Harry Potter and The Order of The Phoenix

by J.K. Rowling, 2003

Three years have passed since Rowling’s last Harry Potter book and one would think that she’d decided to make up for it, writing three years worth of HP stories, as this fifth book in the series – "Harry Potter and The Order of the Phoenix" – has a whopping 1,000 pages!!

Readers of Rowling’s HP books will know by now that Rowling doesn’t master the art of limitation. She has always resorted to long, repetitious descriptions, monologues, dialogues and explanations, this fifth volume being no exception. She could easily lose up to half of the narrative (if not 2/3), without taking away any vital information. But still, something is different this time. Something is a bit better than usual as "Harry Potter and The Order of the Phoenix" turns out to be the best in the series so far.

Harry is in a fix this time, as no one believes him or Professor Dumbledore, when they say that the evil sorcerer Lord Voldemort is back. Harry is introduced to The Order of The Phoenix, a secret society formed to battle the dark lord. After a disciplinary hearing at the Ministry of Magic, Harry is carted off to Hogwarts, where Dolores Umbridge, the new teacher in Defence Against the Dark Arts and High Inquisitor appointed by the Ministry, unfolds her terror-reign. She gleefully tortures her students and in the end the Hogwarts students fight back.

Right from the beginning of this volume, it is clear that the HP series has improved. The usual intro with Harry living with the Dursleys (his aunt, uncle and cousin) is nowhere near as annoying as usual. Instead it fuses Harry’s two lives together, the mundane one at the Dursleys and the magic one at Hogwarts. Very good indeed! But as in previous books it takes forever to get to the plot. We first have to encounter Dementors in Little Whinging, the Phoenix Order Headquarters in London and Harry’s disciplinary hearing at the Ministry of Magic before we – 250 pages into the book – are ready to take off for Hogwarts and the heart of the story.

We learn about the mental connection between Harry and Lord Voldemort, which Harry’s scar provides, and there’s a pleasant balance between the plot of the book (the battle against Umbridge) and the plot of the series (the battle against Voldemort), at least in the first 500 pages. Then things get a little static. As usual Rowling feels the need to bring in side-stories in such huge amounts that we almost lose track of the plot. The chapters about Gilderoy Lockhart, the centaur Firenze and the giant Grawp are much too long and rather unnecessary and why do we need to hear about the romance between Harry and Cho? It’s over before it has begun, for God’s sake!!

Instead Rowling could do with a bit of explaining, for instance I’d like to know how Harry got the Marrauder’s Map back. He didn’t have it when HP4 ended, but in HP5 he has it back, and it would be nice to know how he managed to retrieve it from a (dead) Death Eater during the summer!

Narrator-wise "Harry Potter and The Order of The Phoenix" makes excessive use of letters, news paper articles, thoughts and dreams to explain what is happening just like in HP4. The book ends in the Department of Mystery where one of the adult protagonists dies in one of the most ridiculous deaths I’ve ever seen in a book. I mean, come on, death by curtain?? On top of that the fighting scenes are too long and although it’s a fight for life or death it gets annoyingly boring. The last 50 pages are purely exposition as usual, which is quite boring as well.

Besides the horrible Dolores Umbridge, HP5 introduces the auror Tonks (a metamorphmagus who can change her appearance at will) and the delightful fifth year Ravenclaw student Luna Lovegood. Her wackiness is very welcome. Especially now that we have to do without Percy, who has started to work for the Ministry and turned his back on his family in order to please the inefficient Minister for Magic.

Of the main protagonists, you’ll find that most of the youngsters have changed a lot. Harry himself comes across as an angry, wronged kid and his friends Hermione, Ron and Neville have all changed as well. Hermione is being more rebellious, Ron slightly nasty and Neville quite bright. The biggest change you’ll find is in Ron’s younger sister Ginny who has turned from a timid, shy little girl to a bright and brazen man-eater (although she’s only 14). It is – to say the least – not very believable.

Rowling gives a vague explanation saying that Ginny has changed because she’s got a boyfriend, but it doesn’t really ring true. Rowling tries to turn Ginny into a cross between her two older brothers, the twins Fred and George, but that is stretching it a bit too far as Rowling has already made similar connections between the twins and Harry/Ron.

In the books Harry has always been closer to George than to Fred as Harry and George are both thoughtful rebels, whereas Ron and Fred are flippant and a bit superficial. That Ginny now has to resemble the twins too, even down to their excellent Quidditch skills, seems a bit over the top. Maybe Rowling has come to realise that the twins are the best characters in the books so everyone else has to resemble them? In any case, Fred and George are still my favourites, they are brilliant in this book, developing products for their intended joke shop, rebelling against Umbridge and leaving Hogwarts prematurely. But unfortunately they leave the story when there are still 200 pages of the book to go!

All in all the protagonists are changing a lot on different levels. Although Ginny’s got a boyfriend and Harry is involved with Cho, a streak of homosexuality seems to have emerged at Hogwarts. Just like previous books mentioned Charlie Weasley’s zoophilia (he loves dragons), obscure hints and subtleties about Lucius/Snape, Remus/Sirius, Sirus/James, Harry/Ron, and even Fred/George and Dumbledore/Harry can now be found. Oh well, at least we get to know that Snape was right in saying that Harry’s dad was arrogant in his youth, although Rowling tries to retract her statement later on.

"Harry Potter and The Order of the Phoenix" is much darker than previous HP books and the sinister feel is very becoming. The first half of the book is really good, good enough for four stars, but the second half drags it down a bit. Anyway, I’ll risk giving HP5 four stars as after all I’m not sure I’ll get a second chance of awarding a HP book that many stars!

Four out of five stars: ****

@ Lise Lyng Falkenberg, 2003