J. K. Rowling: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Book 5)

4 stars (out of 5).

As of last night, just around midnight, I finished the most recent (and thickest) volume in the Harry Potter series, which was one of my mother's last gifts to us. She was a huge Harry Potter fan, and had pre-ordered "Order of the Phoenix" from her local Borders bookstore. She gave it to us to read first, and in the end, never got to read it herself. I actually don't think this is as sad as it sounds.

My wife, and some friends who've read this book, had reported to me that they didn't like it as much as the earlier volumes, that it was "darker". I agree. The premise is that Voldemort and his Death Eater friends are back; that the Ministry of Magic is in major league denial about it; and that Dumbledore and Harry are being persecuted as a result, the truth being something the Ministry does not want the wizarding community to hear. It is an extension of the darkness that fell at the end of Book 4.

Yet that isn't why I didn't like it as much as the others.

I didn't like it because Harry is a monochromatic pain in the ass from start to finish.

I understand that he is growing up. He's fifteen years old as he enters his fifth year at Hogwarts, and as J. K. Rowling's children are a bit younger, she has to imagine, I think, what it's like to have a fifteen year old boy around the house. I actually have one, his name is Joe, and he's a whole lot more fun to be with than Harry is these days. He has his ups and downs, like any teenager does (even us grown ups!), but he's not angry every day. He doesn't treat every grownup with flagrante disrespecto, whether they have been his cruelest tormentor (Professor Snape) or his kindest mentor (Professor Dumbledore). Harry is mean to his girlfriend (it is possible to not 'get' girls and still be nice to them), mean to his allies (Ginny, Neville, and Luna Lovegood as his 'outer' circle of friends), and mean to Snape, even when he learns that the latter, in fact, has had every reason to dislike and mistrust him. He bloody well owes Snape an apology, and I'm really ticked off that he didn't offer one by the end of the 870th page. Grow up, Harry! Stop being such a whiney hiney.

I also have to confess that I was not as devastated by the tragic climax of the book as perhaps I should have been. I am probably more to blame for this than Rowling. Perhaps because of my own loss, I was less sympathetic to a fictional one; perhaps because Newsweek spoiled things by announcing who died in their review of the third movie (I think it was in a magazine sidebar, so you can read this version of the review without ruining it for yourself); perhaps because that person's behavior in Book 5 was so overtly self-destructive, you don't have to be Sybil Trelawney to have seen it coming a mile off. For whatever reason, while Harry was reduced to an even angrier and bitter...er cur at the end of the book, all I felt was more irritation because of it.

For all this, however, it was still a great read, and I would still highly recommend it. The plot is outstanding; the pacing, perfect -- and there are a raft of new characters to delight and entertain. On the evil side, Dolores Jane Umbridge is spectacularly drawn, as are the black members of the Black family tree, and Kreacher, their marginally sane house elf. On the good side, how can you not love Nymphodora Tonks, a metamorph not much older than Harry and his friends, with a very "lively" sense of style? (A punk Auror. How cool is that?!) Luna Lovegood is a treat to meet, and the perfect foil for Hermione's steadfast sensibility. And Remus Lupin and Minerva McGonagall are fleshed out in some endearing ways, as are the Weasley twins, Fred and George. Even Ginny Weasley comes out of her shell. There's much more to like in this book than not to like.

So my hope is that Harry has a restful summer, scores decently on his O.W.L.s, and returns to Hogwarts for his sixth year in a slightly better frame of mind. Get back with Cho. Be fair to Snape. Just chill out.

In the mean time, I'm glad my mom had better memories of him than this book would have left her with.



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