Thursday, February 8, 2007

The Order of the Phoenix

Sorry I’ve been away…

There’s always a little flurry of activity that surrounds the beginning of the spring semester, and I’ve been dealing with the myriad details that accompany that switch. I’ve also been trying to stay on top of my exercise, and I took a month a couple of days to read the 5th Harry Potter book in advance of the movie release.

I’ve been reading each of the Harry Potter books just as the movies come out. In part, this is because I’ve not really been able to take time to read for pleasure a whole lot the last several years. The bigger reason, though, is that I can only stand to read more than one book every couple of years, may Dumbledore have mercy on my soul.

Let me get it out there that I have none of the issues with the Harry Potter series that are commonly attacked by critics. I don’t see anything wrong with her kind of literature (and I do see it as literature), nor do I have any complaints about the content, message or popularity of her writing. I certainly do not believe that her use of witchcraft and wizardry constitutes a threat to Christianity. Hell, it barely constitutes a threat to reality!

On the whole, I have found the story of Harry Potter to be original, creative and full of detail--all the hallmarks of well-conceived fiction in my mind. Even great fiction, however, can become wearisome when stretched over seven books.

Here are my problems:

Over the five books I have read, the formula used to write the story has become formulaic to a degree I find horribly distracting. While it might be of comfort to some readers to know in advance what the plot devices are, it messes with my ability to willingly suspend my disbelief if I already know that, in any given book, Harry will be threatened with expulsion, that the three protagonists will have some sort of inane, trivial miscommunication and get angry at one another, that there will be a crisis at Hogwarts that somehow centers around the Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher or that Draco Malfoy will be involved in some scheme to bully Harry and his friends. Great Argus Filch, will there be some break to this routine sometime?!

As the series has progressed, I’ve noticed that the pace of the books has slowed down considerably as less and less new information has been injected into the storyline. In the first book, a huge effort was made to introduce us to the many new and interesting things that were part of the wizarding world. As the story has moved forward, however, there has been less of the new and interesting which has not been adequately replaced by deepening knowledge of what is already there. This is especially true in character development. If you’re not going to show me more about the world I’m reading, I’m going to want a good deal more about the people living in it.

The fifth book took way too long to get to the point. It did not need all those pages to do tell the story it told. In fact, with all of them after the first, I finished the book with the feeling that I was not much further ahead in the story than I was when I started it. I get that there is some setup happening for the books that follow. I can appreciate that there’s a lot that needs to be saved for the end, but surely things could have been moved along in the story a little more briskly? I’m not talking about a Nimbus 2001 pace, now. Something more akin to the measured and slightly meandering pace of Pigwidgeon with a howler.

I started the fifth book with certain anticipations about where the story was going, but finished with such a sense of anticlimax about where it ended up. I offer as an example the whole Harry/Cho Affair. Harry’s been all about her since day one, but the entire subplot barely got off the ground before it fizzled like a wet sparkler from Zonko's Joke Shop. Another is the untimely departure of Sirius Black. He wasn’t around long enough or often enough for his death to carry all that much weight, and to kill him without any build up really left me wondering why she did it. Maybe there’s a reason for it that’ll make sense in the next book.

With the rest of my house chomping at the bit for the arrival of the final chapter in the epic, I expect I’ll have to read the rest of the series just so they can talk about it in the open. When the sixth book was released, they sniveled when I asked not to hear any spoilers. I’m not sure they’ll be able to keep their tongues once the last book comes out. I’m just hoping that, whenever I get around to reading it, I come away from The Half-Blood Prince feeling better than I do now about having invested time to read Harry Potter.


mrschili said...

I started The Order of the Pheonix about four times before I finally managed to get through it. It was, I think, the toughest book to read, and for the reasons you state here.

My thinking, though, is that all the plot devices which you bemoan really ARE what it's like in high school (and I'm assuming that these experiences are universal). I also think that there has GOT to be some sort of story twist involving Snape, and I'm dying to figure out what it is.

When's the movie being released?

Wayfarer said...

One of the brightest elements of the book, I thought, revolved around Snape, and discovering more about his history and how he has really developed as a whole character. It irritated me that more wasn't done with that in this book. I'm hoping Rowling makes up for it in Half-Blood Prince, and I'm hoping she does more character development with some of the other peripheral characters like Neville, Lupin and even the Dark Lord himself. For me, seeing these characters as multidimentional really makes them believable. I want to be fully invested in the characters I read about, even if they're the "villains".

The poster at the bottom (the cool one with He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named) lists the release date as 7-13-07. I won't go opening night, but I'll catch a weekday matinee soon after. I can stand not to read any reviews or talk to anyone about it until then.