It goes without saying that there's a special place in my heart for every single novel in the Harry Potter series. However, if asked to pick a favorite, I can answer without thinking twice. Without a doubt, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is my absolute favorite installment of the series, and I think it's easily the most complex Harry Potter novel J.K. Rowling has written.
Yet every time I say that, everyone looks at me like I just suggested I want a crumple-horned snorkack as a pet. Order of the Phoenix is the longest book in the series at a whopping 870 pages, and it is definitely not as fun and magical as the books that came before it, nor quite as exciting and end-gamey as the books that came after. In fact, this is the book that caused my boyfriend to stop reading the series, a fact that continues to plague our relationship. As many of my friends have explained to me, it's not that they hate the book, per se, they just would never call it the best in the series.
I understand this sentiment. If I'm looking to reread the Harry Potter novel that I think is the most fun, I'm reaching for Goblet of Fire . But if I want to read the novel that I think is the single most important installment of the series (besides being my personal favorite), it has to be Order of the Phoenix. What makes this book so important? I'm glad you asked:
1. It's the novel that changes the tone of the series.
Does anyone else remember being surprised by just how serious the fifth book was when it was released? Even amidst the more childish tone of the first two books, the early novels all contained an element of darkness and danger to them which slowly increased as the series progressed. While much of the fourth book revolved around the carnival-like atmosphere of the Tri-Wizard Tournament, its shocking final chapters served to warn readers that the stakes were being raised. Thus begins the noticeably darker Order of the Phoenix, which finds Harry riddled with flashbacks of Cedric's death and facing a government-mandated smear campaign. This is a more adult novel, and paves the way for the much grittier sixth and seventh books.
2. It contains the most important moment in the series
You are welcome to disagree with me of course, but I stand by the statement that Harry's discovery of the prophesy and Dumbledore's explanation of Voldemort's obsession with him is the single most important moment in the series. We had been waiting for four books to find out why exactly Voldemort tried to kill Harry as a child, and why he still saw Harry as his greatest enemy. I remember reading this bombshell for the first time and being completely overwhelmed, despite having looked forward to this moment for thousands of pages. That moment stands between Harry's past and his future, explains the first four books and gives the final two books their purpose. The series hinges on that moment and this book.
3. Sirius's death showed us that J.K. Rowling really wasn't messing around
The first three installments of the Harry Potter series were written for children, and that's obvious in the way they handle death. Quirrell is killed, but he's a bad guy. Voldemort is destroyed, but it's only a memory. And time travel lets Sirius and Buckbeak cheat death. Cedric's death at the end of book four makes it clear that the good guys are no longer safe, but nowhere is this message driven home more than when Sirius is killed at the Ministry of Magic. Finally, we think, Harry has found family, a father figure who will care for him and let him be a kid for the first time. That Sirius is killed just when Harry seems so close to happiness puts all of the characters' happy endings in doubt, and makes us really fear for our favorites for the first time.
4. Harry finally starts becoming a character with depth
I've been pretty critical of Harry in the past, but the fact is for the first four books there isn't a ton of depth to him. He's a brave kid who continually faces down danger and has suffered more than any teenager should have to, but he's a classic hero who isn't that complicated. This book brings us a Harry who once again has to risk his life, and he's finally weary: weary of shouldering responsibilities he shouldn't have to, weary of placing his friends in danger, and weary of being surrounded by death. When, in his mourning for Sirius, he lashes out at Dumbledore, it's an incredibly cathartic moment for Harry and readers. We're finally done pretending he's a plucky young hero and we're acknowledging that the trauma of his life is taking a toll on him.
5. Supporting characters finally start getting fleshed out
For much of the first four books, we focus on Harry, Ron, and Hermione while the other characters, particularly the adults, are relegated to the sidelines. With the reformation of the Order of the Phoenix, however, we finally see a different side to Harry's surrogate family and professors. Molly and Arthur Weasley aren't just Ron's loving parents, they're hardened fighters who have battle Death Eaters once and will do it again. We begin to see Snape as more than just a nasty teacher who hates Harry. And, most shockingly, we can finally view Dumbledore not as an omniscient god-like figure but rather as an extremely fallible man. We're given three-dimensional characters where we previously only had stereotypical adult figures, and Harry's relationship with them benefits from it.
6. Dolores Umbridge is the best villain in the series
Voldemort is powerful and scary and murderous and all that, but Dolores Umbridge is something much more terrifying: a run-of-the-mill sadist who's been given power over children. Harry's punishment and his "I must not tell lies" scars are one of the most gruesome moments of the series, made all the more disturbing because they aren't the result of some dastardly Death Eater plot: they're merely what he gets during detention. Umbridge is a power-hungry bigot who is ruthless enough to do whatever it takes to support her government, even if that means torturing students. Unlike Voldemort, it's too easy to imagine Dolores existing in the real world, which makes her more scary than the Dark Lord any day.
Images: Giphy (6), Warner Bros.