Critics and kids give new Harry Potter a big thumbs up

Tuesday, June 24th 2003, 12:00 am

By: News On 6

Booksellers aren't the only ones celebrating the new, mega-selling Harry Potter. Critics _ of all ages _ love it, too.

``Ms. Rowling has imagined this universe in such minute and clever detail that we feel that we've been admitted to a looking-glass world as palpable as Tolkien's Middle Earth or L. Frank Baum's Oz,'' New York Times critic Michiko Kakutani writes of ``Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix,'' the fifth of a planned seven Potter novels by J.K. Rowling.

Meanwhile, 12-year-old Olivia Beckwith of Columbus, Ohio, got the 870-page book Saturday morning, read 500 pages the first day and the rest on Sunday. Only a dance recital kept her from finishing sooner.

``I thought it was very good. It's 870 pages, but you wouldn't think it was that long,'' she said.

The early word on Potter V suggests it won't be remembered as an invention of marketers, like the Spice Girls, but as a work of invention that transcends the marketers, like a Beatles album. Even critics ``sick of Harry Potter,'' such as Chauncey Mabe of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, could not resist the new book.

``Rowling, who seems to be revising the rules of writing for children, doesn't just match the merits and pleasures that made the first four books the biggest successes in publishing history. She exceeds them,'' Mabe writes.

While readers rave, sales records fall. More than 1.7 million copies were sold across the United Kingdom in the first 24 hours, making it the fastest-selling book in British history, Bloomsbury Publishers said Monday. Borders Group reported weekend sales of more than 900,000 worldwide, an all-time high for the U.S-based superstore chain.

The U.S. publisher of the Potter book, Scholastic, Inc., estimates 5 million copies were sold the first day, more than five times the first week's sales of another recent blockbuster, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's memoirs.

``Order of the Phoenix'' is fantasy, but not escapist. As the AP's Deepti Hajela notes, Potter ``isn't the same 11-year-old Harry readers met in the first book.'' Rowling's hero is now 15, a survivor of adventures both desired and unwanted. Several critics praised ``Order of the Phoenix'' as a more mature, more confident work than the previous book, ``Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.''

``If Harry has hit his awkward age, Rowling the writer has already passed through it,'' writes critic Laura Miller.

Kids were not intimidated by the length or by the subject matter. ``(Harry) seems depressed in the book. It's a little weird, but ... I like him that way,'' says 12-year-old Bret Abadie of Albuquerque, N.M. According to 16-year-old Annie Kastner of Milwaukee, parts of the book were ``kinda scary,'' but the darker tone worked.

``Harry is a lot angrier in this one,'' she said. ``That means he was screaming at people a lot more. You kind of saw a different part of his character.''

Kastner finished the book Sunday _ some dirty dishes just had to wait _ and ``loved it. The story line was really, really good and different from the other ones.

``And it was unpredictable, which was good,'' she said. ``I think it is probably J.K. Rowling's best one yet.''

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