I have read Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix eight times. Anytime I’ve told someone this, I always get the same reaction.
“Ugh, why?” they say. “That’s the worst one.” Or some variation of that. To be fair, when questioned further, everyone’s criticisms of OOTP are pretty sound — yes, there’s a lot of angst, Harry spends a lot of time brooding, it’s the longest book of the series, it’s dark, it moves slowly. But none of that stops OOTP from being one my favorites out of all the Harry Potter novels.
This isn’t a review of the novel. This is merely me pointing out all the things that are great about OOTP, since the nine years from when Harry Potter ended, people tend to look back at OOTP none too kindly.
Angst, Angst, and more Angst.
First, let’s talk about Harry’s angst. He’s 15 in this novel, an age when teenage angst seems to be at its prime. Add in some rouge dementors at the start of the novel, and I’d say Harry’s a tad bit entitled to a lot of brooding. Not to mention he watched his friend die right before Voldemort came back. Harry’s had a rough summer, so when he totally blew up at Ron and Hermione at the Burrow, I cheered. Be angry, Harry. You have every right. Harry also has to face a trial in the wake of him using magic to defend himself against the dementors who attacked him and Dudley. So, there’s that. And that’s just the beginning. I will admit to some level of weariness at Harry’s angst as the novel goes on, but Harry’s a unique character in that his inherent goodness and his struggle to hold onto that part of himself throughout OOTP endeared him to me even more. That conversation he has with Sirius in Grimmauld Place is incredibly eye-opening in terms of understanding Harry’s struggle and Voldemort’s hold on him, even if at the time we don’t completely understand that hold.
OOTP also gives us a larger look at the wizarding world politically, by bringing in the Ministry of Magic. We’ve met Minister of Magic Cornelius Fudge before, but only briefly. Here, he clearly represents everything that is wrong with government, be it a Muggle government or a magic one. He’s terrified of Voldemort being back under his reign, so he refuses to believe it, making Harry and Dumbledore out to be attention-seeking fools and putting the wizarding community at risk. Bringing politics into the wizarding world in OOTP also brought back a character we hadn’t really seen since the first novel, the oldest Weasley brother, Percy. Percy’s presence at the Minister’s side during the course of the argument of whether or not Voldemort was back really showed how not just politics, but the level of fear amongst the wizarding community, could break a family apart. Percy becomes estranged from the rest of the Weasleys and belittles Harry and Dumbledore’s name for the entire book. Even when Fudge comes to his senses, Percy stays away from the family, with no reconciliation with them until Deathly Hallows. And we all know how that truce between him and Fred goes.
But the most significant new character in OOTP is Professor Umbridge, the new defense against the dark arts teacher, whose picture I definitely crossed out with pencil in the book. From her charming and sweet surface-level disposition, her obsession with cats and the color pink, her connection to the corrupt Ministry of Magic and her refusal to allow the students to use magic to defend themselves, Umbridge was creepy and terrifying even before she began torturing her students in detention. She easily became much more hated than series main villain Voldemort, among the fandom. Umbridge’s presence at Hogwarts and the eventual removal of Dumbledore as Headmaster is another example of the hold the wizarding government has on its education system.
Up until OOTP, Harry has saved the day on four different occasions (although, now that I think about it, he doesn’t do much saving in Goblet of Fire). But they’ve all largely been solo successes. True, Ron and Hermione are always at his side, but they’ve all felt like Harry’s battles alone. With the return of Voldemort, it becomes everyone’s fight; and so we get the creation of Dumbledore’s Army, a group of wizards who actually have a clue and learn, from Harry, the best ways to defend themselves. It was a form of rebellion all teenagers could relate to — secret clubs with secret passwords. Dumbledore’s Army also felt like an answer to Harry being denied access to the Order of the Phoenix. It finally felt like we were fighting back against something, rallying against the forces of evil. When the battle at the Ministry of Magic comes around, reality comes knocking for the members of DA when they take on Death Eaters and Voldemort himself.
JK Rowling is a master writer, but we all knew that, right?
You wouldn’t have noticed this level of foreshadowing on the first read of OOTP. But on subsequent reads (with those subsequent reads being after you’ve read HBP and DH), you’ll notice a lot of subtle foreshadowing JK Rowling put into OOTP. One of the best moments of foreshadow comes on page 116 when Harry, Ron, Hermione, and the twins are cleaning out the drawing-room in Grimmauld Place: “There was a musical box that emitted a faintly sinister, tinkling tune when wound, and they all had found themselves becoming curiously weak and sleepy until Ginny had the sense to slam the lid shut; also a heavy locket that none of them could open…” That locket is none other than the locket that holds a piece of Voldemort’s soul, a horcux he created, and it’s the first horcux that Harry, Ron, and Hermione eventually destroy in the Forest of Dean in DH. As mentioned, on first read, that paragraph is pretty meaningless, but on later reads, that paragraph recontextualizes everything. In DH, the trio spends a lot of time searching for that locket, eventually having to break into the Ministry of Magic to steal it from Umbridge. The knowledge that a mere two years before, the trio had that locket in their hands kind of gives me anxiety. It would have saved a lot of grief if they had just known.
Do you need more convincing?
There are many other aspects of OOTP I could go over, but it is an 800 page book. I didn’t even talk about Harry’s Occlumency lessons with Snape, where we not only learn about Harry’s tie to Voldemort, but more about Snape’s personal history with Harry’s father and with Sirius. There’s also the introduction of Bellatrix Lestrange and the brief return of Gilderoy Lockhart. If you’re one of those who wasn’t a fan of OOTP for reasons mentioned above, I suggest doing another reread, if only for nostalgia’s sake.