“I think I’m feeling a bit rebellious:” Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

November 11, 2010

I love this book.  As Harry, Ron and Hermione progress into their teen years they start having a better and better understanding of the world around them.  I can’t really say they get more involved in defending themselves and fighting the dark arts (because they have already taken on Voldemort three times, saved the school, and two the lives of two innocents at this point) but they get their hands dirty with a little more self awareness now.  At this point it feels like they are less stumbling from one misadventure to another and more using what they’ve learned to accomplish their own goals.  Which is fun.

A window into the world of adults

In this book more than any other Harry and his friends start seeing the adults around them as human beings with strengths and weaknesses and hopes and fears.  This realization isn’t a lightning bolt – its been coming on for a while.  In the first book they assume every adult (except Snape) is powerful, worthy and good.  In book two they are still shocked to learn that Gilderoy Lockhart is planning to run out on his responsibility to help Ginny.  In the fourth they can see that Barty Crouch Sr is addled, that Karkarov is spineless and Hagrid has identity issues.

Coming of age in the Order of the Phoenix

Its pointed out to us at the beginning of the book that Fred and George (only two years older than the trio) are “of age” now and their frustration at being kept out of the Order bleeds out into Harry, Ron and Hermione during the Grimauld Place sequence.  Even though they aren’t allowed to join it, they spend a lot of time in and around the membership of the Order of the Phoenix and this gives them a chance for unique insight into the lives of adults who are neither teachers nor parents (in some cases).  The competition and conflict between Snape and Black is underlined and their childish behavior is shown to be almost universally unhelpful.  The petty pilfering of Mundungus is painted as funny but also shows us a darker side of wizard adulthood.  And when Harry walks in on Mrs. Weasley and her boggart, he gets a stark reminder of the stakes they’re all facing.

Striking out on their own

In large part is the trio’s frustration that they aren’t able to do anything (like be in the Order) which prompts them to form Dumbledore’s Army.  The DA is one of my favorite parts of the book.  I agree with Hermione that Harry is a really good teacher – he’s patient, understanding and has real world experience.  Besides which, the DA is almost more of a study group – its a safe place everyone can gain confidence and skills … and to oppose Dolores Umbridge of course.

I love the DA! Its a nice constructive outlet for Harry’s rebellious impulses and a useful for arming the resistance (that will be needed desperately two books later) but more than any of that its really Hermione’s time to shine.  I think that everyone in the books (herself included) too often assumes that Hermione is all about rule following and toeing the line.  But in fact she’s always been capable of breaking the rules when necessary (from helping sneak an illegal dragon off the grounds after lights out to “attacking” a teacher to employing a little judicious blackmail.  But still it doesn’t add up.  Nothing shakes her appearance as little-goodey-two-shoes.  The DA is her brain child and she masterminds it from the first (somewhat ill advised) meeting in the Hog’ Head to the defensive (/revenge) jinx which helps to prevent Cho’s friend from giving away DA secrets.

Bad Deeds Double Standard

Which brings up an interesting point.  I am never sure how much Rowling is trying to just show that no person is all good or all bad but the “good guys” in these books do end up breaking not only the law but also basically accepted wizard concepts of right and wrong pretty often.  There’s an interesting double standard – unforgivable curses are unforgivable … except when your intentions are pure.  For example we make Barty Crouch, Sr out to be a huge hypocrite for authorizing the unforgivable curses on suspected Death Eaters (and using one on his own son) in Book 4 but now seem to regard the auror, Kingsley, as a clever thinking on the spot sort of fellow for putting the imperius curse on Cho’s friend in a pinch.  Granted he’s not holding her prisoner or forcing her to do anything evil but wasn’t that line drawn in the sand for a reason?  Thoughts anyone?

The Teachers’ Rebellion

Of course, the students aren’t the only ones at Hogwarts who resent having their lives endangered by Death Eaters AND THEN ALSO made a burden to them by an implacable interfering Ministry on a power trip.  The express their resentment in more subtle ways but I really enjoy all the little moments of snottiness that they manage to sneak into their theoretically collegial interactions with Umbridge-the-“Professor.”  For example, Professor Flitwick’s input after Fred and George have set the school on its ear and decamped: “Thank you Headmaster, I could have banished the fireworks myself, of course, but I wasn’t sure if I had the authority.”  Professor McGonnagal, of course, has even less patience than most and is also a little braver in her antagonism of Umbridge.  My favorite scene is the Career Advice session in which Harry is basically a rag doll being tugged on both arms by two arguing children.  The situation comes to a head when Umbridge questions McGonnagal’s statement that he’s gotten high marks in Defense Against the Dark Arts and she rejoins: “he has achieved high marks in all Defense Against the Dark Arts tests set by a competent teacher.”

Sticking to the point

Through it all, Rowling maintains a firm grasp on her sense of the ridiculous and whimsical.  I think my favorite moment of magic is when Harry, Ron, Hermione, Ginny, Neville and Luna turn up at the Ministry of Magic after hours and come in through the visitors entrance.  They’re told to state their business so they do … and then receive their proper id.  Harry’s badge comes out of the coin return: “Harry Potter: Rescue Mission.”

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2 Responses to ““I think I’m feeling a bit rebellious:” Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix”

  1. denisedthornton Says:

    well put

  2. Anon Says:

    I believe he wiped her memory, he didn’t place her under the Imperius Curse

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