Sunday, October 07, 2007

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix -- A critique of the feckless West?

There’s a war brewing. A deadly enemy from the past is back and doing what he does best—consolidating power, gaining new allies and intimidating old ones into renewing their allegiance. As the enemy’s power grows, he’s content to nibble around the edges and not go toe-to-toe with his most formidable foes.

But those who should be in the forefront of opposing the enemy’s murderous plans are failing to act. A government agency entrusted with thwarting the enemy suffers from bureaucratic mismanagement at the highest levels and is more concerned with maintaining high public opinion than in doing its hard duties. Instead of sounding the alarm, the bureaucrats simply refuse to admit the danger exists at all. Worse, rather than admit their failure to deal with the enemy while he was still weak, the government ministers instead use the media to defame and destroy any who attempt to alert the public to the threat and rally the defense.

Sound familiar? Well, it did to me. And I reckon it might sound even more familiar to citizens of some European countries. Perhaps I’m reading too much into this, but Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix felt to me like an allegory of the war against radical Islam. At it’s core, the moral of the story seems to be, “If good simply refuses to fight, don’t count on evil to return the favor.” Or perhaps, “Refusing to fight against a known evil makes you almost as bad as the evil itself.”

As a literary work, Order of the Phoenix is a mixed bag. As before, Rowling’s characters are generally very engaging and true-to-life. Ron and Hermione’s development goes on unabated and it becomes clear that a relationship is in the offing. Also provided is more of the backstory for Neville Longbottom who becomes less of a goof and more sympathetic. Also, the highly amusing character of Luna Lovegood is introduced, as is the horrid Dolores Umbridge who is so odious, so obnoxious, so completely awful, that the reader simply can’t wait until she gets her just deserts. Having run into Umbridge-like people at a variety of government agencies and in academia, I can certainly appreciate Rowling’s perspective. What annoyed me about Rowling’s take here was giving Umbridge the title of “Hogwarts High Inquisitor.” That old British canard about the unprecedented horrors of the Spanish Inquisition dies hard, even in the face of research showing that the Inquisitional courts were no worse—and were often a good more lenient—than European temporal courts of the time, including those in Britain.

Unfortunately, Rowling also goes off the rails a bit with Harry. Leaving aside the awkward and obviously ephemeral flirtation between Harry and Cho, Rowling seemed at pains to make Harry behave more like a stereotypical teenager. She does this by putting nasty expressions in his mouth and having him snap rudely and not infrequently at his bosom friends and even his mentor, Dumbledore. If this was an attempt to add a depth and complexity to Harry’s character, it failed in my opinion. Rowling went to such lengths in the previous books to make Harry into a good, noble, and brave character, that I found his sudden unfounded rottenness to be just strange.

Also annoying to me was Harry’s attempted use of an “unforgivable” curse at the climax of the book. If these were supposed to be the calling cards of the Death Eaters, and in any sense truly “unforgivable”, then what is the hero of the story doing using them? With the arsenal of “forgivable” curses at Harry’s disposal, one wonders what would motivate him to attempt to use one of the bad ones. It also ash-cans my theory that only the evil characters use the “unforgivable” curses as part and parcel of what makes them evil. So Fr. Amorth's criticism of the series as drawing an artificial distinction between “light” and “dark” magic appears to have enhanced standing if even the good characters in the story use evil magic without a trace of remorse or punishment for doing so.

Beyond this, I found nothing particularly Christian about Order of the Phoenix, nor anything especially occult-related—at least nothing that wasn’t readily found in the prior books. The underlying symbolism seemed to be almost exclusively political in nature.

On to Book VI.


Me again said...

Harry was postively HORRIBLE in this book.

But I never liked him all that much in the others, either. LOL. A very flawed character, whose flaws are getting worse.

Now that you've read the book, I recommend seeing the film. The film improves this book- it gets across the important points without destroying Harry's character. However, I think the behavior of Harry was there for a reason- Harry is NOT a good character, he's been fighting an inner battle all through the books.

I didn't find the story "political" as much as you did- although it is. I found it not the government that was skewered, but the SECULAR. Rowling has now shown us good battling two types of evil... the spiritual evil, and the secular evil. And both are quite evil.

me too again said...

... on a further note. The Secular denies that a spiritual evil exists. And thus becomes an evil itself. Plus, shows itself to be really stupid.