From my favourite Harry Potter book, to my least favourite.
I wasn’t sure how I’d feel re-reading Order of the Phoenix, because there are just so many parts that I found painful when I first read it. Not only does Harry have to put up with more s**t than ever before – including one of the most utterly loathed characters in the entire series – but this is arguably the book in which he himself is least likeable: teenage hormones, immature perspectives and a long list of burdens combine to create something of a monster.
I suppose the way I feel does say something for the quality of the writing, both here and in the previous books. I love Harry and I don’t want to see him acting this way. I don’t want to see him being called a liar, and being punished by a sadist, and losing people he really cares about. But the road of a hero is often a hard one.
So, deep breath, and let’s dive in.
Chapter 1 – Dudley Demented
- Already we see that Harry has developed even more of an attitude, talking back to all three of the Dursleys with more abandon than ever before. And while I can sympathise with his desire to be more involved with what’s going on elsewhere, I also recognise that he’s still a teenager – and he’s thinking like one too: there are quite a few good reasons why only limited information is being shared with him, but he would rather focus on why he’s not getting any respect.
- Even from the limited information in this chapter, we can gather that Hermione has been taken to the anti-Voldemort headquarters, which seems queer at first glance. It must just be recognition that Hermione’s friendship with Harry a) could put her and her family at risk and b) means she’s inevitably going to be involved to some degree, so really it’s quite savvy.
- Given that Dudley has entered his difficult teenage years as well, his tendencies to bully and get no repercussions have gone down a logical path – he’s a vandal now. Also, since Dudley barely had any dialogue in the last two books, it actually feels peculiar to see him having a proper conversation with Harry here.
- Interesting that when the Dementors approach Harry, the chief memory he now recalls is not his mother’s death but his battle with Voldemort – and that despite his current bad feelings towards them, it is the thought of Ron and Hermione that inspires his Patronus.
Chapter 2 – A Peck of Owls
- It’s unfortunate really that the revelation of Mrs Figg being a Squib didn’t come as that much of a surprise, because given Dumbledore’s reference to ‘Arabella Figg’ in the last book, the fan community had already guessed it.
- The series of letters create a good impression of the chaos that’s going on offscreen as Dumbledore tries to sort things out.
- “I heard – that awful boy – telling her about them – years ago.” This is one of the most brilliant pieces of foreshadowing Rowling has ever done. When the books were still being released, the fan community would pore over anything she said and try to find meaning in it – from wondering if the Mark Evans that Dudley beat up was related to Harry’s mother, to speculating if Snape has a son because Rowling once answered a question of parentage with “Snape doesn’t have a daughter” – but I can’t recall anyone questioning this. And why would they – because just like Harry, we have no reason to believe that the ‘awful boy’ was anybody other than James. And it’s so inconspicuous that there’s little reason to think about it afterwards; I didn’t remember it for a little while even after the revelations of Deathly Hallows.
- With the Dursleys so under pressure in this chapter, we get more into their heads than we have in previous books, with things like Uncle Vernon having “the appearance of a man struggling to bring the conversation back on to a plane he understood”, his rant at Harry towards the end of the chapter, and Aunt Petunia’s reaction to the knowledge that Voldemort is back.
- And Harry’s still being immature, with his desire for a ‘well done’ from somebody for fighting off the Dementors.
Chapter 3 – The Advance Guard
- Lupin’s back! Hooray!
- I like Tonks as a character: she’s fun and likeable, and her youth and uncertainty is unexpected from a character who’s a qualified Auror. However, I’m not so sure about the Metamorphmagus side: given that this has never been hinted at, the concept comes out of nowhere and feels like something a fanfiction writer would create.
Chapter 4 – Number Twelve Grimmauld Place
- Now we get the infamous Caps Lock rant as Harry unloads all his angst and resentment on poor Ron and Hermione. Ultimately Harry does have a right to express some anger at everything he’s been put through and how he’s been treated – but you can hardly say it’s Ron and Hermione’s fault; unfortunately, they just happen to be the people that Harry is most able to shout at. At least he has the decency to feel guilty afterwards.
- Ginny, like a few other characters, really starts progressing in this book. She already feels very different from previous books as she comes into the bedroom and confidently joins in the conversation on an equal footing, already getting a significantly higher proportion of dialogue than she’s had before. I like it a lot: we can start getting a proper feel for who she is outside of her crush on Harry.
- Percy turning his back on his family feels like an arc coming to a head. It’s always been easy to imagine that Percy is embarrassed by his family and his low-income roots, which is why he has more of a professional attitude than any of his siblings and is so determined to obey the rules of the world he lives in and make something of himself. So when it comes down to a choice between following his family whom everyone else is questioning, and taking the opportunity for advancement under the wing of the Minister, it’s perfectly believable that he’d choose the latter, to the point of convincing himself that Fudge’s current views on Harry are correct despite what he’s witnessed personally.
- The way the Daily Prophet has been treating Harry really makes me mad: it’s bad enough for nobody to believe him, but to turn him into a joke and paint him as an attention-seeker is even worse.
Chapter 5 – The Order of the Phoenix
- Right from these early chapters, Fred and George have a bigger role and more screen-time in this story than in previous ones – which, of course, is no bad thing.
- It’s interesting to see how Sirius and Mrs Weasley – both of whom have served as parent substitutes for Harry and both of whom have his best interests at heart – still come into conflict over exactly what is best for Harry in this chapter. They represent two extremes: Sirius focussing on Harry’s more mature qualities and Mrs Weasley focussing on the fact that he’s ultimately still a minor.
- “But Dumbledore says he doesn’t care what they do as long as they don’t take him off the Chocolate Frog cards.” I couldn’t not include that line.