[DWJ] Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Melissa Proffitt Melissa at Proffitt.com
Thu Jul 19 00:10:40 EDT 2007

(Page references taken from the first American edition, 2003, and you want
to know why I started buying these in hardcover at this point?  I had been
planning to pick this one up eventually, but I wasn't camped outside the
door of Barnes & Noble or anything.  Then about a week before the release,
people started asking when I was going to get it.  Because for some reason I
had turned into the crazy lady who buys lots of books and then loans them
out to all her friends so they don't have to.  Why I responded by PROVING
THEM RIGHT is a mystery for the ages.)

This one may be shorter than the others, because the weather has been
killing me for the last two days and it affects...everything I do, I guess.
Tuesday was muggy and oppressive--not words one usually uses to describe
desert weather--and on top of that, the sprinkler control valve next to the
front door was leaking badly.  "We'll have to dig it up to get at it," the
sprinkler guy said, but when I looked outside four hours later, there was an
enormous pile of dirt on the lawn and a pit full of water that we later
learned was two feet deep.  Also, they'd removed two of the beams enclosing
the raised bed on that side of the house; they were propped up to the side,
looking very forlorn and muddy.  And they had to cut down a largish bush in
the raised bed, leaving the stump.  It all looks pitiful, but there's
nothing to be done about it until everything dries out.

Being mostly out of commission on Tuesday, I had to table all my cleaning
plans and spent the day reading _Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix_.
I can see why so many readers were upset.  This is not at all like the other
books; Harry's attitude is extremely negative, people are being attacked,
his mind is being invaded, and people who used to be supportive of him are
either working against him or looking at him like he's crazy.  And he uses
an Unforgivable Curse on someone (who certainly deserved it, but still).  I
do think this is a young adult book, but some of Rowling's techniques aren't
quite up to the standard.  For instance, Harry's anger and frustration.  I'm
not going to say this isn't justified--in fact, I think he should have been
pissed off about stuff a long time ago--but Rowling keeps bringing it up
like she's not sure we'll get it if she doesn't overtly say "Harry felt
frustrated."  She's done some other subtle work...hang on, I just had a
thought...okay, most of her subtle work has been done with other characters,
but with her POV character all of that subtlety is absent.  It's as if,
since we're privy to Harry's emotions and thoughts, they have to be laid out
in the open.

This was the book where I felt sorry for Snape, and if you've read it,
you'll probably know why:  Harry witnesses Snape's humiliation at his own
father's and Sirius's hands, and it makes him question what he's always
believed about his father (p. 640-649).  James and Sirius start picking on
Snape--get this!--because they're BORED.  Yeah, that's a noble reason.
Jerks.  Suddenly Snape's feelings about James Potter, and by extension
Harry, make a whole lot more sense.  At this point, even though I still
didn't like his behavior, I stopped seeing Snape as a petty dictator and
started trying to imagine what kinds of forces had been at work in his
childhood and adolescence to bring him to the point of joining Voldemort,
and then turning his loyalties around.  I know I'm a sucker for lost causes,
dark tormented souls and all that, but it made me hope that somewhere in
this series there could be redemption for Snape.  It also made me wonder
what Harry's interactions with him would have been like if Snape hadn't been
carrying that monster grudge around with him.

Sirius and Remus's explanation for the incident is not convincing to me,
amounting as it does to "Kids are jerks, what can you do?" (p. 670-1)
Because in my experience, that kind of casual cruelty doesn't necessarily go
away with maturity and adulthood.  Sirius's excuse in particular doesn't
wash:  "'James and Snape hated each other from the moment they set eyes on
each other, it was just one of those things'" (p. 670).  But Harry and Draco
have pretty much hated each other just as long, and Harry doesn't go out of
his way to needle Malfoy--he usually only retaliates after Malfoy's done
something, and half the time he just has to walk away.  So that may have
been the reason, but it's hardly a good excuse.  I just have this picture of
James and his pals as the cool, athletic, popular kids who get their kicks
making fun of everyone else, and I don't like it.

On to Dolores Umbridge, a wonderful new type of bad guy for the Harry Potter
series--the fascist dictator with a goon squad.  Umbridge is terrifying in
ways Voldemort can never be, because she's part of the normal daylight world
where you think you should be safe.  And she's using the laws set up for
your protection to justify and strengthen her regime.  It's most fun to see
the teachers reacting to her tactics, particularly McGonagall, and realize
that while these teachers might lay down punishments for rule-breaking,
they're not going to deliberately warp the rules to get you for something
that was perfectly acceptable five minutes ago, just because they don't like
it.  The kitten plates, oh my gosh....We did manage to see Umbridge's office
before the movie cut out, and even my kids who hadn't read the book were
saying "That is so WRONG."

And last, Dumbledore and Harry's reconciliation.  Boy, was that overdue.
This is the dumbest Dumbledore has ever acted, but the stupidest thing he
did was not tell Harry exactly what could happen with his connection to
Voldemort and those dreams.  And *why* Occlumency was so important.  Simply
saying "by the way, Voldemort might try to control you through that mental
link, so you'd better get that Occlumency under control to stop it" would
have...okay, it would have torn the plot to pieces, but that just makes it
worse.  I can believe the logic that keeping Harry ignorant would protect
him, but it's very difficult for me to believe that Dumbledore could have
made that mistake.  The first four books have shown him to be prepared for
anything, deeply insightful, able to see things others can't, and for him to
suddenly fall down on the job...I don't know about that.  In short,
Rowling's logic and explanations are good, but somehow my gut doesn't buy

I've mostly been talking about the things I didn't like in the book, but the
truth is that I probably enjoyed this one more than the others (except,
still, _Prisoner of Azkaban_).  It's even longer then _Goblet of Fire_, and
it's so much richer in its depiction of the wizarding world and the
secondary characters.  I like the statue in the Ministry of Magic that
suggests that human wizards may need this coming war with Voldemort to cure
them of their arrogance with regard to other intelligent creatures.
(Dumbledore's use of the word "enslaved" with regard to Winky or Dobby--I
forgot to mark the place--makes me wonder if the discussion is quite over
yet.)  And Rowling never fails to come up with stunning visuals for places
and people and even ideas: the Room of Requirement, the giant Grawp, the
Department of Mysteries and all those rooms.  It makes me look forward to
the next book, and the ultimate ending of the series.

I'm off to read _Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince_...eventually.

Melissa Proffitt

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