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Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix - Full Review
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Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix - Full Review

by JK Rowling

There have been many Defence Against the Dark Arts Professors at Hogwarts. Each seemingly more bizarre than the last. None is more bizarre than Dolores Umbridge. Unfortunately, Umbridge is not quite as likeable a character as her predecessors, Professors Lupin and Moody, and not quite as talented as either. She is also a good deal more dangerous, more nasty than the buffoon, Professor Gilderoy Lockhart.

It is not inappropriate that when Potter first meets Umbridge it is in the Ministry of Magic and Umbridge is part of the inquisition sitting in judgement of Potter's latest illicit act, because Umbridge is very much a part of the machinery of the Ministry.

And at Hogwarts she plays both a real and symbolic role.

Umbridge's arrival at Hogwarts signals the beginning of an ugly phase in the relationship between Hogwarts School and the Ministry. Her attitude is representative of the air of paranoia and self-delusion pervading the Ministry. It is this undesirable aspect of Cornelius Fudge's rule that Umbridge comes to symbolize at Hogwarts.

The central irony in Umbridge's story at Hogwarts is that her attempts to impose her will lead to an air of quiet rebellion among the teachers and the development of a dangerous air of mutiny amongst the students.

But it is not only Umbridge who meets face-to-face with Cruel Irony, but Potter too. Even at the start of the novel, the respect and attention that Potter believes he has earned is not evident. He is instead, throughout the long summer holidays, ignored.

One of the main themes of the novel is this idea, that Potter, though carrying from an early age, the fame of being the "Boy Who Lived", and having added to that reputation with his well-publicized exploits has now come to represent a sort of threat to those adults around him.

He must be handled with great care.

It is the parselmouth episode of Chamber of Secrets multiplied many times over in its intensity.

But of course Potter represents more than one thing. To many of Dumbledore's followers he is essentially, "The Chosen One" and for this or other more personal reasons, he must be coddled.

But even to the Dark Lord, Lord Voldemort - whose true wish is to destroy Potter - Potter represents opportunity as well as threat.

Unfortunately for the novel, the attempts by Lord Voldemort to lay seige to Potter's unconscious and conscious mind expose a great slice of the plot of the novel and the result is that Order of the Phoenix lacks the same sense of mystery and suspense that seasons Goblet of Fire and Prisoner of Azkaban.

As well as finding himself evaluated - not always positively - by adults around him, in Order of the Phoenix, Harry Potter has the opportunity to evaluate some his elders. With the assistance of the pensieve this evaluation can take into account not only those still around such as his godfather, but also his own parents. This is one of the most successful aspects of the novel.

Potter is placed under immense emotional pressure in Order of the Phoenix and it is no surprise that he eventually cracks, but it is signicant that when his breakdown comes it is not a collapse into a heap of tears, but an eruption of frustration and rage.

Fortunately this is with the adult most likely to comprehend and to be forgiving.

And the final irony of the story - well not exactly the final - is that this childish tantrum is the event that finally breaks Dumbledore's reserve and leads him to talk openly with Harry as he has never done before.

This closing conversation with Dumbledore is, like some of the closing chapters of Goblet of Fire, exceptionally well written and reiterates the well developed theme of Love as a potent force.

Order of the Phoenix could have been slightly - no significantly shorter and would have gained rather than lost from this.

It contains more in the way of cruelty, punitive excess and humiliation than heroism, kindness and human decency.

It fails to progress the series quite as much as its length would suggest. And contains excessive focus on mundane matters and inconsequential developments.

Regardless it is an absorbing, if not always enjoyable read and contains some of the most striking imagery of the series.

Cover to Cover

Unabridged Audio CD Edition – 2003

Read by Stephen Fry

Litrev Rating

Overall 4______

Suspense 5______
Characters 5______
Plot 2______
Audio 5______
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

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