“Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix,” by J.K. Rowling (766p)
The fifth book in the award winning hugely successful Harry Potter series is Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Released in 2003, the fifth in the series takes Harry to his fifth year at Hogwarts and into full adolescence as he turns fifteen, now having to life with the reality of a returning Lord Voldemort to his former power while battling blatant bureaucratic stupidity from the Ministry of Magic.
As has become customary, Harry Potter is spending another miserable summer with his baleful relatives. He has heard nothing from the magical world since the return of Voldemort and finds himself desperate for the slightest bit of news, even hanging onto bits and pieces on the Muggle news. Finding himself walking down a street with his cousin Dudley, the two of them are attacked by a pair of Dementors. Harry drives them off with a patronus charm, and is surprised to learn that the Dursleys’ elderly neighbour is a squib and has been keeping an eye on him on Dumbledore’s orders.
On returning home, he immediately receives a notice of expulsion from Hogwarts for using magic outside school. An advance guard from the Order of the Phoenix arrives at the house and escorts Harry to their secret headquarters at Number Twelve, Grimmauld Place in London, where Harry joins the Weasley family, Hermione Granger, and Harry’s godfather Sirius Black. They tell him that Voldemort is building an army and is attempting to retrieve a weapon, but is still moving in secret. In this, he is actually aided by the Ministry, since Minister Cornelius Fudge is conducting an extensive smear campaign against Harry, Dumbledore, and anyone else that says Voldemort’s back. Knowing that Voldemort’s return would mean mass panic and then open war, Fudge believes that Dumbledore is lying and attempting to supplant him as Minister. A few days later, Arthur Weasley escorts Harry to his expulsion hearing, which Fudge has done everything in his power to slant against him. But testimony from Dumbledore and Mrs Figg confirms the presence of the Dementors, and Harry is found to have acted in self-defence.
At Hogwarts things are changing. The new Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher is also a Ministry stooge, installed to keep watch over the school and Dumbledore. Professor Umbridge changes the face of the school as she and the Ministry steal power away from Dumbledore, and with Umbridge installed as High Inquisitor Ministry approved rules are implemented, banning anything that might be deemed inappropriate. Umbridge also introduces cruel punishment to students not willing to follow her Orwellian dream of rules and regulations, in particular she punishes Harry for his out-spoken views by forcing him to cut words into his hands with blood-ink. Her tyranny and stout refusal to teach defence spell begins to affect their school work, and with OWLs1 coming Hermione devises a way for many students to learn the stuff Umbridge refused to teach: Harry would do it instead. Students from across the school sign up to the secret “Dumbledore’s Army” organisation and spend the autumn and winter months hidden away learning from Harry. As Christmas approaches, Harry enters into his first relationship with his long-time crush Cho Chang, but their romance ends shortly thereafter when Harry accidentally makes her think he’d rather be with Hermione instead.
Eventually, Umbridge’s spy network throughout the school uncovers the Dumbledore Army and Harry evades expulsion again with Dumbledore taking the blame for it. The Headmaster faces sacking and an arrest but evades capture from Fudge and Umbridge, escaping with his phoenix Fawkes. But with Dumbledore gone there is nothing to stop Umbridge becoming Headmistress, plunging Hogwarts into further tyranny and depression as Umbridge completely turns the school into an effective police state with more rules and restrictions placed on students. Only a rebel newspaper out of the Ministry’s control stands up for Harry and Dumbledore, printing an article where he spills the beans about what happened the year before with Voldemort, and gradually more people in the wizarding world start to accept Harry’s claims about Voldemort’s return. The disenchanted Weasley twins take advantage of it to revolt, unleashing relentless magical chaos throughout the school, while the staff purposely does nothing to help Umbridge regain control.
Throughout the year, Harry has disturbing dreams about running down a hallway and attempting to open a door in the Ministry’s Department of Mysteries. On Christmas Eve, he dreams he is a snake attacking Ron’s father. Mr Weasley is indeed found injured at the Ministry, suffering from severe venomous snakebites, causing Harry to fear that Voldemort is possessing him. In response, Dumbledore has Severus Snape teach Harry occlumency to block his mind from intrusion, but their mutual animosity ends their lessons prematurely. In the course of these lessons, Harry inadvertently sees one of Snape’s memories from his school years, and is shocked to see his father James Potter bullying Snape and acting as arrogantly as Snape always said that he did. He also notices (but is not surprised) that Snape refers to his mother as a mudblood2, despite the fact that she defended him. In the middle of his last OWL exam, Harry has a vision of Sirius being tortured at the Department of Mysteries, although Hermione suspects it may be a trap. Harry, with help from various members of Dumbledore’s Army, attempts to contact Sirius at Grimmauld Place via the Floo Network in Umbridge’s office fireplace, but he is caught. Believing that he is attempting to contact the fugitive Dumbledore, Umbridge interrogates Harry, who swears he does not know where he is. Umbridge summons Snape to bring truth serum, but Snape says he has run out. Before Snape leaves her office, Harry desperately tells him in code about his vision of Sirius. As he does this Hermione tricks Umbridge into thinking that Dumbledore has hidden his weapon in the Forbidden Forest, and in the forest they encounter the centaurs, who attack Umbridge and allow Harry and Hermione to escape.
Running back to the castle, they encounter Ron, and D.A. members Ginny, Neville and Luna, who insist on accompanying them. The students fly to London on the school’s Thestrals. Reaching the room in his dreams, The Hall of Prophecy, Harry sees that Sirius is not there, but notices a glass ball containing some kind of record, that has been labelled with his name. As soon as he takes it down off the shelf, a squad of Death Eaters surrounds them, including many of the recent escapees, and led by Lucius Malfoy. Malfoy reveals that Voldemort planted a false vision to lure Harry to the Ministry, as he is the only one (besides Voldemort himself) who can remove the prophecy from its shelf. The prophecy is “the weapon” Voldemort has been after the entire year. Harry and his friends heroically defend themselves, putting up a far tougher fight than the dark wizards expected, but are outmatched. As they are nearly defeated, members of the Order arrive, including Sirius. During the ensuing battle, the glass sphere that Voldemort was seeking is accidentally dropped and shatters, and the record is lost. However, just as Dumbledore arrives in person to help, Sirius is blasted with a spell by his Death Eater cousin, Bellatrix Lestrange, and falls backwards through a mysterious veiled archway. Lupin restrains Harry from going after him; Sirius Black is dead.
The Death Eaters are captured except for Bellatrix, whom Harry pursues into the Ministry’s atrium. Bellatrix is far more powerful, but is taken aback with horror when Harry taunts her that the prophecy has been destroyed, and their mission has failed. In rage, Voldemort appears in person and attacks Harry, but is confronted by Dumbledore. The two duel furiously, but each is unable to finish the other. In an attempt to break the stalemate, Voldemort possesses Harry and tortures him, hoping that Dumbledore will kill Harry to destroy Voldemort. However, in the midst of his torture, Harry re-visits his grief for Sirius, and Voldemort is unexpectedly repelled by the emotion. Fudge and the Aurors arrive in time to see the Dark Lord before he Disapparates, taking Bellatrix with him. Fudge finally admits that Voldemort has returned.
Speaking alone to Harry in his office, Dumbledore reveals that he has kept many things hidden from Harry over the past five years. For instance, why he placed the baby Harry with the Dursleys and insists that Harry return to their home every summer, knowing what abusive guardians they are; the reason is, Dumbledore knew Voldemort would return one day, and that Harry would need the most powerful protection possible until he came of age. When his mother died to protect him, this created a powerful protective charm; as long as Harry stays at the house of his mother’s blood-relative long enough to call it home, it shields him in a way even Voldemort cannot overcome. The reason Dumbledore says he has kept this and other secrets hidden for so long is because he has been reluctant to burden Harry with the most terrible secret: the contents of the prophecy. The prophecy was originally made to him by Sybill Trelawney, while he was interviewing her for her teaching position. One of Voldemort’s followers overheard the first half of the prophecy, and reported it to him. Although there were actually two newborn boys whose parents fit the description in the prophecy (the other being Neville Longbottom), Dumbledore believes that Voldemort chose to attack Harry because he was a half-blood like himself, while Neville is a pureblood. In doing so, Voldemort inadvertently “marked him as his equal.” According to the prophecy, either Harry or Voldemort must destroy the other one day.
Dumbledore reveals that he cares very much about Harry, even to an unwise degree – Voldemort has always believed love to be a weakness that can be exploited, hence his use of Sirius to lure Harry to the Ministry. Dumbledore is reinstated at Hogwarts, and immediately rescinds all of Umbridge’s decrees. Umbridge herself is rescued from the forest by Dumbledore, and appears to still be in shock. Professor Trelawney is also reinstated, though Firenze stays on as well, since he has been expelled from the centaur herd. At King’s Cross station, several Order members are there to greet Harry and the Dursleys. Alastor Moody warns Uncle Vernon that if Harry is maltreated, they will intervene. Harry leaves to head back to 4 Privet Drive with the Dursleys, stopping once to look back towards his two best friends, Ron and Hermione.
You will note in my review for the Goblet of Fire I made an ordered listing of my favourite Harry Potter novels, and this one is ranked seventh (and last). There is a very good reason for that – Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is crap. Well, “crap” may be a harsh word to use but it is dreadfully poor compared some of the others. I found it boring and tedious, and in essence it is over seven hundred pages of nothing just to get to the death of Sirius Black. Ordinarily I would have absolutely loved the reign of Umbridge and the Nineteen Eighty-Four-esque nature of it but it just took so long to get to the main crescendo I was getting very annoyed waiting. But then the big climactic ending came in one hit and where Rowling had spent probably a hundred pages on one or two things before, it went from being in Umbridge’s office to the end of the fight in the ministry in scarcely fifty pages. It felt rushed and disjointed from the rest of the rest of the novel, kind of like it was just tacked onto the rest of it when Rowling had changed her mind over something in the book. Considering this took three years to write after its predecessor that is very disappointing for a serious fan. So it goes to show how plodding the middle of the book is when it takes up more than two thirds of the story while the main action is smushed into the final fifty or so pages – what it needed was a hard edit and a shaving of about 250 pages to trim the fat, then I think it would have been a much better novel than the end product that is still sold in stores.
There is one thing that I noticed about this novel years after, probably when I saw movie, but it is a wonderful paradox of Britain’s position to the Third Reich in the 1930s. The role of Neville Chamberlain, paranoid and scared, is taken by Fudge while Dumbledore acts as Winston Churchill, the only cool head warning of the imminent danger of Hitler’s counterpart, Voldemort. The way Fudge used the Daily Prophet to discredit Dumbledore and Harry is reminiscent of the way Chamberlain used the The Times to do likewise to Churchill, calling him a scaremonger among other things, mostly out of fear that Churchill was after his job as prime minister, which Fudge also accuses Dumbledore of. Britain’s cautious approach, dithering and deference to Hitler mimics the Ministry’s attitude on Voldemort while the issue of blood purification is prevalent throughout. The racial policy of the Nazi Party is very similar to Voldemort’s stance on non-magical people, and like Hitler he believed it was his destiny to cleanse the world of those people. Dumbledore and Churchill, in the end, were vindicated by their claims and Fudge and Chamberlain were ruined. It is a real pity that never occurred to me when I first read it, for it is a wonderful paradox created by J.K. Rowling, and I doff my hat at her for it.
Still, it is hard to recommend this novel, for I think a lot of Harry Potter fans will agree with me this is the “worst” (or least favourite if you’re politically correct) of the seven and most people’s least favourite. It just isn’t very interesting. It just doesn’t have the verve and excitement of the others either side of it, and sticks out like a sore thumb in a group of brilliance. There is too much of nothing to read to make it as entertaining as the others, it is just too long. For me, I think the best way to sum it up for newcomers to Harry Potter (are there any?) is read it if you want to, but for casuals wanting something to do just watch the movie. Although that was almost as boring too.
1 OWLs are a form of test done at the end of the fifth year to examine competency and magical knowledge
2 Mudblood is an offensive racial slur aimed at wizards whose parents are both non-magical, equivalent to n*gger