing the damsel in distress (Hermione or Ginny Weasley), killing the bad guy (Professor Quirrell, at least) and saving the world (even temporarily)? Why should these experiences be restricted to those under the legal drinking age? Even (some might say especially) adults need to escape the real world.
Secondly, JK Rowling's books, despite their increasing length (Order of the Phoenix will consist of 225,000 words in 786 pages and 38 chapters), prove much easier on the brain than, for example, Shelley's Frankenstein or Hamilton's Night's Dawn Trilogy. This may explain why I whizzed through the former within a weekend, while the latter remain lanquishing in my to-read pile.
Having said that, just as Babylon 5 is not just another Star Trek, the Harry Potter story is more than just a Famous Five for the Gameboy generation. The plot of this intricate world is as thick as the spines of the books in which it is written. Harry's ability to speak Parseltongue, first revealed in chapter two of the first book, The Philosopher's Stone, is instrumental in the second book, Chamber of Secrets. Sirius Black, wrongly accused villain of the third book, Prisoner of Azkaban, is first mentioned a mere sixteen pages into The Philosopher's Stone. The polyjuice episode in Chamber of Secrets will later return to haunt Harry in Goblet of Fire. Rowling has revealed that she had pre-emptively plotted out seven books, one for each of Harry's years at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, and that she has already written the final chapter of the final book. Is Rowling the new J. Michael Straczynski?
So I, like the rest of the world (the first four books have sold 200 million copies in 55 languages), will be counting down the days of June because *I want to see what happens next*. What will happen now that You-Know-Who has returned? Who will be the new Gryffindor Quidditch Captain? Will Ron and Hermione ever get together? Last but not least, how will the three friends cope with their Ordinary Wizarding Level exams (OWLs)? I guess we shall find out soon enough.