'A shift of tone to reflect greater maturity'

27th June 2003 at 01:00
Michael Thorn, deputy head of Hawkes Farm primary school in Hailsham, East Sussex

UP till now, it has been the short opening sequences with Harry's ghastly aunt and uncle that I have enjoyed the most. As a fantasy-phobic, the rest of the books have been something of an endurance test.

However, Harry's long struggle with Voldemort at the end of Goblet of Fire persuaded me there really was an elemental power in this series to explain its "crossover" appeal, and a psychological edge to JK Rowling's writing that probes into human nature.

Has the new fatter-than-ever title continued to convert me? The answer is a resounding yes. First, I was won over by the delightfully long Privet Drive opening, in which Harry saves his cousin Dudley from a Dementor ambush and risks being expelled from Hogwarts because of it.

There is certainly a shift of tone to reflect the characters' greater maturity. Ron has picked up the patois of cool youth while Harry has an awkwardly half-hearted amorous fling. None of this pitches the book beyond the reach of a younger audience, however.

It is the book's length, its narrative style and, more significantly, the sophisticated character analysis (Harry, for instance, coming to terms with a realisation that his father, at 15, was a fun-loving show-off) that may prove to be deterrents for those who are not yet ready for it.

The climax, during which the much-publicised death occurs, is a masterly set-piece. Here, as in other parts, Rowling seems to be writing with one eye on the silver screen. And why not? Order of the Phoenix is clearly a blockbuster of a novel.

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