Monday, December 05, 2005

The Order of the Phoenix

I decided that this time I would make it all the way through Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. I'm now on page 600, and finally something is starting to happen in the story. How can an excellent YA author manage to tread water for 300 pages? I mean, really -- nothing happens of any consequence for the first half of the book! As just one example, she spends ten pages describing the cleaning of the drawing room in the Order's headquarters solely, as far as I can tell, to include two paragraphs about Sirius Black's family tree. There's a lot that could be cut here without hurting the plot (what little there is so far) in the slightest. So why wasn't it cut? The answer, of course, is simple: It's Harry Potter.

And herein lies the magic (no pun intended -- well, okay, maybe just a little) of serialized novels. If you can write a blockbuster that introduces a series, then you can slack off on one book and it will sell anyway (though, as I recall, book five didn't sell nearly as well as the previous four). The writing is still very good. And for all the true fans, I'm sure it's great to get an in-depth look at what it's like to be a wizard in the Muggle's world. But up until now, there's been no story, no real conflict.

We all write scenes that we love, but eventually have to cut because they don't further the story. Rowling, obviously, does the same thing. But why weren't these scenes cut by the editors before the book was published? I think the answer is twofold. Frst and foremost, the book would only be about 300 pages long (novel-length, not coincidentally). There's nothing disgraceful about that, but this book would look out of place on the shelf next to the mighty tomes that are the first four volumes in the series. People would have felt cheated. The second reason, though, is that it is simply Harry Potter. Fans can't get enough of him and his world. And that's something that Rowling should be proud of. I can't count the number of kids I've met who really want to go to Hogwart's. This is not idle fantasy, they want to be there with all their hearts and souls. If adding 600 pages to the book let's them live the dream for a few hours longer, well, that's all well and good. It's certainly going to sell a lot of books.

I think, though, that as I look for clues to the phenomenon, I'm going to have to go back to the first book. I've actually got some theories, but they don't quite work out yet. It's certainly interesting to think about though!

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