Back to Hogwarts: Rereading Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

You can find the previous four books here.

My copy of The Order of the Phoenix

My copy of The Order of the Phoenix

I am ever so slightly conflicted about The Order of The Phoenix. It’s the longest book, but with the thinnest plot of the the seven. At the time of its release- June 2003- it was clear that Harry Potter was a global phenomenon and that JK Rowling could regurgitate the phone book and it would sell. The first film adaptation had been released two years previously, and the second the year before. The media hyped up The Order of The Phoenix even more than they had The Goblet of Fire. Sensation or not, it had been quite the risk to release a six-hundred page book for children. When it turned out the The Goblet of Fire was not only a great book, but a bestseller, clearly Bloomsbury and JK Rowling thought the same would happen for book number five.

Of course it sold like hot cross buns on a cold Good Friday, but at somewhat of a loss to quality. The Order of the Phoenix is 766 pages and it really does not need to be. To prove it, here’s the plot of book number five.

Harry is back at the Dursleys, and to the total ignorance of his parents, Dudley has become the local thug. At the park one night, Harry and he are assaulted by a pair of Dementors. Harry fends them off, but this is brought to the immediate attention of the Ministry of Magic. The Ministry is in conflict with Harry and Dumbledore, because they refuse to believe Voldemort’s back, and Harry is lucky not to be expelled. Back in Hogwarts, there’s a new Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher (isn’t there always?). She’s a Ministry stooge, and soon gains control of the place. Harry is still having weird dreams about Voldemort’s movements, and now Voldemort knows about it. Snape is called upon to help Harry block off these visions, because it is feared Voldemort can manipulate Harry to do his bidding through them. Harry becomes part of the resistance movement against Voldemort, the Order of the Phoenix, and starts his own version, Dumbledore’s Army, in an increasingly repressive school atmosphere.

Or in a sentence; No-one in officialdom believes Voldemort is back, but Harry knows he is. The pity is that it could have been one of the best books of the series, if it had been tightened up considerably. Rowling’s marvellous detail is out in force here, but do we really need pages and pages detailing how the cleaning of Grimmauld Place (the Order’s HQ) is going? Or exactly what the trio put down for question 2 during their History of Magic OWL exams (like a wizard Junior Cert or more accurately, given the series’ origin, GCSEs)? All of the DA meetings are lovingly described, as are the coins Hermione creates as meeting alerts. However, like a couple of threads in the book, this is simply dropped, despite the reader suspecting that this will somehow prove to be the group’s undoing.

Evanna Lynch as Luna (via Harry Potter Wikia)

Evanna Lynch as Luna (via Harry Potter Wikia)

Cho Chang features heavily in the book too, and she’s tiresome. Perhaps if Rowling did not keep forcing her and Harry together she’d be more sympathetic, but I find it hard to believe a girl who had her boyfriend murdered would want to go out with the only eyewitness to the crime. Can’t see it, will never see it. Anyway, that is the end of her and Harry thankfully, but the romantic tension between Ron and Hermione which was rather well demonstrated at the Yule Ball in The Goblet of Fire is largely absent here.

Indeed our three leads and most of the supporting characters are in pretty bad moods here, especially in the earlier parts of the book. Harry is cross at the world and his constant yelling and bellowing becomes wearying after a while, and Ron and Hermione bicker more than ever.   I mentioned that the Prisoner of Azkaban was when Hermione’s character grew hugely; the same could be said of Ron in The Goblet of Fire, where he learned to overcome his jealous streak as regards Harry’s fame. The Order of The Phoenix is where the minor characters get a starring role. Neville, in particular, the clumsy boy who goes to pieces when given a wand, is shown in a new light. By dint of sheer effort, he manages to keep fully grown Death Eaters at bay. Like Harry, his parents are lost- but they’re not dead, they’re insane, thanks to the Death Eaters’ torture. One of the books most poignant scenes shows him with them at the wizard hospital, St Mungo’s.

Luna Lovegood is a new addition, and she’s wonderful. Everyone’s met someone like Luna, who believes outlandish things and doesn’t seem to particularly care what people think of them, but she’s one of the series’ most memorable characters-

Hem, hem. 

How could anyone ever forget Dolores Umbridge? I know you, dear reader, have met an Umbridge. I know I have definitely encountered an Umbridge or two. She is, hands down, the most realistic villain Rowling ever created. At this point in the series, we only have vague-ish impressions of Voldemort’s motivations and humanity- the boy, Tom Riddle, that he used to be. Anyway, let’s face it. Voldemorts exist, but they are mercifully rare. Unless you are unlucky enough to be in reach of a genocidal maniac, you will most likely never meet a Voldemort. But Umbridge is that teacher who spoke to you as if you were five when you were fifteen, just as she does to Harry and his classmates. She’s the dragon at the motor tax office who insists that you simply must get that stamped at the insurance bureau before she can sign this, even though it’s 4.15 on a Friday afternoon. She’s the manager who decides that staff will have to fill in a form every time they ask for change for the tills. She’s the Education Secretary who decides that kids shouldn’t get free milk… I’ve said too much.

As was beautifully summed up in this Tumblr conversation, “Voldemort is the villain you hope you never have to face. Umbridge is the villain you face every day”.

via imgur

via imgur

Umbridge is the new Defence Against The Dark Arts teacher. She’s a power-mad old bag who delights in punishing Harry in particular. She forces him to write lines with a special quill which also etches the words into his hand. She relishes the idea of sacking Professor Trelawney and Hagrid, and delivers all her nasty lines in a simpering voice dripping with sugar.

The first time I read how Fred and George led the charge against Umbridge I cheered aloud. In their final year, the Weasley twins no longer care if they’re expelled or not and give Umbridge absolute hell. My own school had its own share of petty rules and Umbridge-esque systems, and somehow thought that us wearing make-up or coloured socks would interfere with our brains. The amount of times in the remainder of my education that I fantasised about riding out of school on a broomstick must number the hundreds.

Fred and George riding off into the sunset (via HP Lexicon)

Fred and George riding off into the sunset (via HP Lexicon)

Finally, and I have deliberately left it to last, is the fate of Sirius. Eleven years on, his fate still pains me. It isn’t just that he dies- three books was a criminally short time to have Sirius in our lives- but he doesn’t really die in a heroic or even pretty definitive way. Like Harry, we expect him to pop out behind the curtain. There’s no funeral, no nothing- and here, in this book, was where I thought that maybe being a Muggle was okay after all. Better stitches and medicine than potions and charms. Even the worst Muggle school would at least offer you a counsellor if you had witnessed a fellow pupil being murdered. Harry is sent home to Privet Drive without a word. Nobody, even the ghosts- Nearly Headless Nick’s conversation with Harry at the end of the book is very poignant- can really comfort Harry. He’s now truly without a family, and must kill Voldemort or be killed. Although the reader always knew it would come to this, it’s still a gut-wrenching conclusion.

The back is even worse.

The back is even worse.

Notes on my copy: I bought this as soon as it came out, and I remember racing through it so I could text my friends (hello Muireann and Elaine!) my verdict. I then collapsed with a sore brain and read it again properly.

This book is kind of disgusting. I received a real flower corsage for my debs (for international readers, this is much like the American prom, but nothing like the prom in the movies). Eager to preserve it, I decided to press the flower. In the absence of a bible, the heaviest book in the house was The Order of The Phoenix . With my characteristic blind optimism, I didn’t bother looking up how to actually press flowers. I just shoved it in the book and hoped for the best. Result: a rather organic legacy on the book and a destroyed corsage. Oh dear.

 

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