'About time, too. He's been looking dreadful for days; I've been telling
him to get a move on.'
-- Albus Dumbledore about Fawkes, his pet phoenix, after it burst into
Midsummer Night is nearly upon us here in the northern hemisphere. Titania and Oberon
will be holding court, and Bottom will run amok with flowers twined through his mane and a
dazed look on his face. The neighbour’s cat will be down at the bottom of the garden hunting
fireflies, and the owl that lives in the woods behind my house will hoot as she considers her
Children all over the planet, and no few adults, will have their noses buried in the newest
Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. The booksellers and
deliverymen will be sleeping the sleep of the justly exhausted. There will be hundreds of
journalists speed-reading all night in order to make the next day's paper. The book is huge,
896 pages long, and the audio book takes up a total of 26 and a half hours of tape, according
to the Wall Street Journal. Typically journalists write reviews of new books to drum up
interest. They needn't bother with this one.
What Fools These Muggles Be
The publication of this book is quite an event. It has set the record for the largest first
printing of a book - 8.5 million copies in the US alone - shattering the previous record held
by its predecessor Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. The security and secrecy
around it are also unprecedented, as evidenced by the recent arrest of four people suspected
of stealing copies from the book's printers. On the evening of June 20, many bookstores will
host release parties and assorted festivities, everyone hanging out until they can get their
hands on the book at 12.01am the next morning. A number of Web sites devoted to all things
Harry have banded together to create an on-line Meet Up and Read In of the new book. The site
provides information about and links to events all over the planet. Jim Dale, who creates the
voices of the characters on the audio book tapes and CDs, will be reading from the book at
various locations in New York City over the weekend. And author J. K. Rowling will take to
the stage of London's Royal Albert Hall on June 26 to read from Order of the
Phoenix and answer questions from fans. A live Webcast of the reading will reach over
It seems everybody is getting in on the act. One could argue that all the marketing is
unnecessary, given that people have been in a lather of speculation and impatience since last
summer when it became evident that the fifth Potter book would not appear any time soon.
But various folks don't want the Hogwarts Express to leave the station without them. In
2001 Coca-Cola paid Warner Brothers, producers of the Harry Potter movies, around £100m
for the global marketing rights. As part of the deal, Coca-Cola agreed to donate £12m over
three years to the Reading Is Fundamental literacy organisation. According to the official
'Coca-Cola celebrates and embraces the ideals promoted through the
stories of Harry Potter - friendship, love, self-reliance, the importance of family, the magic
of shared experiences, and the value of diversity.'
Of course, some were put off by this and created the Save Harry! campaign to oppose the deal.
Warner Brothers also mis-stepped a couple years ago when they threatened legal action for
trademark infringement against a number of Web site owners, many of whom were youngsters
who had put up fan sites dedicated to the well-loved character. Large corporations are often
as graceful as a hippogriff on a broomstick, and tread heavily, with bad feelings all
One thing's certain: I'm staying away from the bookstores on June 21. I pre-ordered my
copy from my favourite on-line bookseller who, bless its corporate heart, has taken the
unheard-of step of delivering the book on a Saturday. We're all a little nuts, it seems.
But midsummer has always lent itself to craziness. The summer solstice is celebrated by
many cultures as a
victory of the sun over darkness and death. Ceremonies, often involving fire, ensure health
and fertility for earth, animals, and humans. It's more than appropriate that a book with the
title Order of the Phoenix should arrive on this day.
Many people have observed a winged disk or bird-like pattern displayed by the sun during
total solar eclipses. Typically we see the pattern when sun spot activity is at its lowest. The
following report on the total solar eclipse of May 28, 1900 by H. C. Wilson, which was
published in Popular Astronomy magazine, clearly illustrates this:
'Up in the heavens where an instant before had been the brilliant
crescent of the Sun, hung the black disk of the Moon; around its edge was a narrow but
brilliant ring of an indescribably beautiful pearly, silvery shimmering light - the inner
corona. Extending out into space on either side of the Sun, like the wings of a gigantic bird,
were the streamers of the outer corona, less brilliant than the inner ring, but bright and
equally beautiful. The light of this outer corona was not uniform but varied in intensity,
giving the appearance of structure to it; the writer particularly noticed a leaf-like form in
one of the wings, similar to those observed in previous eclipses. The outer corona wings were
strikingly similar to the tail of a brilliant comet, in appearance, although nothing has yet been
observed to indicate that they have the same composition.'
It is thought that this solar display gave rise to the winged sun disk symbol and bird
avatar of the sun god that is found in many pre-historic civilizations. The legend of the
phoenix most likely originated in ancient Egypt. There the bird was known as Bennu and was
associated with the sun god Ra. It was described as being similar to an eagle and having red
and gold plumage that made it look as if it were wrapped in flames. According to the legends
only one phoenix lived at one time. As it neared the end of its long life, the phoenix built a
nest of aromatic woods and spices, then set the nest on fire and was consumed by the flames.
A baby bird arose from the ashes, and the phoenix was reborn. This cycle was repeated over
and over. Thus the phoenix symbolised the death and rebirth of the sun and eventually came
to symbolise immortality.
The firebird mythology strikes a chord in many of us, judging from its presence in nearly
all cultures, and the Harry Potter books tap into this. The battle lines are drawn: the
phoenix vs. the snake. Can we hope that good will eventually defeat evil, as the sun wins its
battle with the cold and dark? Or do we see instead the cyclical nature of this struggle, with
each side holding sway for a period and then losing its position of power? It's a sure bet
that the eventual outcome will be endlessly debated, all the way through the publication of
the seventh and final book in the Harry Potter series and beyond.
And so we settle in for a midsummer night of reading. The neighbour’s cat has given up for
now. Fireflies - or are they fairies? - are dancing in the woods. The owl is off hunting.
There are worse ways to celebrate the return of the sun.