Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
Reviewed: July 28, 2003
By: J.K. Rowling
Publisher: Raincoast Books
766 pages, $43.00
The packaging on Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is
a little bit deceptive. It’s a brilliant thing in gold and shades of red
with a phoenix on the front and some happy looking wizards on the back.
This is not a happy book. Oh, it has its moments, but it is,
by and large, a chapter of the Potter saga in which Harry is confused, derided,
assaulted on several levels and seemingly left to his own devices by the
adults who are supposed to be looking out for him.
One of Harry’s problems is that he’s fifteen. It’s an age for
self-definition, for challenging authority, for feeling those first signs
of serious interest in the opposite sex. Harry’s got all these things happening
to him in this year of his school life. Up to now he’s pretty much been the
brave little soldier, accepting everything that comes his way and coping
fairly well. In book five he’s developed a temper. He shouts a lot, grumbles
and spends much time thinking dark thoughts.
In one sense, he has good reasons. Trapped at the Dursleys (his
muggle aunt and uncle’s home) for the summer, he is dying to find out if
the rebirth of Lord Voldemort, which he witnessed in the last book along
with the death of a school mate, is having any effect on the rest of the
world. Uncle Vernon is in one of his moods again and won’t even allow Harry
to listen to the news. Hoping for word from his friends turns out to be disappointing
as well, since the fragmentary contact he has with them is just enough to
make him aware that they are involved in something fairly secret and important
and he’s not in on it. Besides that, his cousin Dudley is turning into a
cigarette smoking local bully with a local bunch of ruffians.
On top of all this, Harry and Dudley are assaulted by a pair
of Dementors (the terrible beings that guard Azkaban prison) in chapter one
and Harry has to resort to the illegal use of magic in order to save them.
Almost immediately he finds himself under censure from the Ministry of Magic
and expelled from Hogwarts School. While he manages to beat both charges
with the assistance of headmaster Dumbledore, this seems to be only the beginning
of a very bad year for the young wizard, beginning with the news that, while
both Ron and Hermione, his closest friends, have been promoted to the status
of school prefect, he has not.
It seems that the folks in control at the Ministry really don’t
want to admit that You Know Who has returned and that they’ve spent the summer
doing everything they can to prevent the truth from being known. This has
meant an all-out assault on the reputations of both Harry and Dumbledore
in the pages of the Daily Prophet and the imposition of onerous new rules
at Hogwarts. These latter are enforced by the new Defence Against the Dark
Arts instructor, the aptly named Professor Dolores Umbridge, an agent of
the Ministry who soon becomes the real power at Hogwarts, with the authority
to impose punishments and evaluate the staff for political correctness.
Soon Harry, Dumbledore, Hagrid (who is hiding a secret) are all
in serious trouble and having either to hide or watch their steps very carefully.
This becomes harder when one is under assault by forces both magical and
And what is the Order of the Phoenix, you might ask? It is the
secret society of those who believe in Harry and his testimony and are trying
to prepare to battle Voldemort when he finally shows his hand. They are all
operating in greatest secrecy and some of this means that they have to keep
Harry in the dark, since it appears he has some sort of psychic connection
with the Dark Lord. This does not improve Harry’s mood any.
Several illusions die a hard death in this novel. Harry learns
that at fifteen his father was hardly better than the odious Draco Malfoy,
who has been a thorn in his side since year one. This is a serious blow to
Harry, who had built a rosy picture of the perfect life he might have led
had they survived.
We are headed towards an enormous battle, which will have to
occur in volume seven, and so the sides in the war have to be drawn up. First
blood was drawn in The Goblet of Fire, but there is a more serious
death in this book, as everyone has probably heard already.
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix isn’t really
the sort of book to take with you on Air Canada’s Jazz or Tango flights.
There isn’t room to open it when you’re sitting down and they make you put
it under the seat in front of you during takeoffs and landings.
I’m kidding, but it is a big book. The first three novels in
this series were about what you would expect from a young adult novel in
terms of length, but The Goblet of Fire burst those boundaries and The
Order of the Phoenix has gone beyond even that. There are two more books
left to produce in the series and I fully expect that the seventh and last
will be published in two volumes, like War and Peace.
Did I mention that I enjoyed it? I suppose I should make that