Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling

The things you remember about a book, set the tone for re-reading it. What I remembered about HP and the Order of the Phoenix was mostly Dolores Umbridge, that toadlike woman with the high-pitched voice who was cruel beyond measure. And the killing of Sirius Black by his cousin Bellatrix LeStrange. What I forgot about was the disturbing tone of malice and self-pity in it.

Of all the Potter-books this can easily be called my least favorite and I think that many would agree with me. All through the book, the main character is moping and screaming and feelings sorry for himself. The premise of having a likable character is for the first time in the series broken. Other than others people, though, I see a reason for it: Voldemort has high-jacked Harry’s mind and though he might not be conscious of it from the beginning, his evil persona is leaking into Harry. While this is an explanation, it does not change the fact that Harry becomes a brat. The parts in which he is thinking about his situation become tiresome, he is self-centered and becomes obsessed with his own well-being. From the narrating standpoint this is understandable but still rather annoying.

It does not help the story that Ron is pretty much ignored throughtout the book. While Fred and George and even Ginny Weasley all get their moments to shine, the one book in which Ron supercedes his best friend it happens mostly on the sidelines and is overshadowed by his remarkably clumsy and self-conscious performance during Quidditch-practice.

Hermione, on the other hand, is one of the brighter spots in this book. On the whole, it offers us more insight into and great “performances” of the female characters. Hermione has grown from a know-it-all (a very likable one) to somebody who is knowledgable and brave and quite feisty. She is the hero of the book (which should probably make it my favorite) without being the hero at all (if Rowling had put her focus on Hermione instead of Potter’s wallowing it might have been). It is Hermione’s idea to practice Defence Against the Dark Arts, she is the one who silently protests Umbridge’s desastrous teaching methods while Harry screams his head of and gets detention. In the end, Rowling has to bodily harm Hermione just so that Harry can shine. She is also the glue that holds the friends together and expands it to Ginny and Neville. She shows compassion where noone else is even capable to understand the problem. The one weak point in her story is all the times Harry has to push her out of harm’s way – it happens three or four times in this book…

Hermione develops into a younger version of Professor McGonagall. And finally the question we all asked ourselves (well, at least I did many times) is posed by a Ravenclaw: why is Hermione not in Ravenclaw? Hermione answers that the Sorting Hat contemplated about it but finally put her into Gryffindor which would mean that her bravery is greater than her intelligence… and Harry Potter is the hero of the books? It is hard to follow this line of reasoning. I guess, the standard male hero overruled the better-suited female hero because he sells better. And yes, I am annoyed by this and have been ever since I watched the first film and read the first book.

But let’s not dwell on this and get back to the Order… there is a lot of information in the book. We finally get a look into the realms of the Ministry of Magic but also learn that it is lead by a weak character and thus useless in the fight against Voldemort. The whole magical world becomes suddenly bigger through new settings like St. Mungo’s Hospital and 12, Grimmauld Place. Rowling tells us about giants and criticizes the various forms of discrimination that the wizarding world constitutes, something that can actually help Voldemort regain power.

What makes the Potter-books such a success are the chapters, or scenes, that stay with you after you closed the book. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is a very dark novel with a hero that loses a lot of his charm and momentum. The stress is wearing him down. Here is a boy who has been through a lot and the stress is finally getting to him. This should make him more realistic but ultimately estranges him not only from his peers but also from the readers. So, maybe it is the lack of memorable, enjoyable scenes within the book, or maybe it is the overwhelming presence of evil and stupidity that even infiltrates Hogwarts – a place that has so far been a sanctuary. One things, though, is made very clear: this book has been written for an older readership than the ones before it. The books seem to grow with Harry and his coming-of-age is approaching in the form of his worst enemy.

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