Title: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Book 5)
Author: J.K. Rowling
Age Category: 12 to 16 years +
Genre: Young Adult Fiction
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix: Book Review and Summary
Today I present a Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix book review and summary. This fifth installment in J.K. Rowling’s masterful juvenile fiction series about Harry Potter picks up where the fourth book left off. The Dark Lord Voldemort—having been restored to power at the climax of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Book 4)—and his minions are covertly at work, preparing for outright war. They seek something Voldemort “didn’t have last time” (p. 96), i.e., when Harry was a baby and Voldemort last launched his campaign for power over the wizarding world. But, what exactly is Voldemort seeking? This question drives the plot of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Book 5) forward on the deepest level. Harry’s consistent experience of visions hinting at Voldemort’s activity and emotions help him and his friends in their efforts to understand and foil Voldemort’s plans.
In Rowling’s trademark style, the path toward answering the central question of the novel has many twists, turns, and subplots. One significant subplot is the introduction and activity of the book’s namesake—the Order of the Phoenix—a secret society of wizards formed by Professor Dumbledore (the headmaster at Harry’s school, Hogwarts) to counter the rise of the Dark Lord. It turns out that virtually all of the adult wizards in Harry’s life are members of the Order, including professors from Hogwarts, Sirius Black (Harry’s godfather), and Mr. and Mrs. Weasley (the parents of Ron Weasley, Harry’s best friend). The development of Harry’s relationship with Sirius—which takes a shocking turn—also continues to be an important subplot in this book.
Subjective Appeal: Gripping Plot, Teen Romance
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Book 5) will have much subjective appeal for children older than twelve years. First, the plot is gripping and intricate. Although it is challenging to follow at times—with Rowling’s wide range of characters and interpenetrating subplots—half the fun of reading the book is keeping track of everything. The complexity keeps the reader focused on the book and hungering for more. Rowling has created an entire universe in the Harry Potter novels not unlike J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth (though somewhat less complex), and this installment in the series is yet another tantalizing view into that alternate world.
The themes this children’s book engages also make it attractive to kids ten years and older. For example, Harry’s efforts to cope with the loss of family members and friends is a theme with which many juvenile and young adult readers will identify. The prominent theme of good against evil, is also as compelling as ever: the reader is altogether wrapped up in Harry’s and his friends’ struggle against Voldemort. And of course, the fantasy themes—magical creatures, flying on broomsticks, casting spells, etc.—never cease to please.
As Harry, Ron, and Hermione—the central characters of the book—are now 15 years old, the book also develops the theme of teen romance in ways that are new for the series, but that are also eminently appropriate and tasteful. In Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Book 4) Rowling “flirted” with the issue of romance (pun intended), but in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Book 5) the issue is tackled more directly. For example, in this book Harry experiences his first kiss, and goes on his first (disastrous!) date.
Finally, in a discussion of what makes Rowling’s juvenile fiction books appealing, I could not fail to mention her masterful development of the book’s characters. Indeed, in the end, it is this deft development of characters (even of the many secondary characters) that makes her books so long, and yet so difficult to put down. To be honest, when I’m away from these books I miss the characters: they have become my friends (yes, I know, I am fully aware of my geekness).
I can’t resist an example: when Harry and the Weasley family are staying together in London, Ron gets a letter unexpectedly informing him that he has been appointed “prefect”—a position at Hogwarts that gives him disciplinary authority. Ron’s mischievous older twin brothers, Fred and George (who are hilarious; humor is another reason to love these books), promptly begin giving Ron a hard time about it and speculating (correctly as it turns out) that their mother’s reaction will be “revolting”. The following exchange ensues: Mrs. Weasley “gave Ron yet another kiss on the cheek, sniffed loudly, and bustled from the room. Fred and George exchanged looks. ‘You don’t mind if we don’t kiss you, do you, Ron?’ said Fred in a falsely anxious voice. ‘We could curtsy, if you like,’ said George. ‘Oh, shut up,’ said Ron, scowling at them. ‘Or what?’ said Fred, an evil grin spreading across his face. ‘Going to put us in detention?’ (p. 164). Here Rowling nails the sibling dynamics. Simply put, her character development is the compelling heart and soul of these children’s books.
Developmental Value: Complex Plot, Morally Edifying
In addition to its subjective appeal, the book has many qualities that render it developmentally valuable for children ten years and older. First, the complexity of the kids’ book (both in its plot and its characters) makes it intellectually demanding for children. Rowling drops hints and clues as the mystery of the book unfolds, engaging the deductive powers of young readers.
Second, the book has significant literary value. Although Rowling is not the most elegant writer (her sentences tend to be a bit clunky at times), she makes brilliant use of imagery in her descriptions, her vocabulary is broad, and she creatively employs Latin roots in naming spells and potions, and Greek mythology for magical creatures. For example, centaurs inhabit the Forbidden Forest, and “accio”—in Latin, “I call”—is the spell Harry and his friends use to summon distant objects. Moreover, once in a while Rowling’s turn of phrase is truly beautiful. The creative literary character of the book encourages literary growth in young readers.
In my view, the book is also morally edifying. In their fight against evil, Harry Potter and his friends show remarkable courage, compassion (even for enemies), and self-restraint—all of which are virtues I certainly hope to inculcate in my children. In my view, literary examples of such virtue, such as those in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Book 5), have a role to play in this character development.
Granted, Harry and his friends are not saints: they frequently lie, and at times they are downright haughty and mean. Nevertheless, their lies are virtually always in the service of the greater good, illustrating the moral truth that “do not lie” has exceptions: it is immoral not to lie if a Nazi is at your door looking for the Jews in your attic. And the characters’ mean or brash slips of character rarely go unpunished. All things considered, Harry and the gang are flawed yet helpful moral models, people to whom children can relate, and from whom they can learn.
Finally, although the Harry Potter series has been controversial in the religious community—particularly among conservative Christians—I think this book and the others in the series have the potential to be religiously edifying, particularly if parents read them to their children and use the books as a catalyst for theological conversations. For my take on the controversy over the Harry Potter novels, and my argument that the series amounts to Christian allegory, read the article series “Harry Potter: Christian Allegory or Occultist Children’s Books?”, which starts here.
In sum, I highly recommend Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Book 5), along with the other novels in J.K. Rowling’s juvenile fiction series. I encourage you to find the book in your local library, or to support our work by purchasing it through the links in this post, or in the Children’s Books and Reviews Online Bookstore. For more information on Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, click here. To see an interesting international collection of cover art for Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, click here and scroll down a ways.
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