Harry Potter And The Order Of The Phoenix by J.K. Rowling
The fifth hefty installment to J.K. Rowling's renowned Harry Potter series takes a uniquely psychological and intensely dark turn, bringing the boy wizard at odds with his own identity and friendships as he continues to fight He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. Now fifteen years old with four Voldemort battles under his belt, Harry feels frustrated about the growing public skepticism about the Dark Lord's return. Unfortunately, the Ministry of Magic is also voicing its doubt, and all of Hogwarts comes under the watchful eye of an oppressive Ministry representative. Despite the additional problems of looming O.W.L. exams and Hagrid's inexplicable absence, Harry's main preoccupation is his vivid dreams that take him to places -- and make him witness events -- that horrify and intrigue him. These dreams provide a shocking clue to his very existence, and when eventually they lead Harry to confrontation, the wizard must cope with a tragic death and a telling prophecy about his future. Intricate in plot, charged with unease, and deeply fulfilling on every level, Rowling's continuation won't fail to leave fans open-mouthed and breathless for what's to come. (courtesy of Goodreads)
*This isn't so much of a review as a discussion of my thoughts. I'm assuming most everyone has read this series already, so I refer to connections with the later books. If you haven't read Harry Potter, beware of spoilers.
I wasn't thrilled with Order Of The Phoenix on my first read or even my second and third. I placed it second to last in my list of favorite HP books, just ahead of Chamber Of Secrets. But the more I think about the book, the more I like it. In this year's read, it may be my third most favorite book. The book is frustrating primarily because of Harry - he's moody and annoying. It's just not that fun to be inside his head. But what 15 year old boy who's just witnessed a murder, nearly been killed himself, and seen his biggest enemy rise to power would really be a joy to be around? It's so tempting to make your heroes seem happy, brave, and plucky all the time. I admire Jo for not just giving us a Harry who skips blithely through life; instead, she gives us a real person. Harry has always had a bad temper and is quick to jump to conclusions. Combine that with teenage hormones and recent trauma and you have one irritating kid.
In Order Of The Phoenix we meet one of the most evil characters in the series, Dolores Umbridge. In some ways, she is the most evil character. Voldemort obviously is the epitome of evil. But even he is described as charming. When we hear him speak, he often softens his fury with words that inspire pity or sound as though he's humbling himself. Voldemort has no real good qualities, but a person who didn't know better may be fooled by his rhetoric. I don't think anyone likes Umbridge or is fooled by her sticky sweet speech; those who are nice to her are the people who think she's useful (like Malfoy) or Ministry suck-ups (like Percy). It's even more interesting that this pure evil character is technically on the good side. I like that Rowling makes good versus evil a bit muddled. The "good" people can be as bad as the true villains.
One of my favorite things about Order Of The Phoenix is that it's dark. It's not a kid's book anymore. Fear, death, selfishness, greed - it's all there. None of it is sugar-coated. Since I wasn't a kid when I read Harry Potter I don't know how I would have reacted to a book like this - or to any of the last three books. Would they have scared me? Would the dark parts have gone over my head? I don't know. How do kids you know (or you if you were pre-teen when you read the books) react to the latter HP books?
A few thoughts about the Order Of The Phoenix:
1. Did you know the name "Dolores" means "sorrow" or "aches" in Spanish? Fits Umbridge well.
2. We see a little of Petunia's personality in this book. For the first time, you get hints that she cared about Lily and wasn't ignorant about the wizarding world (see. p. 39, UK edition). But with her zeal to be normal (born out of spite and jealousy), she's convinced herself that it's wrong or at least worthy of ignoring. Vernon, on the other hand, is just an ignorant jerk who hates anything and everything "abnormal."
3. I love how Tonks is clumsy and seemingly goofy, yet we know that she must be a skilled and brave wizard to be an auror. It's fun seeing how the aurors have different personalities - from Mad-Eye to Kinglsey to Tonks to Dawlish to Scrimgeour.
4. The locket - Harry finds a horcrux in Sirius's house without even knowing it! (p. 108, UK edition)
5. Once again, I wonder if Lupin would have been a better godfather to Harry than Sirius. Lupin is so much calmer, more mature...more adult. Sirius and Harry are alike in some ways: adventurous, hot tempered. They seem to feed off each other. But then again, I think Sirius understands Harry's frustration and mindset better than Lupin.
6. It is odd that Harry has so much trouble with Occlumency. Understandable, of course, given his conflict with Snape that he can't learn well from him. But a boy who is so good at repelling the Imperious Curse and even the veelas would logically be good at Occlumency. I wonder if Dumbledore had taught him or almost anyone other than Snape, if Harry would have done better.