Old School Wednesdays presents an epic reread of The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling. THIS MONTH ON THE RE-READ: we dive into the drama of book 5.
Old School Wednesdays is a weekly Book Smuggler feature. We came up with the idea towards the end of 2012, when both Ana and Thea were feeling exhausted from the never-ending inundation of New and Shiny (and often over-hyped) books. What better way to snap out of a reading fugue than to take a mini-vacation into the past?
This time, on our Old School Wednesday journey, we continue our OSW feature for the first half (ok, two-thirds) of 2016–The Epic Harry Potter Re-Read with our joint review of The Order of the Phoenix.
Title: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
Author: J.K. Rowling
Genre: Middle Grade, Young Adult, Fantasy
Publisher: Bloomsbury (UK) / Scholastic (US)
Publication Date: First published 2003
Hardcover: 870 pages (!!!!!)
Harry Potter is due to start his fifth year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. His best friends Ron and Hermione have been very secretive all summer and he is desperate to get back to school and find out what has been going on. However, what Harry discovers is far more devastating than he could ever have expected…
Suspense, secrets and thrilling action from the pen of J.K. Rowling ensure an electrifying adventure that is impossible to put down.
Stand alone or series: Book 5 in the Harry Potter series
How did we get this book: Bought
Format (e- or p-): Print
Previously on the Epic Harry Potter Re-read:
- Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone / Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
- Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
- Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
- Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
**All reviews/discussions on this re-readalong will contain inevitable spoilers–if you don’t want to be spoiled, best look away. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.**
Move over Prisoner of Azkaban, I have a new favourite. Yeah, I am surprised too.
After the disappointment with The Goblet of Fire, I was a bit dubious and even anxious about continuing with this re-read but although The Order of the Phoenix is an even longer book than its predecessor, it’s a tauter, tenser emotional rollercoaster. Everything makes sense in a well-rounded plot.
The Order of the Phoenix was the first Harry Potter book I read in its original English and it’s a book I read only once – my memories of it are tinted with the tears of The Death and with my impatience with Emo Potter. It’s amazing what a few years can do to how you approach a book. I understand and appreciate Emo Potter now and even realise he is well within his rights to feel the anger he feels all the time. Being kept in the dark is bullshit and I am ever so happy the book ultimately – and finally – admits that.
But it’s the villains you see, and the flawed humanity of all its characters that did me in this time.
How can one not admire how well written these characters are? It’s hard not to sympathise with Sirius Black here and how difficult things are for him, even as we realise how petulant, arrogant he is and how dangerous his association with Harry is in the way he transfers his affections for James unto his son – this is tragic of course, in many ways: for how this is played out in the end and it’s used by Voldemort; and also how it makes perfect sense that a man who was trapped and falsely imprisoned for a decade would feel and behave like that. How can one not empathise with Molly Weasley in her encounter with that Boggart or admire the way she protects Harry? How can one not feel a bit more sympathy for Snape after we see how bullied he was, even if it is still impossible to swallow the way he treats his students.
Then there is Dumbledore: this is finally where we see him at his best and his worst. We finally understand why the characters keep saying he is the best wizard ever but also how he makes mistakes – mistakes that might have cost Sirius’ life in the end. When Dumbledore cries, we feel the Big Moment for what it is: a great yet flawed man admitting to his failures and his fears as well as his love for Harry.
One thing that I keep going back to is how flawed the Wizarding World is. How on Earth did I manage to miss this the first time I read this books I do not know but it’s glaringly obvious to me now. How can Azkaban exist as part of a “just” Justice System? Inmates are tortured by Dementors as an approved and sanctioned part of it. How are House-elves treated such as they are?
All that combined just shows how, instead of a black and white world, we have one that is full of flaws and potential for failures as well as greatness. This is where Harry realises that his heroes – his father, his godfather, his headmaster – are not squeaky clean perfect. They are all people who make mistakes. Sometimes, deadly ones. The last few pages of this book are harrowing, difficult, sad.
Which brings me to the villains: this is the book that introduces us two of the biggest villains in the franchise and arguably two of the best villains ever. One of them, Dolores Umbridge hides her utter foulness behind a facade of meekness. The worst/best thing about this character? She is not even on the “wrong” side. She is a not a Death Eater, she is not on Voldemort’s side, she is actually on the side that is supposed to be the good one.
And then of course, we have Evil Teasing Belatrix Lestrange. She appears very little here but it’s the stuff of nightmares.
All of this is not to say that the kid characters don’t shine. Is there anything more thrilling than the students taking matters in their own hands by creating Dumbledore’s Army and learning Defence Against the Dark Arts on their own? Then later in the book putting it to good use by fighting off Draco and his friends then going to the Department of Mysteries and facing off actual Death Eaters??? Or how fist-pumpingly awesome Fred and George’s final stand is? Or how little Neville grows so much here and how awful and tragic his own backstory is?
Also: Luna Lovegood. Tonks! Finally learning why Harry has to spend summers with his awful relatives. The awesomeness of Minerva (and OMG I had forgotten how she is attacked on this book, DEAR LORD, the RAGE). THE PROPHECY (I remember reading it for the first time and hoping that Neville would be The One). Kreacher. Firenze. Sirius simply… falling through the veil. Harry’s reaction to that. REMUS.
I love Giny Weasley.
If there is one thing though that prevents this book from being a 10-rated book is the storyline with Harry and Cho Chang. Do I buy that Harry is such an emotional douchebag when it comes to girls? Yes, sure. But the problem is that the narrative really likes to reinforce the stupid, stereotypical dichotomy of boys versus girls with “boys will be boys” i.e. boys being “natural” idiots when it came to EW emotions and girls being “natural” emotion translators for boys. It’s a pernicious, bullshit reading that repeats itself throughout the narrative and I hate it with the force of a thousand supernovas.
Not as much as I hate Dolores Umbridge though.
I have a confession to make. I’ve only read The Order of the Phoenix from beginning to end… maybe twice. This is the book I remember wrestling away from my mother and younger sister during spring break when it first came out, and then crying my eyes out at the end. The reason why I haven’t read this book over and over again is because it is incredibly dramatic, wrenching and… well, hugely, powerfully sad. It’s dark, and the one impression I very clearly remember from my first read of this novel is anger. Anger at the system, at Dumbledore, at Hermione and Ron, at the entire Wizarding World. Anger.
This is the book when Harry starts to become a real, honest character–he’s no longer just the boy who lived, or the kid who bravely–but kind of… blandly–does the right thing because of his blind faith in Dumbledore. (Well… ok he does, but it’s different this time around because he starts to question–angrily!–why he’s being put through the ordeals he experiences.) We FINALLY get a better understanding of Dumbledore’s agenda, and a dose of how power structures can be manipulated. I have to seriously applaud J.K. Rowling once again because of her expertise in foreshadowing and emotional gravitas–the battle for Hogwarts, the horcruxes, all of that horrible sadness is about to become known, and we see the earliest seeds of it here with Harry’s scar, the prophecies, the House Elves, and Dumbledore’s own reticent actions.
One of the things that has always struck me about this particular book (and film adaptation) is the parallel to Britain in World War II–actually, pre– official WWII involvement. Minister Fudge is very much absorbed with his agenda of pretending things aren’t bad–it’s the agenda of appeasement, of choosing not to acknowledge the very possibility that a horrible tyrannical dictator may be rising, because that truth is far too horrible to confront. And so, instead, the Ministry of Magic chooses to defame and scapegoat Harry Potter and Dumbledore. The Sorting Hat song at the beginning of this book stresses its fear and the danger in a house divided–like many great successful monsters, Voldemort builds his army quietly first while simultaneously dividing his enemies and setting them against one another. The historical parallels–at least for this particular history nerd–are terrifying and so very real.
Speaking of terrifying and real, how about that Dolores Umbridge, hmm? What a piece of work. I actually feel my hand twitching in pain when Harry writes his lines during detention; I actually sneer in revulsion when I read her terrible teaching principles and mild-mannered falsetto. Dolores Umbridge is the stuff that the worst teachers and headmasters are made of–and Rowling nails this awful character. (The only other teacher who made me feel the same revulsion and sense of irate injustice was the Trunchbowl in Roald Dahl’s Matilda. How about that comparison?)
For the last three books, I also cannot help but contrast them to the last corresponding four films. These films are great, but deeply flawed and rushed–for understandable reasons. Whereas Prisoner of Azkaban and Goblet of Fire were arguably better film adaptations than even their text counterparts, The Order of the Phoenix is a film that is missing VITAL components. While the casting is pitch-perfect (UMBRIDGE GUH), there are so many missing elements that I consider vital. For example, the triumph and ingenuity of Fred and George, the Weasley clan’s divide over PERCY (who simply disappeared from the films), the characterization of Regulus Black (Sirius’s younger brother) as a sniveling boy who got in too deep… MAN, those are really important elements that shape so much of this novel–and the series overall–‘s future.
The one thing that the film gets so well–although it’s rushed, and although I don’t see seriously enough of it as I wish I did–was Sirius’s death, and his relationship with everyone else. Sirius is a deeply sad, flawed man who thinks he has received his best friend back again in Harry’s body. One thing I can agree that the film and book did perfectly, though, is the emotional suckerpunch of the “Nice shot, James” from Sirius… followed very shortly by death. MY HEART. I CANNOT HANDLE THESE EMOTIONS.
Like Ana, I think this is a book that stands the test of time, that shows us the beautiful things about the Wizarding World (like Quidditch! and FRIENDS!) but also the horrible, fucked up things that shouldn’t be allowed (the Ministry of Magic’s utter corruption, for one).
I loved this book, in other words. It’s up there, just under Prisoner of Azkaban, at present.
Ana: 9 – Damn Near Perfect
Thea: 8 – Excellent
About the Epic Harry Potter Re-Read:
Extending through August, we will be re-reading each book in the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling. (We’ll also be re-watching all of the movies, but we won’t be reviewing those.) Why are we doing such a thing? Because we are nostalgic for these books that we basically grew up with; because we’ve had so much fun with re-reads over the past year, especially for Old School Wednesdays (see Percy Jackson and The Dark Tower); and most of all, because this August, we Book Smugglers are going to watch Harry Potter and the Cursed Child in London. AAAAAA!!!!
Are you also a Harry Potter fan? Are you new to the books? Do you want to join our re-read fun? Well you’re in some serious luck (and you don’t even need Felix Felicis) because here’s the full schedule.
Harry Potter and The Sorcerer’s Stone – January 27
Harry Potter and The Chamber of Secrets – February 24
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban – March 23
Harry Potter and The Order of the Phoenix – May 25
Harry Potter and The Half-Blood Prince – June 22
Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows – July 27
Join us, won’t you?