Science fiction and fantasy                                            

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

by J. K. Rowling


More of a brick than a book, the fifth in the Harry Potter series arrived on June 21st to a welcome that most authors don't dare to dream about.

This time the unmistakeable sloshing of testosterone is in evidence. Harry is a Teenager, and this complicates everything. As well as the girl issues, Harry is a lot angrier than before, and his moods get him into trouble on more than one occasion.

J. K. Rowling isn't afraid to let her characters grow and change. In fact, she has even been heard to say that she finds it "creepy" when characters in children's books don't appear to age. As well as more evidence of sexual awakening, there is talk of life after Hogwarts, and the looming O.W.L. (Ordinary Wizarding Level) exams.

Along with this stressful background, Voldemort is loose and back in his own body, and thus more dangerous than ever. The Ministry of Magic is in denial about Voldemort, and Harry and Dumbledore are the subjects of a campaign to discredit them by the Daily Prophet. Harry's godfather is forced to hide out in his own house, unable to leave for fear of being arrested, and Hagrid is away on a mysterious mission that Harry and his friends are not being told about.

We learn more about the Black family in this book, and it becomes apparent that Harry is not the only one with difficult relations. Harry, too, learns more about his own parents during the course of this book.

Dumbledore has re-formed the Order of the Phoenix, and we learn more about its role in opposing Voldemort. Their secret headquarters leaves a few things to be desired. Harry stays there for part of the holidays and we meet several new characters who are members of the order.

You may have heard that a major character dies in this book. I won't be giving any clues about who it is in this review. I will however say that The Order of the Phoenix has some very dark, ominous moments, and it is suited to a slightly older reader than the earlier books.

One of Harry's biggest problems during his fifth year is Dolores Umbridge, the new teacher of Defence against the Dark Arts. She has been appointed by the Ministry of Magic in order to keep an eye on the school, and she has a cruel streak that she directs towards teachers as well as students. Harry has to learn to suppress his temper, or face the consequences.

At over 760 pages this book will be quite a challenge for younger children. There is a lot happening that the reader needs to keep track of. J. K. hasn't merely padded the story out with a more leisurely writing style. A tense atmosphere runs through the book, but there are moments of humour and warmth which contrast well. Whilst previous books have seen Voldemort and his Death Eaters pitted against the good guys, here we see almost everybody fighting everybody else at some stage. Harry is entering a time of more subtle distinctions between good and evil.

Fortunately for the Harry Potter industry this is a very enjoyable read. It's at least three times too long to translate into a single feature film, and it's better for the fact that Rowling hasn't bowed to any pressure to write something that would be easily filmable. Inevitably it follows the usual pattern, with the big showdown coming conveniently towards the end of the school year. But there are enough differences this time around that it can hardly be described as being formulaic. The author continues to tease us with possibilities, particularly concerning certain relationships between characters, but on the whole it's extremely satisfying.

Book Details

Year: 2003

Categories: Books

  YA     Fantasy
    Male Protagonist  

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Review © Ros Jackson
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Johnny (yet again) pom     9th November, 2004 11:35am

There are still 2? 3? more of these to come. oh dear. it's turning into eastenders with added frogslegs and newt testicles or whatever. For me, this series is starting to get tired. ( Hermione, I lav u, screamed harry.) Oh, well, lets hope she gets her arse in gear and produces another stoater like the first.

chelsea E     5th January, 2005 23:35pm

I CAN'T wait until the two other books come out!!!!! Ever since i finished OotP three after it came out, I have had nothing to do.

Philip Chalmers     21st November, 2005 23:21pm

I found "Order of the Phoenix" a bit of a mixed bag.

As usual I loved the central characters (Harry, Ron, Hermione, Dumbledore, McGonagal, Hagrid). And I liked the way they had to deal with a more complex world - even the "good" side suffers from heavy-handed bureaucracy; Dumbledore proves fallible.

But I think cracks are showing in the foundations. The economic and political infrastructure of the wizarding world always was sketchy - how do they all earn a living, and how does the Ministry of Magic govern thousands of wizards and witches without any mechanism for gaining and demonstrating public consent? I can't believe that the Minstry could get away with such blatantly corrupt and oppressive behaviour. In particular Umbridge's use of magic for torture seems like a few steps on the way to the forbidden Cruciatus curse, and therefore deserving of a spell in Azkhaban.

And I though Dumbledore was too much of a deus ex machina at the end, rescuing Harry while apparently toying with the dreaded Voldemort, and speaking airily "beating them (the Ministry's commandos!) again". If Dumbledore's so powerful, how come there's a story in the first place?

PS My wife "doesn't entirely agree" with these comments.