This post is going to be meandering and it’s probably going to go on longer than you’re expecting. Considering this is the longest (and effing greatest) Harry Potter book, it seems appropriate.
There are section titles, so go with that if you just want some and not all of this post (review’s at the end, but I just told you it’s the best book in the series, so I don’t know why you’d want to skip ahead). Unfortunately, I have to write about something when it pops in my head, so we’re just all going to have to deal.
Also, have you seen, well heard, the podcast Harry Potter and the Sacred Text? They’re reading the whole series chapter-by-chapter like you would read scripture. It’s an interesting take on the series. Kind of cool to hear others’ points of view on the characters and their intentions.
- Diversion into the Space Between Books 4 & 5
- Harry Potter and the Order of the Funny
- My History with the Harry Potter Series
- The Review
In reading this book, something landed that never had before with me: I always mentally place a lot of space between the end of the fourth book and the beginning of the fifth, despite there only being about a month difference. I never mentally keep the ends of one book and the beginnings of the next as close as they are chronologically, but this is the one that just absolutely feels like an obscene amount of time. I feel like Harry has been isolated from the people who actually care about him for so long. And I couldn’t figure out why, even though I would read about the short time that passed each go round.
And then something clicked. This is the first book that I had to wait to read in the series. I’ll go into this more later, but there was a more than 2-year gap between when I read Goblet of Fire and Order of the Phoenix. I reread the series (more on that in a later section), but mentally these books were separated by about 2 years.
Objectively, I know that the world around me impacts how I interpret a book, but this is one of the few times where I can see it clearly occurring. So, that was kind of cool.
The next aside in this review goes for the funny. Harry Potter is a pretty epic series for Millennials. There was no book series that captured the zeitgeist of the generation quite as well as this series did. I don’t even know of a series that had this type of widespread fandom. It wouldn’t be until Twilight that anything like it came along, and unlike Twilight, Harry Potter has done a better job of standing the test of time (and didn’t have completely awful movies left behind in its wake). And don’t even get me started on that glorified Twilight fanfiction of Fifth Shades of Grey.
Along with the 450 millions books sold, the movies made more than $7 billion at the box office. That’s a lot of people who’ve interacted with the series. And with the growth of social media occurring at the same time, there’s no way to avoid running across internet having fun with Harry Potter. You can find them everywhere (and you can find lists that aggregate them everywhere), but I thought I’d share a couple of my favorite, which are themselves just individual entries in different series of posts representing types of Harry Potter posts:
To understand my takes on the Harry Potter series, you have to understand my history with the series. My mom was an English teacher, and so she always had books that she would suggest. Some I would read, some I wouldn’t. Some I liked, some I didn’t. You never knew.
Well, in 2000, right as the books were about to hit their full momentum, she tried to get me to read the first book. I was like “Nah, that’s a kid’s book. I’m good.” She swore it was good. I think she’d read it for work. I can’t remember all that well at this point. But I’d heard of the book. I was in high school, and it was for kids as far as I was concerned.
And then I joined my school’s UIL literary criticism team (if you’re not from Texas, UIL is basically academic contests; they have math, theater, journalism, etc.). With that, I was given a book full of a bunch of literature information, a play (The Diary of Anne Frank), poems from Walt Whitman, and the first Harry Potter book. Looks like I was reading the book whether I liked it or not.
Side note, I did this event the next three years, too, and they never gave us a book nearly this good again (they’re classics and whatnot, but they’re not as good as Harry Potter). The follow-ups were Sister Carrie, which was depressing as hell, Their Eyes Were Watching God, which was also depressing as hell, and The Gates of the Alamo, which was violent as hell. The use of Harry Potter actually elicited a little bit of conservative backlash, which was a bummer, but I feel like they didn’t have to give us the most depressing books in the world to follow.
The book was assigned, so I started reading. I think I actually started it the night we were driving to my brother’s football game 140 miles away one Friday night (yep, I’m from Texas, so we lived our own version of Friday Night Lights).
I was hooked. The most depressing part of starting to read the book was that I had to quit when it got too dark in the car to read any more.
Then I picked up the second book. Then the third. And then, what felt like a monstrosity at the time, the fourth.
The next year there was no new book for the first time. The movies were coming out but no book. So I reread the first four books (2).
In 2002, I reread them again (3).
Im 2003, the fifth book was coming out, so I reread the first four again (4). Then I read the fifth (1).
This is where things get weird, even for my habit of rereading. I reread the fifth book again immediately after reading it (2). I’d never done that before, but I would do it with the sixth and seventh books too. I might like to reread, but I’ve never done that with any book outside of the HP series. That said, I’ve enjoyed it. I FLY through these books when the first come out, so it was nice to read them immediately again so I could properly digest them. Like eating a pizza too fast and then eating a second one so you could enjoy it. That’s a thing, right?
There is a bit of context necessary to understand what happened here. It was the summer before my senior year when the book came out, so of course I read the book as quickly as I could. Around the same time (if not the day I finished), one of my grandfathers got in a horrible car crash. When I say horrible, I mean we thought he was going to die. He’d passed out while driving because of a medication issue and then went off the highway, through a fence, and then into a pasture without airbags. This was stressful to say the least. We had a four-hour drive just to get to the hospital, and this was the age before cell phones, so we couldn’t even stay in touch with family on the drive. The only thing I could think to keep me mentally occupied was to read a book, but I didn’t have any I wanted to read, so I just grabbed the fifth book and took it to read again. Over the course of the next couple of days, I worked my way through the book. This was also when I first started doing crossword puzzles. If you ever want to get into an intellectual hobby, spend too much time in a hospital at the ICU.
But now we’re getting into a rhythm with the series. In 2004, I read the first five again (5 for 1-4, 3 for the fifth). Then in 2005, the sixth book came out, so I reread the first five (6 and 4) and then I read (1) and reread (2) the sixth. In 2006, reread them all (7 for 1-4, 5 for fifth, and 3 for sixth). Then again for 2007 as the series ended, I reread them again (8 for 1-4, 6 for fifth, 4 for sixth) before reading (1) and rereading (2) the last book.
That’s a lot, but we’re not done. In the nine years since the series was finished (sort of), I would work my way through them again. I’m on at least my third round of rereading since 2007, possibly my fourth or fifth. If you’re keeping score, when I finish this round, that means at least 11 for 1-4, 9 for the fifth, 7 for the sixth, and 5 for the seventh. It’s possible those numbers are higher. I was conservatively estimating a reread every two years, but sometimes I would read them every year.
But my momentum is finally lagging on rereads. 2008 was the first year I didn’t read the series, if I’m remembering right. I finally knew how everything ended, so I wasn’t eager to dive back in right away. But still, when I reread them, I would take them all out in a few weeks.
Until two years ago. In 2014, I read the first three books, intending to finish the series again. Except I didn’t. I read the opening chapter of book 4 and stalled. I was in the middle of too many books (I would also start Wuthering Heights and start rereading New Moon around the same time; I think I was also in the middle of rereading The Fellowship of the Ring, too). I wouldn’t finish the fourth book until last year, as far as I can tell, and then I couldn’t make myself start the fifth until the last few weeks, which was prompted by the publishing of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. As much as I’d like to see the play, I don’t see it as being feasible with the long waits. And it being in London. Not exactly close enough for a three-day weekend. And of course, turns out tickets are sold out until forever. At least I can read the play, but first I need to finish rereading (maybe I should add about 5 re’s) the series.
And that gets us to now and the fifth book.
This is well and truly my favorite book in the series. I think it’s because of the depth the book can have when it’s pushing close to 900 pages. That said, this is also the first book in the series I had to wait to read. I started reading the series in 2001 when the first four books were published. And then I had to wait two years…
So maybe some suspense was involved. This was also the reason for the first section of this post. I’d never dealt with a two-year gap between books, so the first four books feel like they are one really big book, while the last three feel like individual pieces.
But for now, I’m going with depth. The reason I read books versus watching movies is the depth. The movies were fine, but after watching the first one, I realized I wasn’t excited to see the movies when they came out. I did, mostly, but it wasn’t with eager
I actually didn’t realize I had never seen the fifth movie at one point until it was on ABC. I’d skipped it and seen the rest of the series without knowing it. Reading the books and seeing the characters on screen made me feel like I had, and then I realized I was seeing things I’d never seen before. Side note, when Sirius says, “Nice one, James” to Harry, it makes me cringe every time. There’s no subtext. The books accomplished the feat of showing Sirius seeing James in Harry without making him seem like a negligent adult. And that’s the problem with the movies. They have to make everything explicit, though they’re at the end of the day good movies. And they do have their own good additions.
And the fifth book has DEPTH. It’s a beast. It’s probably the only one in the series that I’ve never read in one day. My first reading would have been my best chance, but I had to go to the store to buy it in the middle of the day, so I was already too late to do it feasibly at 900 pages. I didn’t binge-read as well when revisiting the book.
This is the book where you get to live in Harry’s head (as he’s living in Tom’s head). Despite the series getting darker after this, the 5th book always felt like the most emotional, even if that emotion was anger.
When we last left Harry, (spoilers if you haven’t read the series, but seriously, how have you not read the series?) and since I last read Goblet of Fire before starting this awesome blog I guess we’re just now finding Harry (tell me that wouldn’t be a good title for an HP midlife crisis book), Voldemort had regained his body and Minister of Magic didn’t believe him because he’s a coward and an idiot to boot. Politicians, am I right? So now that Harry’s traumatized after clutching a schoolmate’s body and bringing it back to campus from a graveyard and then almost getting killed by a deranged madman, he’s now left in the indifferent (at best) care of his aunt and uncle.
Of course shenanigans ensue, the government tries to expel him, and Dumbledore saves the day. And all the while, Harry’s having emotions.
A consistent theme in the series is Harry having to deal with unfair situations (dead parents, awful guardians, inept/evil teachers), but this is the book that basks in unfairness. In the other books, Harry’s not usually disliked en masse. This is the first time almost everyone’s turned their back on him. There’s an actual government conspiracy to discredit and expel Potter from the magical community.
I read this book at 17, which gels relatively well with where Harry’s at when we reach him here; I had the anger and angst he’s going through in this one, so that might be another reason this book felt like it wrapped comfortably around me (the only book I read where I was the same age was book 4, but I had trouble relating to fighting dragons and threatening merpeople after eating gillyweed).
This is the book where the day-to-day villain is someone we all know: an incompetent, insecure bully.
Snape’s a bully the entire series, but Snape is neither incompetent and isn’t insecure (about his magical abilities anyway; proceed ahead to see his insecurities). And Snape apologists, I ain’t hearing it. He did the right thing for the wrong reasons. He was literally the “nice guy” who crept around his crush, bad-mouthed the guy she ends up with, literally has partial responsibility for her death, and then bullies her orphaned child for 6 years because he looks like the guy who got the girl.
Getting back to the current book’s bully, Umbridge, we see a realistic evil. Someone who’s petty, enforces awful rules (unless those rules inconvenience them), and lives with a bigoted worldview they’ll never be able to see around. This is something most people see in their lives at one point or another. This is who Harry does battle with on a day-to-day basis, aided by Hermione (let’s face facts, Harry would have died in book 1 without Hermione) and cheered on by Ron (let’s face facts, Ron mostly cheers the other two on the entire series as they actually do things, but sometimes that’s what you need).
Side note, why the hell wasn’t Umbridge arrested after admitting to setting dementors after Harry? Did Harry and the other kids just forget to tell an adult? If they did tell an adult, did the adults go, “We’ve got bigger problems than a psychotic bureaucrat, Harry”? Seriously, that’s negligence.
Harry has to grow up in this book because he’s mostly left to fend for himself, aided by peers, not teachers or adults. The teachers and adults are hamstrung in this book in a manner that forces Harry and the Gang (tell me that’s not a good band name) to act on their own. This also forces camaraderie like never before. In the first 3 books, it’s basically Harry, Hermione, and Ron get into trouble and Harry’s the last one standing. Book 4, Harry gets in trouble by himself but gets help from the dynamic duo. In book 5, they start their own resistance group that cuts across (almost) all of the Hogwarts houses, which comes into play in books 6 and 7. Harry takes on a leadership role that he never wanted and (sort of) excels. The Sorting Hat would be proud. Do you think Harry ever gets mentioned in a Sorting Hat song that follows? I feel like he earned it if nothing else for killing a damned basilisk as a 12-year-old.
In the end, we have to deal with a death. There are probably more prominent deaths in terms of moving the series forward, but this is the death that stings the most. Even the death in the next book doesn’t come as quite a shock as book 5’s. And then we have to come to terms with it, which is the point of the whole series (Rowling’s quoted at some point saying the series is about dealing with death, but I can’t find it at the moment).
While I recognize that many people didn’t like this book because of how long it was, that’s precisely what pulls me into it the most. If you haven’t read the series, this is the book to look forward to the most.