Books 4 and 5 (and actually 6 and most of 7) are in the bag.  In thinking about this post, I wanted to wait awhile to write it, both to solidify my thoughts on The Goblet of Fire and The Order of the Phoenix and to see how they flowed into the 6th book.  I’ll be honest.  4 and 5 have never been my favorite books, and I’m finding that to still be the case.  However, I think they present some very interesting moments to ponder and serve an important purpose in bridging the first three books with the last two.

Quick recap: The Goblet of Fire traces Harry Potter’s surprising selection to represent Hogwarts, along with Cedric Diggory of Hufflepuff, in the Tri-Wizard Tournament, a competition between the top three Wizarding schools of Europe.  As it becomes increasingly clear that whoever entered Harry’s name into the competition did so to try to kill him, Harry races to solve the tournament tasks before facing Voldemort in a dramatic finale.  The Order of the Phoenix finds Harry a pariah as the Ministry of Magic strives to discredit his declaration of Voldemort’s return.  It also established The Order of the Phoenix, an underground resistance group led by Dumblebore, the Weasleys, Sirius, Lupin, and several new faces.  Harry’s frustration at being left in the dark rises, resulting in a final battle within the Department of Mysteries at the Ministry of Magic itself.

As I mentioned before, I grouped the books for review the way I did due to some major tonal shifts that occur  The first three books maintain their level of innocence due to Voldemort only being tangentially present.  Though Voldemort as we all come to know and fear him does not physically appear until the end of The Goblet of Fire, the 4th book marks a very distinct shift in tone from the others due to his corporeal return.  Book 4 is where Voldemort becomes real:no longer a weird, shriveled vegetable  baby thing, no longer a shard of memory and soul, no longer something to be vaguely discussed, but a fully-grown, fully-functioning, almost-human wizard of Doom and Destruction.  With capital D’s.  Rowling not only introduces him in the first chapter but she also names the chapter after him: “The Riddle House.”  (Tom Riddle is Voldemort’s birth name.)  She clearly wants this shift in tone to be understood.  Additionally, both books end with a very specific confrontation between Harry and Voldemort, forcing us as the readers to take Voldemort’s return as seriously as Harry does.  That may seem obvious, but as Voldemort virtually disappears from the 6th book, it is important for Rowling’s readers to buy into Harry’s ultimate quest over the course of books 4 and 5.  The physical presence of old Voldy in key moments does much to cement the reader’s connection to Harry.

Still, I’m not crazy about these two books, though for different reasons.  Honestly, I’m just not into the plot as much for Goblet of Fire.  My friend and co-worker, Emily, and I have discussed how at their core, the Harry Potter books are mysteries.  Sure they’re set in a magical fantasy world, but they are classic whodunnits.  It’s no wonder Rowling’s Robert Galbraith mysteries are doing so well; she’d already written seven of the genre before she stepped out from behind the fantasy veil.  But for me, the mystery in Goblet of Fire just feels a little pat and flat.  It starts off spectacularly.  The chapters on the Quidditch World Cup and the ensuing chaos are the most thrilling in the book and set up the mystery beautifully.  After that, though, I feel like Rowling is holding my hand just a bit too much.  The clues to Mad-Eye Moody’s real “identity” are a tiny bit too telegraphed.  Additionally, some of the new characters are a tad more one-note than previously created characters.  Cedric is a nice, handsome guy with a kind of jerky dad.  Viktor is an imposing but sweet at heart sports star.  Ludo Bagman is an ex-sport star turned commentator and head of the Department of Magical Games.  They feel more like types than true characters.

What I do really love about Goblet of Fire, though, is that some of the themes of fighting against bigotry and discrimination are firmly established in this book.  Ultimately, the series really is about the dangers of prejudice and discrimination in society, and Rowling does an excellent job exploring these issues through the conflict surrounding purity of wizarding blood.  (The connection between’s Voldemort’s goals and Nazi Germany is quite clear by book 7.)  Though Rowling says she didn’t write the series to teach anything specific, she has long been a big voice in the fight against bigotry and intolerance, and this is a major element of Harry’s adventures.  In fact, a recent study in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology done by three Italian universities and the University of Greenwich, London found that children who read Harry Potter and engaged in discussion about it with their parents tend to be more accepting of stigmatized minority groups.  Pretty cool for a kids book about a wizard.

As for The Order of the Phoenix, I think it is more of a return to form, plot-wise.  As a reader who is extremely comfortable at Hogwarts (figuratively, of course), I prefer a regular Hogwarts school year over one that is punctuated by long-term guests and ridiculous challenges  The re-focus on a “normal” school year (but what school year at Hogwarts actually is normal, really?) allows the mystery aspect of the plot to develop more thoroughly and deliciously.  My major issue with the book, though, is Harry himself.

It really pains me to say this.  Harry is a character with whom I’ve really connected.  However, I have a very difficult time not getting irritated with his angst-and-anger-filled outbursts in book 5.  Michel, who is staunchly defensive of Harry in every moment of the books, argues that Harry is working through some intense shock and grief following the absolutely traumatic events of The Goblet of Fire.  And while I try to read with an open mind and certainly agree that Harry’s behavior is, in part, a manifestation of his grief, I think that that grief cannot entirely explain or excuse some of his behavior.  He is asked, told, and ordered to control his anger by many characters, all of whom clearly explain the damage his outbursts will cause for him and the Order.  Harry knows the consequences of his anger first hand as it repeatedly lands him in detention with Professor Umbridge, the simpering, sinister new “Defense” Against the Dark Arts teacher and Ministry spy whose ideas of punishment are positively draconian.  My big problem here is that Harry doesn’t even try to control his anger, and he lashes out at anyone and everyone.  If he would make an attempt to do what other ask of him and he knows he should do, I would be a bit more understanding.  He doesn’t, though, and it makes it as hard for the reader, or at least a lot of readers, to connect with him as it is for his friends and those who care about him.  The times he is most palatable are when he is teaching the secret DA classes, a practical substitute for the joke that the Defense Against the Dark Arts class has become under Umbridge.  Though Rowling’s adjustment of Harry’s personality serves a specific purpose, I also feel that it made his character feel much more one-note than he has in the past, a shame considering how complex these characters are most of the time.  It also makes the reader connection to Harry and his journey that is so imperative for the last two books harder to maintain.

My concerns with these two books absolutely do not undermine my love of the overall series, and, despite my personal issues, they absolutely push the story forward.  Rowling continues to lay clues for future moments, particularly foreshadowing Dobby’s future heroism.  Additionally, one point that has always stuck out to me is the look of “triumph” in Dumbledore’s eyes when Harry tells him how Voldemort uses Harry’s blood to complete his return to corporeal form.  I’ve never quite known whether or not to be bothered by that, but this time, as I’m nearing the end of the final book, I finally understand how to read that moment…which I will reveal later.  These two books suffer a bit, I think, from being in the middle of the series, but they do what they need to do to set up the events of the stronger final two books.