Whoever purchased J.K. Rowling's soul in exchange for her fame and fortune certainly held up their end of the deal. Rowling's fantasy series about wizard-in-training Harry Potter continues to achieve record-breaking literary success–which remains baffling, considering the number of virtually unrecognized authors who've been writing similar material for decades. But only mean-spirited curmudgeons could resent the way Rowling lures kids into reading hefty, complicated, vocabulary-expanding novels. And while the Harry Potter hype is clearly overblown, it's hard to argue with Rowling's results. Her fifth Potter book, Harry Potter And The Order Of The Phoenix, isn't subtle, but it's effective, as it plays on adolescent alienation to draw in younger readers, while simultaneously expressing a more adult disapproval of Harry's increasingly self-centered, abusive behavior. This book's eponymous subject becomes clear much earlier than those of other installments in the series: The Order Of The Phoenix is a secret society of wizards working against Voldemort, the evil über-wizard who tried to kill baby Harry, nearly died in the process, and spent the series' last four books returning to full power. Unfortunately, few inhabitants of Harry's world believe Voldemort is back, which leads to humiliation for the young wizard and political trouble for his patron, Albus Dumbledore. As she spins out intertangled plotlines, from the progressive takeover of Dumbledore's wizarding school by an insufferable government appointee to Harry's hapless attempts at dating, Rowling continues to build a towering epic by concentrating on the small details. Where other authors might cut corners, she assiduously spells out significant events and small subplots alike, which makes her books as immersive and believable as they are massive. Still, older readers may be put off by the childlike stridency of Order Of The Phoenix's good/evil rift. There are few shades of gray in Harry's world: People are rarely other than exactly what they seem to be, and as Rowling's characters get older and more complex, this simplistic take on the world seems less and less appropriate. But after four books of flirting with the theme that children are braver and more insightful than adults, Rowling addresses the idea openly, turning it into an astute observation about how young people relate to the world, and how fine the line between hero and spoiled brat can be. Order Of The Phoenix has a lot of anticipation and hype to live up to–and it doesn't always succeed, especially in its stilted concluding plot twists–but Rowling's ambition is still laudable. Rather than resting on her laurels, she's stepping up her efforts with each book, trying to not only spin a spectacularly colorful yarn, but also reveal truths about her readers and their world. Some deluded alarmists have worried that Rowling is teaching kids to be Satanists, or black magicians. As the series continues, it looks like she's doing something even more dangerous: teaching them to be responsible grown-ups.
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