Title: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
Author: J.K. Rowling
As I’ve mentioned in my previous posts about the Harry Potter series of books, I’ve attempted to read through the series a few times. But for some reason, I would get to the end of book 3 and just give up. This led to my having read the short books several times, but the longer novels only once. And so, before last week, I had only read Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix once.
By the time this installment was published, I was fully into the world of Harry Potter. I jumped on the bandwagon a little late, not actually reading the first four books until it was nearly time for this one to come out. So I’m pretty sure this is the first one that I stood in line to receive when it was released at midnight. And, like so many others, I tore through it and was finished before the weekend was out.
And I haven’t touched it since.
As with Goblet of Fire, I’ve relied on the movie to keep up with the Harry Potter phenomenon. This sort of cheapens the experience. But even when watching the movie based on Order of the Phoenix, I’m reminded of my immediate reaction to the book the first time I read it. I didn’t really like it.
Okay, I don’t really mean that. I liked the book just fine. I think it’s a great piece of storytelling, just like the other books in the series. But I didn’t like Harry. I remember when initially reading this book, I couldn’t help but really dislike the title character. I remember having conversations with a friend about what a brat Harry seemed to be and how his attitude seemed completely out of character for him.
Looking back, I think I was just more concerned with reading the book quickly than I was with understanding the journey that this character was on.
We pick up where book 4 left off. Harry is back at home with his muggle family. He straddles the boundary of these two world in which he lives, and he’s just waiting to hear news that the newly revived Lord Voldemort has begun his attack, not only on wizards, but on muggles as well. But his summer passes by slowly and he hears nothing. Even his correspondence with his friends, Ron and Hermione, are conspicuously devoid of information.
Harry had just witnessed Voldemort’s return. He had witnessed a murder committed by Voldemort. He had dueled with Voldemort and survived. Yet, here he was, stuck in the home of a family that hated him with no word about what his next move should be. He felt left out, shoved off to the side, and maybe even a little betrayed. Things began to ramp up, however, when he and his cousin were attacked by a pair of dementors. When forced to use magic to save their lives, Harry received a nasty letter from the Ministry of Magic letting him know that he had been expelled from Hogwarts for breaking magical law.
As it turns out, the government had it in for Harry and, by extension, Dumbledore because they had been so verbal in trying to make people aware of Voldemort’s return. No one wanted to believe that the evil wizard was back. They believed that they were safer with their heads buried in the sand. With Dumbledore’s limited help, Harry beats his expulsion from Hogwarts and is able to return to school with his friends.
But this is only the beginning of the Ministry of Magic’s interference at Hogwarts. A new Defense Against the Dark Arts professor is installed by the Ministry. A woman named Dolores Umbridge, who, despite a sickeningly sweet demeanor, is a truly horrible person who will stop at nothing to bring down Dumbledore.
Meanwhile, Voldemort is working in the background, trying desperately to get his hands on something he never had during his first reign of power. He discovers a sort of psychic link to Harry and begins to use him. He plants ideas in Harry’s mind and haunts the kid’s dreams. It’s all very Inception.
The school year is filled with ups and downs. Since Umbridge isn’t teaching a proper Defense class, the students decide they’d be better off learning practical magic on their own, and they look to Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman as leaders (get it? practical magic?). Anyway, they look to Harry as a leader. While teaching these classes, Harry develops a relationship with his first girlfriend, Cho Chang. However, it isn’t long before he goes through his first break-up. Dumbledore is ousted from the castle. Hagrid is fired from his teaching job. And it all builds up to a climactic battle inside the Ministry of Magic.
The final battle of the book involves Harry and several of his Defense “students,” Voldemort’s followers (Death Eaters), and Dumbledore’s Order of the Phoenix. In the end, Voldemort is driven away, but it cost the life of Harry’s godfather, Sirius Black.
When I read the story years ago, I couldn’t understand all of the harsh emotion that Harry seemed to be hanging on to. I remember getting a little fed up with the character, constantly lashing out at his friends for no apparent reason. Now I think I have a better grasp on what he was feeling.
Harry’s just a kid. He’s 15 years old at the start of the book. He’s never known his parents. He’s grown up in a home with a family that despises him. He’s been thrust into a life of fame and misfortune ever since he found out who he really was. He’s dealt with more in the past five years of his life than most would in a lifetime. And, most recently, he was forced to watch someone die. He never asked to be famous. He never asked to be the target of the most evil wizard the world had known. so he’s a kid with the weight of the world on his shoulders.
This time, as I was reading, I thought about all of those things. I wondered how I would react in that sort of situation. Yes, I’m still keeping my grip on the reality that this is all a fictional situation. But I think about the reality of my life and the short fuse I developed simply because I didn’t like my job. Looking at this book through that scope, it’s a wonder that Harry hasn’t let his emotions erupt long before now.
Order of the Phoenix serves to humanize all of these characters a bit more than previous books. By the time I got to the end, I began to see that the overarching theme seemed to be that everyone makes mistakes. Even when someone has the best of intentions. Even though the person we look to may be the wisest person we know, everyone makes mistakes. And when those mistakes happen, we have to learn to live with the consequences.
Originally, I didn’t give this book a fair read, and I think I stayed angry about it for a long time. It could very well have been one more reason why I never read through the entire series a second time. That, too, was a mistake.