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Tuesday, June 24, 2003

Do you believe in magic?

From John Mark Eberhart of the The Kansas City Star
"J.K. Rowling has fallen victim to the Stephen King syndrome.

"Pile on the words. Adjectives! Adverbs! The longer the book, the better! Whoopee!
Well, balderdash.

"Rowling’s fifth novel for young readers, "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix," is longer than any of its predecessors. And at 870 turgid pages, it is the least satisfying in the series.

"The plot is cumbersome. Most characters haven’t bloomed; they’ve only aged.

"Settings are befogged by vague writing. Worst, though, is the excess.

"I would’ve said "wretched excess," but that’s a worn-out phrase — something Rowling has trouble recognizing.

"Listen to these hackneyed or redundant or oxymoronic expressions from the book:

" 'Mounting tension ... unexplained disappearance ... sleepy silence ... vanished into thin air ... completely deserted ... bloodcurdling screech ... he sat bolt upright ... he stood rooted to the spot slightly panicked' And that’s just the first couple of hundred pages."

From David Kipen San Francisco Chronicle
"But the book lumbers to a protracted, badly choreographed climax. In the midst of this bloated shootout, the phrase "ugly baby-headed Death Eater" appears never a good sign. Pages go by while a dozen wizards, most of whom say "very well" when "yes" would more than do, keep hurling red and green "jets of light" at each other."

From Cathy Dee of Fort Wayne, IN
I didn't suppose that every single review of Order of Phoenix would be positive; and I didn't believe, and don't believe, that J.K. Rowling could, or did, write a perfect book.

But on reading the above negative reviews, I found myself thinking, of all things, of what it means to be both "a grownup" and "grown up."

Certainly I am "a grownup" ... and have been for quite some time. But I don't think I've "grown up" in quite the same way Mr. Eberhart and Mr. Kipen have.

And maybe that makes me a little more forgiving of a cliche here or there among almost-900 pages.

I finished Order of Phoenix last night, sad both at what happened in the book, and that I was done with such a fun and satisfying read.

And amazed at what Rowling has done. The complexity of it. The planning--the way details of past books portend major events in this one (and future ones). The surprises in it--Neville! Of all people!

I imagined her sitting in a subway or her way to work, plotting each detail, so that it all fits together like an intricate mosaic.

Do sophistication, cynicism, intellectualism, whatever, blind one to what an author might be trying to do in a series such as Harry Potter? I think they must. And came to the realization that I must not be very sophisticated, cynical, intellectual, nor, thankfully, blind.

And maybe not as grown-up as I should be, thank God! Still able to enjoy the old books that were best friends in my childhood, from Little Women to Cherry Ames! And still enjoying new books, like the Lemony Snicket series, the Traveling Pants, and, most of all, Harry.

That I love long books is family legend, and the stuff of many a joke. That J.K. Rowling wrote such a good one is something I wish I could thank her for.

And that such a book would capture the imaginations of millions of kids around the world in this day of video games, TV, computer communication--just amazing. And if you get them reading these books ... just think how many may acquire reading as a lifelong habit! How interesting to track book sales ... and see if this young generation contributes to the "non-demise" of books (so often predicted) as we know them. Only time will show us that one.

In the meantime, I put aside Order of Phoenix so T. can read it, and pick up "Prisoner of Azkaban" to reread (something else I am made fun of all the time!). And am stuck by how different the tone and reading level is of this book--sounds much more as if it were written for a younger crowd than Phoenix. Can't help but think that was intentional.

Negative reviews will have no impact of the sales of Phoenix. Nor of the next two promised books of the series. So it's easy to ignore them.

But it's still funny what a strange road they took me down.

Footnotes
I've always thought Stephen King is a little frightened of his own talent, and afraid of failure on a literary level. If he's "just a horror writer," few are going to hold him to the high standards of, say, John Irving. So King can begin a book like Bag of Bones, with such promise, then descend into manical, violent, evil, horror-heavy prose that allows him to escape from writing any kind of a lyrical, logical (but not necessarily predictable, of course!) ending to a book. But look at the promise of The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon! Lyrical and creepy, both, without the nutty ending, although he almost succumbs (the eyes!). Still, I think since his accident he's getting closer. Hope he doesn't "retire" before he achieves what he's really capable of. I think his best work may be yet to come, if he allows it.



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