The Order of the Phoenix, Chapters 18-19: Hope Is a Candle; Reality, a Harsh Wind To Snuff It

First off I sincerely apologize for the overly pretentious and flowery purple prosey title. The reason? Well that’s the second apology. This is late because 1) I got super slammed with work and life things, but more importantly 2) I got caught up in another fantasy series that features an awesome magic academy and I’m like totally obsessed because it’s so impossibly, amazingly good, but that’s a story for another time.

Anyways, hello again! And goodness am I excited to be back and talking about Order of the Phoenix because as I’ve been saying since the release of Deathly Hallows this is my favourite of the Harry Potter novels and it always grinds me when people say it’s their least favourite or they can’t stand it. Hell. My girlfriend’s hatred for this book is legendary, apparently. She tells people she’s reading it and they go “oh you hate that one!”

What’s funny is I totally understand where the hate is coming from but goodness me I don’t see the hate at all. This book is the basis for my obsession with Harry Potter. I was a huge fan before this book, but this book elevates the series into the pantheon of “literature”. It’s the first of the “Harry Potter trilogy”, that is to say, the trilogy that tell the tale of what happened when Voldemort returned.

Goodness I do blather on.

Chapter 18: Dumbledore’s Army

In which the trio discuss Umbridge’s horrifying hand, Harry gets some of Voldemort’s feelings, Dobby tells Harry about the Room of Requirement, and Dumbledore’s Army have their first meeting and it is bloomin’ wonderful.

Dumbledore's ArmySo. Dumbledore’s Army.

I found that in revisiting this book it took no time for me to get sucked back into it again, but reading it again I had almost completely forgotten how much I loved the formation of (as Sirius calls it) “A Secret Defense Against The Dark Arts Group”. But for the life of me I couldn’t understand why. I remember the first time I read this, I heard the name “Dumbledore’s Army” and my interest was piqued, but when I found out it had nothing to do with Dumbledore and was (as disgusting as it is to say) a group of kid soldiers I found myself disinterested. Surely, I thought, this was not the best it could have been. Where is the action? Where is the battles?

Coming back to it now, though, and looking at it with fresher eyes, I find that Dumbledore’s Army is wonderful and probably one of my favourite things in the entire series.

When I was reading “In The Hog’s Head”, the line I kept repeating over and over in my head as I watched this batch of kids sit in a darkened tavern and plot was “We’re not fighting an alien invasion, we’re leading a revolution.” You know the one. The one The Doctor says in the trailer for “Day of the Moon.” Because that’s what it is, right? It’s Harry and his friends, these children, leading a revolution against the man. It’s a very primal sort of idea. It’s very base. Harry is (as many will always point out with this book, however overstatedly misdirected they are [he is hormonal, but blaming all of his ANGRY CAPS on that is reductive and inaccurate]) hormonal and angsting. Typical teenager, right? But we all did that. We were all shitheads when we were Harry’s age. I was certainly a shithead. Such a shithead.

Know what I didn’t do though?

I never filtered my rage and anger and frustration into something nearly so productive as a Secret Defense Against The Dark Arts Group.

And if that were just that, fine. If they just did it to do it, fine. That’s fun, but Rowling makes a concerted effort to put this novel into a larger dialogue about education. Sure, she’s done it a bit before (Professor Binns teaching by reading out a text book and making EXCITING MAGICAL HISTORY boring is the first example of this I can think of), but making the Ministry meddle at Hogwarts is clearly shown to be not a good thing. The Ministry is an adversary and Umbridge being an administrator and not a teacher is key to that critique. Look how Umbridge teaches and treats her classes. It’s, quite simply, bad teaching. It’s insulting. It’s not what education should be.

Then we have Hermione telling Harry that he should teach, and Harry rising to the challenge. He becomes quite a good teacher, in fact. Everyone loves The DA. He does great work.

Most importantly? He starts to feel better. He’s making a difference. So much of this book is Harry running into wall after wall and getting kicked and kicked and kicked when he doesn’t deserve it. But this chapter ends on this note of hope. It continues the pattern of one door opening to give him hope for the future. Last pair of chapters it was them sitting in a tavern plotting rebellion. The time before that it was getting to talk to Sirius for a few minutes.

But Dumbledore’s Army is a high that lasts him a while. It’s something that’s going to keep him going and feeling good until it eventually falls apart because Marietta Edgecombe ends up being a terrible terrible human being who deserved everything Hermione’s ire delivered to her.

So we have Harry feeling really great about everything and feeling like he’s on top of the whole bloody world.

And as such, it’s time for him to get kicked.

Some Quick Hits…

  • Umbridge not letting the Gryffindor Quidditch team reform is SUCH crap. She was never going to let it happen and purely for a grudge. Man. I hope this grudge doesn’t come back to bite everyone in the ass later.
  • It’s fantastic to see Dobby again all dressed up in Hermione’s hats. That’s so clever. But is it really possible for Hermione’s hats to free House Elves? It’s not like she owns them.
  • The Room of Requirement is such an utterly genius callback. Talk about planting and payoff going back to the last book
  • Angelina as Quidditch Captain is my least favourite thing. Yes, I get that Quidditch is like super muy importante, but she wants Quidditch practice instead of DA meetings? THERE ARE MORE IMPORTANT THINGS GOING ON HERE, ANGELINA.

Chapter 19: The Lion and the Serpent

In which there’s a lot of pre-Quidditch trash talk, a during-Quidditch trash talk song, and a post-Quidditch lifetime ban… 

Lion and the Serpent

Let’s get this one out of the way straight off: I really, REALLY dislike Quidditch.

Okay. Fine. That’s not fair. But it raised the hair on your arms and wanted to make you call me a heretic and that makes me laugh.

Here’s my problem: I find watching Quidditch in this series tremendously, outrageously boring. Every time she’s gone to Quidditch before now has ground the narrative to a complete standstill. Sure, it’s entertaining the first time. The thought that such a game could be played before your very eyes is enticing as hell and it makes you excited to hear about. Plop me down in front of a Quidditch game and I’m sure I’d like it and give it more of a chance than I would, say, basketball.

But looking at it objectively, it doesn’t accomplish anything. She does a chapter on Quidditch and it’s just another case of people throwing the Quaffle to each other and waiting for the Seeker to find the Snitch. It doesn’t propel along the story of Sirius Black or the Chamber of Secrets or the Ministry of Magic, and when it does it’s exciting because it’s not Quidditch, but what happens at the Quidditch game. That’s the difference, I think. Making the thing that is (for lack of better terminology) an extended action setpiece work in a way that builds on character and theme without being purely eye candy is incredibly rewarding if it’s done well.

And I think Rowling realizes this. There’s a reason that there’s no Quidditch in an entire book. What? We’re robbed of an entire book of Quidditch (I’m speaking of Goblet, not Hallows. There’s not much of anything that we expect in Hallows). Yeah, there’s The Quidditch World Cup in that one, but that seems perfunctory at best. The book before we had the Quidditch Final, when Gryffindor finally gets to take home the Cup, brings school Quidditch full circle.  She knows she’s not going to have time for Quidditch later, and it doesn’t progress the plot really that much at all anyways. Best burn it and make it dealt with later.

She’s still gotta do Quidditch, though. She can’t hide behind a Triwizard Tournament this year, and Harry has to play. So she does the only sensible thing she can do: She takes Quidditch off the table.

To twist the knife, she does it in a way that makes it hurt more than anything. She has them lose it in a round of vicious, vicious bullying. You caught that right? The opening of the chapter feels like every other pre-Quidditch chapter ever. Hexes in the corridors. Really lackluster trash-talk from opposing houses. Nerves on the first day. Hell, even the game goes relatively quickly for a Quidditch game. It’s over ridiculously fast, all things considered.

But this chapter sees everything take a sinister and hideous turn that is just the awful worst of everything.

For one thing, given this re-read I will never ever understand anyone who thinks Draco Malfoy is “a misunderstood bad boy” or “mostly harmless.” Malfoy is the scum of the fucking earth. He’s really, truly awful. And even then that seems like an insult to awful things. Malfoy is evil. Why are there Hermione/Malfoy shippers? Do you really think of him as so tragic? How did someone, anyone get so openly sadistic as this? What he does to Ron is horrifying. There’s bullying, and then there’s Malfoying. He writes a song about how Ron is the worst thing in the world purely for the sake of winning at fucking House Quidditch. He has a legion of dozens of Hogwarts students sing it at Ron just so that Ron will feel like utter, utter shit.

And when he’s lost the game, because he isn’t as good as Harry Potter, he insults everyone for NO reason. What? Does he WANT to get hit? Surely, this is the purest Slytherin we’ve ever known. He’s a little shit. Just the worst human being.

This, of course, is Rowling’s point. It’s no secret that Voldemort is something of an arch villain, and it’s been pointed out before in this very re-read that Umbrdige is Rowling outdoing herself in terms of villain. She never comes up with anyone more despicably vile than Dolores Jane Umbridge, who marches into Professor McGonagall’s office and institutes a lifetime ban just for the hell of it, and then institutes that punishment on The Weasley Twin who never actually committed any crime. Suspicion, we learn, is enough reason to convict. Some law.

Which leads me to this: magic can be used for evil. You can have basilisks and Inferi, but the thing that is scarier than anything else, and I mean anything, is that a little sixteen-year-old bowl of snot who is the most pretentious, vile person you’ve ever seen, can bully and torment and psychologically torture one of his peers and he will absolutey get away with it. Because there is evil in the world and people will point at Crabbe for firing off that last Bludger and getting away with it, but what about the guy who is the pure evil? He’ll get away scot-free, and nothing (NOTHING) is more terrifying and horrifying than other people, or the fact that they get away with it.

Some Quick Hits

  • This is what I mean about Harry getting knocked back. He starts the chapter with a glowing talisman and now gets knocked back on his ass again. At least he will continue to have that talisman through the next however much to keep him going. So much of this book is about taking the smallest of victories and letting them shine through the utter darkness surrounding you. I love that as a motif she has going. Beautiful.
  • There’s nothing like seeing McGonagall being SUCH a Quidditch junkie. She’s all decked out and she even doesn’t assign homework. JUST IMAGINE.
  • Now I just wanna be best friends with Professor McGonagall.
  • Educational Decree No. 25 is just sadistic.  Umbridge is such a nightmare control freak. Ugh.
  • Umbridge calls Fudge “Cornelius”. CLEARLY they are having sex. I mean right?
  • Luna Lovegood’s hat. Nothing is better than Luna Lovegood.
  • And seriously. Thank god Quidditch is gone. I don’t need it wasting any more time in my favourite book, thank you very much.
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19 thoughts on “The Order of the Phoenix, Chapters 18-19: Hope Is a Candle; Reality, a Harsh Wind To Snuff It

  1. Valerie Anne says:

    “There’s bullying, and then there’s Malfoying.” Truest statement. Great post.

  2. Gretchen Alice says:

    You can’t just tell us that you’re reading a really great series and then not tell us what it is, Matt!

  3. Matt Smith says:

    Does anyone know how to make my avatar not so dopey? I kinda hate it being this green swirly thing.

    • Kevin O'Shea says:

      gravatar.com

      They’re the default for WordPress and a lot of other sites, it’ll recognize your e-mail address whenever you register on sites that use Gravatar

  4. Ashley says:

    If you had started a secret Defense Against the Dark Arts club back before it was even a thing, I would have been very impressed with you.

    Ditto on the Room of Requirement callback. The first time I read it I was like, wait . . . is that DUMBLEDORE’S CHAMBERPOT ROOM!??!!?!

    Why does Quidditch have to accomplish anything? Can’t it just be there for funsies? (And I get that you might not think it’s funsies, but I totally do.) If it helps, I know Jo hated writing the Quidditch scenes, although I’m not sure of the exact reason. Obviously she felt them important enough to include anyway. Agree with the rest of what you said.

    As for Malfoy, also agreed. He’s a shit. Romanticizing him at this point in the book is stupid. There’s nothing to romanticize. He’s certainly not 100% to blame for his behavior, what with his father and mother setting horrible examples for him, but he could behave differently if he really wanted to. And I do think that by the end of the series, he does learn his lesson, at quite the price.

    “Umbridge calls Fudge “Cornelius”. CLEARLY they are having sex. I mean right?” Ewwwwwwww.

    • Matt Smith says:

      I’m fine with Rowling doing things that are “just funsies”, but the problem with Quidditch is it doesn’t ever do anything new or interesting. If you’ve read one Quidditch match you’ve read them all (we’re watching people pass and intercept a ball, which is… dull). And I think that’s why she dislikes writing it. She’s never been terribly adept at writing action, and mostly because action is very bland and technical and doesn’t focus on character or any sort of real drama. Quidditch, I think, is a case of her coming up against a wall of her own creativity. Alas.

      • Ashley says:

        Except I think she DOES do interesting stuff with it, at least after the first two books (and probably for the reasons you mentioned). In book three, Harry has his dementor encounter and finally wins the cup (which I think is important), in four no Quidditch but we get to see the World Cup and thus the scale of the sport (which also allows us to see more of the wizarding population in one place and gives us a great excuse to get people together to cause some trouble). In five she uses our expectations of Quidditch to frustrate us and Harry and give us essentially no Quidditch, but I also think she uses it well to further Ron’s character (and do some interesting things with the Weasleys). In six, Harry gets to try on leadership, and stuff that happens in Quidditch is the catalyst for other plot points as well (and Malfoy’s lack of interest in Quidditch, for instance, indicating he had bigger things on his mind).

        Or I just really like Quidditch.

        • Kevin O'Shea says:

          Quidditch is just a really effective vehicle for plot development, I have to agree.

        • Matt Smith says:

          I think we’re actually on the same page. She is most effective at Quidditch here because we get frustrated for Harry. My problem with reading about Quidditch is reading the actual action of Quidditch. Lee Jordan telling me numbers that go up in increments of ten. It’s like reading narration on a soccer match.

          I’ll bicker about the Quidditch final though, or all of the Quidditch in book three in general… that’s only important because it pays off there being no Quidditch Final in the first or second books and it involves watching three Quidditch matches (Grim Defeat being the most interesting and Gryffindor Vs. Ravenclaw being mostly filler and fluff). She’s spent two books of Harry living for Quidditch, it only makes sense that she gives him the win there. (Also, because she doesn’t want Oliver Wood to kill himself). There’s no room for Quidditch Finals (or House Cups) in the world of Voldemort. Such matters are trivial.

  5. Dan says:

    I totally missed the Room of Requirement bit the very first time I read this, but in my defense there was a significant gap between when I read Book 4 and Book 5. Upon rereading the series, I totally caught it and was quite pleased.

    As much as I hate this book, I do like how Harry finally channels all of his anger into something that’s actually making a difference. There’s nothing more infuriating that watching people complain about stuff online and thinking that a snarky Photoshopped image or a tinted avatar on Facebook will actually create social change. No. Forming a secret club that teaches us how to use defensive magic is what creates social change! That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

    Also: Luna’s lion hat! Oh. My. God. I love how they did this in the movie. While not nearly as…intense as its book equivalent, the hat in the movie is just the most adorable thing I’ve ever seen. And, I don’t know about you, but I’ve certainly felt like I’ve worn a metaphorical giant lion hat on more than one occasion.

  6. Jennie says:

    This is a great post! (I am so behind, ahhh! because everyone is writing such great, thoughtful posts STOP IT, YOU GUYS, GEEZ.)

  7. […] break it down. She’ll starve herself and – when that doesn’t work – teach herself how to knit from scratch, in her practically non-existent free time, all in the name of cultural understanding, […]

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