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

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

by J. K. Rowling, 1022 pages

Finished on 4th of February
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Harry suffers the consequences of people abusing their power, spreading misinformation out of fear and for personal gain, but takes matters into his own hands to make it through another year alive, suffering another big loss.

🎨 Impressions

You can still summarize the reason for the subsequent escalations in the Harry Potter series like this: lack of communication. The book, just like the ones before, plays with our tolerance for frustration but is a big lesson in staying honest and open, not harboring knowledge and information for your own superficial short-term benefits, but sharing it for the greater good.

Almost every single character in this universe abuses their power and this hits close to home. This is a major problem in our world, too. At times, it’s funny to read how that Ministry of Magic behaves regarding the looming threat of evil having arisen again, not unlike our politicians behave regarding the climate crisis, to name just one example. Everyone thinks about themselves and doesn’t regard the big picture. This includes the figures which tended to have a positive impact in Harry’s life, such as his godfather Sirius Black, but even Headmaster Dumbledore, who is the only one who acknowledges their own mistakes in the end.

This fifth book of this series has again pulled me in just like the previous ones did. With more than a thousand pages, it’s the longest one in the series, and it seems it’s somehow stretched out to be that long. Simultaneously, there’s so much happening, but also nothing really happening at all. Especially during the first half, which is ever so slowly picking up the pace, it seemed a bit like watching a Soap Opera or Reality TV. They do a bunch of stuff which is just normal teenager stuff. You could argue that it fleshes out the characters some more, and that might be true, but I often find it hard to believe that despite these immense threats hanging over the school, for the longest part almost everyone just seems to shrug and go about their lives as usual. It nearly made me lose interest and really longing for the story to finally pick up some steam.

You might read between the lines how invested in the story and characters I’ve become. I think this is a major achievement and the author J. K. Rowling is a genius for that. The books are all genuine 5 out of 5 stars books for me and so far there has been no weak one, the quality of all of them is right up there. It’s playing with our emotions so well, I can’t put it away. It’s also worth mentioning that there’s not a lot of offensive recap in the book. We have read all the books before, we don’t need it – good that Rowling now understood this.

People have told me that starting from the end of the forth book with the first major death, it’s getting darker as the series progresses. That’s true, there were a bunch of new elements, but it all still connects back to that big feeling of powerlessness you get from identifying with Harry. The beginning with that kafkaesque nod to “The Trial” / “Der Prozess”, in which Harry is almost put in jail for spreading, what the jury deemed false information, over the new main antagonist, Professor Umbridge, entering the lives of the students at school and immediately putting Harry into detention and forcing him to cut himself open to write lines with his own blood. Dark stuff and all getting unrecognized due to lack of communication.

Part of the story getting darker is also there being less and less positive pay-offs. In the early books, there were big wins for Harry and his crew every now and then, especially at the endings, but these have slowly diminished as the series progressed, and now in this book, the few tiny wins were all counter-acted immediately with big losses afterwards. One example is that just when Harry defeated the enemy team at Quidditch, a page after he is banned for life from playing Quidditch. That last bit of joy is taken from him as well. Or, right after being kissed by his love interest, he has the horrible vision of his friend’s father being violently attacked, which turned out to be true.

Another tiny win, the founding of Dumbledore’s Army and his interview about Voldemort in The Quibbler, which both have a positive turnout and show there are some people in the world who actually do believe him, is right away followed by the antagonist Umbridge gaining more power, his friend Hagrid having trouble with harboring a violent giant and therefore being preoccupied and not able to support and help Harry in any way, and the special lessons he receives from Professor Snape which are supposed to make him more immune to Voldemort’s tricks, going very wrong and ending. Hope is gained and lost right away.

There’s questionable behavior from a lot of people which borders on being not believable or even constituting plot holes, like when in the beginning of the book everyone in school doubts Harry that he’s actually seen Lord Voldemort resurrecting himself and killing Cedric Diggory, no one seems to question what actually happened to Diggory if it’s true that Harry lied. Shouldn’t there be an investigation into it? It could have been Harry who murdered him.

Professor Snape, one of the early antagonists, who is supposed to have an interesting story arc going forward, still behaves very oddly in this book. The guy must be a middle-aged person now, but he acts just so immature towards these powerless children. We learn about one of the reasons for it, he was bullied by the popular kids when aged 15 and a student at the school. So what, who hasn’t. Part of growing up is becoming stronger, gaining self-esteem, and realizing it doesn’t matter – this is a very thin explanation for his petty behavior, in my opinion, and doesn’t justify at all the ways in which he then behaves towards Harry when he finds out about that. Lots of characters here should go to therapy, by modern standards.

I can’t help but care about the story and these figures. At times I’ve read the book so late into the night the consequences of that lack of sleep were outweighed by my desire to find out if the heroes finally overcome the powerlessness and suffering. It scared me a little how much I cared.

Starting at about 85% into the book, we again get a very tumultuous and exciting showdown. I had to read these hundred pages in one sitting, had a high heart rate and got quite sweaty, it was that exciting to me. This time, it felt more like a description of a movie. This makes sense, I believe the publications of the movies where at about the time when Rowling wrote this book. She might have had in mind how this all will look on the big screen. It doesn’t hurt though, it’s a wild ride and lots of fun to read.

The conclusion of the book and the main outcome presented to us readers is that now finally the misinformation campaigns have ended. This happened sort of by accident and no one had real agency in that revelation, it’s all just so chaotic. The first 80% of the book weren’t really necessary to push the story along, but were still fine to read most of the time. After finishing the book, I had fun trying to put the whole story into two sentences. Here they are:

Out of fear of evil Voldemort and their own looming loss of power, the Ministry of Magic undermines every attempt from our wizarding heroes to stop evil from rising again, while Harry slowly finds out about his close connection to Voldemort and is finally lured into the Department of Mysteries via a fake vision, just to see his only parent-like figure, godfather Sirius Black, get murdered in an intense battle of good versus evil where he barely makes it out alive himself. The end result fortunately includes a complete change of direction of the Ministry of Magic after Voldemort foolishly revealed himself to actually have taken human form again right inside their headquarters before being held back and made to flee by Dumbledore who also saved Harry and everyone else except Sirius right there and then.

It now seems to me that Rowling sort of made up the stories as she went along. She probably just wrote many cute little chapters, possibly interconnecting them in retrospect to become plot devices later on – I’m thinking of Hagrid’s side-quest involving the giant Grawp (”we need someone to allow the centaurs to capture Umbridge but protect Harry and Hermione from them at the same time”), or the flying horse-like Thestrals (”we need a means of travel for the heroes to get to the Ministry quickly in the end, but the existence of it has to be explained in such a way that they were always there, just not visible to everyone”). It does seem a bit constructed, doesn’t it?

The antagonists in the story are also worth discussing. The highly annoying and evil Professor Umbridge was perfectly written. It’s been so easy to have someone in your mind like that after Rowling’s descriptions. You couldn’t help but despise her character. Then, of course, we have Voldemort himself, who plays a tiny role but whose motivations now become clearer, even though seemingly taken out of thin air. I’d like to learn more about what he actually wants and why. Professor Snape, as discussed, is clearly on the side of the protagonists, but shows his twisted character flaws in a way which still make him seem like an enemy of Harry’s. The bratty Draco Malfoy doesn’t play much of a role, and his character has so far developed in no way at all. He is the same person as he was at the beginning of the first book, and it’s not really clear where all his hate comes from, except from blind adaptation of his father’s hate. I would also like to know more about his thinking and motivations.

Which brings me to the Death Eaters, Voldemorts circle of trust and enablers, which openly includes Draco’s father. I find it hard to take that these families are still around and don’t get banned from the school, trialed, and sent off to prison, for example. They are like Hitler’s SS and every one in the story knows that. Voldemort has been going around mass-murdering and doing what was ethnical cleansing in his mind, and they are right there for him when he arrives back, supporting him whole-heartedly. How can that go unchecked? All our protagonists know about this!

And switching to the other side, I love the strong bond which Harry, Ron, and Hermione still have, and how their circle of trustees is growing. It’s at the core of the stories. I didn’t care for the moments when they fought with each other, it was a bit much in addition to all the other threats surrounding them. The death of Sirius Black was a major blow, of course. Such a tragic figure, spending over a decade wrongly accused in prison, then having to go into hiding right after managing to escape and even being verbally abused for having to be in hiding and not helping. Then, when he finally risks it and tries to help, he is immediately killed by a Death Eater and Harry is again alone without a father figure. And last not least, Professor Dumbledore, who is the only one admitting mistakes in this story and still the only one who says smart things worth highlighting and quoting. He used to be the most rational thinking person, but in this book his main mistake was one he made out of a protectionist love for Harry: Choosing not to inform him about the dire situation because he didn’t want to lay these hard truths on him.

And here we are with the main reason why everything escalates in this book, the whole series, and so many other situations in the real world: Pure lack of communication. It’s a good lesson. Talk! Be open. Share your feelings and fears and knowledge.

📔 Highlights

Chapter 37 – The Lost Prophecy

Youth cannot know how age thinks and feels. But old men are guilty if they forget what it was to be young. – Professor Dumbledore

Indifference and neglect often do much more damage than outright dislike. – Professor Dumbledore

‘The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord approaches … born to those who have thrice defied him, born as the seventh month dies … and the Dark Lord will mark him as his equal, but he will have power the Dark Lord knows not … and either must die at the hand of the other for neither can live while the other survives … the one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord will be born as the seventh month dies …’ – Professor Dumbledore quoting Professor Trewalney’s prophecy

How do you feel after reading this?

This helps me assess the quality of my writing and improve it.

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