Friday, October 1, 2010

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix Book Review

If you haven’t read my review of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire yet, take a look before reading on!  Also, just to warn you: the Harry Potter books have been out for anywhere from 3-13 years and have been made into movies, games, fanfiction, et cetera, as well as being a hot topic in the news and just about everywhere else; therefore I will be making absolutely no effort to avoid spoilers in these reviews discussions of the books so for the uninitiated, read at your own risk.

Let me start off by saying that this blog post has been a long time coming.  A long time.  I finished the book weeks ago and, ideally, would like to have finished my post about it the next day, but just couldn’t bring myself to write it and when I finally did it came out discouragingly negative.  It’s not that I don’t like Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.  I do.  I just don’t love it.  My feelings about it in general are pretty mixed, which seems to be the consensus with this installment of the series.  Some people seem to love it while some were turned off to either Harry Potter in general or Harry Potter in character.  I am caught somewhere in between – I like it because, well, it’s still Harry Potter but I see it’s many flaws.

I guess the most irritating and off-putting aspect of the novel is Harry’s repeated tantrums and unwarranted outbursts, most of which are directed at his two best friends.  Every time I turned a page and saw sentence in all caps or, worse yet, all caps and italics, my reaction would be Ugh.  Really Harry?  Again?  It’s obnoxious and immature but, to be fair, also very real.  Who didn’t sometimes shout as a kid?  Who doesn’t still sometimes shout, often without real provocation?  It happens.  And Harry has his reasons.  He’s not just experiencing stereotypical teenage angst; at the end of the fourth novel, he had to watch a fellow student die and what happened after that?  He was sent away to live with people he hates and forced to be kept in the dark, without any sort of explanation or anybody to talk to about what he was feeling.  The understandable fear, confusion, and sadness he felt at Cedric’s death understandably transmute into anger at the person or people who he feels is forcing him to continue to suffer these emotions alone.  As Dumbledore says at one point, “Indifference and neglect often do much more damage than outright dislike” (834).  Though he speaks these words in regards to the treatment of house elves, they apply here as well.  His own apparent neglect of Harry over the school year turned Harry’s pain to anger, his tears to bile.  Harry’s behavior is not wholly unjustified; in fact, it’s often identifiable and reasonable.

Of course, considering that it’s Dumbledore’s neglect that leads to Harry poor behavior, it seems rather unfair that Harry should take out his angst on his friends.  I found an interview in which Rowling talks about this: “…kids were saying, ‘I don't understand why he's shouting at Ron and Hermione. I mean, I'd shout at my parents. I would never shout at my best friends.’ But he has no one else to shout at.”  Harry has no parents and his only family is clearly not an option, so he takes his pain out on his best friends.  Why?  Because they’re there, because they’ll listen, because they won’t hate him for it.  I think Rowling has hit on something here – the reasons adolescents rage at their parents is because of that link, that knowledge of a love that can never break their ties.  Without conscious realization, they know that their parents, like Lily Potter, would die for them, would not abandon them at their darkest hour.  We need to unload our pain and confusion and unhappiness on somebody and, sadly, it tends to be those people closest to us, because they are the ones who will forgive us for it.  I know that I, regretfully, do it to my husband.  Who do you do it to?

As much as this irritates me, Rowling does craft an important lesson here – our heroes and leaders aren’t infalliable.  They make mistakes, they yell at their friends, sometimes they even act a little cocky.  All very true, but I think that Rowling is a little heavy-handed with it.  How many times do we have to cringe at Harry’s behavior to get the point?  I guess what I’m really saying is that the novel is too long.  Don’t get me wrong – I appreciate long story lines.  That’s why I read thousands of pages of this series and why I prefer TV series to movies.  However, I also like to get to the point, which Rowling sometimes fails to do in this installment.  She often returns to the pre-Goblet of Fire style of narration that includes lots of whimsical descriptions of how awesome and silly and terrifying magic is, something that Harry and his readers are already used to.  Yeah, a word or a sentence here or there isn’t going to change much but over and over I was finding places where she could have trimmed a bit, which would result in an improvement.  The writing seems to be going backwards, which is rather disappointing after the recent improvements.

How about some things that I out-and-out like about Order of the Phoenix?  I love the side-plot of Harry’s relationship with Cho.  I think it’s just so apt.  He’s had a crush on the girl for years but when he finally manages to get her on the same page, it’s just disappointing.  She’s weepy and jealous, and her friend betrays him and all his friends, and Harry’s confused because he thinks he likes her, but it’s nothing like he thinks it should be, and he kind of hates her, and the whole relationship just fades away into nothingness.  I’ve had one noteworthy relationship like this and I felt the same confusion and unhappiness that Rowling portrays in Harry.  Rowling also does a really good job of keeping Harry’s relationship with Cho from dominating the narrative at any time.  Harry maintains perspective, something that people often assume kids don’t do in this kind of situation, and that’s very important.

I also really love the scene set in the Department of Mysteries.  It’s done so cleverly – there are all these different doors to choose from and behind each sits some new, heretofore unheard of form of magic to confuse and beguile.  It’s a really great setting for a battle – a labyrinth containing dangers and horrors and beauties that cannot be imagined, with consequences that are as involved in the outcome of the battle as the players themselves.  Also just the fact that Harry’s yearly battle is set somewhere other than Hogwarts is nice.  The graveyard in Goblet of Fire is also obviously set apart from Hogwarts, but being nonmagical it doesn’t have the same impact.  It’s nice to see the adult magical world on multiple occasions in Order of the Phoenix, as a reminder that magic isn’t just for children and that there’s more to magic than what Harry understands.
Don't you love that somebody made this?!
Overall, I’m not so sure that Order of the Phoenix  is really necessary to the series.  Nothing really happens or is accomplished.  Voldemort keeps to himself for the most part and the wizarding world goes on nearly the same as before.  Yeah, Harry finds out about the prophecy but I don’t think that’s enough to justify an 800+ page book.  Rowling doesn’t really move the story forward with this installment, which is disappointing.  Except for the prophecy and Sirius’s death, the story could skip from Goblet of Fire to Half-Blood Prince without us losing much, and those two elements could easily be fit in somewhere else.  And while we’re on the topic, does Sirius really have to die?  His death turns a generally gloomy novel into an utterly depressing one.  Come on, Rowling.  Smile a little.

I respect Order of the Phoenix for the fact that it manages to be captivating despite being irritating and depressing.  I enjoy it and don’t seem myself ever skipping it or anything in the future, but my overall feeling is very meh.  I appreciate it and understand it but I certainly don’t love it, on either an emotional or a literary level.  Of course, that’s only in terms of the other books – it’s much more readable than many books out there.  I give it a grudging I like it.  Just don’t get me started on the movie.*

*Okay, one thing about the movie – that’s not how the Room of Requirement works!

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