You Are What You Read

Reviews of books as I read them. This is basically a (web)log of books I've read.

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Location: Lawrenceville, Georgia, United States

I am a DBA/database analyst by day, full time father on evenings and weekends.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

I figure anyone who is going to read this book already has. My comments here probably won't make much of a difference either way. Seems like most people either love or hate Harry Potter, but I'm strangely in the middle. I find J.K. Rowlings's books interesting, but mostly on a juvenile level. They're probably great for kids and teens, but there really pretty light.

That being said, Order of the Phoenix is certainly the darkest volume yet, and perhaps the deepest. It covers Harry's fifth year at Hogwarts, and the summer before. In fact, it takes about 200 pages before Harry actually steps onto the grounds at Hogwarts (the book is 870). The entire first book was only 309 pages. That say something about the bloat. The whole thing could have using paring down by about 100-200 pages.

Harry is concerned about the return of his nemesis, Lord Voldemort. But he's also troubled by the fact that many people in the magical world don't believe Harry's story about Voldemort's return and events at the end of book 4. The credibility problem, where his adversaries call Harry arrogant and an attention obsessed storyteller, creates a lot of tension and empathy for Harry, but frankly it got pretty tired. I can only hope that (SPOILER) with the head of the Ministry of Magic, Cornelius Fudge, finally believing that Voldemort is back and others falling in line, this all means that the "nobody believes Harry when he says evil has returned" plot device is in the past.

Ron and Hermione are back of course. I was pleased with one student's question about why Hermione is in Gryffindor when all the smart kids are in Ravenclaw. I had been thinking the same thing myself, and I wonder if fan comments led the author to slip that in. Ron is a prefect, and has to deal with his own troublemaking brothers. The real problem is of course the new professor for Defense Against the Dark Arts, Dolores Umbridge, an associate of Fudge's. Of course she doesn't believe Harry or even like him. She puts him in detention for saying that Voldemort is back, and even bans him from playing Quidditch (I've never understood why the teachers are always so concerned about the students' private lives and trying to annoy or please them...shouldn't they be above all that?) She sucks up so much power that eventually she convinces Fudge to have her replace Dumbledore as head of the school. Dumbledore is chased off when he takes the blame for Harry's secret classes and acts like he's actually creating the secret army that Fudge suspects. Here's where I have another problem. Dumbledore's actions are somewhat explained, as always, but I have trouble believing that he would 1, let someone like Umbridge be in charge of students he's supposed to protect, especially Harry, and 2, leave the school to her and not be able to protect any of them. We can guess that he's keeping an eye on them from afar, but he doesn't do a very good job of it. I know he's not as powerful, having been stripped of some of his positions by Fudge and his followers, but he's still got followers of his own.

Dumbledore says something very wise at his usual end-of-term dialogue with Harry (it seems he only will talk to Harry at the end of the school year, leaving the rest of the year to be very mysterious and have Harry get irritated with him). "Youth cannot know how age thinks and feels. But old men are guilty if they forget what it was to be young..." This put succintly something that I've thought for years, older people forget what it was like to be young. So suddently I saw Harry's petulance and withdrawing and selfishness in a new light. He was jealous of Ron being prefect; why? did he really want the job? He'd never expressed an interest, and in fact had made fun of Ron's older brother. But it's a typical reaction for a teenager (well, typical enough for some). And when he doesn't want to talk to Dumbledore about his problems, instead blaming him for being distant (!), I can understand that too.

Much of the heart of the story is Harry's relationship to his godfather Sirius, who is is only connection to his parents. Harry alternates between wanting to help protect Sirius and seek his protection. I wasn't happy to see Snape played in a different light. We get to see his shabby treatment by Harry's father and friends, through a memory of Snape's. Harry's father turns out to be a jerk! Snape is the one who gets picked on. It is interesting to see the elder Potter as something more than an idealized dream. I'm glad that it helps Harry grow. But I had gotten used to Snape being the older version of Draco, sort of always annoying and nasty and, well, unfair. Somehow it undercuts his personality by making his treatment of Harry a symptom of how he was treated by Harry's Dad. If his treatment in school is part of what made him so nasty, then why doesn't Harry's general goodness conduce him to treat Harry better. We find out that the students all do better potions work when he's not around anyway.

Snape should be Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher in book 7.

In the end, Harry and his friends survive (mostly) and they all learn something more than spells and potions. This is a stronger book than the first few, but not quite satisfying as either a children's book or an adult book. I'll give it a B-. The overall plot works enough to excuse the extra padding and tired formulas. Will I read the next one? Well it's almost inevitable. I'll end up reading it before the movie version comes out. Always like to compare how a book is adapated. The adaptation for this book should be interesting.


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