HARRY POTTER AND THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX
by J.K. Rowling
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
J.K Rowling's fifth venture into the world of magic, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, opens with an attack on the title character and his cousin Dudley by a pair of Dementors, an appropriate beginning given the unremitting despair which characterizes so much of this vast novel. Detailing Potter's fifth year at Hogwart's School, Rowling finds that she must undo much of the success Harry has achieved in the previous four novels in order to follow her formula of victory by the underdog. Potter, therefore, returns to Hogwarts with both himself and his mentor, Headmaster Albus Dumbledore, objects of ridicule by much of the wizarding world, led by the Daily Prophet newspaper and the Ministry of Magic led by Cornelius Fudge.
While Potter has some of his standard allies, the various Weasleys, Hermione Granger, and Neville Longbottom, others are missing or incapacitated for much of the novel. Instead, Rowlings supplements Potter's clique with a variety of new students, such as Luna Lovegood, whose father runs a fanciful tabloid, to Cho Chang, with whom Harry life is further complicated as they try to sort out their feelings for each other. These additions allow the fifteen-year-olds to more fully demonstrate their own abilities since they can not rely on the advice and guidance of adults.
Potter and his friends are not the only ones subject to attack in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Lord Voldemort is also aiming his attacks on Dumbledore and the status quo of Hogwart's through the Ministry of Magic, which refuses to give credence to Dumbledore and Potter's account of Voldemort's return, no matter what evidence is presented. This two pronged attack furthers the atmosphere of despair which pervades the novel as the heroes are stymied in just about every action they take by quasi-legal actions.
The despair is heightened by Potter's own feelings of isolation. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, as all the books in the series, begins with Potter at his uncle's house in Lower Whinging, separated from the rest of the wizarding world. In each subsequent book, he feels more and more anger at his lack of communication with his friends and the adults of Hogwarts during the summer months and in this book it is further exacerbated when he is reunited with them and feels they are not telling him what he feels he needs to know.
Not only do the teenage characters in the novel continue to grow and demonstrate new abilities, but some of the adults do as well. Perhaps the most interesting revelations in the novel are made about the hapless Neville Longbottom, Professor Severus Snape and Potter's long dead father, James. All of these revelations serve to make these characters more fully rounded and take some of the focus, even if only temporarily, off of Potter himself. They also heighten the interest in Potter's acquaintances who are allowed to come to the fore instead of being mere spear carriers or cardboard villains in support of Rowling's protagonist.
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is by far the most complex of Rowling's novels. Rowling doesn't tie off all of her loose strings, clearly leaving subplot-lines for the remaining two books, many of which spark interest, and sympathy, in previously despised characters and situations. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is not the place to discover the world of Harry Potter, but it is a strong and well written addition to the series.
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