Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J K Rowling

Jonny Duddle cover

For this re-read of J K Rowling’s Harry Potter books, I bought the series as a single Kindle book (all the better to quote you with, my dear), a side-effect of which was I could see how far, percentage-wise, I was through the series as a whole. And it’s only with this, the fifth (and longest) book of seven, that I passed the halfway point. Halfway points are often major turning points in stories, and I’d say Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (first published in 2003) is no exception.

You wouldn’t think so immediately, though. For a large part of The Order of the Phoenix, the presiding feeling is one of frustration. Harry being so isolated at the Dursleys and getting no news of what’s going on in the Wizarding World; none of the kids being told what Dumbledore’s Order of the Phoenix is up to; nobody knowing what Voldemort’s up to; Harry being disbelieved by everyone at school; Dumbledore avoiding not only speaking to, but even looking at Harry; Hagrid’s unexplained absence; Ron and Hermione’s being prefects, leaving Harry on his own and feeling left out; Ron and Hermione’s constant bickering; the increased homework and revision the trio have to put up with as well as (for Harry) detentions, on top of the burden of their usual extracurricular school project of defeating the forces of evil; Harry’s inability to talk to Cho, or to understand her emotional state (plus the frustrations of early adolescence generally); Umbridge teaching only the theory, not the practice, of Defence Against the Dark Arts; her increasing stranglehold on communications in and out of Hogwarts, and her limiting of everyone’s freedoms, until “It seemed to Harry that Umbridge was steadily depriving him of everything that made his life at Hogwarts worth living: visits to Hagrid’s house, letters from Sirius, his Firebolt and Quidditch.” On top of all this, there’s Harry’s frustrating dreams, which are, he soon realises, only echoes of Voldemort’s frustration. The first half of the book starts to feel like a powder keg waiting for a match.

The first UK cover, art by Jason Cockroft

Another part of the frustration is that Harry is denied the usual sense of coming to his true home that has, so far, begun every book in the series, whether that home is Hogwarts or the Weasleys’. Instead, we get number 12 Grimmauld Place, current headquarters of the Order of the Phoenix, but still dominated by the character of the morally dark, pure-blood-elitist Black family who once lived there. Now it’s a sort of prison for the last scion of that family, Harry’s godfather Sirius, who turned his back on his parents’ elitism but now finds himself swamped once more in their prejudicial gloom, as though the house were a living symbol of a repressive childhood lingering into adulthood. (And the family’s house-elf, Kreacher, wandering around muttering darkly, is like the sort of inner voice instilled by such a childhood, and just as hard to get rid of.)

Talking of elitism, this book — and how could it be otherwise with a title such as The Order of the Phoenix? — is full of elites. There’s the Order itself, there’s “Dumbledore’s Army”, there’s being a Hogwarts prefect, and Umbridge’s Inquisitorial Squad that replaces them. People who see Thestrals (those who have witnessed death) form a sort of unnamed elite. There’s Death Eaters, the upper echelons of the Ministry of Magic, Aurors, the Wizengamot, the Order of Merlin, and the Griffindor Quidditch team (the last three being highlighted because major characters are ejected from them — leading to more frustration). All this serves as a reminder that Harry’s adult initiation into the Wizarding World, which ought to have been sealed by his winning the Triwizard Cup in the last book, is still somehow incomplete. The admission, in that book, by both Voldemort and Dumbledore, that young Harry had faced tasks even an adult might fail at, hasn’t taken hold — in large part because the Wizarding World doesn’t want to believe Voldemort is back, so ceases to trust Dumbledore. But even Dumbledore isn’t treating Harry as fully initiated. He’s still protecting him, both from danger and from the truth.

Brian Selznick cover

The frustration finally loosens its grip when this new generation starts to take action for itself. Denied proper Defence Against the Dark Arts instruction, they form Dumbledore’s Army to learn it for themselves; at Hermione’s suggestion, Harry gives an interview to The Quibbler (the wizarding version of The National Enquirer) about what really happened to him at the Triwizard Tournament; and then, at the end, the kids launch their own rescue mission into the bowels of the Ministry of Magic, like a full-on assault on the adult establishment.

In previous books, Harry being likened to his father — even mistaking himself for his father at one point — could be taken as a sign of his growing up, but here it’s his starting to notice how he’s unlike his father that reads like a sign of maturity — certainly, of individuation. And this book has an increasing moral complexity throughout, with almost all of the main characters revealing vulnerabilities and weaknesses, or having them highlighted to a greater degree than before: the fact that Sirius is trying to relive, through Harry, his lost youthful friendship with James Potter; Molly Weasley’s “mollycoddling”; Harry’s “weakness for heroics”, and his “saving-people thing”; his father being revealed as an arrogant bully; Ron’s klutziness being put on display before the whole school in Quidditch; Neville’s secret about his parents being finally admitted. I like to think another pair of weaknesses revealed in the final fight section is that not-so-clever Ron is trapped in the tentacles of a living brain, while too-clever Hermione is felled by a wordless spell. Even Professor McGonagall gets Stunned. We glimpse something of the weakness behind Voldemort’s power — his belief that “There is nothing worse than death” — and Dumbledore admits, at the end, his own weakness: the fact that he cared too much for Harry’s happiness to carry out the plan he’d initially conceived.

Olly Moss’s ebook cover

And that leads to the final part of Harry’s “initiation” I spoke of in my mewsings on the previous book. As well as tests and trials, and a public recognition, initiation requires education. In a traditional society, this means teaching a child, in its passage to adulthood, the myths of the tribe. (And of course this is the book where Harry & co. sit their exams, which is our modern-day version of this stage.) Here, Harry gets told the full truth about himself and Voldemort — or, the full truth as Dumbledore knows it, anyway:

“It is time,” he said, “for me to tell you what I should have told you five years ago, Harry. Please sit down. I am going to tell you everything…”

The link between Harry and Voldemort is, I think, one of the most satisfying aspects of the series. It’s not just that Harry is “good” and Voldemort “evil”, and that there’s some sort of prophecy that says one will defeat the other (as there is in my childhood’s equivalent of the Harry Potter series, David Eddings’ Belgariad) — though there is, in this book, a prophecy, it turns out — it’s that Voldemort’s evil actions by themselves created Harry as he is, so evil planted the seed of its own downfall. This becomes clearer as the series moves on, but on this re-read I can’t help wondering at how restrained Rowling has been in revealing just a little at a time to what is, by The Deathly Hallows, a thoroughly well-thought-out reasoning for why Harry is who he is.

Kazu Kibuishi’s cover, whose colour scheme reminds me of the 70s paintings of Bruce Pennington

Another thing that stands out about The Order of the Phoenix is that Rowling really starts bringing on the interesting female characters. We’ve had teachers (McGonagall), parent-figures (Mrs Weasley), and two minor villains (Aunts Marge and Petunia), as female characters before, but in this book we get a wider range and deeper characterisation. We get two new female “hero” characters, in the shape of punky Auror Tonks (who “never quite got the hang of these householdy sort of spells”, though her mum could “even [get] the socks to fold themselves”, making me think her mother may have been Mary Poppins), and Luna Lovegood (a sort of antithesis to Harry in his truth-seeker capacity, in that “she’ll only believe in things as long as there’s no proof at all”, which means she believes in all the Wizarding World’s versions of conspiracy theories). Even better, though, are the female villains, Dolores Umbridge — passive aggression personified, a living version of the “smiling no” by which you can spot a psychopath — and deliriously unstable Bellatrix Lestrange. Both of these female villains are so much more emotionally provoking than the series’ main male villain, Voldemort. Voldemort is coldly arrogant, but both Umbridge and Bellatrix have a way of needling their victims’ (and the reader’s) most emotionally vulnerable points. Perhaps that’s because we expect Voldemort, a sort of “Dark Father” archetype, to be remote, but the viciously nasty “Dark Mother” behind both Umbridge and Lestrange can’t help hurting that much more.

Despite its air of frustration — no, because of its extended initial frustration — Order of the Phoenix is the most satisfying piece of Rowling storytelling yet, particularly when that frustration breaks and the action’s unleashed. My favourite part of this book (and perhaps of the series) is the scene of that final unfolding, the Department of Mysteries. Harry & co.’s wandering through the dark, surrealistic bowels of the Ministry of Magic’s strangest division remains one of my favourite fantasy sequences, both in the book and the film. The rooms they pass through (in the book, anyway) are a sort of gallery of Symbolist scenes (reminiscent of the sort of non-commercial painting Michael Whelan does). This department of the Ministry is looking into the fundamentals of human existence, at such abstracts as Time, Death, Love, and Dreams, but Rowling captures them with a moody weirdness I’d really love to see more of — or perhaps it’s there throughout, it’s just so easy to miss amongst all the wizard-school-romp stuff.

Inside the Department of Mysteries

Some of Michael Whelan’s Symbolist-feeling works. More at Michael Whelan.com

From Order of the Phoenix on, the series is about the now-publicly-acknowledged war with Voldemort. The gloves (and the blinkers) are off… Or are they? We’re not at the final book yet, so we’re not at the final confrontation. What can possibly hold that final moment off? We’ll find out in the next book, Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince.


Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J K Rowling

Giles Greenfield’s cover for the UK hardback

The word “fire” in the title of the fourth Harry Potter book (published in 2000) immediately makes me think of tests and trials, the idea of something passing through flames and emerging proved and tempered. Books about youngsters who learn they have magical powers are often stories of initiation, as with The Dark is Rising, A Wizard of Earthsea, and Jenny Nimmo’s The Snow Spider (recently dramatised on CBBC). But Harry learned he had magical powers in book one, and this is book four, so why is this theme of initiation being highlighted now?

In a way, this is a point conceded by Goblet of Fire as, instead of providing a new task of initiation, it gives us a summary of the previous three books. Harry’s name is, unbeknownst to him, put in for the Triwizard Championship, and he finds himself thrust into the limelight — just as he was when he first arrived at Hogwarts, and found everyone knew his name because of his role in the downfall of Voldemort. As a result, he’s put through three tasks, which could be reminders of the three previous books, and so of tasks he’s already faced. First, he has to get a golden egg guarded by a dragon — just as, in the first book, he had to acquire the Philosopher’s Stone before Voldemort could use it. Second, he has to rescue “what you’ll sorely miss” from the depths — in this case, his best friend Ron Weasley from the depths of Hogwarts Lake, but in the second book it was his future wife Ginny Weasley from the depths of the Chamber of Secrets. In the third task he has to get through a dangerous maze — and a maze being a sort of prison, this recalls the third book, The Prisoner of Azkaban, not just metaphorically, but also because the maze contains, for Harry, a Dementor, or a Boggart-appearing-as-a-Dementor, both of which featured in that third book.

Art by Kazu Kibuishi

So what does The Goblet of Fire add to the mix, rather than just being a reminder of how far Harry has come? An important part of initiations isn’t just the trials you go through, but the fact that they’re acknowledged by the community as a whole. Initiation in whatever form — into adulthood, into an organisation — is a public announcement as much as it’s an inner transformation, and here we get a couple of acknowledgements (aside from his very publicly winning the Triwizard Championship) that Harry has made the grade. Dumbledore says to Harry:

“You have shouldered a grown wizard’s burden and found yourself equal to it…”

And this comes after, earlier in the book, Harry allowed himself his most open admission of his child-state so far:

“What he really wanted (and it felt almost shameful to admit it to himself) was someone like – someone like a parent: an adult wizard whose advice he could ask without feeling stupid, someone who cared about him, who had had experience of Dark Magic…”

The second acknowledgement comes from Dumbledore’s opposite, Voldemort, when he and Harry square off in a graveyard:

“And now you face me, like a man… straight backed and proud, the way your father died…”

Art by Brian Selznick

Tales of initiation often have a presiding Magus figure to lead the protagonist through the process and arrange the tests and trials. There’s Prospero testing Ferdinand in The Tempest, and Sarastro in a similar role in The Magic Flute; the “Valerie” section in Alan Moore’s V for Vendetta is one of the most powerful examples, for me, with V himself as the puppetmaster; and later, we get a more ambiguous version in John Fowles’s The Magus. Who is the figure presiding over Harry’s initiation? It ought to be Dumbledore, but it isn’t, because one point about Harry’s initiation in this book is that it comes too early. He’s too young to enter the Triwizard Championship, and he’s too young to face the very real dangers his initiation leads him into — but so much of the series is about Harry being thrust into situations too dangerous or testing for one so young, first of which is Harry’s parents being killed by Voldemort when he was still a baby. No, the presiding figure for Harry’s initiation is Voldemort, and if there’s a dark figure presiding over an initiation, any actual initiation that occurs is a by-product of the process, not an intention. Voldemort, after all, doesn’t want Harry to come into his powers; he wants to kill him. Harry’s successful initiation is a side-effect of Voldemort’s failure.

(And anyway, there’s another necessary element that makes for a full initiation, so it’s still not complete. That’s left for the next book, The Order of the Phoenix.)

It’s an interesting theme of the series, how evil and good can’t help being intertwined. The link between Harry and Voldemort — in the way Harry’s scar hurts when He-Who-Should-Not-Be-Named is doing, or thinking about doing, something particularly evil, and the way Harry dreams about what is actually happening to Voldemort — recalls, for me, Mina Murray’s link with Dracula in the second half of Bram Stoker’s novel. Both Mina and Harry are unfinished victims, and this unfinishedness has unintended consequences, giving them insights into their victimisers that leave their enemies just slightly vulnerable. Evil, which thinks only about itself, discovers its weakness in the fact that it can’t help being linked to others.

Art by Jonny Duddle

But, with all this talk about initiation, does Harry “come into his powers” at all? Is Harry any good as a wizard? It’s clear that Hermione is the most capable wizard. Ron is the most klutzy. Harry generally tends towards the Ron end of the scale, except in two ways. One is that, when faced with the darker extremes of magic, he tends to come through. He might not be able to levitate a pillow to its intended location, but when he’s in desperate straits — and when his anger, determination, or sense of what is right is activated — he can pull off some pretty advanced magic. He might not be able to mend his own glasses, but he can repel a horde of Dementors.

The other factor in Harry’s ability as a wizard comes not from his own powers, but the power of others. Time and time again Harry gets through a task or solves a problem by getting help from others. And this might seem, if you’re viewing him as the traditional type of man-alone hero like James Bond or Conan, as a weakness, but it’s quite obviously a tremendous strength. Voldemort is the loner, the one who’d rather kill other people than have to rely on them; Harry is constantly winning loyalties and friendships, all of which pay off. And at the end of this book, it’s precisely because Voldemort has killed so many people and Harry has killed none that Harry escapes with his life.

eBook cover art, by Olly Moss.

The theme of memory magic which I mentioned in my Mewsings on the second book as being important in the series is less so here — even though this is the book that introduces the most important aspect of memory magic, Dumbledore’s pensieve, with its ability to store and share memories — but the wider theme of how a community’s “memory”, its history, and even the way it interprets the present, can be skewed, starts to become a lot more prevalent in The Goblet of Fire. First we have Rita Skeeter, who wilfully twists everything that’s going on into a tabloidese version so removed from the truth it sounds unbelievable, only people do believe it (even Mrs Weasley gets turned against Hermione because of it). And then we have Cornelius Fudge, head of the Ministry of Magic, who we see actively recasting the rebirth of Voldemort into something more acceptable: the actions of a single madman, and therefore nothing to worry about.

Previously in the series I’ve highlighted dangerously neutral characters like Ollivander the Wand Vendor who seem to revere power over goodness. (And here we get Crouch Senior, who despite being vehemently opposed to Voldemort, is “as ruthless and cruel as many on the Dark side”, and who allowed the use of Unforgivable Curses on those merely suspected of being Death Eaters.) With Cornelius Fudge, though, we see someone with power (he’s Minister for Magic, after all), who’s unwilling to use it, as doing so would upset the status quo. He’s the archetypal “good man who does nothing”, a passive neutral whose passivity empowers those who are prepared to actually use their power.

Art by Jim Kay

Goblet of Fire, despite being the longest book in the series so far, is also the most tightly and satisfyingly plotted. And it features the darkest turn yet, with the moment Harry and Cedric appear in the graveyard feeling like a real switch into bleakness and evil. The book’s big revelation — that all of this was plotted by Voldemort — feels like it’s saying that, despite Harry’s getting through the previous three books and defeating Voldemort each time, it was all for nothing, because Voldemort won this time. All of Harry’s previous victories, then, can seem to have been falsified in this book, as can all the time we’ve spent with the wonderfully battered and cranky “Mad Eye” Moody, who would be my favourite character in the book, if only it hadn’t turned out not to have been “Mad Eye” Moody at all.

What happens after an initiation, a passage through fire? After initiation, one is a member of a group; after passing through fire, one is reborn. Both aspects are acknowledged, I like to think, in the title of the next book, The Order of the Phoenix.



I said in my Mewsings about the 1988 film Paperhouse that I couldn’t think of many children’s books that, when adapted to the big screen, turned into films for adults, but Nicolas Roeg’s Walkabout from 1971 is another to add to the list, as it’s based on James Vance Marshall’s adventure novel for kids, first published in 1959 as The Children, and later retitled Walkabout.

A key difference between the novel and the film is how the children (Americans in the book) find themselves alone in the outback. In the book, Peter and Mary are in a plane crash, whereas in the film (where they’re unnamed), they’re driven to the outback by their father who suddenly starts shooting at them, before setting his car on fire and killing himself — a major change, and certainly part of what takes the film away from being suitable for a young audience. (Though “Hansel and Gretel” starts in a similar way, with a father deliberately abandoning his son and daughter in the woods to starve.)

That infanticidal/suicidal beginning always makes me think of the 60s counterculture’s idea that you should never trust anyone over thirty; also its feeling that modern life was a stifling, dehumanising treadmill that could only end in this sort of psychotic breakdown. Walkabout is very much a film that belongs to the immediate aftermath of the 60s, being at once a product of it and a commentary on it. (As was Roeg’s co-directorial debut, Performance, but I’d also group it with Barbet Schroeder’s La Vallée, a.k.a. Obscured By Clouds, which, like Walkabout, features a small group of drop-outs from the West seeking a deeper connection to life through exposure to a tribal culture.)

“It has often been said that one of the characteristics of the modern world,” wrote Mircea Eliade in his 1958 book on the subject, “is the disappearance of any meaningful rites of initiation.” Walkabout is about the rites of passage children undergo to become adults. The Aborigine who helps the schoolgirl and her brother is in the midst of his own initiatory trial, as explained by a title card at the start of the film:

“In Australia, when an Aborigine man-child reaches sixteen, he is sent out into the land. For months he must live from it. Sleep on it. Eat of its fruit and flesh. Stay alive. Even if it means killing his fellow creatures. The Aborigines call it the WALKABOUT.”

We first see Jenny Agutter’s character engaged in the West’s equivalent, school. She and the rest of her class, sitting in neatly ordered production-line rows, are practising their speech lessons, which seem remarkably like a sort of primitive rhythmic chant. Later, she tunes to a radio programme instructing her on her tribe’s complex eating rituals: which knife and fork to use when eating fish, and how to cover up if you inadvertently pick up the wrong ones.

By this time, we’ve already glimpsed her father sitting alone in the concrete desert between office blocks, and her mother at home preparing dinner, listening to a radio programme describing how a bird called the ortolan is kept in a box, force-fed grain, and drowned in cognac as a delicacy for gourmets. (In contrast to which, we later see the Aborigine youth hunt, kill, prepare and cook animals, as well as use, for instance, the fat of one of them to soothe the young boy’s sunburn.)

The father (played by John Meillon, who’d later play Crocodile Dundee’s duffer of a business partner, Wally, which makes it even worse that he’s about to start shooting at his children) drives his kids into the desert and, while the boy plays and the girl sets out picnic dishes, reads a report on Structural Geology, as though, even in the midst of the splendour of the outback, he can only relate to his environment as a tabulated business proposal. Spiritually, he’s running on empty, and the car’s almost out of petrol, too. The schoolgirl gives him a slightly worried look, as though she’s half expecting something to happen. Even when he starts shooting, she doesn’t seem entirely surprised — nor too traumatised after it’s happened. (I have to say that one of the things that makes the film slightly difficult, for me, is how she generally doesn’t show much emotion throughout, considering the peril and trauma she goes through. Perhaps it goes to prove how thoroughly initiated she already is in her own stiff-upper-lip culture.)

But even the father’s insane actions have a place in the children’s rites of passage. As Mircea Eliade says, in Rites and Symbols of Initiation:

“Now, suddenly, they are torn from their blissful childhood unconsciousness, and are told that they are to die, that they will be killed by the divinity. The very act of separation from their mothers fills them with forebodings of death—for they are seized by unknown, often masked men, [and] carried far from their familiar surroundings…”

“The universe that the novices now enter is that of the sacred world,” Eliade goes on to say, and the world the schoolgirl and her brother find themselves in is weird and alive, beautiful and deadly, as though supernaturally charged. It’s teeming with life: flies, ants, grubs, locusts, lizards, snakes, birds, kangaroos, camels, and even one desert-venturing wombat.

It’s harsh, too. A few days into their adventure, dehydrated and exhausted, the children find a waterhole, and immediately use up the precious water not just in drinking but in pointlessly washing themselves and their clothes. The next day, they wake to find the water all gone.

It’s at this point the Aborigine youth turns up, throwing spears at a lizard. (Later, while this young man makes more spears, the schoolboy boasts that he can multiply 84 by 84, his nearest equivalent skill.) The schoolgirl asks him, rather embarrassingly, “Where do they keep the water?”, as though this were a park with facilities, not a wilderness. And all she can do is ask — it’s up to her young brother, not yet entirely educated out of touch, to get the message through by acting it.

Whenever I watch Walkabout I expect it to be about two Western children gaining a deeper connection to the primal forces of life through sharing in an outback rite of passage, but that’s not what actually happens. The schoolgirl seems quite happy not to learn any of the skills she needs to survive in the outback, and clearly expects to be taken back to Western civilisation by the straightest route possible.

What of the Aborigine youth? At one point, walking atop a ridge, he passes right by a white woman, making no attempt to let the schoolgirl know she’s just yards away from her own folk. Instead, he takes her and her brother to an abandoned house. The girl, after her initial disappointment that there’s no one there to take her and her brother back to their own civilisation, immediately starts turning it into a home. She and the youth move about inside it, avoiding eye contact, suddenly distant in this confined space. At the slightest hint of her own world, she’s back to being a Western would-be housewife, and the youth seems a bit nonplussed.

My interpretation of their parting is different from others I’ve read. The Wikipedia article on Walkabout, for instance, says that the Aborigine starts to perform a mating ritual to try to win the schoolgirl over, but my reaction (and this isn’t based on any knowledge whatsoever) was that it wasn’t a mating ritual but a farewell. Just beforehand, the youth goes hunting and sees some white men shooting their prey with rifles. Disgusted, he wanders off — ignoring the schoolgirl when he passes her — to lie among some animal bones. It’s as though he’s trying to come to terms with the idea that white men belong to a different, more savage and strange society, and the schoolgirl is one of them, so he’ll have to leave her. Returning to the house, daubed in white to make himself look like a skeleton, he starts a rather spooky dance which, to me, doesn’t have as much a suggestion of a mating ritual about it, as it does a sort of exorcism. Seeing the film for the first time, I assumed this meant he was saying goodbye to her — ‘dying’ to her metaphorically, while perhaps also trying to scare her from the house, to move her on her way. His jerky stares seem more alienating than inviting. Which isn’t to say his dance doesn’t have a sexual element, but that element may be to add to its magical potency.

When the schoolgirl and her brother find him the next day, suspended from the branches of a tree, I assumed he wasn’t literally dead, but was ‘dead to them’, and was going to stay like that till they left. But the general interpretation seems to be that he is actually dead, and that he died by — what? — dancing himself to exhaustion? Then hanging himself up in the tree?

Is he dead? His body’s in the same position as the father’s corpse was earlier in the film, arms outstretched amidst the limbs of a tree. But neither the schoolgirl nor her brother seem very shocked to see the youth like this. (Though this may be yet more ingrained impassivity from the schoolgirl.) They don’t bury him. The girl just brushes some ants from his body. Neither, though, do they tell him to snap out of it. (I’m sure his face twitches as they walk away, though.) Maybe I just don’t want him to be dead. (In the novel, after all, he catches flu from the children and, having no immunity, dies.)

Really dead or not, though, it’s the end of the trio’s time together. The schoolgirl and her brother walk to a nearby road, and head back to their own world. At the end of the film, we see the girl, now grown up (wearing make-up and smoking a cigarette), in exactly the same situation as her mother was in at the start of the film — a housewife in an apartment, preparing a meal for her husband, who comes home and tells her he’s up for a promotion. For a moment, it’s as though nothing has changed. And if the girl is in the same situation as her mother, does that mean her husband will one day take their children out to the desert and shoot them, too? But then we have a glimpse inside her head. Part of her is still in the outback, with her young brother and the Aborigine youth, swimming in a pool. Perhaps something in her was affected by her time in the outback, after all…

It seems to me Walkabout is doing its best to conjure some hope from the end of the 60s counterculture’s attempt at a revolution. It’s the 70s now, and the hippies and drop-outs have had to grow up and get jobs, and they’ve found that the only way to do that is to fit in with the existing system, become one with the never-to-be-trusted over-thirties. But, like Jenny Agutter’s character, who has a piece of her outback experience permanently (if deeply) lodged inside her, those hippies and drop-outs at least glimpsed an alternative, and even if they’re not living the revolutionary dream, at least something inside of them isn’t given wholly over to the Capitalist treadmill. Their revolution didn’t succeed, but it wasn’t entirely defeated, either.