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Note: I try not to reveal too much here. Nevertheless, I urge you to read the book first. I would not want the magic of reading this book to be diminished by too much foreknowledge--no matter when the book is initially opened.
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is the fifth book in a planned series of seven (see Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone for an introductory summary). Harry is now fifteen years old. The opening chapter, "Dudley Demented," features a return of the Dementors (see Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban), who had been sent to Harry's neighborhood in Little Whinging to deliver their soul-sucking kiss. In order to repel the Dementors and save himself and his bullying cousin Dudley Dursley from the kiss's death-in-life, Harry uses magic. This transgression from rules on underage wizardry leads to Harry's near expulsion from his school, Hogwarts, and a trial by the full court, the Wizengamot, led by Cornelius Fudge, in the Department of Mysteries of the Ministry of Magic.
Headmaster Albus Dumbledore, concerned with Harry's safety as well as with leading the resistance efforts (The Order of the Phoenix) against the resurgent evil Lord Voldemort, not only prevents Harry's expulsion, but also organizes the guard for Harry's transfer from the Dursley home to the ancient house of Harry's godfather, the wonderfully moody and complex Sirius Black. Sirius, like Harry's parents, would risk anything for his godson, but the relationship is charged by Sirius' goading of Harry to be more cavalier like James Potter--Harry's father and Sirius' best friend--and by Sirius' antipathy towards being imprisoned in his ancestral home, filled with reminders of his pureblood wizard family.
These include a portrait of his raging, hate-filled, deceased mother and a malevolent house elf, Kreacher. Communication between Harry and Sirius is a key theme in the book, as Harry looks to Sirius for guidance on the tribulations of adolescence and to satiate Harry's continued craving for information about his father. Harry's emotional tether is short in this novel, and runs the gamut from frustration and envy that his two best friends, Ron and Hermione, were made prefects of Gryffindor House, to despising two teachers (potions teacher Snape, of course, and the new venomous, officious Defense of the Dark Arts teacher, Dolores Umbridge) and finally to absolute fear and hatred of Voldemort, his mortal, yet intimate, enemy.
Harry's scar pains him almost continuously now that Voldemort has returned in the flesh, and also now that Harry has dreams and visions of Voldemort's actions. With this ability, Harry envisions himself as a snake and witnesses the wounding of Ron's father, Arthur Weasley. This episode leads to two visits to the wizard hospital: St. Mungo's Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries. The reader is deliciously informed that the personnel in green robes are not doctors ("those Muggle nutters that cut people up" p. 484), but rather Healers: wizards and witches who passed a large battery of tests in a range of subjects to qualify for such training.
The hospital is a mix of the mundane (the irritable receptionist) and the arcane (patients suffering from bizarre spell damage). Mr. Weasley's recovery from the nearly lethal snake bite suffers a minor setback when Trainee Healer Pye (not the Healer-in-Charge, Hippocrates Smethwyck) tries some "complementary medicine . . .
[an] old Muggle remed[y] . . .
called stitches . . . " (pp. 306-7). The loving Mrs. Weasley, whose temper is notorious and hence humorous, shouts at her husband that even he "wouldn't be that stupid" as to allow his skin to be sewn together. (p. 307)
While in the hospital, Harry and his friends encounter schoolmate Neville Longbottom visiting his parents, who suffer dementia caused by dark magic performed by one of Voldemort's Death Eater followers. Mental illnesses prove far more difficult to remedy than bodily injuries and maladies. Indeed, late in the book, Madam Pomfrey, the Healer at Hogwarts, wisely advises that "thoughts could leave deeper scarring than almost anything else." (p. 847) As Dumbledore, the embodiment of sagacity, states, memories of old hurts, slights and abuses, make "some wounds run too deep for . . .
healing." (p. 833)
Other medically related items include the Skivving Snackboxes--an assortment of magical treats and their antidotes concocted to fake various illnesses in order to skip classes, and Umbridge's detention punishment which results in the painful etching of the required written phrases on the back of the hand of the miscreant student.
Professor Snape is charged with teaching Harry the subtleties of mind-reading (Legilimency) and its prevention (Occlumency), in an effort to prevent Voldemort's use of Harry's mind. "The mind is a complex and many-layered thing," says Snape, and hence the mind cannot be read like a book. (p. 530) Harry's failure at these lessons leads to the denouement of the book and ultimately to the loss of someone very dear to him. After the inevitable confrontation between Voldemort and Harry, Dumbledore gently coaches Harry through his guilt and anger to teach him about destiny, love and death.
This is the fictional journal of four months in the life of Doctor Tyko Glas, a turn-of-the century Swedish physician, who writes, "How can it have come about that, out of all possible trades, I should have chosen the one which suits me least?" Though Doctor Glas is over 30 years old, he has "never been near a woman." In fact, he finds the physical aspects of sexual intercourse rather repulsive. Even more repulsive is his patient Rev. Gregorius, a nasty 57-year-old minister who happens to have a lovely young wife.
One day Mrs. Gregorius, also his patient, presents Doctor Glas with a strange request. Her husband's sexual advances have become onerous to her. Could the doctor tell him that she suffers from a pelvic disease and, therefore, must avoid sexual relations for several months? Doctor Glas agrees to do so, but the Rev. Gregorius is not easily put off. He believes that God has given married couples the duty to procreate, so sex is not simply a question of pleasure or preference. It is a question of duty. Thus, he rapes his wife, believing that their sacred marital duty is more important than her health.
Meanwhile, Mrs. Gregorius admits (to the doctor) that she has fallen in love with someone else, a handsome young businessman. As the summer progresses, it is clear that Doctor Glas has fallen in love with his patient, a love that is as tortured as it is silent and unrequited. Eventually Glas becomes convinced that he must save his patient from her repulsive husband's advances by murdering him.
Thus, the doctor carefully plans to poison the minister, using cyanide pills that he had once prepared for his own suicide. His plan is successful. The minister dies of an apparent "heart attack." Unfortunately, at around that time the handsome lover announces his engagement to another woman. The bereft Mrs. Gregorius, who sees nothing in the doctor, is left alone. Doctor Glas is also alone. "Life has passed me by," he ruminates.
The sculptor Ken Harrison (Richard Dreyfuss) is badly injured in a car accident and finds himself in the middle of life permanently paralyzed below the neck and dependent on others for his care and survival. Ken is a strong-minded, passionate man totally dedicated to his art, and he decides he does not want to go on with the compromised, highly dependent life that his doctors, his girlfriend Pat (Janet Eilber), and others urge on him. He breaks up with Pat and fights to be released from the hospital, to gain control of his life in order to stop the care that keeps him alive and unhappy.
His antagonist is the hospital's medical director Dr. Emerson (John Cassavetes), who believes in preserving life no matter what, and so tries to get Ken committed as clinically depressed. Ken's attending physician, Dr. Scott (Christine Lahti), begins with the establishment but gradually moves toward Ken's position.
The film ends with the judge at a legal hearing deciding that Ken is not clinically depressed and that he thus has the right to refuse treatment and be discharged. In the last scene, Ken lies in a hospital bed framed by his own sculptural realization of the forearm and hand of God from Michelangelo's Creation of Man.
Following the death of an aphasic hermit woman in the woods of North Carolina, it is discovered that she is survived by a daughter (Jodie Foster), a young woman who lives by herself as a kind of wild child, speaking a private language, and intensely fearful of human contact. The authorities decide that she must be normalized for her own good, but Dr. Jerry Lovell (Liam Neeson) disagrees, arguing that, although different, she is fine and has not asked for help. He insists on getting her informed consent before treatment. A judge agrees to give Lovell three months to observe the woman, whose name turns out to be Nell, and find evidence that she should not be treated against her will.
Lovell recruits a partner, psychologist Paula Olsen (Natasha Richardson), and together they set up an observation base on a houseboat with a view of Nell's cabin. From there Lovell makes a series of attempts to win Nell's confidence and understand her language. (Olsen for much of the film mainly represents a set of professional values more conservative that Lovell's unconventional therapeutic moves--which, for example, make her suspect that he is sexually attracted to Nell. Her own sexual presence, while downplayed, serves to defuse this potential.)
Lovell wins Nell's confidence (she calls him her "guardian angel") and the secrets of her speech and wounded psyche (a twin sister died young, and Nell has apparently at least witnessed sexual abuse). Following a court hearing in which Nell speaks in her own defense, the world gets word of her case and journalists descend on her remote cabin on foot and by helicopter.
Fearing that civilization will destroy Nell, Lovell arranges to have her hospitalized as the least available evil. However, when he finds her drugged, he sees that hospitalization is no solution, and he carries Nell out of the hospital and back to her cabin. He tries to make her understand that he is not her guardian angel.
The film switches to a warmly-lit lakeside scene five years later, when all problems seem to have been solved. Lovell and Olsen, who are married with a little girl, and several other sympathetic characters are picnicking with Nell near her cabin, and Nell is shown entranced and somehow emotionally fulfilled in being with the child, who is the age at which her twin sister died.
Orlov is a young playboy in St. Petersburg whose father is an important political figure. The narrator (the "anonymous man"), who is actually a political activist (perhaps even an anarchist), assumes a new fake identity and takes a job as Orlov's footman, in order to get inside information to use against his father. While working undercover in this way, the narrator ("Stefan") observes a domestic tragedy. Orlov charms and then seduces a beautiful young married woman, Zinaida Fyodorovna Krasnovsky, who subsequently leaves her husband, shows up on Orlov's doorstep, and moves in with him.
Zinaida bursts with romantic visions and loves Orlov passionately. However, Orlov thinks the whole thing is a bore. He can't bring himself to throw her out, yet he detests her assault on his freedom. Eventually, he begins spending weeks at a time away from the flat, supposedly on an inspection tour in the provinces, but he is simply avoiding Zinaida by staying at a friend's house in St. Petersburg. Meanwhile, "Stefan" experiences a growing compassion for the poor woman, who has given up her husband and family for love.
As a result of this situation, "Stefan's" political ideals sink into the background; for example, he gives up an opportunity to murder Orlov's father and, thereby, achieve his radical objectives. Eventually, he confesses the truth to Zinaida--that Orlov has deceived her and doesn't want her. "Stefan" also reveals his true identity (Vladimir Ivanitich) and entices her to flee with him to Europe.
They spend the next several months traveling together. At one point Vladimir has an acute exacerbation of "pleurisy" (actually tuberculosis) and, while nursing him back to health, Zinaida realizes that Vladimir is in love with her. This is a crushing blow to their relationship, because she was under the impression that he had been helping her for purely altruistic, idealistic reasons.
Meanwhile, Zinaida, who is ill herself and pregnant with Orlov's child, dies in childbirth. The baby (Sonya) survives, and Vladimir spends two happy years caring for her, until he, too, is about to die of tuberculosis. At the end of the story, Vladimir meets with Orlov, and they make arrangements for old Krasnovsky--Remember him? He was Zinaida's husband--to take the child and raise her as his own.
The dog Kashtanka belongs to a drunken carpenter who takes her out one day, but on the way home loses her in the confusion of a military parade. The story is told by an omniscient narrator who privileges Kashtanka's point of view, so we follow the dog's subsequent adventures largely from her eyes.
After spending a frightening night in the street, Kashtanka is rescued by a kind man who feeds her and takes her into his home, which turns out to be a strange menagerie. The rescuer happens to run a traveling animal show, in which the star performers are a goose named Ivan Ivanitch and a cat by the name of Fyodor Timofeyitch. Kashtanka's new master renames her "Auntie" and sets about training her to perform in his act.
"Auntie" thoroughly enjoys her new surroundings. Her master is kind, there is plenty of food and love; and "Auntie" gets along well with the other animals. However, one day the carpenter and his son attend the show and see "Auntie" performing. They instantly recognize her and call out, "Kashtanka!" Kashtanka drops her "Auntie" persona and follows them home, as the pleasures of her interlude with her new master rapidly fade from memory.
The story is told of Byelikov, "the man in a case." Byelikov, the Greek teacher at a provincial school, was extraordinarily orderly both in his personal and professional lives. A strict disciplinarian, he never made exceptions to the rules. He always did things the proper way, determined to avoid even the appearance of impropriety.
Although he and his colleagues had nothing to speak about, he would regularly visit each one of them because it was the accepted thing to do. Every time something slightly irregular came up, Byelikov would cry, "Oh, how I hope it doesn't reach the ears of the authorities!" Naturally, the other teachers hated him.
At one point, Byelikov became enamored of Varinka, the sister of Kovalenko, a new teacher at the school. Everyone encouraged this relationship, hoping that marriage would moderate Byelikov. However, someone drew a humorous caricature of Byelikov and Varinka.
Then, Byelikov saw Varinka and her brother bicycling in the park. Outraged, Byelikov went to the brother to complain about this scandalous behavior, but Kovalenko pushed him down the steps. Byelikov than became depressed, took to his bed, and died, thereby truly becoming a man in a box (i.e. a coffin).
Burkin and Ivan Ivanovich seek shelter from the rain in Alehin's country home. As they sit having their tea, Ivan Ivanovich tells the story of his brother, Nikolay, who worked as a government functionary and always dreamed of saving enough money to buy his own country home with a garden and gooseberries. He skimped and saved and finally, after his wife's death, bought an estate.
When Ivan Ivanovich visited him many years later, Nikolay was no longer the self-doubting clerk he once was, but had become a confident (and corpulent) landowner, who was obviously happy with his life and with the delicious gooseberries from the bushes he had planted. Ivan Ivanovich realized then that he, too, was a happy man, despite all the pain and evil in the world.
Nadya Shumin is engaged to be married to Andrey Andreitch, the son of a local priest. Nadya lives on her grandmother's estate with her mother, "a fair-haired woman tightly laced in, with a pince-nez, and diamonds on every finger." While Nadya is a woman with a great desire for education and independence, Andrey is a friendly but rather vacuous and totally unmotivated man.
Sasha, an ill and impoverished young man who is spending the summer on the estate has long been considered part of the family. Sasha implores Nadya to follow her heart--to go to Petersburg and attend the University. She resolves to do so and secretly accompanies Sasha when he returns to Moscow. She then goes on to begin her own life in Petersburg.
After the school term, Nadya returns for the summer, but she is aware that things will never be the same. The family receives word that Sasha has died of tuberculosis. At the end of the story, Nadya is packing to leave the estate "as she supposed forever."
It is a summer night on the steppe and two shepherds are lying on the ground as their sheep sleep. A man on a horse stops to ask them for a light for his pipe, but stays to chat. They discuss the recent death of Yefim Zhmenya, an old man who had sold his soul to the Evil One. You could tell he was evil because people walking past his garden could hear his melons whistle. The older shepherd tells another story about Yefim, whom he had seen appear as a bullock one stormy night.
One of the men observes that there are many treasures buried in the local hills. "Yes," says the old shepherd, "but no one knows where to dig for them." But then he tells them about a map to the treasure and indicates that he knows precisely where to dig. However, when the horsemen asks him what he would do with the treasure if he finds it, the old shepherd can't answer.