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Seven Books I Love, part seven–Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling

There’s a Facebook meme going around where you list seven of your favorite books in seven days. I thought I’d do mine as a series of blog posts. I’m going to cheat and do a few series mixed in with single books. This is not an absolute list–this is my seven of many favorite books. I could do one of these for children’s books, YA, adult, romance, and I’d still never even approach naming all my favorite books.

That said, here is book seven–Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling

“‘You are sharing the Dark Lord’s thoughts and emotions. The Headmaster thinks it inadvisable for this to continue. He wishes me to teach you how to close your mind to the Dark Lord.'”

Dark times have come to Hogwarts. After the Dementors’ attack on his cousin Dudley, Harry Potter knows that Voldemort will stop at nothing to find him. There are many who deny the Dark Lord’s return, but Harry is not alone: a secret order gathers at Grimmauld Place to fight against the Dark forces. Harry must allow Professor Snape to teach him how to protect himself from Voldemort’s savage assaults on his mind. But they are growing stronger by the day and Harry is running out of time…

I know in general I’ve been doing the entire series (In Death, Jewels), with the exception of Magic’s Pawn. But besides the fact that I’m currently reading it with Athena, it has always been my favorite of the Harry Potter books. Big spoilers ahead, but it’s been long enough–the books have been out for over a decade and the movies have also been out for ages.

The reasons I love Order of the Phoenix include that it’s the point where the books really grow darker, we have our first truly traumatic death (I’d argue that Cedric Diggory wasn’t all that traumatic because we barely knew him), and that the big evil of this specific book is both political (the Ministry’s efforts to discredit Harry via the media of the state) and banal (Umbridge is both a political tool and that totally evil teacher we’ve all had who hates children).

This is where all of the world building and character driven plot really pays off with regards to the darkening tone. Many of the adults we’ve come to know and love turn out to be in the Order. The way that the children are cut out of the Order’s business both makes sense as a mom of almost 40, but is also an injustice given that we know exactly how capable these children are. I have to wonder how things would have been different had they just not have tried to keep Harry etc at arm’s length. This is especially a problem because of how it negatively impacts Harry and Dumbledore’s relationship. On the other hand, we see Sirius fighting to allow Harry a seat at the table.

Which leads me to Sirius’s death. We went from hating him to discovering he was Harry’s godfather and was set up–he didn’t betray the Potters. His and Harry’s relationship has deepened ever since. Sirius even wants Harry to stay with him rather than return to the Dursley’s. But then comes the scene in the Ministry vault–and Bellatrix kills Sirius. I sobbed, feeling Harry’s grief. This is also a scene where the movie did a good job showing the tragedy of Sirius’s death.

We see a Voldemort with real power. We see a corrupt Ministry that would rather pretend that Harry has cracked than the truth and one that is willing to discredit someone they see as a threat. The Ministry installs Umbridge as the Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher to be their tool and to further divide the student body.

Umbridge is a great example of what an intentional tool of the state can do in terms of creating an authoritarian state. From the punishment of I must not tell lies to teaching DAtDA as a philosophical rather than practical class to her usurpation of Headmistress of Hogwarts and the dictates she passes as the leader of the school. At the same time she is banal evil–she’s that teacher who had it out for you. She’s that teacher who hates children and everyone knows it. She’s that teacher who looks harmless but is really sadistic. We’ve all had that teacher or that boss–we can all recognize the type of evil that she is. As a side note, while I don’t really approve of how the movies changed plot lines at times, when Umbridge begs Harry for mercy that she’s really a kind person or whatever, Harry responds with “Sorry, Professor, but I must not tell lies”? That’s fucking great and I loved that change.

Her totalitarian state creates the resistance in the form of Dumbledore’s Army. Even Hermione, the consummate rule follower knows that sometimes you have to break the rules. When a rule is unjust and evil is being perpetrated in your midst you fight back.

These two points seem especially relevant in Trump’s America. You have the state media of Fox News, and even supposedly liberal papers like the New York Times and Washington Post can’t seem to stop running articles about the poor white voters that have been left behind. Today WaPo ran an editorial that said even if you hate Trump you have to vote Republican to save our country. We also have a very active resistance led by women, particularly women of color. Women are running for office at a never before seen rate. There are constant protests and speaking truth to power. There is an active resistance. In some ways, it’s a good thing to be reading this with Athena at this moment in time because it’s giving me that language to talk about current events with her.

The prophecy is revealed and we learn that Neville could also have been the Chosen One, but that Harry really only is because Voldemort focused on him, which subverts the Chosen One trope. But Voldemort is also prevented from hearing the prophecy.

And of course, Order of the Phoenix introduces Luna Lovegood, one of my favorite characters and not just because I’m a Ravenclaw.

Order of the Phoenix is free on Kindle Unlimited, 8.99 to purchase, or one audible credit to listen to it in the car.

 

So that’s my seven…or seven of my favorites. I’ll be doing a post (or several) with some Honorable Mentions although we’ll never get to all of my favorite books because then we’d be here forever.

Wicked—or it’s okay to play with (some) characters

Wicked the Musical is the child of the Oz books by Frank L Baum, the movie, the book Wicked by Gregory Maguire, and is something new altogether. It’s a great example of taking something old and making something new out of it.

There are a lot of derivative works–some of them are based on characters like Romeo and Juliet, Cinderella, and a thousand other cultural icons. When you sit down to write, if you are inspired to play with those (as long as they’re not under copyright–DON’T DO THAT) go for it. If they’re under copyright, then fanfic is a great way for you to play with those characters, but I caution you not to monetize someone else’s characters.

As someone who has been writing for over thirty years, I’ve done my share of writing fanfic and with messing around with characters not under copyright.

My most recently published story “For Love of Snow White” in Myths Monsters Mutations (edited by Jessica Augustsson) is a take on Snow White. Many years ago, I was inspired to write a story where the “evil queen” was actually not evil at all, but the victim of a smear campaign. When I sat down to polish it for Jessica, she talked to me about what was my story really about. Sure, it was Snow White, but what was really my angle? Sure, the evil queen wasn’t really evil, but then why was she there? Why would she stay? What made my Snow White story different?

I realized what my story was actually about was the idea of beauty as a curse (in the end, a literal one), and the struggle between pagan and Christian traditions. (The “new religion” in the story isn’t ever actually called out as Christianity, but it’s somewhat obvious that that’s who I’m talking about.) It grew organically from there. Yes, it’s a Snow White story, but the bones of the Snow White story are just that–the bones.

The Mists of Avalon is also about paganism and Christianity, but told through the framework of the Arthurian legends.

I collect Cinderella tales, and one of my favorites (for children) is called Cinder Edna, which contrasts the eminently practical Edna, who lives next to Ella. But rather than depend on a fairy godmother for everything, Edna does things for herself. There are also countless YA and adult versions of the Cinderella myth, not to mention all the movies.

I just finished Hate to Want You by Alisha Rai. In some ways it’s another take on the Romeo and Juliet story, but it’s also it’s own thing. Livvy and Nicholas are nothing like the very young Juliet and Romeo.

One of my favorite fanfic stories is Harry Potter and the Eagle of Truthiness, written by an author I knew on Literotica when I was more active there. It places the Stephen Colbert persona from the Colbert Report as the new Defense Against the Dark Arts professor at Hogwarts, and is hilarious.

So don’t worry about being derivative, as long as you’re original.

Which brings me back to Wicked, the musical. (From here on out Wicked is the musical, Wicked is the book). I am seeing it for the fifth or sixth time today, and my youngest daughter is seeing it for the first time. Sure Wicked is the story of Glinda and Elphaba (aka the Wicked Witch of the West) before Dorothy shows up. But it’s also a story of a power hungry government suppressing its citizens and creating scapegoats (gee, how timely it feels today). It’s the story of railing against the system from the outside versus the inside. Sure it’s also a story about a love triangle, but to boil it down to that is to rob it of its complexity.

Wicked is very different from Wicked, which is a far more overtly political book. Personally I found Wicked to be a slog, and was disappointed in how little character development there was outside of politics (IN MY OPINION, DON’T @ ME.) Those of you expecting the book at the musical and vice versa are bound to be upset. Each is its own thing. Which is okay.

I will, however, admit to being a hypocrite, because if we’re talking Ella Enchanted (my favorite intermediate fiction Cinderella story–I’m a former teacher, so I’ve read a lot of children’s literature, and I’m very involved in the books my children read), I adore the book and think every copy of the movie should be burned. Sure the movie is it’s own thing, but I HATE it. Sorry, but even Anne Hathaway can’t save it.

So when you write, don’t be afraid of putting your own spin on a myth, legend, fairy tale, or story in the public domain. But know that you’ll probably never make everyone happy (hi, Ella Enchanted the movie), and that’s okay, too.