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 mundane.

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 clear.