In this fifth book of the Harry Potter series, J.K. Rowling broadens the central story and develops more characters. Certainly a more mature novel, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is shrouded in the anxiety of Voldemort’s return and displays the very real risks and grief that accompany war.
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
Originally published: 2003, UK (and US)
Rating: 4 = Recommended Reading
With this novel, Rowling has even further expanded the world in this book series. As the bounds of the world expands—from Hagrid’s journey to the Giants to the Order of the Phoenix’s secret hideout in the middle of Muggle London—the complexity of the issues of this world deepen as well. As the wizarding world debates whether or not Voldemort has returned, Harry and his friends are swept up in the fear and anxiety of what they see as an impending war. Against this backdrop, Harry learns more about the First Wizarding War in which his parents lost their lives. The reader, of course, learns as Harry learns and comes to understand more of what will be at stake for Harry and his friends. The prophecy—a big focus of the book that isn’t revealed until the very end—is a huge plot point for the series as it speaks to the role Harry will have in the war to come. Rowling is able to make the larger world of the series deeper and more complex while still keeping it age-appropriate and contained.
Rising secondary characters
Having only watched the movies before starting this book series, I was very interested to read more about some of my favorite secondary characters Neville, Luna, and Ginny.
Neville’s development in The Order of the Phoenix is phenomenal. He is the overlooked underdog you always want to root for. In this novel you get a glimpse of his parents, get to meet his grandmother, and get to see his success as a developing warrior. Neville is a deeply loyal character who, like Harry, is also working through issues in his childhood left over from the First Wizarding War. He is transforming here from a meek, unconfident student into an important player in the upcoming war.
Luna is an odd character. Rowling seems to have gone out of her way to make her as strange as possible, but she is still surprisingly believable. Truly marching to the beat of her own drum, Luna is unflinchingly honest, loyal, and understanding. These traits equip her to be an excellent friend for Harry during this year when he is anxious, confused, and angry (SO angry).
Ginny is another character I’ve been excited to see more of in the books. She is bold, intelligent, and tells it like it is. She is unfazed by the wizarding community’s ever-changing perceptions of Harry, continuing to talk to him plainly and truthfully (and sometimes a big harshly). She is a girl who is coming into her own easily and powerfully—a good role model for self-esteem and confidence, really.
War and grief
Although the rest of the wizarding world isn’t truly convinced of Voldemort’s return until the end of the book (thanks, Ministry of Magic), for Harry, Dumbledore’s Army (a group of students Harry teaches Defense Against the Dark Arts), and the Order of the Phoenix, the upcoming war is quite real. There is an anxiety amongst Harry’s community about how the war will progress, how bad it is going to be this time, and what Harry’s role will be. Rowling shows unsurprising confidence here in meeting the dark elements of war head-on. She has not shied away from making her evil characters really evil in the past, so the reader can expect the events of the novel will get darker and more violent before they get any better. I was glad to see that when Harry, Ron, Hermione, Neville, Luna, and Ginny venture into the Ministry of Magic they are not only in grave danger as Death Eaters try to kill them but that no one is left without injuries (and some of them are quite bad).
Like the blunt, realistic oncoming war that Rowling describes, Harry’s grief toward the end of the novel is depicted believably. He experiences denial and anger as he deals with the reality of death after a grueling year psychologically with Occlumency lessons and his psychic link with Voldemort. It is again not surprising that Rowling does an excellent job here showing realistic emotions since she did such a great job with Harry’s psychological state at the end of the last novel, Goblet of Fire.
What Didn’t Work:
I feel like this is one of my main complaints of this series so far, but Order of the Phoenix also has pacing problems. This novel is longer than it needs to be because the pacing of the story is so slow. Harry’s dreams about the mysterious door and rooms, which begin at the very beginning of the novel and are explained at the very end, become annoying as the book progresses. On the one hand it is good to remind the reader of this eventual important plot element, but it is strung out so long the reader (or at least this reader) started to lose interest in the mystery. I almost didn’t care how it resolved as long as it did so soon. Similarly, the politics and issues of Order of the Phoenix at HQ dragged on. I am getting so tired of Harry’s hatred of Snape and his extreme fluctuations in his trust of Dumbledore. While there is a need to depict three-dimensional characters, repeating Harry’s visions or his mysterious, explosive anger over and over again isn’t the way to do it.
Relationship with Sirius
As a reader, I felt like I was told more often by Rowling how to feel about Sirius than I actually cared about Sirius. Rowling spends quite a bit of time telling the reader that Harry sees Sirius as his only family and how much Sirius cares for Harry, but their interactions in this book are few and mostly non-eventful. Sirius does tell Harry some more about the Black family, but he also spends more time moping around the Order’s HQ than really spending quality time with Harry. If Rowling wanted me to care more about Sirius, she should have included more Harry/Sirius bonding. Perhaps Sirius could provide more insight into Harry’s parents (you know he’s curious and yet he asks so few questions about them)? He could talk more about the First Wizarding War. Although the reader understands Harry’s connection with Sirius, it could have been constructed so that the reader shared some of this emotional connection, deepening their love for Sirius.
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is the second shortest film in the series at 138 minutes run time (narrowly beating out the Deathly Hallows Pt. 2 at 130 minutes). Since the book is nearly 900 pages, it is clear that editing the material down is the big challenge. While many good decisions were made like more montages-style transitions between events (like getting the thestrals to go to the Ministry or Umbridge’s teacher evaluations), this issue was certainly helped by the film being more thematic rather than strictly faithful to details. Umbridge’s tenure at Hogwarts, for example, kept some of the factual highlights but also sacrificed others to maintain the underlying tone of fear and repression. Overall, the movie was true to the book thematically, which makes it an important link in the film series.
I would have liked to see some details added or some parts expanded on since there was the time to do so. I was a bit disappointed in the Ministry battle which depicted the Death Eaters as more organized than they were (capturing a student or Order member each while standing in a perfect circle, for example) and reduced the violence so that the students seemed to come out physically unscathed. The role of the centaurs could have also been easily explained, especially if less time had been given to Trewlany’s showy dismissal. Additionally, I would have liked to see a few small details that would have taken little screen time to explain, like Ron and Hermione becoming prefects and Fred and George’s escape (including the ingenious swamp). I suppose these were difficult editing choices to make, but this is probably the first film in the series where I feel like viewers are missing out by not reading the book.
Although this book is a bit bloated, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix excellently broadens and deepens Rowling’s wizarding world and sets up the impending war with plenty of realistic anxiety and fear.