870 pages: a nice fat holiday read, full of familiar characters and ticking along just right. Rowling lays the adverbs on a little heftily and the writing is often sloppy–but the fun here was never the prose but the careful weaving of dozens of locations, people, and mysterious magical plots. The elements in “Order of the Phoenix” are the same as always. There’s the summer at the Dursleys, the return to Hogwarts, new classes and teachers, the big Quidditch game, plenty of complications, and a big finale in some dungeon somewhere before we get the denuoument in Dumbledore’s office and the hospital wing. We were promised a darker installment, but I found this more pleasant than the last book (perhaps 14 was an awkward age?)

Other than the facile writing, I originally resisted “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” because the mirror-world of the wizards, originally quite charming, is getting too solid by now: what point is there in creating a magical realm just to populate it with the same boring bureaucracies and rules as the old? I never cared for the Ministry of Magic, with its decrees and laws, for Diagon Alley and the Daily Prophet, for the brand-name brooms and all the other distinctly muggle-like trappings of the supposedly exciting world of wizards and witches. (It’s almost as if this world was conceived by a German, like the terribly unfunny Fasching, which similarly repeats what’s boring in the real world.) Why not come up with something more — magical?

This is A.S. Byatt’s argument, which is now, alas, locked up in the NYT archives. Here’s a metafilter discussion of it.

All that said, HP is still a fun ride. The climax is genuinely thrilling, and I’ll read the next one, too. It’s also worth noting that the latest installments of Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings, and Star Wars end with Dumbledore/Gandalf/Yoda exclaiming “We’ve won the battle, but the war is just about to begin.” Joe Campbell would have been delighted.

(This guy here from the Times-Picayune has it quite right, even though he overstates his point in the end.)