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Hope for the Best
by Charles de Lint

I was in Toronto for the American Library Association's annual meeting the weekend that The Order of the Phoenix was released and decided to go to the Chapters around the corner from my hotel and take in their midnight launch party.
What struck me immediately was the happiness evident in the line-up as readers, young and old, waited for the magic hour of midnight. Store employees wandered about in fantasy-based costumesłas did many of the kids in the queue. There was no pushing or shoving or complaining, just a quiet excitement that built and built and finally peaked when a store employee wheeled in a pallet holding a small square mountain of copies of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. The crowd cheered and applauded when the book went on sale.
The more cynical among those of you reading this might tell me that this doesn't mean anything except that the publisher and media were successful in manipulating the people gathered in this store, and others around the world where a similar scenario was played out. Perhaps.
The book was certainly released with all the build-up and fanfare of a Hollywood blockbuster. But the thing that gets forgotten sometimes is that the origin of the Harry Potter phenomenon was never manufactured. The popularity of the first book grew from a grassroots, word-of-mouth excitement that caught its publishers and everybody else off-guard.
By the time the third book came out, the publishing world was divided into three camps on the subject of Harry Potter: those disdainful and critical of the books' success (just think of the venerable New York Times rejigging its bestseller list to keep the three books from topping it); those out to make a buck from them (the tsunami wave of movies, action figures, lunch boxes, you-name-its that have flooded the market); and those who are simply enjoying the books.
In the long run, it's that third camp who are the most important and carry the most weight. They're the ones who cheered the release of the book at midnight in stores across the world. They're the ones who sat up late, or got up early Saturday morning, to read it. They're the ones who will make or break the Potter phenomenon, at least in book terms, since nobody, except for the critic assigned to read it, is going to force him or herself to read through the 768 pages of the latest installment unless they're enjoying it.
I don't find the book too longłat least not the first 600 or so pages. I delighted in the details, revisiting the cast of characters from the previous books, wandering down the familiar halls of Hogwarts and visiting new locales. It was only in the last section of the book, when the action took over, that I found myself losing interest. Not in the outcome, but in the pell-mell flurry of action that took me there. Oddly enough, that was the part that felt too long to me, probably because Potter and his friends were often too much on the sidelines. Or perhaps it was just because it was so busy with dozens of characters milling about, rather than a straightforward confrontation between Harry and his nemesis.
But that's a small nit to pick. And once the action sequences were past, I happily read through the last 40 pages as mysteries were explained and new ones laid out in anticipation of the sixth volume.
Another critique I've noticed concerns Potter's attitude in this latest book. For my part, I'm also thoroughly enjoying the way that Rowling is aging Potter through the series. Yes, he's a bit of a pill in this volume, over-dramatizing real and imagined problems, but it's true to the angst of one's teenage years when everything is a huge deal. I don't want to read about the same character from book to book. I want to see him, and his supporting cast, change and grow as they do in this series.
And let's face it, Potter has good reasons to be on edge in The Order of the Phoenix. This is the fifth year he's been hunted and harassed by both the supernatural and the mundane. He might have spunk, he might be brave, but he's still just a kid, and most of what he has to confront, he has to confront on his own.
He has the support of his readers, but he lives in another world from ours, in a fictional construct where he's only a fifteen-year-old boy, beset by dangers adults shouldn't have to face, and we can't help him. We can only follow his adventures, anticipate what will happen in the books still to come, and hope for the best.

Charles de Lint is one of Canada's fantasy greats. His most recent books for younger readers are the short story collection, Waifs and Strays (Viking, 2002) and the picture book, A Circle of Cats, illustrated by Charles Vess.

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