Sunday, October 11, 2015

RE-READ | Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J. K. Rowling
First time around this was easily my least favorite book of the series.  Don't get me wrong, I’m sure I snarfed it down with a quickness as I did most of the others but Harry is so moody and sullen and...well...unpleasant in this book.  No matter that his attitude is understandable and probably inevitable considering his age, Harry is a hero and heroes don't get to be self-pitying.  At least that was my feeling on first read. 

At the time I read Harry Potter the first time around, I wasn't a regular reader of YA fiction.  For a couple years now that has changed and I wonder if that had something to do with my being able to be much more sympathetic towards Harry during this second reading.  In fact, I absolutely adored this book second time around and it may end up tying with Goblet of Fire as my favorite of the series.  Rowling puts her characters through the emotional hoops in this book and adds some fascinating complexity to almost all of them.  The book has a decidedly grimmer tone than all the books that have come before but it's a necessary progression of the story and it didn't bum me out this time around.   I have a lot of thoughts about characters and relationships in this book so I'll get right to them:

o - O - o

  • New Characters: Dolores Umbridge, Luna Lovegood, Nymphadora Tonks.  Two really wonderful additions and one brilliant villain. 
  • My disillusionment with Ron continues but he has definitely gained some maturity in this book and there is a subtle shift in he and Hermione's relationship.  There is not quite as much arguing and bickering because they are united in their worry about Harry.  You can see more how they may complement each other - Ron keeping Hermione from getting too intensely naggy and Hermione giving Ron some complexity.
  • As I said I was much more sympathetic to Harry's tantrums this time around.  Dumbledore’s insistence on keeping Harry in the dark about things and not communicating well with him is incredibly frustrating even if Dumbledore's reasons for it makes sense and even serves to illustrate that he is in fact only human. He admits that it was a mistake to pull away from Harry as he did.  The scene between he and Harry towards the end where Dumbledore admits how much he cares for Harry and how he has wanted so badly to not burden him with more responsibility made me cry this time around.  However, Harry’s anger and frustration is understandable.  He doesn’t feel like he’s a kid anymore, especially after dueling Voldemort and watching Cedric be killed, so to be treated like a child is infuriating.  There is also a lot of trauma from his ordeal and instead of being able to talk it out with his friends and loved ones, he is shunted to a place where he is at best ignored and at worst actively emotionally abused.  He could’ve used some counseling and instead he is basically thrust into solitary confinement. Also there is nothing more frustrating and infuriating than being told you’re a liar when you are telling the truth especially when it is about something important. I kept comparing Fudge, Dolores Umbridge and all the other magical folk that don’t believe Voldemort is back, to Climate Change deniers.  Less sympathetically, Harry has got a full on hero complex at this point and all the blows to his ego – Ron being made a prefect, lots of his friends not believing him, getting kicked off the Quidditch team etc…help to undermine his foundation. And then the blow of Sirius.  ALSO, it struck me this time around that some of Harry's sulkiness may be some bleed over from Voldemort since Harry can feel some of big V's emotions.  Long story, not so short I really appreciate what Rowling did with Harry's character and the journey he went on in this book. 
  • The scene with Molly Weasley trying to deal with the Boggart and seeing all her family dead was really emotionally affecting for me.  I was also wondering 1) why on earth are the Weasleys living at the Order’s headquarters?  It seems a little odd as no one else but Sirius is really living there full time and they apparently don't continue to live there once the kids are back at school.  2) Also interesting was why the Weasleys weren’t a part of the Order during the first go round?  They are certainly older than Harry’s parents and would have had many children during the first go round – Bill, Charlie, Percy, Fred and George and newborn Ron – was it just all the kids that kept them out of it?
  • Are Ron and Harry more clueless, less mature about girls than the average 15 year old boy?  They seem extra especially clueless about girls. 
  • I just expressed my curiosity in my Goblet of Fire re-read, about why Hermione was not sorted into Ravenclaw given that her number one trait is her cleverness and Hermione actually addresses it in this book!  Apparently, like with Harry, the sorting hat went back and forth about whether to put her into Gryffindor or Ravenclaw and decided on Gryffindor.  THAT makes me wonder why? With Harry it was because he begged the hat not to put him in Slytherin.  I’m sure Hermione wouldn’t have had a strong preference at that point so I wonder if the hat can see the future and knew that Hermione needed to be in Gryffindor to play a particular and very important role in what was to come.   
  • Should I talk about Dolores Umbridge?  She is really odious and in many respects, scarier than Voldemort.   Cruel and masochistic as well as being a control freak.  Her whole persona is seriously wacko and deliciously evil.  All the technicolor kittens on plates *shivers*.
  • Two of my favorite parts of this book are the formation of the DA which once again proves what a genius Hermione is and the O.W.L.s because I apparently love standardized testing?  The formation of the DA is a lot of fun and it serves to give Harry an ego boost he needs as well as giving him something productive to focus on.  Not sure why I think the O.W.L.s are such a fun plotline but I do.
  • There are two more characters which I particularly want to highlight because I really enjoyed their development:
    • The heroic Sirius of the last two books is somewhat muddled in this installment.  It becomes clear that while Sirius loves Harry very much and is in fact a very good person, he may not have ended up being a great influence on Harry if he had been able to be a full guardian for him.  Sirius has his own petulant streak and isn't always the most kind or forgiving which is understandable given his upbringing.  In fact, his death is especially sad because Sirius' life has been very hard and had very little happiness.  It is that which makes him a heroic character, that despite all he's been through he will still not flinch from sacrificing himself for others. 
    • Snape. Snape, Snape, Snape.  He is for me one of the most fascinating characters in the whole serious.  I think it's clear that he is in fact a pretty unpleasant sort of guy and yet... still a hero.  Perhaps the biggest damn hero in the series next to Harry.  Because while Harry gets to be the up front, good guy everybody-can-see-how-brave-I-am hero, Snape has to do all that is odious and horrible and completely under the radar while enduring many of his allies' contempt.  In this book, we learn that he has very good reason to despise James Potter and his childhood was likely as miserable as Harry's.  Instead of getting to Hogwarts and making some great and true friends however, he is just tormented some more.  We also learn that while he has joined the right team, his past still owns him - transferring his hatred of James to Harry and not even being able to be the adult when Harry invades his privacy.  Harry's continued hatred of and lack of trust towards Snape is understandable but REALLY annoying. 

FINAL VERDICT:  A book that took a second reading for me to really appreciate it and boy do I appreciate the heck out of it now.  Takes the series down a darker road and provides so much good character development fodder for contemplation.  5 out of 5 Stars.

o - O - o

The Movie

Like with Goblet of Fire, the movie has to do a lot of cutting to fit all the major happenings of the book into the movie and thankfully it does it just a little bit better.  I remember the first time around really loving this movie, because I could apparently deal with watching Harry's surliness and the darker tone of the story better than reading it.  This time the movie did not work for me as well probably because I enjoyed the reading so much more so the movie was bound to pale in comparison.

The first thing I have to say is thank God Harry got his hair cut!  Well thank goodness all of the fellows got their hair cut!  And yes I suspect I sound like a curmudgeonly old person but seriously all the shaggy hair from Goblet of Fire was TERRIBLE.  Everybody looks 1000% better.

Other important things?  Daniel Radcliffe does do a really good job of showing us Harry's emotional state.  He makes Harry completely sympathetic while also know...kind of a jerk.  The film also does a good job of portraying the alienation between Harry and his two best friends and how hard they are trying to be there for him.  

The film makes use of a LOT of montages to show all the changes Umbridge is making within a compressed time allotment.  It's an effective way of doing it but perhaps gets used a little too much.  Again, the film struggles to fit everything from the book in and it at least does a little bit better job then movie 4 in capturing the overall feel of the book.

I think the scene that I found to be the emotional climax of the film was different than in the book.  In the book it was the quieter moment in Dumbledore's office and Harry struggling to come to grips with Sirius' loss and Dumbledore reaching out to him.  In the movie it is the confrontation between Dumbledore and Voldemort and particularly the internal struggle Harry has when V tries to possess him.  It's a really well done scene.

Finally, the casting as ever is pretty spot on.  Imelda Stanton as Umbridge is great though she is, perhaps, a tad too nice.  I believe Alan Rickman, though not a new casting, deserves some recognition as perhaps the best piece of casting in the whole series (though Maggie Smith as McGonagle is also pretty perfect).  

FINAL VERDICT:  Better than Goblet of Fire but still losing the battle with effectively transferring the awesomeness of the book to screen.  3 out of 5 Stars. 

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