June 26, 2003

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

WARNING: Possible Spoilers Ahead! Proceed at your own risk.

OK, I stayed up until after midnight last night to finish this, and I went away well-satisfied. It was great--the best Potter yet. Jane's reading it now, and it's taking her far longer to get up than usual. The kids are too young to care, and of course are completely oblivious to the whole thing.

For once I have to disagree with Ian Hamet. In my review of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, I said that I was dissatisfied with the character development in book; in his comment on that review, he said I'd probably be similarly dissatisfied with this one. Not so! All of the major characters do a certain amount of growing, there are many more minor characters, and we get a much better sense of them. I was especially impressed with yinny Weasely and Neville Longbottom. As Deb said, the kids are finally beginning to act like teenagers, as we see with Harry and Cho Chang. But not only are the hormones raging, they are also beginning to take responsibility--the establishment of Dumbledore's Army is a case in point, and a juicy one.

And then there's Professor Umbridge--what a delightfully evil creation she is. Not for her the deed grandiose; instead, she's a master of bureaucratic evil, of the death of a thousand cuts. Rowling understands that evil can be most effective when it is small, stupid, and just plain mean, especially when it is cloaked with righteousness and respectability. I'm thinking of Professor Umbridge's detention punishment: writing sentences with a pen that painfully draws blood from the back of your hand.

But Umbridge is not only arrogant, she's also stupid. By alienating the faculty as well as the student body she assures her downfall. And wasn't it delightful to watch Professor McGonagle give Peeves hints on the proper way to unscrew a crystal chandelier from the ceiling?

Indeed, there were so many wonderful moments that I hesitate to list them all: the organizational meeting for Dumbledore's Army; the moment when Dumbledore announces that he's found a new Divination instructor; the way the students and faculty of Hogwarts join forces against Professor Umbridge; the battle at the Ministry of Magic; Malfoy's final comeuppance on the Hogwarts Express.

The one thing I disliked was the lack of any kind of redemption or forgiveness for anybody. For example, Harry's supposed to be great-hearted; but he isn't great-hearted enough to forgive Snape, even after learning the root of Snape's dislike. He's unhappy at having his image of his father darkened, but he has no sympathy for his father's victim. It's likely that Snape would have rejected any advances of friendship or reconciliation that Harry might have made...but I do think Harry should have tried.

Posted by Will Duquette at June 26, 2003 08:45 AM

Ian said:

Disagreement with me is usually the sign of a keen and perceptive mind. ;)

I think that Harry's failure to approach Snape again is perfectly in keeping with his character and age, though. (It may also be a setup for the next book.)

He's just had one of the foundations of his self-image seriously eroded in a drastic way. No longer is he like his father, the all-around great guy that everyone said he was; he is now like his father the bully and self-centered jerk. Harry's attempts to have this revelation eased or contradicted come to nothing.

Up to this point, he's been the put-upon innocent. Now, at least as far as his relationship with Snape, he feels he deserves the scorn and derision to some extent. I don't think he realizes that even trying to mend things with Snape would prove him a better man than his father at that age.

But, naturally, I'm probably wrong again. :)

Will Duquette said:

The interesting thing is, as a fifth year Harry is already a better person than his father was at the same age. His father was a golden boy/bully/trouble maker; Harry knows too well what it's like to be bullied to bully others, he sticks up for others who are being bullied, and has (at least) since his first flying lesson as a first year. At a time when his father was still an obnoxious insensitive git, Harry is teaching his peers Defense against the Dark Arts.

So I shouldn't be too hard on him.

But he'd better at least try to reach out to Snape before the end of the series.

Ian said:

Oh, I agree. But I don't think Harry sees that just yet.

The way I read it, the blow of realizing what a jerk his father was made him feel like he was no better. I think once he realizes it, though, he will reach out and try to make amends.

Will Duquette said:

I'm hoping that he has a similar realization with regard to his Aunt Petunia. She's a real piece of work, and no example of a fine human being, but she does prevent Harry's uncle from throwing him out of the house. Perhaps it's only fear of Dumbledore--or perhaps she really doesn't want to see him dead.

Deb said:

Hi guys!
Aunt Petunia only keeps Harry out of fear of Dumbledore--he sends her the howler in the kitchen before she finally puts her foot down.

Did you guys get the impression that Rowling was messing with our minds thru the whole thing, just a little. She lets out just before publication that someone is going to die and then nearly kills off a bunch of people before Sirius goes "behind the curtain." And Hermione at the end saying you'll be hearing from her "real soon"--after Rowling has said that the next book wont take as long. And Rowling took a few critical hits about the Uranus joke in the last book so she repeats it a couple times over in this book...

And why did she let Professor Umbridge get away? Shouldnt she have at least gotten some punishment for what she did--I think she'll turn up again.

I agree that Snape is going to be one of the critical characters in Harry's development in the next couple books. I think he needs some time to digest what he's learned about his family before he will be able to make the leap into maturity and at least make a gesture towards Snape. Snape, on the other hand, is the adult in the relationship and, really, dont you think it's time for him to get over what happened to him when he was a kid. I want to know why Dumbledore has such faith in him.

Will Duquette said:

The thing is, Dumbledore always has a reason. We found out in this book why Trelawney has been teaching at Hogwarts despite her incompetence. We found out in the last book why Dumbledore has insisted on leaving Harry with the Dursleys. I'm sure there's a reason why Umbridge was allowed to leave, and I'm sure there's a reason why Dumbledore trusts Snape.

Here's a thought--didn't Snape nearly die due to a prank played by Harry's father and his friends? What if Dumbledore was responsible for saving Snape's life? Snape's a difficult man, but he might be motivated by loyalty to Dumbledore rather than by any desire to be "good".

Emily McFadden said:

It takes a very keen eye, and a very open mind to understand what Harry is going through. And I think if we are truley honest with ourselves, we do see where both Snape and Harry come from. I think Hary and Snape are as munch the same as they are different. They might have found this out...but they both through it out the window...they where this close. I still think that Snape is not that stupid to even consider Harry as James...Snape is alot of things...but he's no coward...but then again, some scars can never heal.

wenderlin said:

I have to say i find that the 5th book is the best so far. Especially umbridge been so delightfully nasty. i hate her sooo much. but it makes the story interesting. finally harry is not been favoured as always. but in this story fred and goerge are total heroes when it comes to paying umbridge back. i love it!!!
i think that snape shouldnt be thought of as the bad guy because i feel sorry for him. thruout the book you see hints of his childhood and it makes you want to hug him. harry is a goody- goody and snape has every right to loath him.
mcgonagle is truly amazing in this story. how she talks to umbridge.
u go girl!!!