Saturday, October 31, 2015

harry potter book club: the order of the phoenix

Happy Halloweeeeeen!

I have to confess... I've been dreading rereading this book. I've tried my best to shut it out over the past decade. I've only watched the movie once. It's probably a good idea for me to finally face my demons and accept that this book is, in fact, an integral part of the Harry Potter universe. And it really does have its merits. In truth, my memory had shut out anything good or interesting about this entry and chose to cling only to death and Umbridge. That's not a very good place to be. (But Death and Umbridge would be a pretty grand name for a band or a bar or a collection of angst-filled poetry).

So here I am, doing my best to start fresh and view this book as another work of art from Rowling. Spoiler alert: I think I failed. Cue lots of sarcasm and vaguely-masked despair.
Let's dive in. God help us.

Peculiar Petunia
Why am I so fascinated by Petunia? I want to know so much more about her. I think this book is the first time we (and Harry) appreciate her as his mother's sister, and as someone who grew up around, but just outside of, the wizarding realm. What must that have been like? The Dursleys are so intentionally ignorant of Harry's heritage that it's easy to forget that Petunia shares the same DNA. Which, as it turns out, is the reason why her home is such an integral part of Harry's protection - her blood, Lily's blood, seals that ancient magic that Lily produced when she sacrificed herself for her son.

Focusing on Petunia's past really exposes her jealousy, insecurity, pettiness, and fear. When she speaks up after the dementor attack and reveals her knowledge of exactly what the terrible creatures are, it's this fantastically polarizing moment. She mentions hearing the term told to her sister by that "horrid boy", who we assume to be James - and then she receives a raging Howler, REMEMBER MY LAST, which casts her in such a mysterious light. Who is she, really? How much energy does it take for her to pretend on a daily basis that she is normal? Does she ever grieve the loss of her sister, or has she been so truly embittered that she is content in being rigidly callous and average? There's a part of her that recognizes her role in protecting Harry, and is willing to continue doing so. I want to believe that she cares for him in some strange, small way.

The Order of the Phoenix
This is the good stuff. While we're stuck on the outside of the Order along with Harry and the rest of the students for quite a while, being introduced to the Order and its members and catching snippets of their activity gives us a glimpse of the first wizarding war - and what life was like for the few loyal members of the Order back then. It's a harrowing recollection. I understand Harry's shock and dismay when Mad-Eye shows him that photo of the first Order. What a terrible and tragic snapshot of good people whose lives were so completely destroyed. Seeing them in their young and hopeful state is rather jarring. 

I can't really ever get over the tragedy of the Longbottoms. Harry has known about them for a while, but it's almost a relief when they all run into Neville at St. Mungo's and discover the truth about his parents. It's such an important piece of who he is. Neville is so pure and good and true. When his mother wanders over and gives him a gum wrapper, and his gran tells him to throw it away, and he tucks it into his pocket... this is what evil has done. Harry is not the only child left parent-less from war, and he won't be the last. Neville has suffered just as much, if not more, but he has no fame nor recognition. He could have been the one marked by Lord Voldemort as his equal, but he wasn't. He is left to be ordinary, but still lives a life marked by it cruelly.

Visiting Grimmauld Place also reveals even more of Sirius Black's dark past, and the macabre mess of the house succeeds in reflecting their tense circumstances. It's quite a fitting club. For me, one of the saddest moments in the entire series is when Harry finds Mrs. Weasley desperately trying to get rid of a boggart that is taking turns changing into each of her family members' dead bodies. A book clubber pointed out that Rowling is rather clever in the way she personifies human emotion. Dementors as depression, boggarts as fear. I think the usage of such monsters in a scene like this is incredibly poignant. Boggarts are so intimidating because they personify fear in such a physical, public manner. Others are suddenly capable of seeing your most intimate fear on display. In this case, these visions are no passing nightmare - the war is coming, and tragedy and death become more and more likely every day. Molly is eventually saved and comforted by Harry, Sirius and Lupin - who assures her that they're more prepared, and that this time is different. But is it? 

Let's take a break with some:
Spot-On Quotes About Adolescence

Hermione: Oh, stop feeling all misunderstood.
Phineas Nigellus: Has it not occurred to you, my poor puffed-up popinjay, that there might be an excellent reason why the headmaster of Hogwarts is not confiding every tiny detail of his plans to you? Have you never paused, while feeling hard-done-by, to note that following Dumbledore's orders has never yet led you into harm? No. No, like all young people, you are quite sure that you alone feel and think, you alone recognize danger... 
George: Hello, Harry. We thought we heard your dulcet tones.
Ron: One person can't feel all that at once, they'd explode. 
Hermione: Just because you've got the emotional range of a teaspoon doesn't mean we all have! 
Dumbledore: You do care. You care so much you feel as though you will bleed to death with the pain of it.

It's Hard Being Famous
To keep from crying or breaking something, I tried to laugh every time someone thinks Harry is crazy or lying. After a while I started getting a little light-headed from the effort. Good thing I didn't make it a drinking game. 

I'm very torn between empathizing with Harry and wanting to smack him upside the head. He can be such a dunce. Drama queen supreme. But at the same time, I don't blame him for being frustrated. I get it. Yes, he's a complete moron when it comes to girls and he always takes out his anger on the wrong people. His temper is right on the surface at all times and he's pigheaded and stubborn. But I can't deny that this year is just one giant suck fest. Reading this book I'm constantly flip-flopping from championing Harry and wanting to cheer on his team, to echoing Phineas Nigellus like, THIS IS WHY KIDS BE DUMB.

I had to take a break to do some some serious yoga after Harry's court hearing in the beginning because I was so tensed up during that entire chapter. Fudge is so infuriating, I can't even. In truth, this whole book is comically terrible. Like those movies that are made to be stressful, like Due Date or One Fine Day. I hate those. This is Harry's Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. He saw Voldemort return, but is then forced to endure an entire summer with zero information about it. No one will tell him anything, and no one even believes his story in the first place. Not even his friends at Hogwarts, like Seamus (and his no-good mother). People straight-up stare, point and whisper. Rude. 

Dumbledore takes a very different approach, choosing to absolutely avoid Harry at all costs. No help, no guidance, no communication. And listen - I'm a big supporter of Dumbledore. I really am. I think he's boss, and I want him to always be right. But I think he messed up here. I know he was busy working things out in his own way, but Harry deserved a little more from him. It wouldn't have taken a whole lot. It's a small consolation that he admits this in the end.

With Dumbledore giving him the silent treatment and Hagrid mysteriously missing, Harry's left needing a new teacher friend - so he's gifted Dolores Stubby-Fingers Umbridge. Hem, hem. She uses him as a carving station for her creepy-as-crap blood-sucking quill. How is that not a dark magic item? How does she justify using this? She also definitely attempts to use an Unforgivable Curse on a student by the end. Like. What? Oh, and don't forget, Harry is also banned from Quidditch for life. And his first real crush happens to be still tragically confused and in love with her dead boyfriend, who died beside/because of Harry. (Ugh, Cho).

The good news is that Harry has a special mind-bond with Voldemort, and is able to save Mr. Weasley's life by warning the others after having a vivid snake's-eye view of the near-fatal attack. (Shocking twist: it takes a while for anyone to believe him about this. Quick, take another shot). But that mind-bond is kind of a beezy, and undoubtedly dangerous, so he's forced into anti-Voldy lessons with his other bestie, Severus Snape. Those lessons go so well that he sees another mind-bonding vision of Sirius being tortured, goes to save him, realizes it was all a trap (but don't worry because Sirius comes to save Harry from trying to save him), and then Sirius actually dies because of it. He gets tangled up in a flood of whispering silk and then he dies because...well. I don't actually know. It's very vague. I think he dies because of the crappy thread count? We've all been there. 

Ok, so good luck ever being happy again, Harry. This book is your personal pocket dementor. Mine, too.

Sirius Foreshadowing
I kept cringing throughout this book, because I felt like every time Sirius was present or mentioned, the text was pointing directly to his death. It gave me this dark heaviness in my chest. It's so easy to see it now that I know it's coming. Sirius is obviously depressed, and is continuously goaded and stung by comments and instructions from Dumbledore, Snape, Harry, the Weasleys...he's so lonely and dejected. Harry misses multiple chances to speak with him, he has things he wants to say but doesn't, he feels a strange foreboding about telling him goodbye...ugh. Don't go, Sirius. Please don't go. Stay with us and keep on singing God Rest Ye Merry Hippogriffs. 

Rowling fully explores Harry's grief in the wake of Sirius' death, which is both cathartic and the worst. I spent the rest of the series waiting for Sirius to come back from that freaking veil. Harry's denial was my denial. His hope, his countless disappointments as he runs out of options for how Sirius could still be with him somehow. He can't accept it, and as a reader, neither could I. It's cruel.

Knowing that Harry had that two-way mirror to talk to Sirius the whole time makes me crazy. CRAZY. He could have talked to him at any time, known that he was safe. Instead of taking the word of a deranged house elf. I'm also pretty sure I already told Harry to always listen to Hermione. She's always right, and she knew something was fishy about that vision. (Ok, and she also advised everyone to be nicer to Kreacher.) Why be so dumb, Harry? Why.

Anyone who knows me well (and also a collection of total strangers) knows that Sirius is my favorite Harry Potter character of all time. I haven't read this book since I first read it as a teenager and cried myself to sleep after Sirius died. I'm not sure why I felt such a connection to him then, but it's still there. Sirius and Lupin both represent something very important for Harry...they're walking connections to his parents, especially his dad. They're guardians, father figures. Reading it this time around, I cried for Lupin just as much as I did for Harry. I wanted to read more about him in this book. 15 years ago, he woke up one morning to find that all of his closest friends were either dead or imprisoned. He is given the great gift of discovering the truth and reconciling with Sirius, only to witness his death less than 2 years later. The way that Rowling layers the story, you can truly grieve for the young men they used to be... the best friends who lost so very much - of whom Lupin is now the lone survivor.


There are some other pretty prime pieces of foreshadowing in this book. While they're cleaning Grimmauld Place, it's briefly mentioned that they find a "gold locket that none of them can open". Hmmm. The first time Harry sees Dumbledore following his vision of Mr. Weasley being attacked, Dumbles seems to have some kind of epiphany when Harry tells him he saw the vision through the eyes of Voldemort's snake. He pulls out one of his odd devices and says, "Naturally, naturally...but in essence divided?" He knows everything. He and Hermione need to co-lead the Order.

Occlumency and Other Frustrations
It's still rather baffling to me that Dumbledore would allow Snape to instruct Harry in something so vital without any supervision or follow-up. I understand that he trusts Snape, but does he honestly think he's fair and mature when it comes to Harry? Snape is straight-up messed up, ya'll. I must confess, reluctantly, that he does seem to be trying to help Harry in the beginning - the problem is that he's a jerk, and he takes every opportunity to hurt Harry in the process of that learning. Everyone and their mother knows that Snape hates Harry and does his best to make his life miserable. And visa versa. Of course this training failed. 

The information we gather from their time together is kind of a letdown, but it's not surprising. James was arrogant. Sirius was reckless and patronizing, and in a lot of ways, he still is. 12 years in Azkaban may have delayed his social maturity a tad. Not sure what Snape's excuse is. I'm about as far from the Snape Fan Club as I can possibly be, but I do have to say that his worst memory makes me cringe - and I'll admit that I understand why Snape and Sirius still hate each other. I get it. Those kind of grudges are hard to snuff out. Snape was bullied - it's true. But I stand by the fact that this grudge has absolutely nothing to do with Harry. We could go back and forth over who was more rotten as a teenager, but there has been an entire wizarding war in between then and now. Get over it, man. James is dead. Insulting him and telling his teenage son, who never even knew him, how awful he was doesn't really accomplish anything for anyone.

The fact that the memory bothers Harry so much tells us a lot. Harry isn't his dad. It's a shame that Snape never bothers to find out what kind of person Harry is going to be. I'm so glad Harry had the chance (thanks to Ginny - the thing about growing up with Fred and George is that you sort of start thinking anything's possible if you've got enough nerve) to speak with Lupin and Sirius about his dad. They have this wonderful moment of trying to explain, and own up to, their behavior as boys. I wanted more moments like this. I think it would have been quite natural for the three of them to spend time talking about James at length. As it is, we really only get this one small floo-powder conversation. As they say, James was a git but he grew out of it. His head deflated a bit and Lily did fall in love with him, and the true legacy of James is that he was a good man, a loyal friend, and he died protecting his family. 

Just Deserts
Things that make this book bearable: Umbridge being dragged into the Forbidden Forest by centaurs (half-breeds she fears and despises, oh justice). Fred and George leaving school in mayhem and fireworks, and Peeves saluting them in farewell. Dumbledore's Army. Every time someone tells Zacharias Smith to shut up. When Ginny says, "Well, that was a bit stupid of you, seeing as you don't know anyone but me who's been possessed by You-Know-You, and I can tell you how it feels" (and her burgeoning boldness in general). Neville's improvement and bravery. Luna Lovegood. When McGonagall tells Harry to have a biscuit. Rita Skeeter being blackmailed and bossed around by Hermione. The Quibbler. Nymphadora Tonks. This is the book that really brings the girl power. It's where I think people begin to have the greatest disadvantage by not reading the books - there are so many great characters that emerge, especially Ginny, that are barely skimmed in the movies.

It's satisfying at the end to finally get some answers from Dumbledore, even though his recognition that they should've been more honest with Harry comes way too late and at a very high cost. Youth cannot know how age thinks and feels. But old men are guilty if they forget what it was to be young. It's a great line. It's hard to see Dumbledore so vulnerable. I still cry when he admits that the greatest flaw in his plan was growing to care for Harry too much. But what a lesson to learn. Putting the truth above someone's temporary happiness is something we all struggle with, I think.

The best moment of the book, really, is when Fudge finally has to concede to Dumbledore and stop being a raging moron.

That about wraps up The Order of the Phoenix. As always, I could continue talking about this for eons! But I'd much rather hear your thoughts. THANK YOU for reading along! Share your thoughts below, but be careful of spoilers if it's your first time reading through this series, because there are bound to be a few. If you have read them/seen them before, please try to only respond regarding plot points from this book and avoid series-wide spoilers. 

I'm not sure when the next review will be up, but I'll make sure to announce it in The Harry Potter Book Club page

Half-Blood Prince is such a great book, and I can't wait to reread it. I think by the time the last few books of the series came out I devoured them a little too quickly...a lot of the details are hazy. I look forward to ranting about it with you all soon. Until then...


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