I’m moving right along through the Remembrall Readathon to discuss my favorite book in the series: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. I’ve said this before in one of my previous Remembrall Readathon posts: my favorites tend to change each time I read the series. My favorite as a kid was without a doubt Prisoner of Azkaban, but then as I got older and reread the books, “Phoenix” became the tops. And after finishing it again a few days ago, it still remains #1 to me.
Many people dislike this book because it’s the “angsty” one. I agree. It is angsty. But Harry’s angst is 100% justifiable, so it doesn’t bother me in the least. Additionally, it contains some of the most frustrating moments and characters in the series. For example, the Ministry is completely denying the fact that Voldemort is back, publicizing Harry as an attention-seeking nutter. You also meet the worst character in the series in my opinion, Delores Jane Umbridge. Voldemort may be by definition the evillest person in the series, but Umbridge to me is the most infuriating. Call me a sadist, a masochist, what you will, but the 5th book is still my fave despite all this. Here’s why.
In my own original journey through the Harry Potter books, it was at book 5 that I really became a fan. I was a fan before, don’t get me wrong, I adored Harry Potter. But after book 5, it mattered more to me than just about anything. It became my world. This was when I started listening to HP podcasts, speculating on message boards, listening to wizard rock, bookmarking MuggleNet as my home page. Like, this shit mattered now.
This is not to say that books 1-4 were unimportant, but the narrative arch definitely gets to the point where the stakes are at a whole new level at book 5. As you know, the end of book 4 is the turning point of the series, in which Voldemort finally comes back for real in the flesh. In book 5, Harry has to grapple with the aftermath of witnessing Voldemort returning, Cedric being murdered, and his parents’ spirits speaking to him while battling his arch enemy. Talk about a traumatic night. The ministry’s refusal to believe any of this happened, along with the fact that Harry is kept in the dark about a lot of important developments totally justifies the resentment he feels throughout the book (not to mention all the bullshit Umbridge puts him through). We also finally get a look at how the good side fights back. The Order of the Phoenix is fascinating to me: the meetings behind closed doors, planning out how to bring about Voldemort’s fall. This shit is real now.
What is also a simple yet very important element of book 5 is its sheer length. The original hardcover US edition is 870 pages long. That’s one whopper of a “children’s” book. I put the word in quotation marks because book 5 also represents for me the transition from children’s books to something more. J.K. wrote towards her aging audience throughout the series, and this is evident in the length and darkening tone of the series over time, and even in the vocabulary level! The length of the book allows for a level of character development that is deeper and more complex than that of the previous books. Characters we thought we knew well we get to know even better now that the world is torn between believers and non-believers of Voldemort’s return and is a little darker than before.
I could write a plethora of posts just on Order of the Phoenix alone. I could do one dedicated to Umbridge and educational issues (having been a teacher, I had more appreciation for this aspect of the book this time around). I could go on about how much I love the Dept. of Mysteries sequence because of all the eerie and unexplained shit they find down there – brains in tanks, the time room, THE VEIL. I am so intrigued by the whole thing. But I would be completely remiss if I didn’t mention my favorite character in this post: a Mr. Sirius Black. This is still my favorite book in the series even though my favorite character gets killed. We get to see a lot more of Sirius in this book and learn more about his complexities: his family history, his attitude toward Snape, his fatal flaw of mistaking Harry for James, his restlessness at being cooped up where he can’t do anything to help the cause. I’m a sucker for brooding characters like this, and my love for Sirius runs deep. This book is so much about Sirius, and I think that’s why I love it, despite the tragic end.
And the end of the book. Holy crap. I don’t think the conversation between Dumbledore and Harry at the end ever hit me as hard as it did than during this reread. I think it’s because I already knew what was happening (and was what going to happen) and understood the subtleties in that scene on a higher level. It is absolutely heartbreaking. Harry is yelling and screaming and destroying all the things in Dumbledore’s office, and Dumbledore has to explain that he made a terrible mistake by not revealing all the info he is about to reveal to Harry earlier. And Dumbledore cries. This scene is beautifully written and shows the complexity of Dumbledore so well. It’s the capstone of the book that I think is the pinnacle of the series.
The symbol I think best represents what book 5 means to me and to the series as a whole is the thestrals. For the first time, Harry arrives at Hogwarts and sees what is pulling the carriages to the school. For the first time, Harry arrives at Hogwarts having witnessed murder. For the first time, Harry arrives at Hogwarts with the utmost certainty that Voldemort is back and the world is never going to be the same as it was before. Yet, Luna reminds us that these creatures which represent death are not to be feared. They are not ugly. They are peaceful and graceful and strong. Like Harry, we now get a richer and more complex understanding of his world and the people in it, and can feel the weight of mortality like never before. Things matter a little bit more. Things are more real than ever before. And you see the true, harsh reality of the situation despite the fact that this is all fantasy. The wizarding world became my world because of book 5.