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.


Rowling's extraordinary book sold 5 million copies on the first day of its release in the U.S. It is packed with characters, plots and themes too numerous to even summarize here. Nonetheless, one of the major themes, that is, how those who are not like oneself are treated, warrants further commentary. For instance, Remus Lupin, the friend of Sirius Black and James Potter, and Harry's professor in book 3, had been bitten as a child and hence became a werewolf. He is one of the most sympathetic characters in the series, always kindly and restrained--when not transformed during the full moon.

How he, or house elves, centaurs, giants, etc. are shunned, abused or vilified by the wizarding world reflects how our world (mis)treats those deemed different or inferior. Similarly, the purity of bloodlines, and whether a wizard or witch descends from a "pureblood" family or has Muggle heritage, reflect our own world and its prejudices.

Furthermore, death, as well as the resultant grief, is a deep theme to the series. In this book, the possibility of afterlife in various guises is contrasted with the finality of death. Fawkes, Dumbledore's phoenix, is again seen cycling through life and death. The metaphor of death as a final act, as a curtain swept over a life, is reified in the denouement. And yet people live on in dreams, memories, stories, histories--and in magical forms such as ghosts, moving/talking figures in portraits, or Harry's stag Patronus. Harry elicits this Patronus to protect himself from the terrible Dementors, yet the shape of the Patronus is a direct reference to his deceased father.


Published by Bloomsbury in the UK. For the series to date, the U.S. version is illustrated by Mary GrandPré.



Place Published

New York



Page Count