'Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix' is 10 years old today. Debate: Was it the worst of the series?

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Ready to feel old and feel a rush of nostalgia for Hogwarts? The fifth book in the Harry Potter series, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, was released 10 years ago today. That’s right: It’s been a full decade since we were originally introduced to Professor Umbridge, Occlumency and even a sirius-ly upsetting side to Severus Snape.

You know what’s fun? Continuing an argument that most people quit having years ago. Below, check out a spirited discussion between two writers in honor of the tenth anniversary: one of whom says Order of the Phoenix belongs near the top of the Harry Potter Book Ranking List, and another who says it should be near the bottom. We’d say SPOILER ALERT, but if  you haven’t read Order of the Phoenix yet (What is wrong with you!?), it may be time to admit it’s never going to happen. 

ERIN STRECKER: Denise, we have a great pop culture relationship and agree about all sorts of wonderful, important things (Matthew Crawley and Aaron Paul come to mind). So I’m naturally devastated to hear that you didn’t like Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, which is probably my second favorite of the series (after Prisoner of Azkaban, of course). Need I remind you that this is the book that contains the powerful and inspiring Dumbledore’s Army? The most emotionally gut-wrenching death in the series (Sirius)? Harry and AWKWARDNESS WITH GIRLS? Clocking in at 870 pages, yes it’s a bit overlong, but all the books are a bit overlong: You justify it as learning even more details about a world you’re never going to be able to visit, no matter how much you might want to. I know this is an unpopular opinion. Why don’t you start by telling me why you don’t like a phenomenal book and then I’ll go ahead and tell you why you don’t have a heart.

DENISE WARNER: Erin, I’ll admit part of the problem is the anticipation factor. You see, I started reading Harry Potter in December of 2000, when the first four books were out. By January of 2001, I had finished all of them and now eagerly awaited the next book — by re-reading the first four books again and again. So when the summer of 2003 rolled around, I was hungry and excited for those 870 pages. Then I read them. And it depressed me. I not only had to suffer through a moody and sullen Harry, but everyone hated him, too! He kept getting crapped on by fellow students, teachers — even Dumbledore ignored him! After a two and a half year wait, suddenly I was forced to slog through almost 900 pages of “let’s sh*t all over our hero and then only give you a tiny bit of positivity at the end of the book.” Maybe even then, at the age I was, which I won’t give up here, I was too jaded about life. I wanted Harry Potter as an escape, not to relive how middle school felt to me. (Also, Cho Chang sucks.)

Erin: Cho Chang does suck (and did not improve in the movies), I’ll give you that. But that only made when he finally got together with Ginny in Half-Blood Prince all the better. But I digress! I just don’t agree that a book that depresses you – and you’re right, Order of the Phoenix is depressing – is a bad book. They’re 15, for goodness sake! Of course their personalities kind of suck. I actually kind of liked that Harry wasn’t pleasant to be around – it kept it realistic for me and made is more real-world as opposed to like He’s A Perfect Chosen One. Also, I mean, if it’s seven volumes of one story, it’s got to be dark for a bit, right? (Surprise! The sixth and seventh books were dark too!) I guess I particularly liked that book because the Harry we started the story with was not the Harry we finished the book with. The character had fundamentally changed. Also, this book was the most overtly political with all the challenging authority subplots and allusions to fascist governments. The political junkie in me was in heaven. Oh, and how have we not talked about Umbridge? Order of the Phoenix gave us the best villain, hands down. Voldemort may be the Big Bad, but J.K. Rowling pulled off something even scarier than Voldemort’s Dark Mark above the sky: She made kittens and the color pink downright terrifying.

Denise: Umbridge is a great villain — the best non-Voldemort baddie Rowling created. Her methods made my skin crawl, and her righteous attitude upset me. But back to the matter at hand — let me clarify. I didn’t say it was a bad book. I said I personally didn’t like it. Honestly, I don’t think any of her books are bad — even Chamber of Secrets. (That movie, however, is a different story.) I agree that OOTP is an important stepping stone for Harry — but that doesn’t mean I enjoyed it. To your point about the necessity of darkness in a seven-volume story, and that six and seven were dark too, yes! The final two installments were dark. Yet OOTP was by far the darkest — barely giving us a glimmer of hope in all those pages. It ends just as things resolved for Harry, and everyone believed him again. I just wish that for all the time we waited, it had been a little less difficult for Harry. Does that make sense?

Erin: Definitely make sense! I guess I just related differently, because I think I re-read Order of the Phoenix more than any of the others, and as much as the ending upset me, that volume holds several of my favorite scenes of the series. I guess I prefer my Harry Potter story dark and emotional, as opposed to say just an action-fest like Goblet of Fire, which I think is my personal least favorite of the books.  Also, this book held up particularly well with re-reads looking for clues (the R.A.B. locket, etc.)…which was helpful in the two-year wait before Half-Blood Prince.

Denise: OOTP is the one I re-read the least. After finishing it the first time around, I honestly didn’t pick it up again until after reading Deathly Hallows twice, when I wanted to go through the entire series. Basically, I’ve read 1, 2, 3, 4, 6 and 7 almost countless times, where I know I’ve only read OOTP two times. But! I do remember enjoying it better the second time around — in the context of the entire story.

Internet message boards didn’t exist in the same way in 2003. No time like the present! Accio a keyboard and tell us what you thought of volume 5 below.

Read more:
Hogwarts Alumni Newsletter: Emma Watson to star in another franchise, plus Tom Felton!
What’s new for the ‘Harry Potter’ kids
26 Child Stars Who Made It


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