Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling. Reread/audiobook by Jim Dale. 623/870.
I think this is the SECOND TO LAST POST about OotP, how thrilling! Then we can move from the HARRY IS ANGRY! book to the Harry is Enacting Fanfiction…? book, which I hope everyone looks forward to as much as I do. There will be horrifyingly inappropriate Tom Riddle origin fic, and Dumbledore/Grindelwald (implied) fic, and Harry/Draco hurt/no comfort fic, and Slytherin Appreciation, and it will be
Okay, here is a starting note–I listened to a bunch of this section with the Jim Dale recordings, and they are just AWFUL. Every single character sort of twists up their sentences in exactly the same way, and his accents are all right but his delivery is feeble. Much worse, every single female character, regardless of personality, or dialogue tags, or age, or mood, talk in the same narrow range of whispy, high, thin voice. I mean I think they all sound like Voldemort is supposed to sound, personally. But when you have Umbridge speaking SLOWLY. AND. LOUDLY. to Hagrid, should it really sound like an ailing powderpuff? NO IT SHOULD SOUND LIKE A TINY STEELY WOMAN TREATING HAGRID LIKE YOU TREAT DEAF FOREIGN-LANGUAGE SPEAKERS WHEN YOU ARE AN APPALLING PERSON. Instead of being appalled at Umbridge I had to spend all my energy being appalled at Jim Dale, whose reading suggests that all women are a bit delicate and whining.
In this part we have several teachers.
With Hagrid back, Hermione adds to her ever-full plate planning his lessons–because he is the worst. Hagrid, because he is the worst, ignores her hard work and brings them invisible skeleton ponies. They aren’t actually terribly dangerous, but Draco is legitimately worried before they show up (or do not, according to your personal history with dead bodies), and I think that is incredibly reasonable. Score one for team Malfoy, for the first time in several years. I too would be anxious to have classes, not from my sensible, manageable, nice, safe substitute teacher, but from the guy who got kicked out of high school and literally only likes animals that eat people.The thestrals are interesting in that they privilege one experience of death over all others; it seems as if maybe images of death don’t count and neither does it count if you lose someone but do not see them dead. You know, I sort of doubt that none of these fifteen-year-olds have seen, say, a great-grandparent at their funeral. As ever, JKR really likes to make her characters exceptional in ways that mysteriously erase the probable realities of her secondary characters’ lives. That is to say, she flattens them through not bothering to know enough.
Umbridge slowly gains power, like a pink alpaca wool katamari covered in spinning, spitting kittens. She crushes the spirits of the young with government-issued curriculum and EDUCATIONAL DECREES, she harasses the staff, she cuts on children with magic pens. Also she explains to them that half-breeds are evil. PURITY STICKLERS, NEVER A GOOD SIGN, she says some extremely nasty stuff about Remus Lupin, and then my heart starts POUNDING IN RAGE AND I FEEL COMPLETELY PREPARED TO DESTROY HER BUT SHE IS FICTIONAL AND I CANNOT AND I AM SO SO SO SO SO SO MAD
Harry, on the other hand, is a FABULOUS teacher, pretty much right away. I mean it turns out that JKR does know what decent humans and decent teachers are like–maybe it’s just a fluke? but she does know what they are like, because here is Harry leading the DA and being immediately wonderful in the best way. My heart calms and fills with Harry love. I want to know why Harry has to be an auror–I mean I like that he wants to be, because of his parents and his constant life of Voldemort pain, but he would be much better at teaching and maybe he could stop dying all the time. That would be great. Maybe less traumatic, too. He should teach. And he should not marry Hermione after their divorces, J.K. Rowling, DO NOT EVEN SPEAK TO ME.
After the teaching stuff, though, Harry does teen boy stuff and makes Cho feel terrible by not wanting to talk about Dead Cedric (Deadric). It seems like they want to make out and date, but also like Cho needs grief counseling, and since wizards don’t have any healthy emotional processing or care systems at all, she just cries on Harry, who has held Deadric in his arms, while also making out with him. It’s the worst possible solution, I think. Harry is a rage muffin and cannot handle raw grief in the way Cho needs, and Cho can’t think of any other way to balance her liking of Harry and her trauma over Cedric. It’s a mess, a credible mess, and I LOVE IT.
It is pretty wonderfully awkward, and Hermione understands exactly what is going on in Cho’s head and makes it even better. This also makes Hermione better, because she is brilliant in all the ways you really want her to be when you are a young nerd girl-type and she is the coolest, best, most you character in the book. Downside: the whole situation demonstrates an irritating buy-in on the concept of BOYS CANNOT UNDERSTAND THE MYSTERIOUS GIRL AND HER WEIRDO BRAIN, BUT GIRLS HAVE THE WOMAN’S INTUITION HOW FORTUNATE FOR HER, SUCH EMPATHY, VERY FEELS. Not to mention SAD BOY HAS RAGE, SAD GIRL HAS CRIES. Ech. Despite this foolishness, though, I am actually a pretty huge fan of the general piles of awkwardness building up around the Harry/Cho situation. Less interesting: Ron’s possessive jerkitude when he finds out Hermione is penpals with Sexy Sport-Doer Viktor Krum. I don’t think there is a point at which the book version of Hermione and Ron’s romance is attractive or comfortable for me.
Then is the bit of the book that I found hands down the most emotionally gripping the first time I read it.
We all knew someone would die, and I absolutely bought the red herring of Arthur Weasley. I don’t even particularly like him, and didn’t then, either, but Harry’s visceral, first-person dream experience of the attack, and the profound extent to which Arthur is vital to his entire family, to all of these other people that we have learned about and care about, the way in which it would have destroyed them if he died–that mattered. That was absolutely crushing. The truth is that the first time I read OotP I was so relieved that he didn’t die that when Sirius did, I didn’t much care. I know, I’m heartless. I had just already used up my fear, I think.
Anyway, here is Harry, jolting out of an awful dream he knows is real, agonized, terrified, and–well, he keeps telling everyone, RON’S DAD’S BEEN ATTACKED! IT’S SERIOUS! and “serious” is a homonym, and Harry, that is probably not the noise you want to be making right now. Fortunately no one in the universe (the Harry Potter universe) knows about homonyms and no one even for a second thinks that by “serious” Harry might mean “Sirius.” They do believe him, though; Dumbledore gives him more of the cold shoulder, and gathers up the Weasleys. As they are all port-keying to #12, Harry and Dumbledore’s eyes meet for the first time all year, and Harry is immediately filled up with Voldemort’s seething hatred, and suddenly he knows why Dumbledore won’t look at him. And it’s great, because he knows why, now, and it’s not a relief, because it means that it won’t end. It means the most trusted adult in his life is inaccessible and there is no way of knowing how long it will be that way.
In case anyone has read this far feeling that maybe I hate Harry Potter, let me put a note here that there are some things about it that I love. For example: THIS PART IS REALLY GOOD. There is so much tension and such an excellent balance of motives and personal emotions–she understands more than one set of feelings at once, and it works so well. You don’t always feel the characters this clearly, but here you do, and it works.
I’m afraid at #12 we get back to horrible things again–I mean the WORST things, because I mean Kreacher. His apparel is specifically referred to as a “loincloth” in this chapter, and I just want to point out that loincloths are clothes. Loincloths. Are. Clothes. So when you give someone a name that boils down to “worse than an animal” and then you tell me that a piece of clothing that many people–frequently people in ethnic groups that have been enslaved by white people–wore and still wear is not sufficiently human to merit freedom, I suspect you are being unconsciously but incredibly racist.
There’s a good bit where Sirius is being pushed toward his inevitable rash, terrible death by the distraught twins calling him a coward, but then JKR loses control a bit. I mean, if you have ever had a friend in the hospital who was almost dead an hour or so before, you have probably not formed a jolly troop, all worries banished, and pranced joyfully into the hospital to see them with nary a care. THE WEASLEYS DO! Only Harry is upset and that is because he is afraid of turning into a snake. When they get to Arthur, who is in the bite unit of this terribly organized hospital, he is telling a patient with a werewolf bite all about how he knows a guy with AIDS, I mean, a guy who is a werewolf and he really makes a pretty okay life of it–
All the adults turn very stupid at this point because they don’t want the kids to talk about Voldemort and his secret weapon, but as soon as they kick the kids out, they–still in a room with several other patients–all start talking about Order stuff themselves. Obviously this makes it easier for the kids to overhear, but RATIONALLY SPEAKING, IT ALSO MAKES IT EASIER FOR EVERYONE ELSE TO HEAR.
The kids hear just enough that Harry feels like a guilty monster monster snake who no one trusts and everything is wrong for, and they go back to Hogwarts, and a portrait tells Harry he should just be grateful to Dumbledore because obeying him hasn’t literally killed Harry so what is he complaining about, and Harry YELLS AND HAS VOLDEMORT DREAMS AND HATES HIMSELF AND HATES EVERYONE AND THEN GINNY POINTS OUT that she was possessed by Voldemort and Harry shuts up. This is also a really good moment. OotP has these in a higher proportion than perhaps all of the previous books.
However–it also has wizards not knowing about the internet, or stitches (and the attendant notion that muggles are stupid and dangerous, which, gosh, must be rich and fun coming from every side when you are muggleborn or half-blood). It also has terrible ideas about mental illness. It also has this incredibly exploitative scene where Gilderoy Lockheart’s illness is played for laughs (he’s a jerk, illness isn’t a joke) and then we’re supposed to go straight from laughing at him to being HORRIFIED for Neville that his parents are crazy helpless children. I mean, this whole scene is a shock reveal and has no other purpose–Lockheart is a lure that literally guides them to Neville’s family. She just did this to make the main characters know something they didn’t need to know, so we could see the UGLY TRUTH–how terrible it is to be crazy. Or rather, how terrible it is for their families–they don’t get much of a say, or continued personhood after their ~brave sacrifice~. They don’t even get private rooms, it’s just so gross, I feel so gross.
[tw rape language] Which is a good setup feeling for occlumency lessons with Snape, which is basically the time when Dumbledore authorizes a petty sadistic teacher to violate the mind of his most hated student over and over. And that is pretty much just a setup for Harry to find out the ugly truth that his dad was a jerk–Lockheart, pt.2. Learning occlumency is a great idea, don’t get me wrong, but holy crap, the payoff is low for making Snape the teacher, unless you are really, really into grimdark Snarry fic. (I don’t know. Maybe you are. A lot of people were. HARRY POTTER FANDOM WAS INTO EVERYTHING.) Anyway Harry learns nothing for quite a while, Snape is a baby boomer who tells Harry he is NOT SPECIAL OR IMPORTANT, this plot is terrible.
Balancing this out is VALENTINE’S WITH CHO, which is EVEN WORSE THAN THE CRYING MAKEOUTS. There are kissing couples and maybe Hermione will show up? And Cho wants to talk about Cedric and there is a cherub singing at them????? AND EVERYTHING IS TERRIBLE AND CHO LEAVES and it is funny and agonizing and perfect, why isn’t the whole series like this, this is a teenage nightmare, this is everything that is beautiful.
Harry is bad at love and is delightfully VIBRATING WITH JEALOUSY THAT RON IS PLAYING QUIDDITCH. The ever-resourceful Hermione blackmails Rita Skeeter into writing about Harry for the Quibbler, and Harry becomes a school hero again; Umbridge makes a rookie mistake by banning the Quibbler, when as everyone knows, BANNED BOOKS ARE THE BEST BOOKS. Trelawney gets fired! Dumbledore shows up like unto a benevolent god, but his general absence makes the divine appearance ring a little hollow, like a chocolate Easter bunny. Trelawney is replaced by centaur Firenze, which gives everyone an opportunity to be terrible at centaurs. JKR calls them half-man, half-horse–I would have thought they were all centaur, personally–and Hermione sees them as animals, and Dean asks if Hagrid bred. Their. Teacher.
Incredible drama arrives as Umbridge breaks up the DA, Harry is caught, the Minister of Magic is increasingly pathetic, and Dumbledore gives himself the boot and FLIES AWAY ON HIS PHOENIX JUST AS MERLIN ROCKETS OFF IN A BLAST OF FIRE IN DISNEY’S THE SWORD IN THE STONE!!!!!!!!! this is the worst post this is the worst post THIS BOOK IS ALMOST DONE ! ! !