Harry Potter Re-read: Order of the Phoenix

Oh, Order of the Phoenix, longest book of the series.  Perhaps annoyingly so, because it’s the first book to break the mold of school-year specific plots.  Harry spends about 75% of the book whining and yelling at everyone and at first glance it seems like there’s no point.  OotP I’ve only read a handful of times, mostly because I spend a lot of the book wanting to punch Harry in the face, but I didn’t feel that way this time.  I’m not sure why, except perhaps now that I’m looking at the books in a way that takes the entire series into account, so Harry’s feelings make more sense to me.

You see, in every character’s arc, there’s something that we writers refer to as the Dark Moment.  The Dark Moment is when a character is at their lowest, when they don’t know if they have the strength to go on, or if it would be worth it to just give up.  And OotP is Harry’s Dark Moment.  The entire book, but especially the end.

You see, up to now, while Harry has had his problems and people who don’t like him (Snape, Malfoy), in general things have been okay.  In some ways, even better than okay, because he’s the Boy Who Lived and that title pulls some weight around.  Here, everything changes.  Sure, there was that bit at the beginning of the Triwizard Tournament, but that was nothing compared to what’s happening here.  Suddenly, most of the wizarding world is against Harry.  He’s branded as a liar or, perhaps worse, off in the head. Voldemort’s back and he knows what that means, and yet, no one will listen, no one will prepare.

And then, at the end, Harry does something stupid and someone close to him dies, and he realizes that maybe he’d been buying into his own hype.  He’d been getting away with stupid, reckless things for years, but this time luck wasn’t on his side and things went horribly wrong.  And it had dire consequences.  While Harry never really settles down, he takes things much more seriously from here on out.

We see the prophecy for the first time here, we see Harry realize what must be done before this will all be over.  (There’s also a scene, just after Harry tells Dumbledore Arthur Weasley has been attacked, where Dumbledore fiddles around with snakes and shadows, which without knowing about horcruxes makes very little sense, but knowing that they’re coming, makes much more.  A nice hint, really, because I’ve always kind of thought that the horcruxes come out of left field in HBP.)

Taken by itself, Order of the Phoenix is kind of obnoxious, but it does contain a lot of important information for the remaining two books.  And it has its fun parts.  Personally, the scene where Fred and George make their exit is one of my favorites in the whole series.

(Ha, and yes, I managed to get through my entire write-up without mentioning Umbridge.  Extra cookies for me!)

Ye Olde Questions for Discussion:

1. So much epic fantasy revolves around the idea of Good and Evil.  How does JK Rowling subvert this in the character of Dolores Umbridge?

2. Harry and Cho are both a bit obtuse in their actions with each other.  What could each have done differently?  How would the books have changed if they had managed to make a go of it?

3. There’s a few hints of a future Ron/Hermoine in Goblet of Fire and that’s continued here.  How would it have changed things if they had acted on their feelings sooner?

4. To get off the topic of romance, Harry can sometimes see and feel what Voldemort is doing through their connection.  Voldemort uses this against him here and tries to possess him, but never does again afterwards.  Why not?

5. We learn here that Neville also fit the initial terms of the prophecy, though he no longer fits because Voldemort did not mark him.  How would the series be different if this were the Neville Longbottom series?  How do you think growing up under different circumstances would have changed Neville’s character?

We’re going to give Half-Blood Prince three weeks, so we’ll discuss it on Oct 31.  (That scene with the Inferi is certainly Halloween appropriate!)

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3 responses to this post.

  1. I honestly think that Neville would have turned out as brave as Harry and as gifted. (Doesn’t that happen in the end anyway) But the more important question in my opinion is how Harry would have turned out with the influence of his parents and presumably Sirius too. I can’t even begin to imagine it.
    I think Hermione and Ron’s feelings were left unsorted partly because we don’t get to see the depth of them till DH. This adds to that oppressed feeling in the early stages and of the book and the feeling that “we’re not in Hogwarts anymore”
    Cho and Harry? Well it’s a pretty average teenage relationship with all the misunderstandings. Except for the fact that her previous boyfriend was killed by Voldemort of course.
    Dolores Umbridge for me was scarier then Voldemort in that a purely evil villian is easier to accept. Umbridge is closer to someone you could meet until slowly her true evil is revealed.
    How could Voldemort stand to be in a body so full of love as Harry’s? That would be an answer Dumbledore might give.
    What about the DA? I love that bit of the book?

    Reply

  2. 1. Umbridge’s character is subverted because she is outwardly evil towards Harry while working for one of the truly ‘good’ organizations in the world by being a part of the ministry of magic. She also shows how a person can do evil without being evil simply because they are following orders and doing what their superiors think is best, in this case punishing Harry and working to cover up Voldemort.
    2. Simple, they both could have been more straightforward. But at the same time, they’re what, 15 in this book? That is a very awkward age for people to have a relationship, especially when one of them is marked for death and the other has just seen her last boyfriend die. The books probably wouldn’t have been that different had they been closer, but it works better with Ginny because she is written about more and you have more of a rooting interest to see her happy as well.
    3. Again, due to their young age, I don’t think it really would have changed things very much. Maybe if they were closer earlier Ron wouldn’t have run away as early in DH (which really annoyed me).
    4. Having failed to possess him once, he realized that it probably couldn’t be done. As such, he decided to stop occupying Harry’s mind because he probably realized that it was giving Harry information on his actions.
    5. I don’t know how much it would have changed the overall story, it would really be based on how it affected Neville’s character. There is also the idea that if Harry’s parents weren’t killed, that they could have helped to stop Voldemort permanently before the series started which would have been an entirely different story. Part of the reason that Harry was able to deal with the expectations placed upon him by being marked is because he knew nothing about the expectations. Neville, growing up in a wizard family, would not have had this luxury. There is a very good chance that he could be crushed by thinking that he would never be able to live up to the expectations of defeating Voldemort, or he could rise up and show that he could, and if we want the story to have a happy ending he would have to rise up and defeat Voldemort.

    You also forgot to mention the best part of this book. It introduces Luna! She was one of the best characters in the series and did a wonderful job of helping to lighten up what is at this point becoming an increasingly dark story.

    Reply

  3. Uh oh. Do I sense an Orson Scott Card opportunity here, where J.K. Rowling will publish another seven books, set during the same time period, but all told from Neville’s perspective?

    I must commit seppuku with the Sword of Gryffindor if that happens!

    Reply

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