Why I Didn't Like the 5th Harry Potter Book Very Much


Note: There were so many spoilers in the following paragraphs that I just decided I'd just make the whole thing spoilerized instead of going on and off. But I did this not to give a negative review of it (if you've been hooked by the first four books like me, you'll read the next three no matter how bad they are anyway), but to provoke debate, and you can't really debate about this issue if you haven't read the book.

Spoiler: Highlight to view
Hmm, where to begin? Well, to start, this book is really freaking long. I think that the fourth book, with subplots about the Quidditch World Cup and the Triwizard Tournament, could justify its 750-page length, but "Order of the Phoenix" cannot justify 870 pages. It drags. A lot. And yet, I wouldn't mind so much if the good stuff was better.

Spoiler: Highlight to view
The true villains in the book are the people at the Ministry of Magic, not Voldemort. The book spends so much time building up the evils of Cornelius Fudge and Dolores Umbridge. But there's not enough comeuppance. Sure, Dumbledore knocks them out, and when the truth is revealed, Fudge has a red face, but I demand better vengeance on a villain that is built up so strongly throughout the book. I loved it when Umbridge got carried off by the centaurs, but within a few weeks in the hospital, she's fine, albeit hated by Hogwarts students. I think the bitch should've died.

Spoiler: Highlight to view
Speaking of death... some of my friends cried when Sirius died at the end of the book. I didn't. I might've if he had kicked the bucket at the end of the 3rd or 4th book, but "Order of the Phoenix" spends so much time portraying Sirius as a total irrational asshole, I found it hard to care. In fact, ditto for Harry. Harry goes beyond "understandably moody" in this book and reaches the level of "total dickhead", while his friends are nothing but kind and forgiving. Not to mention Harry's constant stupidity. I can't believe Harry STILL suspects Snape as being in league with Voldemort. Get a grip, Harry! Snape may be a jerk, but when you look at the big picture, he's a good guy! Can't you see that Snape will always be just a red herring? Stop being such a jerk to Snape, and maybe he won't fail you in Potions!

Spoiler: Highlight to view
But the worst part of the book is definitely Voldemort's main plot. It's just ridiculous. Why would Voldemort spend eight months manipulating Harry's mind further and further just so that he can find out the end of a stupid prophecy that may or may not help him out? And as it turns out, I don't see how the prophecy could help Voldemort at all. Jeez, Voldemort, don't you have anything better to do than finding out this prophecy? I mean, come on!

Spoiler: Highlight to view
Furthermore, the "climactic" battle scene is just too easy, especially the portion between Dumbledore and Voldemort. I was expecting a little more from the two most powerful wizards in the world. But hey, that's not my biggest complaint. Why didn't Dumbledore just tell Harry what Voldemort was doing? And why didn't he just tell Harry the prophecy too? I know that Dumbledore gives Harry a long, rambling speech about how he was just so excited to see Harry coming to Hogwarts, but that doesn't satisfy me. The explanation is weak, and Dumbledore is a lot wiser than these actions reveal him to be. I don't even get why the prophecy is such a big deal to Harry anyway. He keeps whining about how he'll have to either kill Voldemort or be killed by Voldemort. But what are his qualms about murdering Voldemort? Come on, Harry, the guy killed your parents. Won't it satisfy you to bump off the Dark Lord? Jeez...

Spoiler: Highlight to view
Oh, and by the way, in London I saw an article in which J.K. Rowling warned children that she "might kill off Harry" when the 7th book comes around. I really don't see that happening. How could she narrate that? What I mean is, the books are so focused on Harry's point of view. We see everything through Harry's eyes, we hear Harry's thoughts and nobody else's. How could she write Harry dying and then continue on with the story?

Spoiler: Highlight to view
Other parts of the book just baffled me as to why Rowling would bother writing this. Maybe just to take up space. For example, why bring back Rita Skeeter? She was completely unnecessary. Why the obsession with Hermione knitting the hats for house-elves? Also, Luna Lovegood's part in the book was far too large; yes, she was important in getting Harry's article published in that tabloid newspaper, but that should've been the extent of her role. And many of the new members of the Order of the Phoenix just annoyed me, like Tonks and Kreacher.

Spoiler: Highlight to view
Now, the good parts of the book. I did like the parts about Harry's relationship with Cho Chang. It feels like a real teenage crush / relationship, and the Muggle character traits shine through in the wizards. It doesn't end well, but I think that's for the better. Harry wasn't meant to end up with Cho anyway. I also liked the parts about Harry's own Defense Against the Dark Arts class, including the room that only appears when you need it and how its name, "Dumbledore's Army" was used in Dumbledore's office. I'm glad to see that Ginny Weasley is over Harry and now is a regular member of the "gang", because she's cool. And I liked seeing Snape's memory from the Pensieve.

Spoiler: Highlight to view
But these saving graces were not enough to make this book anywhere near as good as the first four. J.K. Rowling knows she's got me hooked already, that she can write 900 pages of drivel and I'll read it because I want to know what happens to Harry and everyone else. So if you wanted to sell a book, Ms. Rowling, you've succeeded. But if you wanted to write an enjoyable book, you've failed. If you wanted to exert your extreme power as the person who created Harry Potter and the one person who knows his fate, and you wanted to dupe your readers into reading an obscenely long book that ranges from decent to awful, and you wanted to screw us because you know we're already addicted and we'll read the next three books no matter how long or bad they are, then congratulations, J.K. Rowling. You win. I'll continue shelling out my hard-earned cash for your writing, but boy will I be peeved about it.

Well. You've heard my point of view. Now discuss.

Well, come on, three of you voted for Order of the Phoenix being the best Harry Potter book so far. Let's hear your defense of the book. Speak up, if you're not afraid to admit you read a Harry Potter book.

Alrighty, I'll speak up! Paragraph by paragraph (although I do skip a couple):

1. I didn't think it dragged. I was as riveted by this one as I've been by any of the others.

2. While Umbridge is certainly worthy of loathing, Fudge is just an insecure, incompetent bureaucrat. And one that spends most of the book in denial. I don't think we've heard the last of either of them, so further come-uppance may be forth-coming. I think Rowling does a nice job with the great waffling masses that reside somewhere between the white hats and the black hats. We'll have to see to which side Umbridge and Fudge ultimately tip, or if they just keep muddling about in the middle.

3. Now that Harry's completely mired in adolecent angst, I thought this was okay. Take that hormone-stew and pressure cook it with orphanhood, wars, conspiracies, etc. and I'm glad Rowling has had the guts to make our hero a bit of a dickhead. I'd hate for him to be cute, smart, and resourceful throughout all of high school. I know not all teenager boys turn into dickheads for awhile, but many of 'em do. I do concur that my affection for Sirius was dampened in this book as well, but I was still sorry to see him go.

4. The first time Voldemort tried to kill Harry it knocking him out of the game for 15 years. The second time he was also inexplicably unsuccessful. I imagine that's enough to give anyone pause. I had no problem with him spending almost the entire book laying low, gathering his forces, and trying to get a definitive answer to "the Harry Potter problem." Certainly if I was thinking about entering into a life-or-death struggle with someone, and I knew the outcome was written down somewhere, I'd try pretty hard to find that piece of paper before formulating my strategy.

5. I didn't really have any problem with Dumbledore's speech. I can certainly see where you start with a "he's too young to burden him with this information" decision that then takes on an inertia of its own. Interia is a powerful force. As for Harry's qualms, yeah, the hand-wringing of the morality of killing Voldemort seems a bit stretched, but I imagine a large part of his worry is in the kill-or-be-killed stress.

7. I liked the new characters, and think Rowling has a particular still for making even minor characters engaging (or annoying, I suppose :-).

9. I think if Rowling were just coasting or trying to foist off drivel on her loyal readers to turn a quick buck she'd be writing shorter books, not longer ones! Why knock yourself out at the typewriter if you're just cashing in? Not that it really matters when you're making boatloads of money, but longer books mean a lower money:effort ratio.

I'm certainly not afraid to admit I read a Harry Potter book! Sorry you didn't like it though. I hope books six and seven work better for you. One last thing about this book: I don't really think I refute anything you say; your beefs are all reasonable ones. It's just that the stuff that didn't work for you worked for me.

2. Jeez, I really hope Umbridge doesn't come back again. We shall see, however... maybe there's more to come about the Ministry of Magic in the next book.

3. I'm not saying the hero of the book has the be perfect, but it just broke my heart to see our young protagonist CONSTANTLY bitching to all of his friends while they're being nothing but forgiving and nice to him. And it especially annoyed me when Harry's whining was completely irrational. Jeez, I thought he was smarter than that. I know he's supposed to be very blunt and impatient (the part when Snape points out the reason why Harry isn't subtle enough to do well in Potions was actually one of my favorite parts of the book), but I think Rowling took that too far.

4. I wouldn't have any problem if Voldemort was just lying low and gathering his forces. You raise a good point about Voldemort's unsuccessful attempts to kill Harry; however, Voldemort doesn't know that the answer is contained in that prophecy (as it turns out, it's not), and it was a huge pain in the ass just to get the prophecy, wasn't it? It just seems like a hell of a lot of time and resources to waste just so that Voldemort could get a prophecy that didn't hold the answer. And on top of that, what Voldemort did isn't exactly lying low, is it? I mean, by the end, even the Ministry is convinced of his existence.

5. I think my main problem with the speech is that I think it breaks Dumbledore's character. I always saw Dumbledore as a brilliant man, the most powerful good wizard in the world, who always keeps his cool. Dumbledore wouldn't do something so rash, he wouldn't make such an idiotic mistake. Even so, I could forgive his not revealing the prophecy to Harry, but I can't forgive his not telling Harry what Voldemort was doing. Why would Dumbledore instead keep Harry in the dark and take the time to have Harry learn Occlumency from a person he hates, which Harry may or may not master before his visions of Voldemore became so great that it compelled him to go to the Ministry?

7. I think I was being too harsh on Luna Lovegood and Tonks. And Kreacher of course was supposed to be annoying.

9. I think it was Thomas Jefferson who penned the quotation, "I would have written a shorter letter, but I didn't have enough time." And that's true - it takes more time to have the discipline to go back and edit your writing sufficiently. Although the book is long, IMHO, it feels like Rowling just threw her ideas together sloppily without managing them into a book that could have been much shorter.

I too hope that I like the 6th and 7th books better. I'm glad you liked it though. Maybe it's just me.

2. I dunno, I'd kinda like her to come back. I thought she was a very effective villain.

3. Yes, I can see where this would be annoying, although it didn't have that effect on me.

4. I still think hearing the prophesy is key for Voldemort. Dumbledore even says that the only reason Voldemort made the mistake of attacking Harry as a baby (and thus losing all his powers) was because he was acting on incomplete information (his spy only overheard the first part of the prophesy). I expect my arch-villains to only make mistakes of that magnitude once. :-)

5. I see. Maybe I didn't mind because I've never viewed Dumbledore as infallible. In all the books so far it's fallen to Harry and friends to avert disaster. It's not like Dumbledore is just letting stuff go so far to test Harry. Also, Dumbledore couldn't teach him Occlumency himself (leaving Snape as the next-best choice), nor could he tell Harry everything for fear that Voldemort had unfettered access to Harry's brain.

7. You'd mentioned the elf hats in your original post. I think the whole elf thing is going to be a major issue, and not just a pet project of Hermione's (who, I have to add, really comes off well in this book).

9. Perhaps, but I blazed through this book and would have felt cheated if it were any shorter, especially since who knows how long we'll have to wait for the next one! But hey, you might be right. It did take her a long time to turn this one out, so it might have come with more difficulty. Also, I'm sure the movies were a major distraction. Of course, if she wanted to let the actors age in real time and was only concerned about the money that would have been a powerful incentive to crank this one out on schedule rather than release it late, as she did. While I could possibly be convinced that this was a lesser effort, I don't think you could ever convince me it was laziness, greed, or disregard for her readers that was the cause.

And the paragraphs are being reduced...

4. Alright, while I still think that it was a huge pain in the ass and took a ton of effort, you've convinced me that, as far as Voldemort knows, the prophecy could have proven useful.

5. I don't necessarily view Dumbledore as infallible, but his failure to tell Harry about what Voldemort was doing to his brain was just downright stupid. He didn't have to tell him everything; he could've just said, "Harry, when you see visions of things going on in the Ministry of Magic, that's just Voldemort messing with your head. Whatever you do, don't go there." Even if Voldemort had unfettered access to Harry's brain, I couldn't see how telling Harry that could do any harm, especially since Dumbledore knows that (1) Harry often acts too hastily on an impulse and (2) since Harry hates Snape, the occlumency class couldn't be very productive, and even if it was, occlumency takes a while to learn, and Harry may or may not be comfortable with using it in time. Besides, if Voldemort DID have unfettered access, Harry knows where the HQ of the Order of the Phoenix is, so they're all screwed anyway.

7. Hey, I'm all for the liberation of the house-elves, but the whole Hermione-knits-hats-and-Dobby-takes-them subplot felt annoying and unnecessary, IMHO. However, I don't think it will turn out to be more than Hermione's pet cause, although it could be a possible occupation for her after she graduates Hogwarts. We shall see.

9. Well, as much as I love the Harry Potter series, I'm actually a pretty slow reader. I get that from my dad (who reads a page 5 times before moving on). However, I seem to recall reading an article in which she said she just wanted a break from writing, so I'm not sure that the long time it took her to write this book is any indication of future book-writing timespans. And my diatribe about Rowling's intentions was really more exaggeration than explanation, but I do think she's getting sloppy.

P.S. Jim, I accidentally forgot the ending spoiler tag, and I noticed the signal alerting me that I don't have a matching set. Nice touch that I never noticed before. Did you implement that after my huge spoiler-ridden conversation about "Signs" with lbangs, when one of us forgot the ending spoiler tag?

4. :-)

5. And you've convinced me. It still didn't really bother me, but I certainly see your point.

7. I'd be willing to bet that becomes a major plot point as the war unfolds. It comes up in the previous book as well, and Dumbledore has expressed sympathy for them and how they are mistreated by wizarding folks on several occassions.

I think I put that SPOILER thing in when there was a spoiler error, but I don't think it was during the Signs discussion. I can't remember now though. In any case, glad it helped!

Well my dear, After reading book 6, let's see how you feel about Snape now! Let's just say that you might owe Harry an apology!

Yes, I mentioned that in my review of the fantastic 6th book.

By the way, ordinarily I'd insist on spoiler tags, but since we find out in the second chapter...