Thursday, July 9, 2009

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

“This is precisely why I loathed being a teacher! Young people are so infernally convinced that they are right about everything.” –Phineas Nigellus Black

The aspect of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix that many find hard to endure is Harry himself. He is an angry, spoiled, self-pitying brat; in other words—a teenager. It really can be annoying at times, but the book is as good as or better than any other in the series, and some even consider it the best. Rowling really does a great job of capturing the know-it-all, self-centered nature of the teen mind and even incorporates it into the plot. Much of the story this year is not just clouded by Harry’s attitude, but is driven by it. To be fair, Harry’s anger is not all his own fault, and one of the more fulfilling aspects of the story is that, unlike many teens, Harry does come to recognize his error and learn from it.

There are many, many stand-out scenes in this book that develop character and deliver a lot of tension and its accompanying emotional pay-off:

The Trial that Harry faces to see if he will be punished for performing magic away from school looms over much of the opening chapters. When it finally comes, the interplay between Dumbledore and Fudge builds upon the tension in Goblet’s great chapter “The Parting of the Ways.” In many ways, the themes of power grabbing and reality denial or even appeasement in government are the biggest in this book. Dumbledore is especially good in this scene (something that is a big letdown in the cinematic re-imagining, but more on that tomorrow.)

Mr. Weasley’s attack and the aftermath over the Christmas break are especially hard to read. Just a reminder of how serious the series has become when dealing with the reality of evil and death.

Neville grows a lot as a character. His role as the series goes on becomes more and more important. There is a lot that can be said about Neville, but some of it must wait until the discussion of the movie. One interesting thing revealed here is how similar Neville and Harry actually are. When the prophecy is revealed at the end of Order, we discover that the only thing that kept Harry’s fate from going to Neville was a simple calculation on the part of Voldemort.

This year’s Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, Umbridge, is yet again an incredible character. As a one-off enemy, she may be the best character-you-love-to-hate in the whole series. The only ones that manage to best here are series long characters Snape and Voldemort. In some ways, she is hated even more because she is not supposed to be a bad guy; at least with the baddies you expect evil. Her evilness is somehow more offensive.

The Weasley teens, Ginny, McGonagall and Hagrid all have moments to shine like never before. And, as always, Rowling shows an incredibly fun imagination describing such things as the fifth year exams and the peculiar role of the Headmaster Portraits. All in all it is worth the effort to read this entry, even though it is nearly as long as the first three books combined!

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