Saturday, May 12, 2018

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

 **spoilers for previous books**

The fifth main entry of author J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter pantheon opens with the eponymous protagonist back with his puritanical relatives, the Dursleys, for the summer, their son, Dudley, having become something of a delinquent, in addition to a boxer at school. Whilst Harry exchanges wrathful words with him, dementors all the way from Azkaban come to their hometown, Little Whinging in the British County of Surrey, with Harry executing his Patronus charm to defend his cousin, who suffers under the dementors’ kiss. The Dursleys’ batty neighbor, Mrs. Figg, is a witness to this incident, and helps Harry bring Dudley home.

The novel reveals an interesting twist about Mrs. Figg, and eventually tells of why Harry was left with the Dursleys in the first place, and once Harry gets home, he receives a notice of expulsion from Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, in addition to a summons to appear before the Wizengamot, the wizarding world’s equivalent of the United States Supreme Court, for violating wizardry law. Uncle Vernon is naturally furious with his nephew, who proceeds to detail the nuances of his mystical world, including the return of the magical Hitler Lord Voldemort.

After the Dursleys leave Harry home alone, members of the titular Order of the Phoenix, including Alastor “Mad-Eye” Moody, Remus Lupin, and Nymphadora Tonks, come to his house to spirit him away to their headquarters at the abode of Harry’s godfather Sirius Black, who is no stranger to bigoted family, with a portrait of his deceased mother repeatedly lamenting the visitation of “riffraff” in her disowned son’s house. Yellow journalism continues to pollute the wizarding world’s media, with Cornelius Fudge, Minister of Magic, wrongly fearful of Albus Dumbledore, Headmaster of Hogwarts, wanting his position, and Harry bemoaned as a pariah.

Harry is ultimately taken to his hearing at the Ministry of Magic’s headquarters, with Dumbledore and Mrs. Figg, alongside a few others, having his back, and the Boy Who Lived eventually going to his fifth year at Hogwarts. Notably absent from the school is Hagrid, with Professor Wilhelmina Grubbly-Plank substituting for his Care of Magical Creatures class, and the hexed Defense Against the Dark Arts position staffed by a dog of the Ministry, Dolores Umbridge, who promises a theoretical rather than practical approach to the cursed educational post.

Shortly after classes start, Harry gets detention with Professor Umbridge for telling the truth about Voldemort’s return, causing him to miss Quidditch and ultimately get kicked off his team, his friend Ronald Weasley obtaining the team’s position as a Keeper, the Slytherins mocking him as their “king” due to his lack of finesse. Harry contacts his godfather, musing about his theoretical Defense Against the Dark Arts classes, although he’s soon proposed as the head of Dumbledore’s Army, a group dedicated to practical defensive magic meeting in a secret hall about which the house-elf Dobby knows.

Hagrid eventually returns from his errands, having joined fellow half-giant Olympe Maxime in a mission for Dumbledore, and takes back over teaching the Care of Magical Creatures classes, introducing creatures that only those who have witnessed death can glimpse, the avian equine thestrals, which serve as transportation for Harry and friends later on. Professor Umbridge is ultimately appointed High Inquisitor by the Ministry of Magic, and rises to the position of headmistress, keeping a close thumb on all Hogwarts teachers and effecting draconian policies such as forbidding clubs.

After having a vision about an attack by a snake upon Arthur Weasley that ultimately saves his life, Harry is proposed for private lessons, against his wishes, with Professor Snape for the art of occlumency, essentially shielding his mind from external influence such as that of Lord Voldemort, with whom he has a connection through his scar. Harry fumbles with these lessons, soon having another vision of the Dark Lord being in the Ministry’s Department of Mysteries that leads to the book’s later events, and in the meantime, a mass breakout of the wizard prison Azkaban occurs, with a new adversary, one of Voldemort’s henchwomen, Bellatrix Lestrange, being among the fugitives.

The wizarding world, with the unlikely aid of journalist Rita Skeeter, ultimately comes to accept the Dark Lord’s return, with Umbridge continuing to expand her clutch upon Hogwarts, and standardized exams known as Ordinary Wizarding Levels occurring towards the end of the schoolyear. Harry learns that his godfather is captured in the Department of Ministries, and goes there with his friends to rescue them, encountering Death Eaters such as Lucius Malfoy and Bellatrix Lestrange, who specializes in mocking baby-talk and values sorcerous purity despite her master being half-magical like Harry.

The fifth installment ends on a bittersweet note, but is still one of the strongest entries of the literary franchise, given its daring sociopolitical commentary on government involvement in education that can apply to most countries’ educational systems such as that in the United States, and demonstration that the series continued to grow with its readers, younger audiences sure to be oblivious to said annotation. Some may consider Harry to be more arrogant than in prior books, although this reviewer believes he had every right to be, with Order of the Phoenix very well continuing his bildungsroman.

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