Tuesday, December 29, 2020

On the Coffee Table: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Title: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
Author: J.K. Rowling
via Amazon

It's Harry Potter's 5th year at Hogwarts.  Lord Voldemort is on the rise.  Harry dueled him at the end of last school year and lived to tell the tale.  His friend Cedric Diggory wasn't so lucky.  Unfortunately, apart from Dumbledore and a few loyal friends, no one believes Harry.  In fact, the Ministry of Magic is actively working to discredit both Harry and Dumbledore.  Meanwhile, Harry's having horrible dreams, from Voldemort's perspective.

Worst of all, it is the year of Dolores Umbridge.  She is the new Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher and also the Ministry-appointed High Inquisitor at Hogwarts.  She's an authoritarian nightmare.  A student of mine is also reading the series and she reports that everyone in her fandom chat group hates Umbridge more than Voldemort.  In the years since the first time I read the book, I've worked for people like Dolores Umbridge.  It isn't fun.

Important developments in Year 5:
  • Order of the Phoenix brings Harry deeper into the adult wizarding world.  Over the summer he learns, while staying with Sirius, of the Order, the underground group of Dumbledore's supporters.  His parents were members of the original group.  The new band includes the Weasleys, Sirius, Lupin, Moody, Hagrid, Snape, McGonagall and a few new faces, including Kingsley Shacklebolt and Nymphadora Tonks.  
  • Luna Lovegood, a delightfully loopy Ravenclaw student, is introduced.
  • Ron has a couple of unexpected glory moments: becoming a prefect and, eventually, a reasonably capable keeper for the Gryffindor quidditch team.  Being happy for his friend becomes part of Harry's growth, too.
  • In Hogsmeade, we get to visit a teashop, Madam Puddifoot's, and a sleazy pub, The Hog's Head.
  • Harry's still a terrible date.
  • At Hermione's urging, Harry teaches several of his schoolmates Defence Against the Dark Arts, picking up the slack from Umbridge's worthless lessons.  The study group call themselves Dumbledore's Army.
  • The Weasley twins drop out of Hogwarts in spectacular fashion and open a highly lucrative joke shop with Harry's financial backing.
  • We learn why Snape is resentful of James, Harry's father.  And he's not wrong to feel that way.  It's not fair for him to torment Harry in retaliation but he's not wrong to hate James.
  • Neville Longbottom gets some excellent development.  We learn more about what happened to his parents and we see just how devoted he is to the cause of fighting the Dark Lord.
  • As noted previously, Ginny is my favorite character in the series.  Odd choice, right?  After all, she never gets much material, at least not until The Cursed Child.  Here's why I love Ginny: she's the student least inclined to put up with Harry's shit.  Even Hermione and Ron tend to tiptoe around him.  Not Ginny.  Not anymore.  There are some nice Ginny moments in Phoenix.  The first shot across the bow: she's the one who calls Harry out for being an idiot when he won't talk to anyone about his fears of being possessed by Voldemort.  Ginny points out that she's the only one he knows who actually has been possessed by You-Know-Who and knows how it feels - stops Harry in his tracks.  She also replaces Harry as seeker when young Potter gets kicked off the quidditch team.
Harry gets the summer off but overall, the story is definitely on a rising crescendo.

Before I go, I offer a few treats from our Harry Potter LEGO advent calendar.  We had Star Wars LEGO and Nightmare Before Christmas Funko calendars, too.  Harry Potter was the best of the three as it adhered to a specific story, the Yule Ball from Goblet of Fire.  Star Wars was more of a hodgepodge and Nightmare didn't include a particularly wide range of characters.  By my count, there were seven different Jack Skellington figures.

Left to right: Harry, Hermione, Ron, Cho Chang, Padma Patil, Parvati Patil

Beauxbatons' Carriage and the Durmstrang Ship

Luke, Harry and Rey discussing the burdens of the Chosen One narrative - note Golden Egg next to Harry on the couch.

Sally commiserating with the Patil twins over their lousy dates.

Ron complimenting Poe on his sweet new ride.  Poe thanks him for the Weasley sweater.


  1. We used to get the Potter advent calendar, but my kids didn't like the first few they realeased. Too much food and furniture.
    My younger son has been getting the Star Wars one since they were introduced. He thought this year's was good.

    Umbridge is definitely the worst of the villains in the books. Or the best, depending upon how you want to look at it.

    1. The Star Wars one was fun, just not as thoughtfully themed as the HP one. Nightmare was a disappointment - fun figures but a weakly executed overall concept.

  2. This one has been the only time I was disappointed reading J.K. Rowling. I think she padded it too much, and I think she realized it herself, as she lowered the page count with the two remaining books. I think the biggest waste was Hagrid’s sojourn with the giants. It never really proved relevant, and I think it was a misguided attempt to give him something interesting to do.

    1. It's an interesting point. In fact, nothing much came of the giants story in general, did it?

    2. She abandoned a number of promising plot lines in the books or paid them cursory attention. The centaurs I always wanted to see more of, Charlie Weasley in Romania with the dragons. She also completely dropped the ball on Percy Weasley. At least Bill wasn’t forgotten.

    3. I suppose that happens. Even more thoroughly explored universes like Star Wars and Star Trek leave some threads untapped.

      Overall, I have been thoroughly impressed by her world-building. It still remains to be seen how far the 'verse can successfully expand beyond the core seven novels. But then, as long as we're comparing, I'm not sure how successfully Star Wars has ever successfully expanded beyond the original trilogy. And I'm not talking about commercial success. Both franchises have raked in plenty and are likely to continue to do so for generations. But how much of what's "new" stands on its own or merely feels supplementary to the originals?

      In this, Star Trek has done better. Each new series, while by no means equal in quality, manages to find a life of its own. Maybe that's easier with television. Stories develop more gradually.

    4. Actually, I think Star Wars has a done a very good job of providing offshoots that stand on their own. Remarkably well. You have to go out into the novels and comics to find that stuff, mostly, but there is a lot there that is really quite independent of the original trilogy other than that the material takes a character from one of the movies and really gives that character an independent life. Rebels and Mandalorian both do that as well. The original trilogy just becomes flavoring for the independent stories at that point.

      I'm ambivalent about dangling plot threads. Sometimes, those things are for the purpose of filling out a character, and I think that's okay. And not everything we try in life works out, so those things are somewhat representative of that. But they can be annoying if it's something you were really interested in following and the author just... forgets about it? I think that's probably what usually happens. Though, sometimes, as you work through longer material, the author may decide that that plot line isn't going to work anymore and just doesn't go back to it. So it's hard. Rowling has probably done better than most with that kind of thing, considering how heavily she plots ahead of time, but it still happens, I suppose.

    5. Heh heh! I expected an argument for you re: Star Wars. I haven't dug as far as you have. There's plenty to build on, that's for sure.

      Dangling plot threads: they can become good starting points for our own story ideas, too, right?

    6. Oh, yeah. I actually leave some threads dangling on purpose sometimes. It's something I want to follow at some point but doesn't actually fit the current story, but it would feel contrived to add it later, so I just slide it in and leave it sitting there so that I can return to it some other time.

    7. Well, yes. But that's not what I meant. Rather, someone like Tony, feeling frustrated by the fact the giant storyline wasn't followed further could write his own story to scratch the itch. And I don't mean fan fiction. Giants are public domain.

    8. Well, yeah, sure, but most readers aren't going to want to do that. They will just be frustrated with the author.

    9. I always argue Rowling herself writes the Madeye Moody books she couldn’t quite do in her wizarding world...as the Cormoran Strike mysteries.

      The Romanian thing is probably the one I’d pursue, although I’ve done a dragon story already (in an extremely roundabout way, which also involved vampires and a Harry analog).

    10. Interesting perspective. I don't know her other books.

    11. I reviewed her first Strike novel not that long ago. It was... fine?
      Her first non-Harry novel was excellent writing but a struggle to read because there were no likeable characters.

    12. Good to know. I may explore beyond HP at some point.

  3. I'm not a fan of fantasy novels, I've tried but just can't get into those worlds. Potter movies on the other hand are some of my favorites.
    One of my favorite actors in the movies has to be the lady that played Dolores Umbridge. That character makes my skin crawl on so many levels.

    1. I've long assumed it's gotta be more fun to play villains.