The Order of the Phoenix, Chapters 22-23: In Which I Cry A Lot

As I’m sure you’ve come to expect by now, I can’t just launch myself into a straight up summary/discussion of the couple chapters assigned to me without some sort of preamble.  I’m not entirely sure why (probably the English major in me rearing its head, for what is an essay without a solid introduction? Where is this going to take me? Where is my metaphorical roadmap? …Where are we? What? HELP), but whatever, suck it.

(This is what happens when I’ve had two hours of sleep, for all of you wondering.)

Anyway.  As far as personal rereading impressions go, I honestly don’t remember this book being so goddamned depressing.  I mean, really.  Holy crap.  How dare you.

And I’m not even referring to That One Thing that generally everybody who talks about this book inevitably ends up crying about, myself included.  (WHYYYYYYY???????????????)  No.  This whole novel is just littered with sadness, and anger, and regret, and uncertainty—in Harry, in the world around him.  Which, yes, of course it would be, and I think it’s wonderfully appropriate and well-done on Rowling’s part, but it’s just so… difficult, sometimes.  Reading it feels like a weight in my chest, like a burden; it’s heavy, and I’m not just talking about how massive this hard cover is, either.

There’s SO MUCH here, and I honestly don’t remember having this much difficulty with it the first few times I read it when I was younger, but the themes and the subject matter explored in Order of the Phoenix just resonate with me now in a way that is both powerful, yet uncomfortably familiar.  It hits hard, and close to home.  Too close.  I don’t like it.  I feel exhausted after reading; it’s not a thrill and a rush anymore like I remember it.  Which is not to say that I don’t love this book to bits—because I definitely do, 100 percent, I think it’s magnificent.  But reading through it this time around is, in my mind, akin to watching an episode of Breaking Bad: there’s so much awful, yet you can’t look away.  It’s riveting.  You revel in it.  And I just feel dirty and depressed about it.

Which, speaking of depressing…

CHAPTER 22: ST. MUNGO’S HOSPITAL FOR MAGICAL MALADIES AND INJURIES

I fucking hate hospitals.

No, really.  They terrify me.  It probably has something to do with the fact that when I was sixteen, my grandmother was in the ICU for a couple weeks due to some heart complications during surgery, and I pretty much saw her flatline for a minute before they were able to get her back.  The beeping monitors, all the tubes, that sterile smell, all those people anxiously waiting… it was horrifying, and I wanted no part in it, yet was routinely guilted into visiting by my parents.  Needless to say, it was not a great experience, and hospitals still wig me out to this day.

I can’t remember if I’ve read this book since then, but this chapter and the next were some of the hardest for me to get through this time.  Granted, when I read the chapters I’m going to be talking about, I take it kinda slow and I try to absorb as much as I can, try to notice as much as I can, but I think my mind hit a critical mass point and just went “NOPE” with these, because I’ve read them through twice and I’m just numb and sad, though I’ll try my best for some insight.

Rowling has gone on record saying that Arthur Weasley was intended to die as a result of his encounter with the snake, and I can’t help but wonder how that would have played out over the course of the rest of the series?  I can’t even begin to imagine, though.  Yes, death has happened so far in the series, and yes, it has been somewhat personal to Harry, what with the murder of Cedric at the end of Goblet of Fire.  But to have someone like Mr. Weasley taken like this too, with Harry again having a front row seat?  And not even at the end of the book, but squarely in the middle?  Ballsy.

And to think, in some universe that runs parallel to ours, Order of the Phoenix is even more depressing than it already is.

I don’t really have a whole lot to talk about with this chapter that doesn’t bleed into the next one (gross pun), but I do rather like Rowling’s descriptions of the hospital lobby and the different floors (some of the things on that sign!); it’s always so nice to be shown some new, unfamiliar aspect of the Wizarding World, even though we’re in the fifth book of the series.  It’s great.

Also, Dumbledore’s a dick.  Yeah, I know in hindsight he has his reasons, but poor Harry.

CHAPTER 23: CHRISTMAS ON THE CLOSED WARD

The thing that I really like about this chapter and the one preceding it is how real Harry feels to me.  His guilt, his fear, his anger, his confusion.  Really, throughout the whole book so far, Rowling has done an excellent job, I think, of rendering a very convincing portrait of our hero, the fifteen year old boy.  I’ve had many conversations with several people about this book over the years, and nearly everyone complains about how angsty and upset Harry is all the time, but, honestly, I think it’s wonderful.  My little brother is fifteen, and he freaks out and loses his temper like this all the time about little things, like having to do the dishes, or some petty high school drama within his friend group. So when I stop to imagine him having to deal with everything else Harry is forced to undergo in this book, Harry’s reactions are not only perfectly logical, they’re almost to be expected.  I mean, yeah, he needs to stop being so dumb, but teenagers are so dumb, which you really only understand and have an appreciation for after you’ve moved past that point and grown up a little more.

I mean, Phineas Nigellus says it so perfectly in this chapter:

“Young people are so infernally convinced that they are absolutely right about everything.  Has it not occurred to you, my poor puffed-up popinjay, that there might be an excellent reason why the headmaster of Hogwarts is not confiding every tiny detail of his plans to you?  Have you never paused, while feeling hard-done-by, to note that following Dumbledore’s orders has never yet led you into harm?  No.  No, like all young people, you are quite sure that you alone feel and think, you alone recognize danger, you alone are the only one clever enough to realize what the Dark Lord may be planning….”

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I think that this chapter, and this whole book, really, offer a really excellent look at a believable, sympathetic, yet still-flawed teenage protagonist and hero.  There’s so much struggle and rebellion, trying to find his place in the world—and really, it’s not only Harry, it’s all of his friends.  Ron, Hermione, Fred, George, Ginny: too young to join the Order, yet too old to continue to be blissfully ignorant of everything that is going on.  It’s frustrating, it’s heartbreaking, it’s wonderful.  It’s such a gorgeous discussion of the transition into adulthood and coming of age angst and confusion, and she doesn’t have to say anything explicitly about it.  We’ve all been there, we all know.  To use some writing lingo, Rowling “shows” and doesn’t “tell” all of this through her writing, through her character interactions and dialogue, and she does it so effortlessly I might cry if I think about it for too much longer.

And on top of all those things, Harry is so internal, so wrapped up in his own little world and his doubts and his fears, that he has trouble seeing past all of that into reality.  He’s so confrontational because he believes that everyone is out to get him, even his closest friends; he hides to protect them, convinced that they don’t want him around and refuse to even look at him, which of course is silly, and they call him on it, and talk to him about it, and offer help, and he feels better because of it.  But you know what?  I’ve been there.  I’ve been in this state of mind, I’ve been so depressed and angry and hateful towards myself that I feel like I’m nothing but a burden to people who care about me, that it’s better off for everyone involved if I just stay isolated—physically, mentally, and emotionally.  I sometimes question whether or not people actually mean what they say about me, I’m so paranoid about being secretly disliked by everyone, and it’s awful.  It’s a horrible, terrible place to be in my mind, guilty for existing, for everything, and I understand.  I understand Harry, I empathize with him, and I love him and I forgive him and I just want to catch him up in a hug and tell him everything’s going to be all right.

It’s beautiful.  I suddenly realize why I feel the way I do after reading this book too long; not only is this a great coming of age discussion, it’s also a great discussion of depression and emotional isolation.  I feel these things along with Harry because I know exactly what they feel like.  It’s far too easy for me to slip into this mindset, and so much easier if the main character and narrator of the book I am reading is doing the same.

I recall briefly touching on Harry as a flawed narrator in my first entry about Sorcerer’s Stone, and I think the same holds true throughout the rest of the series, especially here.  Because of his feelings of isolation and misuse, the world and the narrative as it is presented to us, the reader, is skewed to reflect Harry’s view of things.  Which, yeah, some people might find annoying, but I disagree so vehemently it’s not even funny.  If anything, this aspect of the books, this flawed narration of events is one of the most interesting and telling things about this entire series.  There’s so much depth of character, so much insight into Harry and the world around him that it offers not only an excellent character study, but also results in poignant, subtle discussions of aspects of the human condition as a whole, which, again, is making me kind of teary-eyed.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that anybody who asserts that Harry Potter isn’t literature or dismisses it on the grounds that it’s a children’s series can suck my dick.

Oh my god, and I haven’t even touched upon the most heartbreaking part of this chapter: Frank and Alice Longbottom (and, to a certain extent, Gilderoy Lockhart).

Honestly, this whole chapter is butts and I want to roll around on the floor and die.  Why are you doing this to me?

I feel like a need a nicotine break or something, jesus christ.  (I don’t even smoke, that’s how bad this is.)

I’m not even sure where to begin with this.  I guess I can start with Lockhart.  I have the feeling that he’s meant to be a sort of lighthearted comic-relief in this otherwise very bleak and heavy chapter, but I don’t really think that he accomplishes that end.  He’s more of a catalyst, really, drawing Harry and everyone into this ward where we encounter Neville and his grandmother visiting Neville’s parents.  And, though I suppose Lockhart’s inclusion is a little amusing, it’s more sobering and horrible, really.  Sobering because it’s a reminder that our actions have consequences; Lockhart is kind of just played as a joke at the end of Chamber of Secrets, but to see him here, three books later, still stripped of his identity, his memories, and his self-sufficency… well, it’s awful, really.

This whole section of the chapter is an allusion to Alzheimer’s and similar mental afflictions anyway, and it hits incredibly close to home for me right now, especially the brief interaction we see between Neville and his mother.  This summer my grandfather was diagnosed with dementia, and witnessing his deteriorating mental state, watching and listening to him relive some far-gone experiences from his past, seeing his confusion, his frustration, and even his inability to recognize family members, and not being able to stop it… it’s awful.  I can’t stand it.  So I can’t even imagine how Neville must feel about all of this, to see both of his parents in a state similar to that of my grandfather.

I’m not even sure how far into this I can go right now because this is just… so unbearably personal and it hurts so much to talk about and deal with.  I hate this book.  Making me feel things.

But that’s why stories exist, right?  To tell incredible, engaging, and entertaining narratives while also offering up some small truths, some insight into our lives and ourselves?  To make us feel, and to make us think?

Goddamn this book for being so good at it.

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6 thoughts on “The Order of the Phoenix, Chapters 22-23: In Which I Cry A Lot

  1. Kevin O'Shea says:

    I’ve had family members go through Alzheimers, and other family members be admitted to mental health facilities. These chapters hit me -hard- the first time I read them, and it never lessened upon subsequent readings.

    It really is a sudden tonal shift here, to see that instead of magical injuries being silly and painless, they’re actually quite horrifying and may have lasting effects. Just like real injuries. Some of the people in the emergency room are played for laughs, but it’s more of a way to lighten the mood so that the rest of the chapter doesn’t bog the reader down with its grim nature.

  2. Ashley says:

    I’m sorry I assigned you these chapters!! Oh noes 😦

    I remember the experience of reading this book the first time, when we all knew that one character was going to bite it, and just reading and reading and waiting for it to happen. I thought for sure it would be Arthur, and was so glad it wasn’t.

    It’s funny to think that future generations reading these books will not bring expectations like that into their reading experiences. They’ll either know everything or know nothing, and they will probably be totally unaware of hints and promises Jo made right before they were originally released.

    “It’s beautiful. I suddenly realize why I feel the way I do after reading this book too long; not only is this a great coming of age discussion, it’s also a great discussion of depression and emotional isolation. I feel these things along with Harry because I know exactly what they feel like. It’s far too easy for me to slip into this mindset, and so much easier if the main character and narrator of the book I am reading is doing the same.” — Jo gets depression. She gets it on a visceral level.

    “I guess what I’m trying to say is that anybody who asserts that Harry Potter isn’t literature or dismisses it on the grounds that it’s a children’s series can suck my dick.” — I love you.

    And thank you for sharing all of that. I think it was lovely.

  3. Jennie says:

    I am so (so) far behind but even so wanted to say this was a great post.

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