Tuesday, September 27, 2005
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling (on 23 cds, performed by Jim Dale)
We're up to book 5 in the series and it's looking like the gloves are off and we're working toward the finish line. Harry is a 15 year old wizard and stuck with his only family, the Dursleys for yet another summer. The Dursleys are his mother's sister, Aunt Petunia, her husband, Uncle Vernon, and their son, Dudley. They are not wizarding people and have a dim view, to put it mildly, of Harry's kind.
This summer Harry is looking for news that Lord Voldemort has returned. He searches headlines of the wizard newspaper, The Daily Prophet, and surreptitiously listens to the muggle news to hear about Voldemort's comings and goings, or really, I guess, killings and maimings and general destruction. He figures that Voldemort's return should be big news and he's certainly dangerous enough that everyone should be aware that he's out there. The Dursley's are not pleased with Harry's interest in the news and see it as more evidence of his weirdness. Since their darling Dudley has no interest, then it must be completely abnormal. However, there are no headlines and no muggle news stories that fit what he's looking for. Harry's also been trying to get information from his friends, but he only gets terse replies, so he once again feels totally left out of the loop.
One day while walking through the neighborhood, two dementors come after Harry and Dudley. Harry drives them off with his patronus and gets Dudley home, only to find that he is in big trouble for performing magic as an underage wizard. When things go from bad to worse, a group of wizards comes to see Harry safely to the headquarters of the Order of the Phoenix, which also happens to be Sirius Black's family home.
Once situated at Order headquarters and back amongst family and friends, Harry gets some of the information he's been looking for. However, he is not pleased with the answers. While Harry was scanning headlines for stories that didn't appear, the Daily Prophet and the Ministry of Magic were taking digs at Harry and Albus Dumbledore on a regular basis. Rumors are circulating that Dumbledore is no longer capable of running Hogwarts. As far as Harry's concerned, the stories make him out to be an unbalanced attention seeker. All of his stories and adventures and utterances are now considered suspect. Harry finds that the Ministry of Magic refuses to consider or admit that Lord Volemort is back. They'd rather see Harry and Dumbledore discredited.
I love that Sirius and Molly Weasely have a heated argument that amount to a fight over who loves Harry more. Here is this kid who spent his life convinced that no one cared at all about him and suddenly he has all these surrogate parents and they are quarreling about what's best for him and who loves him more. This was such a sweet touch. With all that is dark and evil in this book, things are the warmest for Harry. He is surrounded by people who genuinely care about and for him.
I did have a little trouble with the Mad Eye Moody storyline. it stems from the Goblet of Fire. In the last book Harry developed a great relationship with Moody and learned a lot from him as Defense Against the Dark Arts professor. I always thought it was pretty lame to pull the "he was an impostor" thing. It felt like Rowling needed an answer to some questions and so she dusted off the polyjuice potion plot device and stuffed the real Mad Eye Moody into a trunk. This time out you have to mix some familiarity with the idea that we've never met this guy.
Jim Dale, was, as usual, pretty amazing. I especially loved his Dolores Umbridge voice. I could feel what a miserable simpering witch (no pun intended) she was. It was really creepy. I believe that Jim Dale's voice will be in my head as I read the rest of this series. I understand his fame for his voice, because I'm pretty sure that I would have to hold myself back from charging him like a 10-year if I was standing within earshot.
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is really dark, so much more so than any of the others. Life in the wizarding world is portrayed as so much more dark and scary than any of the previous books. Everyone is in danger. Between the propaganda and the misinformation, there is a real sense of fear of the unknown and each other. The absence of Dumbledore in Harry's life throughout this book adds to that. I don't understand how it can be that Cornelius Fudge is so junior high school in this book. He is jealous and threatened by Albus Dumbledore who has given him no reason for this. Actually, I guess this is common, albeit, childish behavior. You can just take a look at modern American politics. I'm pretty sure that your most aggressive smear campaigns come down to this very sad behavior.
I have a few unanswered questions which I hope will be cleared up in book 6.
1. Rowling pulled a Mad Eye Moody ending again. Dolores Umbridge is a patsy to Fudge, who although sneaky and untrustworthy, has never seemed violent. Yet, she admits to having sicced the dementors on Harry. Why? She was a secretary to Fudge and would have been party to discrediting Harry, but that was happening all along without anyone needing to take any action. So, really, why?
2. Fudge, what's up with his cowardice and paranoia?
3. Who was in charge of the whole Death Eater trial business and how was it decided who could go free and who should be sent to Azkaban?
Actually, I have many more questions, but I am drawing a complete blank. Maybe I'll be able to get some answers for myself, or Rowling will supply them as this series draws to a close.