Harry Potter fans who have waited more than two years since the release of the fourth book in the series will only have to wait a little longer for the fifth book -- a release date of June 21 has just been announced for "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix."

Phil Nel, an assistant professor of English at Kansas State University and an expert on Harry Potter, said this lapse of time between releases has done nothing but fuel the excitement for the next edition.

"Although some have grumbled that the wait for book five would dampen enthusiasm for the series," Nel said. "In fact, the delay between books four and five will only have increased the anticipation -- and excitement -- for book five." The book has already shot to the top of the chart on Amazon.com, which is already taking preorders. Shares of U.S. publisher Scholastic and U.K. publisher Bloomsbury also jumped with the news.

"'Harry Potter and Order of the Phoenix' will be as popular as its predecessors," Nel predicted.

He speculates the book's title has to do with the alliance Dumbledore, the headmaster of Harry's school, proposed at the end of the previous book.

"Voldemort [an evil wizard who killed Harry's parents] having risen again, Dumbledore called for a wide-ranging alliance in order to fight him," Nel said. "So I wonder if 'the order of the Phoenix' refers to this alliance in any way."

Another part of the book already intrigues Nel -- various short excerpts were released along with the introduction date, including one where Dumbledore sits Harry down to "tell him everything." Nel speculates "everything" might include: why Voldemort was after the Potters in particular; the nature of the magic that requires Harry, for his protection, to live with his relatives (the Dursleys); and that Arabella Figg (a neighbor of the Dursleys) has been keeping an eye on Harry and is secretly a witch. He calls the excerpt "a tantalizing selection."

"In the context of children's literature, the popularity of the Harry Potter books has no parallel," Nel said. "There have been other books that have been popular with both younger and older readers -- E.B. White's "Charlotte's Web" and Richard Adams' "Watership Down," for example -- but nothing with the massive popularity of the Potter books." He says 21st-century readers waiting for the next Potter novel resemble 19th-century readers waiting for the next chapter of one of Dickens' novels, which were published serially.

"People are talking about the last installment, debating about what will happen next," Nel said. "Nowadays, this sort of activity may happen on listservs -- such as the HPforGrownups listserv -- but the kinds of conversations are similar.

"My hope is that the popularity of Harry Potter among adult readers will show people that children's literature is as worthy of the same kind of critical attention usually reserved for novels written for grownups," Nel said.

Nel is the author of the popular "J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter Novels: A Reader's Guide" and recently contributed a chapter to the first collection of scholarly essays on Harry Potter, "The Ivory Tower and Harry Potter: Perspectives on a Literary Phenomenon." At K-State, he teaches a course, "Harry Potter's Library," which was fully enrolled within 24 hours for the current semester. In July, Nel will be one of the keynote speakers at Nimbus 2003: The Harry Potter Symposium, where he will discuss "What Makes a Professor Behave Like Snape?: Literature, Marketing, and the Critical Backlash Against Harry Potter."

For more information on Nel's course, go to http://www.k-state.edu/english/nelp/rowling/faq.htmlFor more information on the upcoming Harry Potter symposium, go to http://www.hp2003.org/

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