Welcome to the fifth entry of my journey into J.K. Rowling's fascinating world of wizardry. This post has been a long time coming, mostly because I felt that a different approach was needed this time around. To be fair, I finished the book two weeks ago - before Christmas and a trip to the Southeast - so a lot has happened since then. I find that the more distance I put between reading the book and writing the post, the more critical of the text I become. So let's have at it!
Order of the Phoenix is the longest book in the Harry Potter series. This has been true for each respective book at this point; every book is longer than the previous one. As a fan of high fantasy tomes that regularly number in the thousands, I wouldn't say it's a long book. It's definitely long for the series and the genre, but it's not the page count that wore on me. It was all of what I felt to be completely unnecessary filler. What is filler? Filler is anything that is included that isn't essential to the story or does nothing to advance the plot. In other words, we could do without it and not really miss anything. I'm sure everyone has an idea of something they consider to be filler: Season two of The Walking Dead, the Nikki & Paulo episode in Lost, 75% of Dragon Ball Z, etc.
I may be coming across as harsh, but I assure you that I enjoyed Order. There's plenty to like, it's just that the things I didn't like outweighed the memorable parts. The beginning of the book is actually pretty great. The Order of the Phoenix is an cool plot device, and definitely serves as the coolest book title in the series. The idea of an elite group of wizard bodyguards that serve to protect (read: plot armor) is pretty awesome. Dementors showing up in Harry's hood and messing with him and his cousin (who deserves everything) is intense, as it shows that the agents of Voldemort are not opposed to taking massive risks in their attempts to destroy Harry. The stakes are higher, and this demands the attention of prominent powers. Hence the presence of Moody, Shacklebolt, Lupin, and other characters being added to the fray.
After Harry's harrowing flight from Privet Drive, things definitely slowed down plot-wise. He is kept in a safe place, and what does he spend his time doing? They clean Sirius' house. There's literally a whole chapter of them doing housework. This is the absolute definition of filler. I get that we learn about Sirius' family and we are introduced to Kreacher, but none of that is worth a whole chapter. Speaking of Sirius, I feel that his character was totally wasted in this book. More on that in a minute.
Of course, I can't mention the things that bothered me without talking about Dolores Umbridge, aka Satan's Handmaiden.
Umbridge is one of those characters you "love to hate." Other examples include Joffrey Baratheon and Commodus from Gladiator. I don't even love to hate Umbridge. I wish I didn't have to spend any sort of emotion or energy on her at all. The moment she appeared during Harry's hearing, I knew she was going to be an obnoxious character. Of course, I've seen the film already - so I knew what I was in for. She looks even worse in the book, and it's actually annoying how Rowling can't describe her without likening her to a toad. She's literally the worst character in the Harry Potter universe, next to Rita Skeeter and Filch and whoever else I'm forgetting or haven't met yet.
I could spend this whole post talking about Umbridge, but there are only so many ways I can say that she's the worst. I understand her place in the story, for the most part. She serves as the Ministry's agent at Hogwarts, informing Cornelius Fudge of all the suspicious activity. I loved how Professor McGonagall very openly despised her. Umbridge's best scenes were her interactions with the Transfiguration instructor - not to mention the part where she gets carried off into the woods by centaurs, of course. That part was great.
Unfortunately, Harry himself mightily bothered me. I'm glad people don't really incorporate these flawless main characters that can't be touched by anything into stories anymore, but Harry's flaws are really glaring in this book. He is a teenager, and that obviously explains a lot of his behavior. I've written before about his temper, and it seems to be getting worse with each book. The guy rages at his friends regularly, going on tirades about how much he's been through and how he didn't choose his life, etc. I mean, the part where he destroys Dumbledore's office near the end of the book was hilarious. He's not satisfied with Dumbledore's answers/lack thereof, so he decides that trashing his office is a great idea. That really was a frustrating scene. Not only does Harry act like a petulant child, but Dumbledore takes forever to explain himself. And his explanation isn't good enough. he basically admits that he stalled giving Harry answers every year, thinking that he might be ready for them when he's older. Another year goes by, another regretful Dumbledore - until we end up here in his office, for a whole chapter of exposition and info-dumping. Spell it out for me too, DD. No fifteen year-old would understand you anyways.
Not only that, but the kid is mindless when it comes to girls. I know he struggled with it in the previous book, but he only appears dumber in Order. I didn't know anything about girls when I was fifteen. Heck, I still don't, but I know enough not to talk about another woman in front of my girlfriend. No wonder Cho broke up with him! That whole ordeal makes me wonder, what was the point of Cho? What did she accomplish? Was she simply there to serve as Harry's first kiss? I can't remember a single important thing she did in the books. I guess Harry needed a love interest, but going after the girl who's boyfriend died the previous year might not be the best idea. Whatever, I'll chalk it up to young love.
Last and perhaps least, we need to talk about Sirius. He was a fascinating character right from the start, painted as a murderous madman capable of escaping the world's most heavily guarded prison. He could sneak into Hogwarts undetected, without alerting the Dementors. He could transform into a massive black dog. What does he do in this book? He withers away at home and grumbles whenever Harry is actually around. He's miserable 85% of the time, and still willing to fight Snape over name-calling. I understand that he's "not allowed out" and because of this, he feels useless. He does show up to rescue Harry in the end, but is killed by his cousin. Just like that, one of the coolest characters in the HP universe is dead. Sadly, I didn't feel a thing when he died. This may be because I've seen the film and I knew that it was coming. He just wasn't that cool in this book, and now he's gone.
Of course, there was plenty to like. I did like the idea of a bunch of students meeting up for secret meetings to learn Defense Against the Dark Arts. It made the middle of the book more interesting, and characters like Neville more useful. I learned the answer as to why Harry has to stay at Privet Drive every summer, which is something I had been wondering since book one. At first, I thought Luna Lovegood was a pointless character, but she played some very important roles. Her father's magazine served as a platform for Harry's story, allowing the public opinion of him to slowly shift into the positive realm. She was also able to see the Thestrals, which made the journey to the Ministry possible. Also, I'm generally down with weird characters who always seem to be high on something. The final showdown with the Death Eaters in the Department of Mysteries was pretty intense, even if it was sometimes hard to picture the setting. It wasn't unrealistic either - Harry's friends basically get wrecked when they try to face a bunch of dark wizards. Lastly, I was at first bummed that Harry's dad and Sirius were such huge jerks when they attended Hogwarts, but the more I thought about it, the more I appreciated how Harry ended up being a different person. He has his own flaws, and he doesn't need the shortcomings of his father to make him a more interesting character.
When looking at popular culture, there is generally a clear consensus as to what people like and what they don't like. Metallica's older albums are better than their newer stuff. Most people dislike the Star Wars prequels. A Storm of Swords is the best Song of Ice and Fire book. It appears that the consensus is that Order of the Phoenix is everyone's least favorite HP book. I even had a ten year-old tell me to persevere through it, admitting that he himself almost gave up. People told me to prepare myself, as it was long and tended to drag at parts. It's hard to go into something unbiased with all these negative opinions, but they were mostly right. And you know those obnoxious people that sport unpopular opinions just for the sake of being different/elitist? You know, the type of people that prefer Cheese Nips over Cheez-its? I couldn't even pretend to be one of those people after reading this book. It's clearly the worst in the series. The popular opinion was right on this one, which makes me sad.
As I type this, I'm fully expecting a few responses from people explaining why Order isn't so bad. I welcome that kind of discourse. I don't do any research on these things, I simply read the book, post my thoughts, and then watch the movie. I'm open to learning more, because I am still essentially an HP noob.
I must say, I'm very excited to start book six. I don't think I've ever seen the film, as I can't recall a single plot detail. Perhaps I'll be pleasantly surprised, which would be nice after this downer of a book. Until next time!
PS Happy New Year!