Monday, August 17, 2015

“The hottest day of the summer so far was drawing to a close and a drowsy silence lay over the large, square houses of Privet Drive.”

Courtesy of amazon.com
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix could be called the turning point for the series.  It is completely gloomy, dark, and our wizards and witches are growing up.  I will tell you right now, it is not a feel good book.  It signals the now darkness that the British wizarding world is enveloped in and now the gray areas of loyalty are becoming black and white.  The good guys and the bad guys are distinguishing themselves and the underground war is just getting started.

We had been left on a depressing cliff the last book, and we now meet our wizard hero being 15, bullied by his cousin, and blossoming into an angst filled teenager. After being attacked by dementors in Muggle London, Harry is whisked away into hiding with the Order of the Phoenix, the revived group of wizards and witches dedicated to fighting Voldemort.  There we learn more about Sirius Black and his past, the new members of the Order, and what exactly are the odds of success against Voldemort and his growing number of followers.  At school, Harry is faced with new challenges: a teacher who is down right evil, a vengeful Severus Snape, his raging hormones and emotions (angst being the absolute worst part of this book- yet, Rowling masterfully manages to fully annoy the reader with Harry's teen drama, exactly like a real teenager), a sad Cho Chang who needs a shoulder to cry on, upcoming O.W.L.s, and the creeping darkness of Voldemort's forces closing in.

British author J.K. Rowling takes pains to signal that the series is now departing from the feel-good, whimsical first book.  Order is angrier, edgier, and much more adult than the previous books. There is new magic introduced, but is either dark magic or defensive magic.  New characters are also introduced; several of them are endearing, but their very presence is evidence that Dumbledore is padding the ranks with highly trained, deadly, and morally good wizards and witches, preparing for the eventual grand showdown.  On the flip side, we are introduced to a new villain that is most definitely worse and more anger-inducing than Voldemort himself: Dolores Umbridge. American author Stephen King (who knows a thing or two about villians and evil) summed her up perfectly: “The gently smiling Dolores Umbridge, with her girlish voice, toadlike face, and clutching, stubby fingers, is the greatest make-believe villain to come along since Hannibal Lecter.”  She is mind-numbingly terrible, dripping in pink, cats, and hate for Harry Potter.  She is possibly the best part of the book.  Any interactions with her are written sadistically and cruelly; Rowling's writing genius shines through Umbridge in that any interaction with Umbridge will fill the reader with anger, indignant rebellion, and a realization that sometimes, the real evil is in the weaker people who flock to the powerful.

Chapter 36: The Only One He Ever Feared,
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
In what has become the most horrifying, terrible, tragic part of the series, Order ends with a death that literally hurts.  I have no shame in admitting that my mother and I cried throughout our entire vacation after reading the book (much to my father's chagrin!)  The final blow in the book is devastating; many still criticize Rowling for it.  However, it was necessary.  It warned the reader that war is not for the faint of heart and that good people, people who you love, die.  Fans hated it, but it was the perfect way to initialize what was to come.  This book divided the men from the boys, women from the girls, among the Harry Potter fans.  Order of the Phoenix tested your ability to love the series despite the tragedy, the hurt, the pain, the angst, and Cho Chang.  If you could excuse this book, you would make it to the end.

“Instead he smiled, raised a hand in farewell, turned around, and led the way out of the station toward the sunlit street, with Uncle Vernon, Aunt Petunia, and Dudley hurrying along in his wake.”

Only two more to go!  Check back for Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince (my second favorite!)

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