Pt. 5 of The Harry Potter Readstravaganza
It turns out that the first major consequence of Lord Voldemort’s return to power is the institution of the No Wizard Left Behind program.
Alrighty, let’s dive into Phoenix. But first — since I read the e-book version this time and it was extremely easy to highlight words — let’s have a list of all the terms that I found odd or unusual over the course of my reading journey. Some, but not all, are regional, and thereby unfamiliar to my small American brain:
taking the mickey
tuck in (equivalent of “dig in”)
titchy (equivalent of “teeninchy?”)
do her nut (not innuendo)
keepin’ our eyes skinned
pulling a lonely cracker
taking it in turns
Did You Know? When Harry Potter books get published stateside, some amount of Britishisms is usually chucked out. For example, in Philsopherserent’s Stone, they changed Hagrid’s mention of “football” to one of “soccer.” I wonder: how often is this done when bringing American English works to Britain? I get the feeling that we trust British kids to eventually wrap their heads around the existence of American football and non-football soccer, but not the other way around.
But maybe the tide is changing? I recently saw Early Man on TV. It continues the grand tradition of kid’s sports films with backstories and/or supernatural tie-ins that are unnecessarily complicated: Space Jam, Angels in the Outfield, the Mighty Ducks cartoon, etc. I don’t THINK they changed “football” to “soccer” for an American re-dub…
Hm! Guess that wasn’t a digression I had to have.
The entirety of The Order of the Phoenix is, essentially, a buzzkill. We come in thinking a war’s on, or at the very least breaking out halfway through the novel. Minor spoilers: it doesn’t. And the book is SO LONG.
So much time is spent dealing with Professor Umbridge (depicted lovingly above). Umbridge is the new Defense of Dark Arts teacher, put in place by the Ministry of Magic in order to quell “rumors” of Voldemort’s rise and generally quash all Hogwarts fun and whimsy. We know ALMOST from the moment she enters Hogwarts that she’s a two-bit villain who exists to eventually be not only steamrolled, but humiliated. So most of Phoenix is Harry chickenshitting around with this useless toad.
And yet…Rowling makes it so gripping.
I kinda wish the Hogwarts stuff were at least 100 pages shorter, but at the same time, I enjoyed the Hogwarts stuff so much that it hurts to consider cutting it.
Following the tides of Harry’s frustration, despair, failure, teenage angst, and overall rage at the establishment, I realized something: I’d follow his time at Hogwarts — his dull-ass mundane time at Hogwarts — any day. And it’s thrilling to do so. Harry’s first week, his gripes about too much homework and not enough snogging Cho Chang, was wonderful. I was right there with him, sympathizing and celebrating the brief spots of relief. I was not interested in watching him snog Cho, however, because I don’t like to snog, and I would rather not watch other people snog.
Oh, and Harry’s annual confrontation with the Dursleys was the strongest yet. One of my favorite scenes across the whole dang book. I sense Rowling would write good plays. …She didn’t write Cursed Child, did she?
So What’s Our Story Here?
Well, it’s another exciting year at the funny magic school, except this time Dumbledore and his adult friends know that Voldemort is coming after Harry (only they don’t quite know how). Thus Dumbledore resurrects the title of this novel: the Order of the Phoenix, a.k.a. the premier Voldemort-hunting gang of yesteryear. They’re all 40+, except Tonks, who I hate because she’s trying hard to be the cool aunt, but just ends up as your camp counselor.
Before school starts, the Order sweeps Harry up and takes him to the hidden house of Sirius Black’s family. It’s the coolest house ever because it’s literally haunted by the screaming ghosts of racists. Also, it comes with an equally racist house-elf named Kreacher. Rowling’s never gonna come up with a better name than “Kreacher.”
Speaking of racism, THIS is the book in which Slytherin is officially declared to be not merely “evil house,” but “racist house,” or more accurately “pureblood wizard family supremacist house.” I probably said this before, but…Dumbledore’s the headmaster of this school, and we love Dumbledore, so he (much like Atticus Finch) cannot possibly be racist. It’s FULLY in his power to dismantle the old system. And yet, for the convenience of the moral of this story or whatever, he just complacently sits on this obviously corrupt system so that Draco Malfoy can continue being an asshole.
Okay, back on topic…Harry’s also having weird nightmares and even more scar pain, which it turns out is the result of his beautiful soul connection with Voldemort. Rather than experiencing, say, a hunky vision of Voldemort leaving the shower, Harry mostly just feels his elation whenever something evil happens and it’s really annoying. He keeps dreaming about a locked door in a passageway, too, which for some reason he doesn’t try to connect to Voldemort. Hm…
I knew where Harry’s scar-visions thing was going every step of the way. I would’ve been screaming “DON’T DO THAT, YA GIT” if not for all the other chickenshit flooding Harry’s life and getting in the way of his Voldemort-thwarting mission (which nobody in the Order explains very well to him anyway; this book makes a big deal out of how Dumbledore seems to be ignoring him).
Something-something renegade student group practicing Defense Against the Dark Arts because Umbridge is a horrible teacher, something-something teens rise up, “Kids in America” plays, etc… Like I said, it’s gripping.
- Overeager ellipsis use. It happened in Azkaban, it happened in Goblet, it never stopped and it just keeps getting more overt. Ellipses in place of periods, for whole paragraphs. Instant Eerieness: Just Add Dots? I hate it. Did…did Rowling’s editor/s suggest the change so that she could write faster?
- It’s great to see McGonagall be cool and stand up to Evil Froggy Umbridge, but, like…doesn’t she have a backstory or something? Can we…can we see that, please? What’s taking her so long?
- I legitimately forgot who Sturgis Podmore is the second time I saw his name, and I never really found out.
- Not excited at all to hang out more with the Order; going to their HQ after the Dursley scene was a disappointment, and while I like Mr. Eyeball (I forgot his name, sorry), Tonks is making a poor showing with me despite trying, again and again, to enter my heart.
- The confrontation between Dumbledore’s crew and Umbridge felt contrived to me. The way it came about made sense, but the fallout felt unnatural, like we throw various puzzle pieces in the air and see how they land, then rejigger them so that Dumbledore and our other heroes come out safe, as we know they must for a while.
- Somewhere between Hermione Granger and Luna Lovegood is my ideal self. Hopefully they have one sense of humor’s worth between them.
- The stitches stuff was really funny. I haven’t laughed like that at Harry Potter in a hot minute.
- I LOVE Fred and George except when they’re scaring Ginny to death in book two. They got a lot of good stick-it-to-the-man moments this time around. Imagine a book series where Harry dumps Ron and picks up his two obviously superior brothers as friends…
- Unfortunately, I think it’s funny that the image of Hagrid putting a steak on his horrifically bleeding face actually starts a chapter. An artist drew this, willingly.
SPOILERS: Harry’s Descent into the Place with the Brain Room
By far my favorite part of the book (that I already like very much) is when Harry falls over during his boring history test, hurtling into the long climax of the novel. He gets a vision of Sirius’ kidnapping by Voldemort; these visions have proven true before, and he knows that if he doesn’t do something Sirius might be killed. But things stand in his way: not just Umbridge’s strict school regime, but the sheer improbability of him getting there in time, and the strong possibility that it’s already too late.
Harry rushes to find his friends and get their help, and they’re not as believing, and nowhere near as eager, as he is. They slap together a half-baked plan. They’re basically fumbling in the dark, getting on each others’ nerves, and Harry is desperate and raging and ready to be there ASAP while Hermione poo-poos everything because things don’t quite add up…and when they put their plan in action, I thought, “Woah. This is terrible. I simultaneously don’t know how they’re going to get there AND have the utmost confidence in Rowling’s storytelling abilities, again.”
Though that faith goes away somewhat whenever I read a sentence like, “Harry would never forgive Snape…never…”
Also the fact that 90% of Phoenix covers show a bunch of flying thestrals kind of ruins the surprise.
Snape and His Countless Regrettable Life Decisions, Plus Dumbledore’s Presumptions
Either Snape is the Voldemort double agent to end all double agents, or the world reserves the right to scream “it’s YOUR FUCKIN FAULT, Snape!” Well, either way, the fact that Harry runs into the Ministry of Magic and unwittingly allows the Death Eaters access to Harry’s sweet succulent prophecy IS still Snape’s fault.
And Dumbledore’s. Especially Dumbledore’s, since he trusted Snape to teach him occlumency (which he did not) and didn’t gerrymander a way to let Harry know exactly what he should be doing to prevent Voldemort from getting the secret sauce. All this “study occlumency because, uh, it’s very important!” clealry didn’t cut it. How about “study occlumency because if you don’t, Voldemort is gonna use his tricky brain magic on you?” Also, how about better occlumency directions from Snape than just “try harder?”
Either way, Snape’s character got totally humiliated in every way possible this time around, and I don’t think it’s gonna recover. He’s turned out to be a D-tier Harry Potter character, higher than Draco, lower than Neville. …Wow, he’s lower than Neville. That’s sad. You’re a grown man, Snape.
Big Hoo-Hah in the Ministry of Magic
Voldemort’s big trick is to lead Harry into the Ministry of Magic, which he’s been dreaming about all along, using a faked vision of Sirius being kidnapped. Harry and his Harries (Ron, Hermione, Luna, Ginny, Neville (who’s trying really hard to be badass, bless his heart)) swoop in, scramble around, and then get their hands on…Harry’s prophecy? What the heck? And then Voldemort’s Death Eater people show up to take the prophecy? There’s a prophecy now?
I’m of two minds about the end of this book. The wild wizard battle amidst magical objects with no known purpose, including the curtain that is obviously a metaphor for the afterlife — that’s all great. Idiot Death Eaters who stumble around and get their heads turned into babies — wonderful, that’s what I live for. It’s intense, and spells are flying left and right because the remorseless bad guys are not smart enough to put the Cruciatus Curse on everyone. Maybe they’re not good at memorizing basic vocabulary? Who knows.
Here’s how it should’ve happened.
If there’s not a full-on rampage to kill Harry in the sixth book, I’m gonna call shenanigans. Any new reason to not kill him is just cheating.
Accio Strong Opinions!
My least favorite part of this by far is the prophecy stuff — the fact that there’s a prophecy at all, and that people actually want to get their hands on it.
It takes a bunch of complicated wobblery to set up, too. See, the Ministry of Magic holds prophecies. Why couldn’t Voldemort see Harry’s prophecy? Because only the person to whom the prophecy is made can remove it from the shelf. (After that, other people can hold it and activate it, though.) Who made the prophecy? Prof. Trelawney!!! How do we know this? Because when Dumbledore Explains All (as he customarily does at the end of most every book), he reveals that he saw Prof. Trelawney give the prophecy, so he knows its contents. Why was she giving the prophecy in front of him? Because she was taken by a great spirit of prophecy that sent her into a trance rather conveniently during her teaching interview in, I dunno, a restaurant or something. Oh, and also, a Death Eater heard the prophecy. Oh, but only part of it, only enough to know that Voldemort was involved. Because, uh, partway through Dumbledore and/or the bouncer threw him out.
I don’t like prophecy stuff in general. Why do characters trust them? Usually the answer is “because the author said so.” It’s literally the author descending into the story to give the characters ominous future plot points. Dumbledore knows that either Voldemort must kill Harry or vice-versa (or even both?), but not because of any known, specific power that Harry needs to tap into. He knows it because Rowling said so.
…Why is there a place that just holds prophecies on people for an unlimited amount of time, and doesn’t tell them?
Dumbledore’s Latest Exposée
I begrudgingly accept this twist on Dumbledore explaining all. When he sees Harry in his office after all the fighting, after he himself put Voldemort down temporarily, he’s exhausted and more witherylookin than ever. Also, Harry’s godfather Sirius died, so he’s superpissed. Nobody wants to be here. It’s all the more interesting because Harry’s wanted so badly to talk to Dumbledore throughout the book — mostly to accuse him of being too secretive, but probably not to outright shout at him as he does now.
Good. If you’re gonna make us read this old-chestnut scene again, put a real spin on it.
Kreacher’s story feels superfluous, marking the first time I don’t care about a Classic Potter Mystery. The prophecy stuff makes me want a Tums. Most of all, the fact that Dumbledore accepts blame only for not telling Harry he has to train to fight Voldemort — the fact that he DOESN’T feel guilty for not doubling down on Harry’s occlumency training — disappoints me. Dumbledore’s supposed to be the Big Boss that we all rally behind, yet in my view he’s guiltier than the book will admit, and, again, he’s, like, upholding Hogwarts’ racist mores. (Also, he uses house-elf labor, which the series regards as “slavery but the good kind of slavery”…?)
The book ranking was tough this time. I like Goblet more overall, but Phoenix has some amazing scenes, and its plot is a driving force rather than “guess we’ll have a tournament!”. I don’t think anything’s going to overshadow Sorsalop’s Stone for me; that one was short, had no prophecies, and was simple enough that I didn’t ask any unanswered questions about the morality of the Dumbledores involved.
Favorite scene: Sirius’ vision, followed by Harry barking at his friends and failing
Favorite character/s: Luna Lovegood; I was lukewarm at first, but by the end she really became the MVP. Honorary mention goes to Neville Longbottom, the powerful Carl Wheezer of the Harry Potter series
Book ranking: Stone > Phoenix > Goblet > Chamber > Azkaban
It’s not looking good for The Half-Blood Prince. I know I said that last time and turned out pleasantly surprised by Phoenix, but Prince is gonna bring this prophecy and real-deal plot stuff to the foreground, and I predict I’m gonna yawn.
It turns out I saw Prince in theaters, too, and most of what I remember is that it sucked and it was boring. Dumbledore and Harry go fight dead zombie guys in a water tunnel. At the end, it was revealed that someone had done something. At the time I thought, “Oh, so it was him. Wait, in hindsight, wasn’t that obvious?” We shall see, I suppose.
Well, tune in next time for more thrills and chills! Or for a run-down of more Harry Potter covers, depending on whether I get to that first.