Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Please note that this review may contain spoilers for earlier instalments of this series. You can read my reviews of these novels by clicking the links below:

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone | Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets | Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban | Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

As you can see, today I’m taking another look at the Harry Potter series. I suppose that means that this is another milestone review! It’s hard to believe it but this post marks the 400th novel that I have review on this site. Thank-you all for your continuing support!

Anyhow, on with the review. As I expect that most of you have already read this book, please note that this post contains massive, massive spoilers. In case you’re not familiar with this novel (for example, if you’ve been living in a submarine since the late 90s), the Harry Potter series is a worldwide phenomenon which was penned by J.K. Rowling. The main series consists of seven novels – Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (1997), Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (1998), Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (1999), Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2000), Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2003), Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2005) and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (2007). This has been further supplement by a number of short-stories and plays that further expand the world.

Harry Potter has always hated spending his holidays at the Dursleys but this summer has been the worst yet. His friends seem to have forgotten all about him and he’s largely been forced to deal with his guilt over Cedric’s death alone. Everything seems to be crushingly mundane in Little Whinging until Harry and Dudley are suddenly attacked by two Dementors. Harry is forced to case his Patronus charm to save Dudley’s life. As doing so breaks the restriction for magic use by underage wizards, Harry finds himself on trial and risking expulsion from Hogwarts.

As Harry is whisked away to stay with Sirius while he awaits his trial, he is furious to find out that everyone he knows has been preparing for the battle against Voldemort without him. Dumbledore has made them all swear to keep him in the dark as they reformed the Order of the Phoenix – a secret society devoted to destroying the Death Eaters. It seems that the Order have discovered that Voldemort is searching for something and are intent on keeping him from obtaining it.

However, Harry also learns that he is no longer the golden boy of the wizarding world. Desperate to keep the truth about Voldemort from the world, the Ministry of Magic have publicly accused Dumbledore and Harry of lying and now portray him as an attention-seeking lunatic. When Harry returns to Hogwarts, he learns that the Ministry’s reach has even stretched as far as the school. Delores Umbridge – a ruthless Ministry official – is now the Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher and is intent on making some changes around the school…

When I first read the Harry Potter series back on its release, I remember that Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix was my least favourite one of the lot. However, I did make sure to go into this reading with an open mind. After all, I remembered Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets as being way better than it actually was. I was hopeful that perhaps the reverse would be true about this one.

I’m disappointed to say that my opinion of this book has not changed. While I still have a couple of novels to go and so can’t say for sure that it is the low point of the series, I felt that Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix was a pretty tiring read on the whole. The biggest issue that I have with this story is the sheer length of it. While I accused Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire of dragging in places, this book took this to a whole new level. Everything seems to move at a crawl, with the plot taking a long time to feel as though it is truly in motion.

Yet, despite this, it’s not really clear what could have been cut for length. Personally, I think that my top picks would be Percy Weasley’s betrayal, Grawp, and Hermione’s continuing House Elf activism, as these plot threads don’t add anything to the overall story. However, there are certainly a lot of other areas that could have been combined, condensed and generally rewritten to help streamline the novel. While Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire was also a long book, it did not feel as though it was quite so in need of a good content edit as this one.

Part of the reason for the slowness was that Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix didn’t really have much of a plot. The previous novels in the series were all kept in constant motion by a running thread. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets had an unseen monster roaming the halls while Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire had the Triwizard Cup. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, on the other hand, is a lot less focused. While there are hints that “something” is coming in Harry’s infrequent dreams of a black doorway, the significance of this is not made clear until the last hundred pages of the novel. In a novel that is pushing eight hundred pages in length, this is a very long time to wait for the payoff.

Even when the plot kicks in, it felt a lot weaker than the previous instalments. This book is filled with coincidences and plot holes, especially when it comes to the prophecy. Ah yes, let’s take a moment to talk about the prophecy. This is something that irritates me even more than Barty Crouch’s stupidly convoluted portkey scheme. The prophecy orb can only be collected by the people that the prophecy is about. In the case of this book, this means only Harry or Voldemort can pick it up. Why does Voldemort have to manipulate Harry into collecting it? Well, according to the novel, this is because he can’t just waltz into the Ministry of Magic. Makes sense right up until the climax of the novel, when he waltzes right into the Ministry of Magic. Meaning that Voldemort could have legitimately collected his own prophecy at any time.

But it gets worse. During the climax, a whole bunch of prophecy orbs get destroyed which immediately releases the prophecies contained within. It seems that by breaking them, anyone can hear the prophecies. Meaning that the Death Eaters didn’t even need Harry at all. Any one of them could have broken the orb, listened to the prophecy, and reported it back to Voldemort word for word. Yeah. That’s quite a problem there. One which renders the entire point of the story – and Sirius’s death – entirely pointless.

Another problematic aspect of this novel is the way that it characterises Harry. As I’ve said time and time again, one of the best things about the Harry Potter series is its message of friendship, loyalty and hope. While these are all still themes that can be found in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, this is a lot darker story. The Harry of this book is no longer a courageous everyman. He’s completely unlikeable.

In a way, I can understand why Rowling has changed him so drastically. Not only is he getting older but he suffered a horrible, traumatic ordeal in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Yet that does not change the fact that he is a jerk. He’s now the kind of person who takes out his frustration by yelling at his friends and is so unable to grasp the concept of subtly that he becomes a danger to both himself and the Order. He has evolved into an angsty teenager who is more concerned about himself than the feelings of others. This is clearly encapsulated by his train wreck of a relationship with Cho, in which he is completely unable to grasp why Cedric’s death may have been a tad upsetting for her as well.

Yet more of my annoyance was reserved for Dumbledore. We are totally sure that Dumbledore is not the villain, right? His justification of why Harry needed to be subjected to eleven years of neglect at the hands of the Dursleys is utterly unsatisfying and left me wondering how on earth Dumbledore managed to wind up so revered in the wizarding world. When it came to attitudes towards Dumbledore, at times I even found that I could appreciate the Ministry of Magic’s perspective. The headmaster is surprisingly okay with allowing child abuse, makes decisions that result in deaths and even employs teachers like Hagrid and Professor Trelawney who clearly have no idea what they’re doing.

So, you may be wondering if I have a good word to say about Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix at all. Well, I’m pleased to say that I do. While I’m not a fan of this book on the whole, there are a few things that it does do really well. Due to its darker tone, it is able to tackle some very complex themes. I though that the way that it touched upon things like political corruption and censorship of the media were particularly effective. Both of these are very relevant issues today and were presented in a way that made them easy for a young reader to understand. On top of its usual positive message, the novel explored why it’s important to not trust everything that you read and learn that adults can sometimes be wrong too, which are really important lessons for teenagers to learn.

The story also contained some lovely moments of character development for the secondary cast. One of my favourite scenes in the novel is the one where Professor McGonagal explains to Harry why he should be careful in antagonising Umbridge. It’s a very small and quiet scene but clearly shows McGonagal’s softer side, as well as how much she has grown to care for Harry. Mrs Weasley and Neville also get some really nice moments in this book which further flesh them out and make them seem like real people. I’m also a big fan of newcomer Luna Lovegood as she’s a lovely, neutral addition to the main cast, as well as being one of the rare protagonists who are not a Gryffindor. She’s a really likeable character who provides a good balance of humour and wisdom.

Yet my absolute favourite thing about the story is Umbridge. She is a truly effective villain and I actually found her to be a lot more interesting that Voldemort himself. I think this is due to the fact that she is terribly ordinary. She is just a civil servant with deep set views on how she can make Hogwarts a better place. The deep terror and loathing that I have of Umbridge purely comes from the fact that she is incredibly realistic. Her power isn’t magical, it’s just because she has friends in high places who render her untouchable. These are the sort of people who don’t even really care if she tortures students, so long as she gets “results”. Umbridge embodies the horror of a person who blindly believes that sacrifices are necessary to achieve the greater good.

So, this review is quite long now and therefore I should probably wrap it up. All in all, I found Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix to be a disappointment. It’s certainly the weakest story in the series so far as it’s too long, has an unengaging plot and contains a frustrating character cul-de-sac for Harry. Yet it’s not entirely without merit as it possesses a darker plot, mature themes and a truly scary villain. I’m curious to read on with the series as I hope that Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince sets everything back on track.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix can be purchased as a Paperback, eBook and Audio Book on Amazon.co.uk

4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince | Arkham Reviews
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