In August of last year, not having reread the books in over five years, I decided to read the entirety of the Harry Potter series which would culminate in me reading Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. The reread started off well enough, and then life and other craziness took over, and well, here we are, almost a year later, and I’ve only just finished Order of the Phoenix. Not to worry though, because I have a new plan: read Half-Blood Prince and Deathly Hallows in August, so that I can read Cursed Child in September (in real time!) right after the epilogue of Deathly Hallows. Brilliant? I think so too.
In any case, today is not the day to discuss my extreme intelligence (that can be left for other days), because today I’m talking about Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix! This will not be a review, because there is too much nostalgia involved with this book (and series) for me to be truly objective. Instead, these are just some of my (not-so-coherent) thoughts:
Just a reminder: THIS IS NOT SPOILER-FREE!
I have always said that Order of the Phoenix is my second favorite Harry Potter book, after Deathly Hallows of course. Although it took me a month and a half to read this behemoth of a tome (entirely my fault), my stance has not changed: OotP remains the second best book of the series.
This is a novel permeated by darkness and danger, which is why I think it succeeds in so many ways. The evil that has lurked in the corners for the past four books finally gets a spotlight, and the effect it has on all the characters, Harry in particular, is destructive. Gone are the days when the threats to Hogwarts were singular, when, despite some hardships, good eventually triumphed. Even in Goblet of Fire, though Voldemort comes back and Cedric dies, there is still a sense of hope. Harry is alive, Barty Crouch Jr. is exposed, and most importantly, Dumbledore is there, offering a form of protection.
This is not the case with OotP. From the very beginning of this story Harry is isolated from everyone else, cut off from the world and the people he loves most, and suffering from PTSD. When he does finally reenter the magical world, it is only to discover that the government and media are against him, that among the community he calls home, he is alone. To top it all off, even those who are supposed to be on his side, Dumbledore and the other members of the Order of the Phoenix, have unintentionally abandoned him.
Harry gets a lot of flack in this book for being too angry and frustrated all the time, but personally I feel that his angst is well justified. After witnessing Cedric’s murder and Voldemort’s resurgence by himself, Harry is treated like a child by all of the adults in his life who think they’re protecting him by keeping him in the dark. In a way, it’s the perfect metaphor for being a teenager. Harry’s not a kid anymore, but he isn’t an adult either- he’s stuck in the torturous limbo that connects the two. While the adults certainly have the “children’s” best interest at heart, their refusal to acknowledge the traumas these kids have experienced eventually ends up doing more harm than good. It is not an understatement to say that Harry and the others are failed by every single adult in OotP.
Dumbledore is the biggest culprit. In the past I saw Dumbledore as many others did: the wise and lovable mentor whose presence offered safety and comfort. During this most recent reread I have discovered that he has quickly deteriorated into one of my least favorite characters, one of whom I hold directly responsible for a lot of the misery Harry feels in this book and others. The other members of the Order of the Phoenix look to the example that Dumbledore sets, and when they see his refusal to involve the kids, they do the same. The message is clear: the adults, regardless of what side they’re on, can no longer be depended upon.
The theme of teenage rebellion is strong throughout OotP, and it works really well to unite most of the students of Hogwarts against a common enemy (I say “most” because no one from Slytherin joins resistance efforts- a writing choice that I think was a mistake). Dumbledore’s Army is one of my things about this book, not only because it’s secret and thrilling, but also because it is a direct response to the most hated character of the entire series, Dolores Umbridge. It is generally agreed upon in the Harry Potter fandom that Umbridge is worse than Voldemort, and I would argue that she is the more complex of the two as well. Voldemort is the “take over the world” type of evil, an evil very common in fiction, but Umbridge is the evil that pervades every day life. She is the evil that gets power hungry and abuses her status after only a taste, the evil that is very difficult to fight back against. It’s particularly wonderful to see the teachers and students’ solidarity in their hatred of Umbridge, and never have I cheered so loud for a character’s downfall!
On the flip side of that, never did I think I would be so affected by Sirius’ death. Sirius is another beloved character whom I do not like, and while I found him to be tolerable in Prisoner of Azkaban and Goblet of Fire, it is here, in OotP where my aversion to him is solidified. Order of the Phoenix fully realizes Sirius as a three dimensional character, and shows him not just through Harry’s adulating eyes- for the first time we see that he is immature and reckless, and at times it’s as though he sees James instead of Harry. I myself can’t remember what I thought when I first read this book, but I would love to know, those of you who weren’t spoiled during your first read: did you predict Sirius was going to die? Knowing what I already know now, it seems painfully obvious. Sirius’ restlessness and helplessness are slowly mentioned and built-up, and he is the sole adult Harry feels he can confide in (that Sirius too is stripped away from Harry only adds to his loneliness and depression). On the other hand, were we lulled into a false sense of complacency because Arthur was already attacked and survived? Either way, though I knew what was coming, it was painful to read the moments leading up to Sirius’ end. My opinion on the character has not changed, but knowing that one more person Harry loved was being taken away from him … my heart broke.
I can’t talk about Sirius’ character development without talking about the rest of the Marauders’. For the first time, Harry sees that his father was not the golden boy he thought he was, that in fact he has more in common with Snape than he does with James. I think the scene in Snape’s memory is a great one because it shines light onto all of these characters. I should probably mention here that I am far more sympathetic to Snape than the majority of the fandom. You can tell me how horrible and awful he is, and I’ll agree, but for some reason (and I have no doubt Alan Rickman is partially to blame), I can’t help but feel for Snape. This is not to say that I don’t like James- I do- but not in that memory. There, he is arrogant and cocky, attacking an innocent classmate for no reason other than that Sirius was bored. It is another completely heartbreaking moment, in part because yet again, another adult Harry loves and trusts is taken from him, this time in memory form.
There are a million other things I could talk about regarding this book. There’s Neville’s bravery, the introduction of Luna, Fred and George’s miraculous departure from Hogwarts, Harry’s relationship with Cho … which brings me to my one quibble with OotP. I’ve always felt that JKR’s one weakness is in writing romantic relationships, and although romances (especially failed romance) are a big part of adolescence, Cho and Harry’s relationship deflates very quickly, in a way that does no justice to Cho. It’s a tiny issue however, and in no way affects my love for this novel. The real worst thing about Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix happens after the book is over- it is the realization that Harry ends this novel the same way in which he starts out: traumatized, and alone.
I couldn’t end this post without mentioning that today is Harry Potter and J.K. Rowling’s birthday! To commemorate the event, I wrote a little about what they mean to me …
Happy Birthday to my favorite Boy-Who-Lived, Chosen One, and mostly clueless teenager, Harry James Potter! It’s hard to believe that a little more than exactly ten years ago, we watched the conclusion to your story, and it is not an exaggeration to say that ten years later, I have yet to come across anything quite as special. You’ve probably heard this a million times before, Harry, but you shaped and inspired me, as well as an entire generation of children. I too, like many others, waited eagerly for my letter from Hogwarts on my eleventh birthday, and I too was devastated when it never came. I wished desperately to be part of your world, to cast spells and wear cloaks of invisibility and fly on broomsticks and hippogriffs, but what I wanted more than anything else was for you to be real- to one day become friends with you, Ron, and Hermione and go on adventures together, magical and otherwise. And though I’m much older than I was all those years ago when I first discovered you, Harry, there is a part of me that holds on to that wish even today.
Dear Jo, Happy Birthday. Thank you for everything.