This week we take a look at the longest novel of the Harry Potter series. My hardcover copy is so thick, I stood on it to change a light bulb. It’s so heavy, I needed an extra bag to tote it along when reading on my daily commute. It’s 760+ pages of drama, death, danger, defensive action, and more than one dastardly villain. It also divides much of the fandom between those who love it and those who were dragged downwards into hate.
The biggest failing of Order of the Phoenix is definitely its length, and that it leaves nothing out. There’s some clever and discreet foreshadowing of the final books and some good political satire hiding in there, and there’s some deep and heavy characterization, but at the core it’s a little too muddled to stand alone as a fantastic novel.
I actually remember the first time I ever read Order of the Phoenix, because I was a mostly-independent adult by then and had to queue at the local bookstore to buy it on day one, and I remember that my first and biggest complaint was how grouchy and unreasonable Harry is for most of the story. He throws a temper tantrum at his two best friends the instant he sees them (Chapter 4), he brattily hides in is room feeling like the victim in Chapter 23, and he has zero sensitivity when it comes to the awkward first date with Cho in Chapter 25. These traits were off-putting to me at first read, and are still off-putting to others to this day.
Looking at it critically, though, it could be fair to say this is entirely accurate and expected behavior from a teenage boy in the throes of puberty. As annoying as it is to read, I can’t actually fault it for realism. Teenagers are selfish, they’re unpredictable and bratty and hopelessly unable to see a bigger picture. Come to think of it, Ron Weasley went through the exact same phase one book prior. Hermione seems to be the only character exempt from the hormonal craziness of the average mid-teen, but perhaps her scholarly focus and determination (and her above-averageness in general) allow her to conquer and rise above emotions that she can objectively deem to be petty and unnecessary.
The magic two-way mirror that Sirius gives Harry instead ends up, in this full-adult reread, as my biggest overall gripe: why didn’t Sirius give it to Harry sooner (removing the need for the dangerous fireplace conversations through Goblet of Fire) or cut the stupid mystery and tell him what was in the package at Christmas? Heck, when Harry risks expulsion to chat to Sirius about the Marauder’s behavior at Hogwarts (Chapter 29), why didn’t Sirius ask then why Harry hadn’t used the mirror he now had in his possession? Clearly, it was an idea Rowling came up with after GoF was already finished, possibly even very late in the finalizing stages of this book, and which she felt would add emotional oomph and pave the way for the sliver of mirror to have a place in the final installment The Deathly Hallows. But really… she couldn’t even cover it up with a throwaway line from Sirius like “I thought I’d never find this again”???
Next grievance from this adult reread: Slytherin go from favorites to win the house Quidditch Cup to not even in the final, with a hurriedly glossed-over sentence (Chapter 30) for a plot device that, really, only exists to set Ginny vs. Cho as the final Seekers together, after Harry is given detention by Snape… It is well known that Rowling detested writing the Quidditch scenes (who could blame her – they’re as much a chore to read!) but, given the overall importance of Draco Malfoy, Slytherin seeker, and even the important-enough-to-rate-mention Hufflepuff seeker and overall pompous twat Zachariah Smith, couldn’t Rowling have at least spared half a paragraph to explain why the Slytherins were still happy to cackle and sing their anti-Gryffindor anthem (Weasley is our king) when their own chances at the cup had been blown??
Then there’s Umbridge. Ridiculous, unrealistic, loathsome, a dictator somehow getting away with dictatoring in an otherwise fair and democratic world. Worthy of a cry of “bullshit!” just because she is so utterly repugnant and remorseless. Its lucky this saga is set in the innocent era before our current levels of social media and online information became the norm; there is no way our tech-savvy modern generation would have stood for the magic-wand-wave that allowed Umbridge to exist unprotested in public office in the events of HP5 were set in late 2016!
Yes, Order of the Phoenix has many flaws. It stands out the best, I think, only if you view it as a turning point in the series: the last attachments of childhood are to be finally and wholly thrown off to usher in the awkward and scary young adulthood that the main characters and readers alike were all journeying through. Some (like Hermione) have possibly already conquered that transition and find themselves adjusting, blinkingly, haltingly, to the actual adulthood that follows. This is where the HP saga proves itself worthy, again and again, of the attached fandom – together, we struggle, we rage against hormones and injustice, we battle loss, we accept triumph where we can… and we grow up.
O.W.L Report Card
Moments when Muggle technology could’ve saved the day:
Our boring-but-fair justice system seems to win out over the wizards and their disastrous attempt to discredit Harry in court for “underage magical misconduct” in the early chapters. Really, is there not one witch or wizard (Madam Bones stands out as a likely ally) who would see through the corrupt and clearly lying evilness that is team Umbridge/Fudge?
Moments Hermione was the real hero in this saga:
The final act in the Ministry of Magic was another of her finest hours, showing again and again how a cool head (eg. marking identical doors when they’re known to shift from position) is sometimes all it takes to save many lives or prevent dark and dangerous injuries.
Moments the movie did better:
How about that adorable moment when Emma Watson broke character — just a little bit — by cracking into genuine laughter at her line of dialogue lifted straight out of the book (Ron having the emotional range of a teaspoon from Chapter 21), causing the boys to laugh too, and genius director David Yates not just keeping cameras rolling, but using that take as final cut. Totes adorbs. We are supposed to like these people, after all!!
Final Grade: A (for Acceptable in the O.W.Ls)