4 – Plot/Story is interesting/believable and impactful.
The fifth book in the Harry Potter series, The Order of the Phoenix, is the true beginning of what J.K. Rowling had been preparing Harry and his readers for since The Sorcerer’s Stone. The evil of all evils, the antagonist to end all antagonists, The Dark Lord Voldemort, has returned to power. The main story in book number five is Voldemort’s rise, as well as the regrouping of the old “good guys” from the previous terror, the so-called Order of the Phoenix. There are several sub-plots as well, however, which weave in-and-out of the main plot and help to advance the story. Harry’s first romantic relationship, for instance, and the creation of “Dumbledore’s Army,” a defensive group which Harry, Hermione, and Ron establish to help prepare interested students to fight the Dark Lord. This group is a focal point in the novel, and is the result of the appointment of the newest Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, Dolores Umbridge, who becomes a second major antagonist (even nastier, believe it or not, than the two regularly minor “bad guys” Snape and Draco Malfoy). We learn more about Harry’s relationship with the Dursleys, and why it is so important for Harry to go home each year, and we also get some background into the elder characters – James Potter, Sirius Black, Remus Lupin, and Severus Snape. The teacher/student dynamic – both in terms of opposition and alliance, is incredibly well-wrought, as it is the sub-plot with Harry and Dumbledore, and the entire “dream” line, which leads to the battle in the ending pages. Though 800+ pages long, The Order of the Phoenix is fast-paced, interesting, suspenseful and engaging. Again, we are left feeling as though we are a part of this world, and all the lessons Harry and his friends learn along the way, about strengthening bonds, relying on one another, and overcoming obstacles, these lessons seem meant for us, too.
4 – Characters extraordinarily developed.
I sometimes feel as if I am beating a dead horse when it comes to this character and J.K. Rowling’s talent. I sometimes hope to be surprised by one of the future installments of the series, in that maybe, just maybe, Rowling will slip up and do something disastrous or just downright boring with her characters. Alas, I am disappointed; she is a characterization genius! As I mention above, there are old characters and new in Book Five of the series and, again, Rowling spends ample time developing our familiar characters, giving the readers a better understanding of their personalities and backgrounds (such as the history of Neville’s parents, and a clear picture of his formidable grandmother) as well as introducing us to new characters, like the beastly Dolores Umbridge. I cannot, anywhere in my memory, recall hating a character as much as I hate Dolores Umbridge. I quite literally want to claw my way into the novel so I can wring her fat, toady little neck. That a writer can make me feel this much venomous dislike for one of her characters is a mark of true mastery of the craft and, incidentally, Rowling is equally good at presenting some truly loveable characters (Luna Lovegood, for instance, and Arthur Weasley – they are just people I want to know!). What Rowling does particularly well in this installment, though, is the back-history. We learn so much about each of the characters, whether it be via a trip through Professor Snape’s memory, or by hearing Sirius and Remus Lupin reminisce about their days at Hogwarts and of being in the original Order of the Phoenix. These histories truly enrich the story and allow us, as the readers, to connect even further and more deeply with these characters. We could easily champion them “in the now” but, after being treated to a more thorough example of their characters and motivations, we become willing to fight and die for these people, to stand side-by-side with them in their quest to defeat evil at all costs.
4 – Extraordinary Prose/Style, enhancing the Story.
Rowling again demonstrates a complete mastery of her prose and style in The Order of the Phoenix. Something of significance, though, is the marked difference in vocabulary and structure between this book and any of its predecessors (though, again, each book seems to take steps forward in this regard, as in the depth of the stories themselves). For the first time, in my opinion, the Harry Potter series makes a leap away from young adult fiction and into the genre of literary fiction. The language and difficulty level are intensified, the multi-layered plots and interweaving dynamics (character and plot) continue to grow, and the chapters and paragraphs lengthen. Also, Rowling continues to use many different style elements in her prose to engage the readers: newspaper articles, written letters and, now, “educational decrees.” Breaking up the general prose with these different types of style elements does wonders for the overall book – allowing the reader, again, to feel as if he or she is there, reading these items alongside the characters, reacting with them and then, gracefully, sinking back into the story.
4 – Additional elements improve and advance the story.
The majority of this fifth installment is again set at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft & Wizardry. There are many other smaller points of reference, though, including: The Dursleys home and the surrounding city of Little Whinging; the mountainous area of southern France; the wizarding town of Hogsmeade; the city of London and, in particular, the residence of the Black Family; and The Ministry of Magic itself. Having the majority of the novel take place in one area, with short journeys to other places does two things: 1st – it allows the reader a firm platform to center one’s self. Hogwarts School is the “home base” or “safe zone” which, though not always a pleasant place to be, is always familiar and recognizable. 2nd – it begins to develop the story into something more world-wide; as the evils and dangers grow, so do their reach. Suddenly, non-wizarding neighborhoods are at risk. The Ministry of Magic is not just a referenced place but, now, it is an actual, physical structure which we can envision. Combining the familiar with the new takes the storyline to an entirely new level. In addition to the enhanced setting in book five is a new and important theme: politics. In books one through four, there have been many recurring themes, such as education, friendship, family, love, good/evil, etc. With book five, though, comes an increased critique of the nature of power and politics on morality and decency (decision-making). We (Americans) are largely aware of this term “the politics of fear,” and J.K. Rowling holds nothing back in warning her readers about making decisions based from a place of fear or out of a defense of power and stature. Dumbledore and Harry Potter, though decent and honest to a fault, are attacked by the Ministry of Magic out of fear. The political powers, in hopes of securing their own strength and popularity in the public eye, make perpetual attempts at discrediting and even embarrassing the two “heroes” of the novel, simply because they dare to speak the truth – a truth which no one is ready to hear. This new theme leads up to an unresolved-resolution in which a showdown at the Ministry between Harry and Dumbledore (and Dumbledore’s Army) clash with Voldemort and his Death Eaters, and the Ministry, at last, is forced to bear witness and choose a side.
Suggested Reading for:
Age Level: Young Adult & Adult
Interest: Good/Evil, Friendship, Education, Fantasy
“If she could have done one thing to make absolutely sure that every single person in this school will read your interview, it was banning it!”
“Thoughts could leave deeper scarring than almost anything else.”
“Young people are so infernally convinced that they are right about everything.”