Reading Diary: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling
But before he knew it, Harry was shouting.
"SO YOU HAVEN'T BEEN IN THE MEETINGS, BIG DEAL! YOU'VE STILL BEEN HERE, HAVEN'T YOU? YOU'VE STILL BEEN TOGETHER? ME, I'VE BEEN STUCK AT THE DURSLEYS' FOR A MONTH! AND I'VE HANDLED MORE THAN YOU TWO HAVE EVER MANAGED, AND DUMBLEDORE KNOWS IT--WHO SAVED THE SORCERER'S STONE? WHO GOT RID OF RIDDLE? WHO SAVED BOTH YOUR SKINS FROM THE DEMENTORS?"
Every bitter and resentful thought that Harry had had in the past month was pouring out of him; his frustration at the lack of news, the hurt that they had all been together without him, his fury at being followed and not told about it: All the feelings he was half-ashamed of finally burst their boundaries . . .
"WHO HAD TO GET PAST DRAGONS AND SPHINXES AND EVERY OTHER FOUL THING LAST YEAR? WHO SAW HIM COME BACK? WHO HAD TO ESCAPE FROM HIM? ME!"
Mine isn't the only "Potter-thon" going on this month, if the shelves in my favourite chain bookstore are anything to go by. A few weeks ago, when I was looking for a copy of the first book in the series, they had everything else in abundant stock. But yesterday evening, when I dropped by to get the sixth installment (Finally, aye?), what had been the "Potter section" for the past few months was stuffed with Mysterious Benedict Society and Septimus Heap titles, with only The Order of the Phoenix and Deathly Hallows still flashing their Hogwarts colours. And who wants to bet that Deathly Hallows will be out of stock next week?
But in a way, this is a good thing, because it gives me some time to write down my thoughts on the big reread I've just done. When I started, I intended to have individual Reading Diary entries for each book (and did manage one for Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone) . . . but more often than not, I'd move on to the next novel and get distracted. So this break is actually a good thing. Let me take each book separately now.
Formerly my least favourite of the series, it has received a bump up the ladder, thanks to this focussed reread. And now I see that it's really not that bad a sequel.
I like the way the wizarding world grows wider, as seeds planted in the first book sprout a bit in this one. (Harry's ability to speak to snakes leading to a revelation about Parselmouths, for instance.) And I really liked the first trip to The Burrow, the peek at what lies behind Diagon Alley (doubling as a metaphor of the dark side of the entire wizarding world), and the first hint that not all was well among the four founders of Hogwarts. On the whole, very organic!
On the other hand, there are some other elements that seem more forced, like Dobby the House Elf . . . and that old diary, which I don't dislike as much as fail to understand the purpose of. Everything about it, from the totally random manner in which it enters the action to the equally random purpose its original owner wanted it to serve, is just so . . . random. As if Rowling couldn't think of another way to inject You-Know-Who into the story. Neither element is her creative best, I'm afraid--and both play the off-key note that I used to hear again and again whenever The Chamber of Secrets came up. But yeah, I like it better now. =P
Here is more of that wonderful widening of the wizarding world, and this time we learn more about Harry's father--which is about time! I'm currently working on a Top 5 list tentatively called "Top 5 Destinies to Make Up for Being an Orphan" and have noticed that one thing all my orphans have in common is the desire to uncover their family history. They understand that those who do not know where they come from will never know who they are.
We also get our first glimpse of the Dementors, and with them, our first sign that Rowling is back on board when it comes to structure. Nothing too awfully random here. The Dementors, the Boggart, the Whomping Willow, the Marauders' Map, the Hippogriffs, the professors, the escaped prisoner of Azkaban, and even Ron's pet rat Scabbers all come together in a great plot full of unexpected twists and turns. This book was my favourite Harry Potter novel for almost a decade, and the reread reminded me why.
And yet . . . there is something about such twisty stories that doesn't stand up to rereading. If you know everything in advance, you don't get the full force of the impact. And you start to notice what Randy Meeks would call "a preponderance of exposition" clogging up an otherwise delightful plot. (You remember Randy, don't you?) But that's not too big a deal, really.
Now let me introduce my new favourite Harry Potter book. =D
The wizarding world almost explodes the pages of this fourth installment, thanks to the Quidditch World Cup and the international Triwizard Tournament. The book manages to retain the "School Story" form you all know I love, but it's probably the last one. We can't have a story as big as the world and expect it to fit inside a single school, can we? But I love this last hurrah.
Now, my favourite thing about the first book is that the school is essential to the story. All the teachers, including the groundskeeper, contribute something to the protection of the stone; and our three young heroes have to use what they learned in class (or in the library) to make sure they get to it first. Bleeping brilliant!!! There is a little of that in The Goblet of Fire, too, as Harry struggles with each of the tournament tasks and tries to figure out which teachers and officials are trying to help him and which ones are trying to hinder him. It's the school setting, squared. (Or should that be cubed? Because, after all, we have three schools represented.)
This novel also marks when the books started to get really dark--and I don't just mean the first death. Rowling is starting to write more defensively, even belligerently here. The nasty reporter Rita Skeeter makes her first appearance, less an independently meaningful character than Rowling's defiant jab at the tabloid press. And as much as I get that (and think that the characterisation of Rita is spot on), I wonder what the series would have been like if Rowling had not had to write some books through so much controversy.
Now meet my least favourite novel in the series, which I'm willing to bet is also the worst. Rowling went all out, with mixed results.
I have a friend who says that he never believed in Harry Potter because Harry is nothing like a real boy; instead, Harry is what a woman thinks a real boy is like, which is something else altogether. And I recall his assessment whenever Rowling writes about Harry's feelings, if only because they make for some of her worst writing. And how bad is it that Harry's feelings, which she isn't even right about, absolutely dominate this book? The Order of the Phoenix is Emo: that's how bad.
Is there anything worse than a main character in an endless hissy, prissy, pissy mood? Harry spends most of the story upset with everyone for keeping things from him and insisting that nobody understands a bit of what he is going through. And that he knows best, of course. The implication is that he is special. The effect is what you'd expect from a male Bella Swan.
And what is the resolution to all this wanton, self-centered emoting? In an ideal world, Harry would have been snapped to his senses by the good advice he receives from two unlikely sources. (Really, when the most sensible dialogue in an 870-page Harry Potter novel comes from two members of Slytherin House, then you must know something is wrong!) But in our world, this book is about Harry's FEELINGS, and so we get an Emo cherry on top of this Emo sundae, with Dumbledore apologising for causing Harry even a moment's pain because he forgot, even with all the wisdom of his age, what it was like to be young. (Oh, barf.) And because he loved too much. (Double barf.)
Yes, there are some good bits. I loved seeing both students and teachers rise up against the new High Inquisitor. Tyranny comes in all forms, even bureaucracy--and so does defiance. Dolores Umbridge, in her quest to take control over Hogwarts, is a better drawn villain than Voldemort.
This was, as I've said before, the last Harry Potter novel I read for seven years. And the second I was done with my reread, I was seriously tempted not to read any further. Yes, it's that bad.
Image Sources: a) Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, b) Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, c) Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, d) Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire