Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Harry Potter & Order of the Phoenix (book)

Originally Written and Posted at on 7/7/03 w/ Additional Edits.

“In light of Lord Voldemort’s return, we are only as strong as we are united, as weak as we are divided. Lord Voldemort’s gift for spreading discord and enmity is very great. We can fight it by showing an equally strong bond of friendship and trust.”

Albus Dumbledore in his speech in the last chapter of Harry Potter & the Goblet of Fire

Those words said by Dumbledore never spoke truer as J.K. Rowling’s acclaimed Harry Potter series has returned with its fifth book, Harry Potter & the Order of the Phoenix following a three-year break between the release of its predecessor, Harry Potter & the Goblet of Fire.  Dumbledore's plea for unity would only fell in deaf ears as he and Harry find themselves ostracized by the Ministry of Magic and the magical public in the U.K.  Following Harry's confrontation of a resurrected Lord Voldemort, Harry finds himself in the brink of a much bigger confrontation against not just Voldemort and his forces but also the Ministry.  After a confession from a Death Eater named Barty Crouch Jr., who disguised himself throughout the year as Alastor "Mad-Eye" Moody and Harry's accounts of his confrontation with Voldemort.  Dumbledore knew that action had to be taken but instead, Minister of Magic Cornelius Fudge ruined those plans out of fear.  Crouch ended up getting the Dementor's Kiss from a Dementor under Fudge's orders while refusing to believe Dumbledore.

Despite Harry trying to reveal the names of the Death Eaters at the ceremony, Fudge refuses to believe Harry after what Rita Skeeter had written about Harry as the young boy's persona of The Boy Who Lived was tarnished by Skeeter's tabloid-style journalism.  Though Professor Snape also tried to get Fudge to listen to the truth by showing the Dark Mark on his arm, Fudge leaves in disgust.  Dumbledore decides to revive the Order of the Phoenix to combat Voldemort which leads up to the events of the fifth book called Harry Potter & the Order of the Phoenix.

While the previous books in the series all had different storylines and an array of twists and plots, the one thing they all had in common was a sense of childlike innocence. In The Order of the Phoenix, that innocence is gone. What Voldemort took from Harry in The Goblet of Fire wasn’t just his blood but his innocence as well. The Order of the Phoenix is a much broader book than any of the previous four. J.K. Rowling knew immediately that the characters in Harry Potter have to grow up and go to new territories so yes, The Order of the Phoenix is a much more mature story than any of the books. There isn’t anything innocent or as juvenile in the first four books as the series gets a bit darker and more complex. One of the most talked about things that led up to the book’s anticipation is death and yes, someone major does die in the book as it leads for a new transition for J.K. Rowling from a simple children’s story to something a bit more realistic.

The Order of the Phoenix continues Harry’s journey into being a wizard but the young, childlike innocence of Harry is gone. Now comes a much more frustrated and alienated Harry as he enters the age of 15.  Yet, there are reasons for his behavior as it relates to Voldemort. The Order of the Phoenix is also about Harry trying to learn about what was going in light of Voldemort’s return as he is forced to learn about his own destiny and the people around him while facing some harsh truths. One major factor that is noticeable in the fifth book is that it’s a bit more rebellious than the previous four as Harry, fellow students, and some teachers have to contend with not just the Ministry of Magic but also a new DADA teacher named Dolores Umbridge, who recalls the ultra-conservative authority of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

The book begins with Harry Potter at home in 4 Privet Drive laying down outside of his house hearing any news relating to Voldemort. Unfortunately, no word about Voldemort as he finds himself frustrated with the lack of news not just from the Muggle world but also from his friends Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger, who were forced not to say anything to him about what is happening. Harry’s bleak home life at his relatives the Dursleys have gotten worse as his cousin Dudley has now become more of a thug and a boxing champion who likes to make threats on anyone. One night, Harry decides to taunt Dudley with his wand but the fun stops when two Dementors lurk around Privet Drive and Dudley almost gets the dreaded Dementor’s Kiss until Harry performed the Patronus charm on them to save Dudley. Harry with help from a neighbor named Mrs. Figg (an old woman who turns out to be a Squib who watches Harry from any intruders) as they send Dudley back to his house.

Dudley’s parents are shocked over what happened a series of owls fly around the house with letters from the Ministry wanting to expel Harry from Hogwarts but was stopped by Dumbledore as Harry has to go to a hearing about his crime. For Uncle Vernon, all the magic and what had happened to Dudley was the final straw as he decides to kick Harry out. That doesn’t happen when a Howler was sent, not to Harry but Aunt Petunia. Petunia said that Harry must stay at home. A few days later, Harry finds his old DADA teacher and family friend Remus Lupin at his house along with a few other wizards including the real Mad-Eye Moody, the crazy Mundungus Fletcher, an African-wizard named Kingsley Shacklebot, and a young witch named Tonks, whose hair changes color to reflect her mood.

Harry goes with them to an old house that was once the family home for his godfather Sirius Black and learned that the Weasleys were staying there. Yet his reunion with Ron and Hermione isn't a happy one as Harry lashes out at them for not giving him any kind of information.  Harry learns that not a lot was going on because Voldemort is trying to keep a low profile as he meets up with Ron’s twin brothers Fred & George, little sister Ginny, and the eldest Weasley sibling Bill. Harry also learns that another of Ron’s eldest brother, Percy had a falling out with family over political loyalty as he becomes an assistant to Fudge leaving his mother Molly extremely despondent.  Even as he later writes a letter to Ron to end his friendship with Harry making Ron very angry.

Harry goes to the Ministry for a hearing with Arthur Weasley as he testifies for his action with help from Dumbledore and Mrs. Figg as he gets cleared. Harry is happy that he is cleared as he gets ready to go back to Hogwarts where he learned that Ron & Hermione were selected as prefects for Gryffindor house while Harry wonder why he didn’t become one. Harry returns to Hogwarts where he meets up with fellow Gryffindor Neville Longbottom and a friend of Ginny from the Ravenclaw house, Luna Lovegood. Unfortunately, life at Hogwarts this time around isn’t as fun for Harry. Some students including a few of Gryffindor classmates believe he’s a psychopath while he had to endure the taunts of his rival Draco Malfoy and his cronies, Crabbe &Goyle. He thought it couldn’t get worse until he gets into trouble with the new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher Dolores Umbridge, who also works for the Ministry of Magic.

Umbridge becomes a pain for Harry as she gives him a week’s worth of detention.  Even as he has to miss Quidditch practice and deal with unfinished homework in preparation for his O.W.L.s exams.  Harry also contends with his feelings for Cedric Diggory’s former girlfriend Cho Chang. Eventually, Harry talks with Cho while creating a new secret Defense Club called Dumbledore's Army.  Still, he has to deal with Umbridge, the Slytherins, and all sorts of trouble as life at Hogwarts start to become a living hell.  Notably when a taunt from Malfoy about Harry's mother and the Weasley family led Harry, Fred, and George to be banned from playing Quidditch by Umbridge.

Yet, Harry would find fulfillment with Dumbledore's Army as he and fellow students in order to train themselves against the Dark Arts.  While he, Ron, and Hermione would hold secret meetings at the Room of Requirement, it would be a place where Harry would find joy as he realized that this is where all of the great wizards and witches that came before them would start.  Yet, the real surprise in these meetings is Neville Longbottom as he becomes more focused and proficient in spells following the news of a breakout from Azkaban prison that included Bellatrix Lestrange.  The woman, along with a few hours, who tortured his parents to insanity with the Cruciatus Curse.  Harry also learns that Bellatrix is Sirius's cousin despite Sirius loathing towards her while his house-elf Kreacher had a fondness for Bellatrix and the rest of the Black family that included Draco Malfoy's mother Narcissa.

While Harry found something to do with Dumbledore's Army, he also contends with visions in his head that revolves around a mysterious door.  One vision had Harry pretend to be Voldemort's snake Nagini as he starts to think he was being possessed.  The news has Dumbledore turn to Snape to teach Harry Occlumency, a form of magic that would have Harry to control these visions while stopping Voldemort to stop entering Harry's mind.  The result of the lessons would be mixed as the lessons didn't last long due to Snape's issues with Sirius and Harry's father as Harry would see troubling memories of Snape that involved Sirius and Harry's father.  Harry would confront Sirius and Lupin over what he saw as they revealed that what they did to Snape was something they weren't proud of.  Yet, it would bring more confusion to Harry as he had other problems to deal with as it would lead to another confrontation with Voldemort.  Even as he would witness the death of someone close to him as it would affect him greatly.

While The Order of the Phoenix is a far more harrowing book than its predecessors, it's a story the recalls the idea of teen angst and rebellion as students find themselves in being oppressed by their government as they're not getting truths about what is happening.  With Harry leading the charge with help from Ron, Hermione, Ginny, Neville, and Luna Lovegood.  What sets The Order of the Phoenix apart from the series is its political context.  Readers get a chance to enter the Ministry of Magic for the very first time.  A place where there's so much going on and in the middle of this building is a fountain.  The fountain would represent the way wizards and witches treat its creatures and others like house-elves and goblins.  It would become an allegory of how Sirius would treat Kreacher with a sense of indifference as Dumbledore and Hermione warned Sirius about what Kreacher might do.

Journalism also plays a huge part to the political context of the story as The Daily Prophet builds upon Rita Skeeter's writing forcing to leave out things that wizards and witches don't know about.  With Umbridge taking control of Hogwarts, students and teachers are dealt with censorship following the Azkaban breakout as Umbridge tries to block any information that isn't school-related.  Harry and Hermione would turn to Luna Lovegood for help as her father runs an eccentric magazine called The Quibbler to reveal what Harry saw the night Voldemort returned as they also turn to an unlikely ally for help.

While characters like Fudge is seen as a man unwilling to face the truth as he tries to censor everything that is going on until the Azkaban breakout.  While Fudge is a man just trying to keep things going pretending that nothing had happened, Umbridge is the character who becomes his enforcer.  Unlike previous Defense Against the Dark Arts teachers where there's always a twist about who they really are towards the end.  There is nothing about Umbridge that gets revealed in the end other than some of the things she did for the Ministry.  Umbridge is without a doubt, a character that readers will love to hate as she becomes the ultimate bitch.  Even as Harry learns what kind of power she had in the Ministry as he learned about her prejudice towards half-breed creatures including werewolves and half-giants.

Umbridge is a different sort of an antagonist to the series as she is someone who is supposed to be on the side of good but is a true villain like Voldemort in their quest for power.  Even as she tries to get rid of teachers she believe are unfit to meet her requirements like Divinations teacher Professor Trelawney and later, Hagrid.  Though Dumbledore would step in on Trelawney's behalf by making her stay at Hogwarts, Hagrid doesn't appear in the book until the second half.  While it's known why he disappears for the first half as he and Beauxbatons headmistress Madame Maxime went on a mission to send envoy to the giants.  Hagrid had other issues that delayed his return as it is revealed much later while he told Harry, Ron, and Hermione not to visit him so none of them would get in trouble with Umbridge.

Major characters like Hagrid, Lupin, and Moody aren't in the book as much.  Even as Lupin and Moody are running the Order of the Phoenix with help from others while Arthur Weasley, Tonks, and Shacklebot are doing their best to get people in the Ministry to learn the truth under Fudge's nose.  Then there's Sirius Black, another member of the Order who is having a hard time not having Harry around his home as he's forced to spend his time all alone in his old family home with Kreacher.  Sirius feels useless until he gets involved in the battle against the Death Eaters in the climatic battle at the Ministry with members of the Order.  Snape becomes a complex character in which Harry would learn more about his background including what connection he had with Harry's parents in the memory he would see.  Yet, there would be more to that memory as Harry would learn much later.

Then there's Dumbledore as he doesn't appear in the book very much as he is having his own troubles with Ministry and shutting Harry out.  When he explains to Harry why he isolated himself from him in the penultimate chapter, he would reveal why Voldemort tried to kill him as a baby and why he had Harry live with the Dursleys.  It's the chapter in which the flaws of Dumbledore are unveiled as it's also the most heartbreaking considering what Harry just went through.  This chapter would become important as the next book would focus on Harry and Dumbledore's relationship.  Even as it relates to the information about why Voldemort tried to kill Harry.  This information, would be the reason why the Order of the Phoenix have been busy trying to protect this piece of information from Voldemort.

Voldemort doesn't appear until late in the book but it becomes clear that his connection to Harry would have an affect on the boy whenever Voldemort is feeling some kind of strong emotion.

With many of the adult characters including McGonnagal along with new ones like Shacklebot and the humorous Tonks do get some air time.  The book is still about the young wizards and witches as some of them finally get a chance to be in the spotlight.  The new character of Luna Lovegood is an eccentric oddity who believes in fictional creatures and other weird stories as she is revealed to be the anti-Hermione.  One who is more about faith than logic as Harry finds an unlikely ally in this young girl.  Ginny Weasley also becomes a more prominent character as she takes Harry's place in the Gryffindor Quidditch team while proving to be a powerful witch.  Even as she keeps Harry in check whenever he lashes out at anyone.  The most impressive character who finally comes out of his own is Neville Longbottom.  Longbottom, who is known as a boy who was never able to be good in many things, finally steps up to the plate.  Not only does he take a stand for Harry when other Gryffindors refuse to do anything with him but he also becomes a powerful wizard when he goes toe to toe against the Death Eaters including the psychotic Bellatrix Lestrange.

Ron and Hermione also become more developed in the story.  Ron's vulnerability is shown when he becomes the Quidditch seeker who had to endure the awful taunts of Draco Malfoy who created a song that insulted him.  Yet, Ron was able to be Harry's right hand-man after learning what Umbridge had been doing to him while going into battle against the Death Eaters.  Hermione becomes a much looser character as she becomes the engine to form Dumbledore's Army as a way for her to become more proficient in Defense Against the Dark Arts.

Harry becomes a more interesting character in the book as a darker side of him is finally unveiled.  While he has a hard time dealing with his newfound anger over things that are happening around him.  It's also the first time he goes into the world of romance as he would have a brief relationship with Cho Chang.  Not surprisingly, it wouldn't last not because of her feelings for Cedric but also had to do with the friends she have.  While readers, at first would have a hard time relating to Harry, it's only because he is in transition as he isn't just trying to deal with growing pains.  Also with the fact that he is playing a much bigger role for something that is coming.

Though it's not an easy book to read at first, Harry Potter & the Order of the Phoenix is still a touchstone for the series.  Even as it dwells into new, darker territory and themes that become more adult.  It's the book where the series moves from a young child's tale to something that teenagers would relate to as well as adults.  Even as it revolves around death where another major character would be gone from the series leading to some heavy emotions.  While it might not be read as a masterpiece at first, Harry Potter & the Order of the Phoenix is a triumphant book of the series showing J.K. Rowling's vast evolution into the series and the characters that readers love to read.

(C) thevoid99 2010

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