Book Review

 

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix book cover
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Author: J.K. Rowling
Publisher: Scholastic
Page Count: 870

By Lynne DeMichele

(UMC.org) -- “Wands up!” Pack your invisibility cloak and that new Firebolt sport broom; it’s time to return to Hogwarts with Harry Potter and his wizard friends for the fifth year of magic studies and quidditch. But brush up on your defensive spells first because this time He-who-must-not-be-named is back.

Plunging into adventure with Harry Potter for the first time, I found myself almost instantly bewitched by him and the vivid fantasy world he lives in, as well as being thoroughly engaged in the narrative. After reading it, I could readily understand why we’re seeing the three-pound, blue jacketed volume under the noses of everyone from 8-year-olds to 80-somethings.

As with the first four Harry Potter novels, author J.K. Rowling once again lures us deep into the world of imagination which, as readers, we see through the fresh eyes of youth. This fifth book in the award-winning series picks up the story line with Harry, now a brash 15-year-old, facing trial at the Ministry of Magic for unauthorized use of sorcery. And even though his beloved mentor, Sirius, has escaped from Azkaban prison, a series of alarming events are radically changing Hogwarts boarding school into a place of danger and misery for the young wizard. Tests of his courage and character have become more exacting, and the emotional challenges he faces now include the beginnings of romantic love, a shocking discovery and also a terrible loss.

Although some of his friends at Hogwarts still amuse themselves with chocolate frogs and spells for regurgitating toilets, circumstances force Harry to focus solely on more weightier things.
Through these experiences Harry must re-examine his most basic beliefs about life, death and love.

When back in the world of muggles (non-magic people) on Privet Drive, Harry continues to endure the contempt of his adoptive parents and their horrid, spoiled son Dudley without succumbing to meanness, himself. Although some of his friends at Hogwarts still amuse themselves with chocolate frogs and spells for regurgitating toilets, circumstances force Harry to focus solely on weightier things.

With each book Harry Potter grows and changes just as his readers grow and change. Hogwarts is a place where he not only learns about being a wizard, but – as with “muggle” schools -- also about friendship, responsibility, courage and love. In this most recent book, he begins to understand more about what is really important in life.

Demonstrably, young people and adults alike are drawn to Harry’s very human life story with its emotional trials, disappointments and challenges. Harry Potter is a young Everyman who just happens to be a gifted wizard. In the course of plot twists and turns, we see him maturing spiritually, his friendships deepening and his awareness broadening.

In these books, Scottish author Rowling has created a literary tidal wave. Harry Potter’s world has become part of an increasingly universal cultural experience for readers under her spell: in the U.S., Eastern and Western Europe, South Africa, Asia – including China, India, Pakistan, Viet Nam and many other parts of the world. Over five million copies of this latest Potter adventure were sold on the book’s release day alone (June 21, and it’s now in its third printing).

Not only have the five Potter books – over 190 million copies to date – far outsold everything else on the best seller lists, but movie versions of two of the books are #2 and #6 on the list of top grossing films of all time. People are simply wild about Harry.

That in mind, Harry Potter’s world continues to be analyzed by theologians and sociologists alike for its spiritual and cultural impact. Some see Biblical lessons and parallels in the books (e.g. The Gospel According to Harry Potter by Connie Neal), whereas others see the books as anti-authoritarian and promoting interest in the occult (e.g. “The Bible and Harry Potter: Occult Fantasy in Perspective” Good News magazine, January 2002)

In forum postings at Christianity.com Web site, a for-profit Christian company, some express concern that the books might feed a fascination for witchcraft and, in effect, upstage Jesus.
The Harry Potter series has been widely praised from teachers and librarians who say they have renewed children's interest in reading. But not everyone is eager to applaud. In forum postings at Christianity.com, a for-profit Christian Web site, some express concern that the books might feed a fascination for witchcraft and, in effect, upstage Jesus. Other conservative Christian publishers such as Focus on the Family Web site offer mixed reviews; whereas both Christianity Today and Christian Century have published clearly favorable reviews.

The brilliant make-believe world in which the story line is set is, indeed, very seductive (Who hasn’t at least wished for a magic wand at some point?). It borrows heavily from Arthurian legend and European mythology. Still, the moral context is universal and very contemporary. Although there are no references to God in the story, it tracks the ongoing battle between good and evil as played out by its human and meta-human characters. In their interaction we can see ourselves as well as elements of our own world, its dangers, temptations and opportunities. Moreover, in the Harry Potter books we can witness the enduring power of love.

Reviewer’s note: Parents of young children eager to experience Harry Potter should consider reading one of the books with them, taking care to help them understand the distinction between fantasy and reality. The books present ample opportunity to examine issues of right and wrong and also good decision making. There are a number of worthy reference books on the spiritual and moral themes in the Potter books; check Internet listings using your search engine words  “Harry Potter spirituality” and “Harry Potter morality.”

Share your comments about this book with other readers.

Lynne DeMichele is a professional writer, editor and former director of communications for the Indiana Area United Methodist Church.

Please be aware that when you purchase a copy of this book through UMC.org, you are directly supporting this ministry.



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