Jun 28 2011 11:32am

Rising From the Ashes: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Four years have gone by. Four battles have been fought. Four victories have been won.  The fifth book in J.K. Rowling’s series, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (OotP), marked a pretty significant change in tone from the previous books.  Harry had watched a friend die in Goblet of Fire, and, as we quickly learn, he’s had to endure a summer of public ridicule and derision from the Wizarding community, denouncing his claims that He Who Must Not Be Named had returned as lies or merely the ravings of a crazy boy. Combine that with the fact that he turns fifteen in the book, and it’s not surprising to find that a new cross, moody, and short tempered teenage Harry has replaced ‘The Boy Who Lived.’

“So that’s it, is it? Stay there? That’s all anyone could tell me after I got attacked by those dementors too! Just stay put while the grown-ups sort it out, Harry! We won’t bother telling you anything, though, because your tiny little brain might not be able to cope with it!” -Harry

Fan reaction to this new Harry was mixed.  Of the near 6,000 reviews for Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix on Amazon.com (more than any other Harry Potter book I might add), close to 4,000 of those are 5 star reviews applauding these “symptoms of adolescence...that show how a maturing Harry who is sullen, rude, and contemptuous of adult behavior, especially hypocrisy… fits especially well into the plot.” Others questioned his irritability and propensity to lash out at those closest to him “as a big jump to the guy who spends the entire first third of the book either sulking, wallowing in self-pity, or exploding at his friends.”

The Harry Potter books, with the exception of The Deathly Hallows, all follow a similar story structure: Harry escapes to Hogwarts from an odious summer spent with the Dursleys, meets a new Defense Against the Dark Arts professor,  clashes with Professor Snape and Draco Malfoy, struggles through a year of classes, and finally defeats Voldemort in one form or another.  The OotP is no exception, but it does distinguish itself from the series in several key ways.

Each Harry Potter book introduces new characters, but perhaps none are more memorable than senior undersecretary to the Minister of Magic, Dolores “hem, hem” Umbridge. Never have pink cardigans, fluffy kittens, and bows looked more sinister. Stephen King went so far as to call her “the greatest make-believe villain to come along since Hannibal Lecter.” First as the new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, later as High Inquisitor of Hogwarts and eventually Headmistress, Rowling uses her to evoke the same kind of impotent rage in readers that we see Harry experience as Umbridge unjustly chucks him from the Gryffindor Quidditch team, forces him to carve the words I Must Not Tell Lies into his flesh, and very nearly uses the Cruciatus Curse on him.  Personally, I haven’t been so infuriated at a character since reading about the Seanchan in The Wheel of Time series.

In addition to the Nazi-like Umbridge, there are several other new characters and creatures worth noting in OotP.  There are the Thestrals, carnivorous winged skeletal horses that are only visible to those who have seen death, and the diminutive giant Grawp, Hagrid’s half brother.  Then there’s old house elf and polar opposite to Dobby, Kreacher, the sweetly spacey Luna Lovegood, and Order members Kingsley Shacklebolt and Nymphadora Tonks. And while not a new character, Harry does experience his first ill-fated and suitably awkward romantic relationship with Ravenclaw Seeker Cho Chang.

As heinous as Umbridge was however, without her inept theory-only Defense Against the Dark Arts class, Dumbledore’s Army (the DA) would never have been formed. This is the first time Harry willingly accepts a leadership role and he doesn’t really ever relinquish it. Up until now, Harry, Ron, Hermione and the other students have been, well, students. Yes, Harry has fought Voldemort at the end of each book, but OotP is the first time he and his friends are in an out and out battle.  They are fighting alone against the Death Eaters with no hope of aid. And even when the Order members arrive, they just join the fight alongside the DA. It’s a dark scene in the Ministry of Magic when we see adults trying to kill these kids. If there was any doubt left that the Harry Potter books were just for children, that scene alone ended it.

But the question that I heard over and over again from fans: was it really necessary for Harry to suffer as much as he did in OotP? To endure the hostility of his community, the alienation from his friends, the abuse from authority figures, and ultimately the loss of his godfather? I would say yes. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that this is when Rowling begins to remove the father figures from Harry’s life, first with Sirus and then Dumbledore—who was largely absent in this book—in The Half-Blood Prince. In hindsight, we know what Rowling was preparing Harry for, but at the time, some, like the interviewer for the BBC wondered, ”do you [J.K. Rowling] have to be so cruel to him?"

I think it’s understandable to balk at Harry’s suffering. He has become such a beloved figure the world over. Dumbledore could have been speaking for all of us when he said, “Is there a defense? I defy anyone who has watched you as I have—and I have watched you more closely than you can have imagined—not to want to save you more pain than you had already suffered. What did I care if numbers of nameless and faceless people and creatures were slaughtered in the vague future, if in the here and now you were alive, and well, and happy? I never dreamed that I would have such a person on my hands.”

And yet Harry’s creator, J.K. Rowling, explained it best: 

“Well, Phoenix, I would say, in self-defense – Harry had to, because of what I’m trying to say about Harry as a hero. Because he’s a very human hero, and this is, obviously, there’s a contrast, between him, as a very human hero, and Voldemort, who has deliberately dehumanized himself. And Harry, therefore, did have to reach a point where he did almost break down, and say he didn’t want to play anymore, he didn’t want to be the hero anymore – and he’d lost too much. And he didn’t want to lose anything else. So that – Phoenix was the point at which I decided he would have his breakdown.  And now he will rise from the ashes strengthened.”

Abigail Johnson aspires to one day be the president of the Jim Dale fan club and bides her time until then managing the Tor.com Urban Fantasy Facebook and Twitter accounts.

This article is part of Potterpalooza on Tor.com: ‹ previous | index | next ›
Rikka Cordin
1. Rikka
Despite being probably my least favorite book in the entire series, OotP contains probably my favorite scene of the series. The juxtaposition is disconcerting sometimes. SO MUCH ANGST.
2. sofrina
i would argue that the breaking point was not in OOTP, but in GOA when harry is singlehandedly fighting the death eaters and voldemort. he is completely alone in that confrontation, outnumbered and overmatched. and the thing that really makes that part sing is that no one knows he has left hogwarts at all, let alone where he has gone. that was a truly hopeless scenario in which harry resolved - in his terror - to go down swinging, before his singular weapon saved the day.

the unique thing about this book is the intrusion of the government and the exposure of the minister's corrupt regime. umbridge is able to create a fascist state at the school because of fudge's quest to retain power and control. cruel punishments, the litany of restrictions and actively turning students into deputized snitches was what was so amazing about this book. the media pressure on harry only comes to him after he returns from his (one month) summer break. he doesn't even know about it initially.

a lot of harry's suffering is powered by guilt and grief over cedric's murder and post-traumatic stress from the battle with voldemort. no one sought the poor kid any sort of counselling. they bundled him off to his uncaring relatives and no one really let him get this off his chest. then umbridge comes to town with her bag of tricks...

the stripping of harry's mentors is a necessity of the classical hero. in the end harry has to fight voldemort. dumbledore can go toe-to-toe with him, but harry is the key to his final destruction. he has to walk that road alone, really, and he has to do it willingly. which, as we all know, is how the story ends.
Robert Barrett
3. rwb
This is actually my favorite book of the series: I liked the thematic consistency of Harry's rage, especially when it culminates in the scene at the end of the book where he calls Dumbledore on his BS and demands an accounting.

Also: Luna Lovegood. Nothing more needs to be said.
4. vsthorvs
Best book in the series other than Deathly Hallows, which is a very different creature than the rest of the series.

The angst was perfect for what Harry was going through. And this is the book that really showed the B-Team so to speak. Ginny, Luna, and Neville, each of whom I love individually, and I think I like the three of them even more than I like our A-Team of Harry, Ron, and Hermione.

Plus the Weasely Twins! Genius stuff there.
Marcus W
5. toryx
I agree that Harry had to go through the terrible agonies of teenage angst to reach his adulthood but good golly, was it painful to read. I always was impressed with Rowlings' ability to accurately map the progression from child to adult and she did an incredible job with this book.

Still, I didn't like reading about it. My frustration with Harry in this book was so great that I had to force myself to keep turning the pages and that was no easy task. If I hadn't already known fatherhood is not for me, this book would have helped clinch the deal.
Suzanne Johnson
6. SuzanneJohnson
As someone else noted, OotP is an odd book for me. On the one hand, Delores Umbridge is a brilliant character and some of the scenes in this book are among my favorite in the whole series. On the other hand, OMG, it reminds me why I could never be a teacher. All that adolescent angst. I have to hand it to JKR, however. It was realistic. Teens do act like that. It was just painful to have to live it with them.
8. Nalwin
This book stands out for me most for the scene in the hogsmeade pub where Dumbledore's army first meet.

If there is one thing I love is when my beloved main character is being humble and the true extent of their awesome is conveyed by a third party.
That scene is pure fan service just for me, and I love it to bits.

Plus harry getting his professor on in the room of requirement and turning his friends into an effective fighting force because noone else would do it is a-maz-ing.

Plus, Neville Longbottom, I rest my case.
9. Lsana
This book is the one that improved the most for me on a re-read. On my first read, I just didn't care for it for the same reason everyone else had a problem. Yes, he was a realistic teenager, but I don't like realistic teenagers, not even when I was one.

On later reads, though, Harry's angst didn't seem so bad, and I could focus on the other aspects of the story. Umbridge. Luna. The DA. The Weasley Twins. "It unscrews the other way, Peeves." There was just so much to love that by now, it has jumped from second-least-favorite to a three-way tie with PoA and GoF for my favorite.
A.J. Bobo
10. Daedylus
I find it cool that Stephen King "praised" Umbridge because he's the only other author I can think of that can actually make me really, truly make me hate a character in a book. But, man, I hate Umbridge. I mean, Voldemort is scary, but he looks evil, acts evil and knows he's evil. Umbridge, on the other hand, looks sickly sweet, thinks she's a good guy, but acts evil. A bad, bad combination. Oh, and her special quill is the most disturbing this in this entire series. Ouch.

This was the book where I had a very interesting revelation about the series. I was most of the way through the book when I stopped and asked myself why Voldemort was after Harry in the first place. Then I realized that Rowling had never told us. We made it through four books without ever knowing (or even asking) what the bad guy's motivation is. I still think it's brilliant that Rowling managed to get us to do that.

As hard as this book is to get through, I think it's the Empire Strikes Back of the series. The good guys end this book with less than they started with. They are beaten and battered and it makes their rise to success later that much better. And that fight in the Ministry is one of the greatest climaxes I've read in any book. Period.
james loyd
11. gaijin
It just dawned on me that OotP is the Ender's Game of the Potter series. Harry bears all that is thrown at him (but not without resentment). Graff...I mean Dumbledore allows it to happen because while it breaks his heart he knows how high the stakes really are and also knows that revealing that to "the chosen one" too soon will hurt him more than help. Harry even forms an all volunteer toon and practices with them during their off time, making them the most effective in the school while himself maturing as a leader. The more I think about it, the more parallels I see.
12. Mancina
My main gripe with this book is the fact that the death of Sirius could have been avoided if Harry had remembered the mirror Sirius had given him in the beginning. He could have communicated directly with him and not gone thestraling off to the Ministry as Voldemort had wanted him to. It's frustrating when the fairy tale-like plot gives the hero a magical device to use and he just fricking leaves it at the bottom of his trunk.

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