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Last Updated: Monday, 23 June, 2003, 10:07 GMT 11:07 UK
Harry Potter: The witch's view
Real-life witch Marysia Kolodziej, from Tooting, south London, was one of the first to pick up the new Harry Potter book at midnight. Here, the 27-year-old introduces herself, before she reviews The Order of the Phoenix.

I have been involved in the pagan community for seven years. I am a thelemite, a solitary witch - you are not wiccan unless you have been initiated, which I hope eventually to be - and a ritual magician in practice.

I am also interested in chaos magick, tarot, kaballah and the Egyptian and Celtic deities. My father introduced me to the Harry Potter books not long after book four came out.

I am a fan for several reasons. Initially it's the universe, the books with the largest pull have this highly detailed, well-thought out universe that almost seems real and, importantly, that you would want to be a part of.

You are not just drawn into the story but into that world. Then through talking about them with fans you fall further and further in love with the characters, you analyse them and worry about them until they feel real to you.

Then you have, in a way, become a part of that shared universe and it is a wonderful place to be.

Three years of waiting, a quick trip to the bookshop at midnight, and here we are.

All most of us will be talking about for the next few weeks will be this book, at least among my pagan friends, despite the fact there is very little crossover between the world of Harry Potter and the real world of wicca and witchcraft.

In this book the only relevant topics are divination classes and a brief discussion of life after death. Magic in Harry Potter is a science not an art, a fact not a philosophy or religion.

In fact there is very little religion at all in the books. But we can all see ourselves in the characters whether we are witches or not.

Teenagers will recognise this 15-year-old Harry, as rebellious and angry as them, and this uncertain world where evil can come from the most mundane people, where the choices we make are not always the right ones and the people we looked up to are not perfect after all.

Harry Potter fan
The Potter fanbase is one of the best things about the phenomenon
After four excellent but slightly simplistic or formulaic books JK Rowling has made a huge departure from the norm in book five of the Harry Potter series.

This book is chaotic and often bleak. The structure of two major elements of the story so far are broken down, the school and Harry himself.

Finally we see the real results of ten years of living with people who emotionally abuse him and four years of being forced to fight for his life, Harry is falling apart.

He is moody, depressive, angry and disrespectful, and events in the book can only make this worse. This is exactly what his character needed to flesh it out and make him more realistic.

Unfortunately in other places Rowling has fallen back on her habit of using caricatures rather than characters. Several of the new characters (notably Tonks and Mundungus Fletcher) and some of the old ones remain cardboard cut-outs rather than people, although the new character of Luna is rather delightful and old characters like Ginny and Neville have received some much needed depth.

Despite the Sorting Hat's message of unity the Slytherins continue to be depicted as shallow evil bullies and the character of Umbridge is perhaps the most twisted we have come across so far, outside of Voldemort himself and a few of his Death Eaters.

This is falling even further from being a children's book than the shadows of darkness that have slowly scudded in over the past few books, culminating in Cedric's death and Harry's torture and battle with Voldemort in Goblet of Fire.

I was very disturbed by some of the events in this book, most particularly the nights of detention with Umbridge which Harry was put through and the sadistic pleasure she took from inflicting pain on him.

JK Rowling
JK Rowling has made a huge departure for book five
I think there will be many parents who will not want their younger children reading this, although I expect if the child is old enough to make it through a 766-page book they can probably handle it.

Of course all is not doom and gloom. Fred and George Weasley bring some much needed humour and there are light moments, including a brief romance for Harry and more intimations of a Ron/Hermione pairing later in the books.

However the overall feel of the book and Harry's emotional instability do tend to overshadow the usual joy and frivolity of the magical world.

Finally, the last few chapters seem oddly unfitting. Despite being very different from previous books Rowling falls back on an ending which leaves you feeling hollow instead of triumphant.

This is a very good book with some flaws, and in that way it is like all of her previous books.

But this is not her previous books, this is more in the vein of Philip Pullman. The book has grown up, as was threatened. The question is, were we ready for the change?

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