Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
May 15, 2016 11:12 PM - by J. K. Rowling - Subscribe

In his fifth year at Hogwart's, Harry faces challenges at every turn, from the dark threat of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named and the unreliability of the government of the magical world to the rise of Ron Weasley as the keeper of the Gryffindor Quidditch Team. Along the way he learns about the strength of his friends, the fierceness of his enemies, and the meaning of sacrifice. Series and movie spoilers.

All of a sudden, like puberty, everything is more complicated and ambiguous, besides the usual fraught. ''The world isn't split into good people and Death Eaters,'' Sirius warns Harry. Wizard history isn't a lot prettier than Muggle history, any more than Hogwarts is automatically a nicer place than your local junior high detention center just because the kids play with wands and brooms. The food may be superior, but otherwise there is the same malice, sadism, hierarchy and humiliation, plus, of course, unfair teachers and impossible exams. We probably should imagine these training-wheel wizards as the magical equivalents of students at a special school for the performing arts, the higher maths or the natural sciences. They bleed when pricked. - NYT

This is the longest book in the series but it is a cracking read, with so much going on and the pace once again picking up from the first page. This book really explores Harry's potential and his past, which opens up more surprises than you would think. The battle scenes are very complex and you may find yourself having to re-read them in order to get your head 'round what is happening, but as always, JK Rowling makes your commitment more than worthwhile. This might be a harder read for younger children than previous books but it is no less enjoyable and continues to build the suspense of the story. There are some wonderful touches, Sirius Black's family home, where Harry, Hermione and Ron hide out when being pursued by the Ministry of Magic being one and we once again see much loved characters such as Remus Lupin. This book is very dark in places and we see that our hero isn't infallable, giving him yet another dimension and allowing us to identify with his struggles. There is humour also so it's certainly not all doom and gloom. An excellent book and wonderfully engrossing read. - Fantasy Book Review

Rowling does what few, if any, in the literary or film worlds seem to be able to accomplish: to create a rip-roaring action/adventure/suspense thriller in which the human elements, character, emotion, motivation, relationships, are more important and believable than the action. And, perhaps equally importantly in a book with a high level of violence, when characters die, their loss has a profound and lasting impact on those left behind. Harry's anger and volatility are becoming as much a liability as his power and courage are assets. - Common Sense Media
What stands out on my re-read
This was the first HP book I waited for, read the fan theories about, and stood in line at midnight to get.

I really like what we see of the Order itself, the various members, vague info on their missions, etc. A non Harry-centric book fanfic on the Order, perhaps about their activities during this period would be awesome. The blatant government corruption in this book is such an interesting contrast to the good the Order is trying to bring about.

The dementor attack, trial, and public defamation were all a bit heavy-handed. It makes me wonder if the Ministry of Magic has always been corrupt and the campaign against Harry is just the corruption of the week or if people are really naive enough to think a 15 year old really deserved all the public negativity from the government.

Dolores Umbridge. I'm always torn between hating her and really respecting the way she made a career for herself in a rather male-dominated political landscape. That can't have been easy (and a difficult rise to power might explain the child torture moral compromises we see). She's a really good example of ambition turned to greed.

Voldemort's plan seems cartoonishly bad in this book. I mean, it was a super cool reveal about the prophecy but... magically dreaming your will to your psychically linked enemy??? Come on v-man. Do better. Send Harry an owl explaining the prophecy and have an adult tell him that under no circumstance should he go to the Ministry, follow the enclosed map, and grab the prophecy for himself. Voldemort would have the prophecy in about two months. I feel like there's something interesting in the faith Voldemort puts in a prophecy that his crony overheard, especially as divination is pretty useless compare to other branches of magic.

Occlumency training and Snape's Worst Memory were quite interesting. I get some people play the whole Snape is a huge hero thing but he kind of gets off easy for dropping his responsibility to train Harry after the memory invasion. Snape is certainly not a hero in this book (if he is at all).

I love how much Sirius an Remus were in this book (considering they only made appearances during school breaks and flashbacks). It made it especially difficult when Sirius died (which is probably why he was featured so prominently in the book). It was so very frustrating to find out Sirius' death was to compensate for not killing Mr. Weasley, especially when Sirius would have had a much larger impact on Harry's life in the following years than Mr. Weasley had.

Harry was annoying in this book. I guess that's a pretty common opinion but even when I read OotP through the lens of "he's a 15 year old boy who has been through some traumatic shit" I still get annoyed. Around this time I became more interested in the adults in the books or the peripheral characters. I do think Harry did an awesome thing with Dumbledore's Army and showed he has some leadership skillz to go with his magical talents. I'm glad Neville got a chance to shine in this and that we were introduce to the wonderful Luna Lovegood.
posted by toomanycurls (17 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
This is the difficult fifth book of the series. Harry is actively obnoxious, and while I appreciate what Rowling is aiming for here, I don't think she quite hits the mark. I think Harry, as the main character in a children's novel, often serves as a viewpoint for the reader, so when he behaves in a strongly self destructive way it can separate the reader from the narrative. His reactions here might well be what a 15 year old boy who has had his experiences might act, but we want to like Harry, and it's difficult to do WHEN HE'S TALKING IN ALL CAPS. Of course, I'm a white male of a similar age to Harry, so I'm pre-disposed to think like he's me even when we share little else in common (outside of gender identity, I'm much more similar to Hermione).

Again I really like the world building here, and the idea of the Ministry as a separate political unit. These glimpses of the Ministry at peacetime are really important to making the sequences in the seventh book work. I love Umbridge as the main villain, she's such a terrific children's villain. And that final scene in the ministry is really great.

Oh, and here's where I pre-emptively complain about the film adaption. This final fight between Voldemort and Dumbledore is crucial for the next book to work. It's explicitly framed as Voldemort being worried, and Dumbledore dealing with his attacks fairly effortlessly until the possession, where Harry is under threat. Up until now we'd heard that Dumbledore was an extremely powerful wizard, now we get to see it. So when he dies the impact is not only in another parental figure lost, but that the last true protection against Voldemort is gone.

Speaking of parental figures, one thing the series does again and again is set up parental figures, then knocks them down, both emotionally (James and Sirius acting very poorly), and of course physically. Women tend to get a much better treatment than men in this series, which is refreshing.

I griped about this in another thread, but it's really consistent how powerful individual wizards are. I mean, it's clear that Dumbledore is more powerful than anyone, but in book 4 we get told that the kids can't cast avada kedavra because their magic is too weak, but they seem to do pretty well in a fight with adult wizards in the ministry. I guess the idea is that the kids are evading rather than actively fighting, but the death eaters never seem to come off terribly well in any duel they get into, with the exception of Snape.
posted by Cannon Fodder at 12:34 AM on May 16, 2016 [1 favorite]

It's not that their magic is too weak, it's that the unforgivable curses require a pretty deep commitment. You have to REALLY want someone dead to make "Avada kedavra" work.
posted by wabbittwax at 3:02 AM on May 16, 2016 [1 favorite]

Occlumency training and Snape's Worst Memory were quite interesting. I get some people play the whole Snape is a huge hero thing but he kind of gets off easy for dropping his responsibility to train Harry after the memory invasion. Snape is certainly not a hero in this book (if he is at all).
On the other hand, Snape cannot afford for Harry to discover his true allegiance especially so long as Harry is unable to perform occlumency, that plus the snooping could have potentially undone all of Dumbledore's long term planning and rendered Snape's double agency ineffective.
posted by Coaticass at 4:13 AM on May 16, 2016 [2 favorites]

It was so very frustrating to find out Sirius' death was to compensate for not killing Mr. Weasley, especially when Sirius would have had a much larger impact on Harry's life in the following years than Mr. Weasley had.

Really, I thought that was Lupin? Or Fred (someone in the last book, at any rate).
posted by Coaticass at 4:16 AM on May 16, 2016

For example, see here.
posted by Coaticass at 4:19 AM on May 16, 2016

Killing both Sirius and Arthur would have been way too dark a place to go at this point in the series and I think Sirius was always marked for death.
posted by wabbittwax at 4:32 AM on May 16, 2016

Sirius does a 180 wrt Kreacher.
posted by brujita at 8:11 AM on May 16, 2016

I believe I've mentioned in the past that I threw this book across the room in frustration with Harry when I was a kid. I think Cannon Fodder raises an interesting point about Harry's behavior being both understandable in hindsight but also interfering with some people's ability to project ourselves into him.

Rereading it I am definitely much more understanding of ALLCAPS|Harry, even as I cringe as he consistently seems to shoot himself in the foot with his antics. Even just in the first sequence with Dudley and the dementors, which I remember zipping through very quickly as a kid anxious to move on to the rest of the story, is so revealing about what drives Harry's lashing out. Consider the sequence of events within about an hour's time:
  1. Harry is apparently suffering from what sounds a lot like untreated PTSD following Cedric's death and Dudley is bullying him about it
  2. Then he gets attacked by depression monsters and still manages to save his cousin (for which he gets no thanks until much later)
  3. Then he has to process that his batty old neighbor is aware of the magical world but didn't make his life any nicer because of Dumbledore's orders
  4. Figg's loss of composure is understandable but she doesn't reassure Harry at all, just screams at him to get back to the house, gets in a violent altercation with a super sketchy Mundungus Fletcher, hints that there may be trouble from the Ministry, and answers none of Harry's questions.
  5. No sooner does Harry arrive home (and what a classic teenage move to think he can sneak off while Dudders vomits and escape getting in trouble) he is berated by his uncle and then expelled from the only place he has ever felt happy.
  6. Desperate and about to bolt he gets a weak reassurance from Mr. Weasley that Dumbledore is dealing with it, and instructions to stay put but not to surrender his wand. Basically "don't move but if the cops show up don't give them your gun." Harry, understandably, isn't sure how he's supposed to do this but at least refrains from immediately bolting from the security of the house. He gets a series of confusing letters, capped by the mysterious howler to aunt Petunia.
After ALL THIS, having gotten no reassurance from anyone except that note from Arthur, he actually makes an intelligent move: at the start of chapter three he dashes off notes to Hermione, Ron and Sirius telling them what has happened and requesting information. His reward for this smart move is a total lack of response for FOUR DAYS until Lupin and a bunch of strangers show up to take him away, again without much explanation.

Honestly the fact that Harry is even remotely sane by the end of this book is a miracle. I am so much more sympathetic to him in hindsight. Dumbledore's ends might justify his means but man the way he handles Harry is just egregious.
posted by Wretch729 at 8:12 AM on May 16, 2016 [6 favorites]

I love so much how Rowling managed to gradually expand her world and age the target audience with every book. It's really masterful. I've been surprised upon this re-read to discover that you don't really get much detail about the kids learning magic in the first few, but you finally get a lot of that here.

There is also just so much going on that serves no real purpose other than to enrich the world. The Quidditch subplot with Ron, for example, or Hermione knitting all the hats. It's obvious by this point that Rowling knew she had a rabid fan base that was going to soak in as much detail as she could possibly come up with about the workings of the wizarding world.

I do have some questions about the necessity of the many various transportation methods available. Dumbledore uses thestrals to pull a carriage when he doesn't feel like apparating? Who wouldn't feel like apparating if it was an option?
posted by something something at 9:53 AM on May 16, 2016 [1 favorite]

The transportation actually makes some sense to me. Remember wizarding society is a more conservative society than the modern muggle world and consequently has a bit of a slower pace. Floo communication is the equivalent of a sooty landline telephone but most communication and official correspondence is delivered by owl post at roughly the same pace as late 19th century mail or telegram service. (Lest you protest that owls are faster, remember that in Victorian London mail was delivered up to 12 times per day.)

We know from canon descriptions that apparition is distinctly uncomfortable, somewhat difficult, blockable by hostile magic, and carries with it a nontrivial risk of splinching. Sure it might be fun (see: Fred and George) but I can completely understand other options being used, especially to transport groups of minors.

Magical Britain skipped the industrial revolution (and, arguably the Enlightenment but I already covered that earlier) because magic solves most of the problems industrialism solved, and with less smelly coal smoke besides. Sure they ape the trappings of the modern era: an enchanted bus, a train to carry students, why not? But they keep the carriage and thestrals because magic makes it all so easy that the choice for transportation method becomes an aesthetic preference rather than one driven by economic efficiency.
posted by Wretch729 at 11:07 AM on May 16, 2016 [3 favorites]

This has always been my favorite HP book, and I think it's in some ways the most underrated. It doesn't have the overarching mystery/whodunit of some of the earlier books, and it doesn't have necessarily the action of the later ones, but I just love how deeply it brings you into the world and the characters.

I think the aspect I enjoy the most is how everyone bounces off each other, and especially how the professors bounce off Umbridge. For example, one of my very favorites...
‘Hem, hem,’ said Professor Umbridge.

‘Yes?’ said Professor McGonagall, turning round, her eyebrows so close together they seemed to form one long, severe line.

‘I was just wondering, Professor, whether you received my note telling you of the date and time of your inspec—’

‘Obviously I received it, or I would have asked you what you are doing in my classroom,’ said Professor McGonagall, turning her back firmly on Professor Umbridge. Many of the students exchanged looks of glee. ‘As I was saying: today, we shall be practising the altogether more difficult Vanishment of mice. Now, the Vanishing Spell –’

‘Hem, hem.’

‘I wonder,’ said Professor McGonagall in cold fury, turning on Professor Umbridge, ‘how you expect to gain an idea of my usual teaching methods if you continue to interrupt me? You see, I do not generally permit people to talk when I am talking.’
posted by Zephyrial at 1:07 PM on May 16, 2016 [8 favorites]

Actually, can you apparate carrying luggage? I will allow other methods of transportation due to the necessity of sometimes bringing stuff with you. That's how I reconciled the existence of the Knight Bus in the last book.
posted by something something at 1:08 PM on May 16, 2016

Least favorite book, and the one where I first realized J.K. Rowling is overly fond of ellipses. I will admit that Umbridge is a great villain, in my opinion, because she could be on the side of the angels and still be just as evil and self-interested.
posted by infinitewindow at 3:48 PM on May 16, 2016

This book came out when I was 13 and I remember thinking that the darker tone of it and Harry's changing personality felt almost perfectly mapped to my own increasing maturity. My favorite parts are the Occlumency lessons because watching Snape and Harry have one-on-one interaction was really fascinating. I remember the Snape's Worst Memory scene as being one of the biggest gut-punches in the entire series for me (and in a lot of ways, for Harry). I understood Harry's emotional reaction and devastation absolutely perfectly, as an adolescent who also knew how it felt to be bullied and isolated--I thought that was amazing and I still remember how surprised and delighted I was, as a 13-year old in the Harry Potter fandom, to actually see a Marauders flashback--and then, how horrified I was, when it ended up being *that.*

Umbridge and her child torture sessions, Sirius's deterioration, Harry's bad dreams and PTSD--I think all of the the dark, angsty stuff would likely make the book a very hard slog now, as an adult but somehow, it all felt very right to me when I did read it, as a young teenager. The whole book really encapsulates how it feels to be 15, even without any magic or prophecies.
posted by armadillo1224 at 8:02 PM on May 16, 2016 [2 favorites]

I thought of the Knight Bus as being roughly Muggle equivalent to people taking trains when they are scared/distrustful of flying in an airplane.
posted by permiechickie at 12:12 PM on May 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

Dumbledore vs Voldemort! So much better on the page. What is that rapid-fire apparating called in RPGs, 'blinking?'
posted by the man of twists and turns at 10:06 PM on May 17, 2016

Given that Arthur Weasley wasn't killed off we should have seen more of him interacting with Hermione's parents....especially as a contrast to what we see with the Dursley's.
posted by brujita at 11:41 PM on May 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

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