Jul 9, 2011

Harry Plotter: Book 5

Ron and Hermione just don't understand.
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix came out in 2003, three years after The Goblet of Fire. The book follows Harry, Hermione, and Ron as they enter into their 5th year at Hogwarts, encountering a lot more than Skiving Snackboxes. With Voldemort’s arrival at the end of his 4th year hushed by the Ministry of Magic and The Daily Prophet, Harry is once again a student at odds with the world. He is treated the same (if not worse) than he was in his second year when people assumed he was the Heir of Slytherin. In this ridiculously long book, Harry and his cohorts wage battles against the forces of evil, be they at Hogwarts (the delightfully wicked Dolores Umbridge) or elsewhere (the unhinged Bellatrix Lestrange, Lucius Malfoy, and Voldy himself). A lot happens in this book, including the formation of Dumbledore’s Army, a battle at the Ministry, bloody detentions, fifth year exams, and the death of a major character, yet the whole thing feels overly long, stuffed with awkward moments. In particular, Harry being possessed by Voldemort is often likened to puberty, a comparison that no one wants to hear. (Spoilers Ahead)

The seven years at Hogwarts, when viewed together, have a reflexive quality. Each
book (excluding the 4th) has a clear mirror book. The books correspond thusly: 1 to 7, 2 to 6, and 3 to 5, with the second of the pair representing a deepening of themes in the first. With Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, the major plot reflected from the third book is Harry learning more about his father, James. Until The Prisoner of Azkaban, James is only known about him except that he was Harry’s almost-doppelganger who was good at Quidditch and good with the ladies. In Book 3, Harry meets all of James’ childhood chums, including coward Peter Pettigrew, teacher/werewolf Remus Lupin, and convicted (though innocent) murderer Sirius Black. Harry learns that his father was a man that believed in loyalty, was trustworthy to a fault, and was a bit of a trickster (conveniently learned through the Marauder’s Map). He also thinks he learns why Professor Snape hates him so much and he gains a Godfather.

Free your mind, and the rest will follow.
In the fifth book, Harry gains a deeper, if not incredibly pleasant, understanding of his father. Though a deflected memory of Severus Snape’s (Yay for convenient Occlumency lessons), Harry sees that his father is not a saintly figure but incredibly human, capable of malice and boastfulness. The books also represent a parallel in the life of Sirius Black. With book three we are introduced to this sad character who has never been whole since the death of his best friend, and in this book we see his demise.

Umbridge: fan of unorthodox punishment
In terms of great characters, HP5 three new additions to the fold. Dolores Umbridge is without a doubt one of the finest villains ever put on paper. While Voldemort can often seem a bit otherworldly, Umbridge is grounded and completely terrible. She’s a malicious, toad of a woman whose punishments for misbehavior are borderline torture. It’s impressive. Bellatrix Lestrange is a horse of a different color. More evil in deed, perhaps, than Umbridge, but she is most dangerous because of her unflagging devotion of Voldemort. She loves him in a very Charles Manson follower-y way, pathetic as she is violent. Clearly unhinged from years in Azkaban, she has this crazy energy that plays out well on paper (and even better on screen). Luna Lovegood, Harry’s classmate, is also quite a lot of fun, and it’s good to see a character in the Harry Potter universe who unhinges everyone else around her. Her dopey energy really brings out the best in those around her.

Hermione grows a pair
This book actually feels more female-driven than the others in the series. Hermione has more to do than in any other book, with her creation of DA, her continued efforts in S.P.E.W., and her studying for O.W.L.s. Also, she stands up to Umbridge, which is pretty thrilling. Also, this is the first book with strong female antagonists, with both Lestrange and Umbridge. And, last but not least, Ginny is finally a character with a personality. She’s not just literary wallpaper.

All in all, though, the book feels over stuffed with pointless subplots and tons of J.K. Rowling writing about puberty in the strangest way possible. Do we need a long chapter on Valentine’s Day? No. Do we need Harry’s sexual urges compared to a monster rising from within? Absolutely not (and there’s more of that in Book 6). Clearly written from the perspective of a woman who doesn’t understand male puberty (and for good reason), the book often feels weighed down by Harry’s clumsily described libido.

Fight, Fight, Fight, Fight!
Still, the final battle is great, and the idea of Voldemort using his and Harry’s connection to his advantage is well-done. Sirius’ death feels like it means something. Harry is constantly losing father figures, and this loss is a doozy. Most importantly, Harry also gets a much-deserved apology from Dumbledore, who has been using Harry as a puppet for 5 years (and will continue to do so for two more years). He finally apologizes for all the shit he's put Harry through, and it actually feels like he means it. Probably too little, too late, but at least it exists.

So, the book isn’t perfect. It’s simply overstuffed and way too long, probably due in part to Rowling’s pressure to provide children and adults everywhere with a fantastic entry into the dark years of Harry Potter. It’s mostly a success, but also, for the first time in the book series, vaguely a failure.
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