I’m not going to do a big post defending Harry because nobody on this readalong is saying Harry doesn’t deserve to get angry. Everyone who minds this book just says that reading about Harry yelling at everyone all the time is not fun. Which, fair enough. I do not mind it but I can see why a person would.
Isn’t it kind of heartbreaking, by the way, to see who Harry does and doesn’t lose his temper with in this book? He stomps all over Ron and Hermione because he doesn’t consider them an emotional flight risk. But he hardly says a single angry word to any of the adults in his life — not Mrs. Weasley, not Dumbledore until the very end, not Sirius, not Lupin, not Hagrid. That gives me sad feelings for Harry, y’all. Adult love and protection should not feel so fragile to him.
Anyway, sorry to have missed last week but here I am now to feel feelings and say things. This book. This one here. It grieves my heart to see everyone so unhappy, yet I do love the moral complexity that starts getting shaded in as soon as this pervasive evil and fear settles over the wizarding community. Nice people do not-nice things, like Seamus Finnigan not believing Harry, and Mrs. Weasley basically taunting Sirius for being falsely imprisoned for most of his life, and oh my God, Percy writing that letter to Ron. That’s the shittiest letter ever, and like Hermione I felt an upsurge of affection for Ron when he tore it all up. I just like this book a lot because good people do bad things without bad intentions, and later they will have to figure out how to fix their mistakes, and that is a thing I enjoy reading about.
So here’s a fun debate for us to have: Who is worse, Umbridge or Voldemort? Captain Hammer says Umbridge! I say, eh, they’re both pretty bad, but at least Voldemort doesn’t pretend like he’s doing you a favor by torturing you. Umbridge’s blood-quill writing lines punishment is maybe the creepiest thing to me in this entire series. It’s at least in my top five, up there with that thing that happens to the Muggle Studies professor in the seventh book. I think they’re just as bad as each other, and I hope Umbridge got put on trial for war crimes or whatever at some point. I don’t care if it’s in a kangaroo court! She deserves a kangaroo court!
(Grumble grumble grumble. I don’t really want Umbridge tried in a kangaroo court. I want her to have a fair trial. I believe in a proper justice system, dammit, even for people who are genuinely terrible. (I’m looking at you, Charles Taylor.))
If I weren’t going to love the fifth book for any other reason, I would love it for Dumbledore’s Army. That is my favorite Hermione idea in all of history (I mean, that one plus the jinxing thing). This?
“Don’t sit there grinning like you know better than I do, I was there, wasn’t I?” he said heatedly. “I know what went on, all right? And I didn’t get through any of that because I was brilliant at Defense Against the Dark Arts, I got through it all because — because help came at the right time, or because I guessed right — but I just blundered through it all…You think it’s just memorizing a bunch of spells and throwing them at him, like you’re in class or something? The whole time you know there’s nothing between you and dying except your own — your own brain or guts or whatever — like you can think straight when you know you’re about a second from being murdered, or tortured, or watching your friends die — they’ve never taught us that in their classes, what it’s like to deal with things like that — and you two sit there acting like I’m a clever little boy to be standing here, alive, like Diggory was stupid, like he messed up–“
I love Harry for saying all this. He’s spent most of the book so far feeling only put upon, thinking so much about what he’s done and earned and deserved (which is true), and it’s great to have him acknowledge that yes, it’s accurate that he did all those things; but yes, it’s also accurate that a lot of his survival is owed to circumstance and not skill. I just love this scene — and Hermione, she’s the best and responds to this tirade perfectly — for letting those two things sit side by side.
Dumbledore’s Army is a great idea because it’s a great idea, and it’s a great idea because it grows Harry up a lot in a hurry. The founding of the D.A. doesn’t mark the end of Harry being shouty in this book, but it does force him to realize that helping other people and building them up makes him feel better than screaming at them. And also, just, it’s nice seeing Harry be a leader a little bit. That’s not really his thing, but he does an awesome job. HARRY. I like for him to live that thing Dumbledore said about the wizarding world being only as strong as they are united. True facts, Dumbledore.
Next week: I defend Sirius with some personal anecdotes from my own life.
This post ❤ Rereading that Harry quote made me tear up. I know these books aren't perfect, but dammit, I love them to pieces. And I always get sad when people dismiss them as morally simplistic and about nothing other than blacks and whites. They mess up sometimes, but overall that's just not true – as you so brilliantly showed here.
For everyone in the book, big picture wise, Voldemort is definitely worse, because y’know he murders and maims pretty indiscriminately while Umbridge is pretty small time torturing students under a mental preconception of ‘making things better’. I think you could argue that she’s an example of a pretty sick way of thinking that’s popular in the wizarding world which will have disastrous effects if not taken care of – but she poses no immediate harm.
As a reader though? Umbridge is WAY worse. She’s ruthless and violent and intolerable without the benefit of a story about her sad little childhood and/or constantly failing against our favourite boy wizard. I detest her, and she terrifies me and I never really felt that way with Voldy.
I like that we both SUPER-love this book, but both dislike Grawp. And mentioned this in today’s post. Because omg JKR. I wouldn’t take anything out except that terrible storyline.
And yes! Moral ambiguity with good characters! It’s a big problem my brother has with Slytherin, ’cause it seems to mainly be a repository for ‘bad’ characters. Who’re just bad. But that seems more like a Sorceror’s Stone thing, and here you have good people being bad, and later on (Family Malfoy ftw) “bad” people being extremely good.
Dumbledore’s Army is so amazingly amazing.
Damnit, Jenny, we agree on everything about this book except for Sirius. (but is ok)
Voldemort is so terrifying it’s hard to even say his name. Umbridge is the kind of terrible evil a person sees in the world sometimes, unknowing. She’s not done funny (like the mayor in Buffy). She is what keeps me awake at night wondering if I’ve done enough that’s good so that the Umbridges of the world won’t creep into so many of the dark, available places we make for them, by sins of neglect and omission.
Aaaaand now I feel bad about Harry not yelling at adults cos he has no parents in his life that he’s sure will still love him even if he gets angsty on them.
“I just like this book a lot because good people do bad things without bad intentions, and later they will have to figure out how to fix their mistakes, and that is a thing I enjoy reading about.” this is an excellent point about why this book (and the rest of the series) is so good
The first time I read this book, my reaction was that it was too much teen angst for me. But, after several more readings, it became a whole lot more than that. It’s so emotional and sad, and poor Harry, he does deserve sympathy.
Umbridge is much scarier than Voldemort. With Voldemort, you know what you’re getting even if it’s torture and death, with crazy lady in pink, you just never knew.
I have nothing to say about Grawp either.
Nothing at ALL to say about Grawp? I counted on you! Also, Kayleigh, I made that EXACT point, about the backstory, when this came up at family dinner. When you see Voldemort’s backstory, you have – not sympathy – but some comprehension of what formed him. Umbridge has no backstory, so she’s an enigma to the reader; her evil seems more perverse because it seems unprompted.
Also, I agree with Jeanne that Umbridge’s evil is more creepy because we see reflections of our own petty evil in her. We can tell ourselves that we would NEVER be like Voldemort, but it’s not that big an abyss between ignoring a blatant injustice because we’re scared of the consequences and punishing someone viciously because they have embarrassed you publicly.
I feel stupid for not getting it earlier, but I just realized how you’re handling spoilers in your post, and that is super clever. I thought you were just leaving blanks. Nice one.
I love the fact of Dumbledore’s Army, and I love that they call it that, but I do not love that they wrote it down on their roster. That was not so smart.
Ah, this book makes me so sad.
This is my least favourite book in the series, mainly because of Umbridge. There’s a really oppressive feel to Order of the Phoenix, and I think a lot of that is the way that she is always there, not just calling Harry a liar, not even the hand-torture, but the way that she threatens every refuge Harry takes in Hogwarts: the quidditch, the DADA classes, the communications to Sirius, etc. You see that in all her educational decrees, taking away one thing at a time.
(DADA classes – I meant Dumbledore’s Army.)
We are all a product of our environment. ALL. Sirius is the way he is because he hasn’t had a friend for what, 14 years now? So his last example of friendship was James, who is admittedly not the nicest teenager – although I like to think that if they’d grown up, they as a group would have been quite decent human beings.
Your point about emotional flight is SO ROUGH and SO TRUE. I have personal anecdotes about that, but they’re making me tear up at work, so we will leave it there and commune another time.
It’s true, this is my least favorite book in the series, but only because there is so much angst coming from Harry, but really, what do I expect? The kid has been harassed and attacked and bothered his whole life, and now he’s just plain mad. I do admit that this is the book I had the most trouble with, and that is only because of all the attitude. It gets better, Harry, I promise.
Aw, it is nice to see Harry being a leader! Because normally Hermione’s basically in charge until she inevitably gets taken out and then Harry has to do stuff on his own. So here we get to see how he can lead and he’s actually pretty good at it, right? Forget being an Auror, maybe Harry should teach at Hogwarts!
Percy is TERRIBLE in this book. I can’t remember if he gets better, but… I really don’t feel like forgiving him.
The DA is the bestest! But I’m honestly kind of bored by Umbridge. I find her to be super one-dimensional. Give me some complexity.
Ugh, Grawp is the worst. I will rant about this next week.
And I think that the contest between Voldemort and Umbridge to be the most despicable is a little difficult to say at this point. I mean, as a reader you know that Voldemort is terrible because has killed and tortured many people but Umbridge is right there in front of you for the whole book, being horrible and sadistic. In Order of the Phoenix she’s still small potatoes, though — I want to be super spoilery here but I will resist…. Suffice to say, I think at her core she’s just as evil as Voldemort (as evidenced in Deathly Hallows), but she works her evil within the system, as opposed to Voldemort, who doesn’t care about hiding behind the pretense of the law.
Hermione tends to have Excellent Responses to Things (be they witty or intelligent or emotionally apt). Hermione for President!
I am all for Harry getting shouty about his feelings. SHOUT ABOUT THEM. I get snarly when he’s like, Whatever, no one understands me or likes me very much despite all evidence to the contrary so I’ll just hole up here and sulk. That Harry I could TAKE OR LEAVE.
re: the angst, I agree with you– everybody gets that Harry’s life kind of sucks right now, and what teenager doesn’t go through a really obnoxious kind of self-righteous phase, but omg is it obnoxious to read. & Grawp. & Sirius being obnoxious. & Umbridge. & Percy. I mean, it’s like NOBODY’s having a fun time in this book. Honestly. I can’t wait ’til we get done with this one and everybody gets over their attitude issues.
& I know that this is kind of shallow and there’s more to it, but I’m feeling grumpy about all the unhappiness.
Professor Jenny? I would like to enroll in your Harry Potter class. Where do I sign up?