My sister, Jenny, and I are spending the summer revisiting the Harry Potter series, some of the most read and most anticipated books of our childhood. You can catch up with our thoughts on Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (we read the British version), Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire or just jump right in with us on book five.
Kim: Before we start, can we take a moment to have FEELINGS about Sirius. His death is just so quiet yet so traumatic in a way that I don’t think readers, Harry, or Dumbledore realize yet. And also, Dolores Umbridge — is there a more horrendous character in these books?
I remember not enjoying this book very much the first time that I read it. I thought Harry was awfully nasty all of the time — so much all caps yelling — in a way that felt even more dramatic than a teenage boy ought to be. This time, my feelings have softened… but before I dish, what do you think?
Jenny: Sirius made me cry as always, but you are right in that it happens so fast and then there is almost no time to process for anyone cause Voldy is back!!!!!
Dolores Umbridge was even more foul then I remember her. She is pure, unadulterated EVIL, looking for power and willing to do anything to get it. Gaaah, she is horrific!!!!!!!!!!!!! Almost if not more horrific than Voldemort because the government is supporting her and nobody in the Ministry is stopping her evil ways. In fact if anything she is being supported by the government and they keep making new decrees and increasing her power!
Tell me your thoughts on Harry before my anger overtakes me!
Kim: Dolores is totally supported by the Ministry. That’s what makes her so frustrating! The only way the people of Hogwarts can fight back is through civil disobedience (or outright disobedience) since she is the one in power.
The first time I read this book, I couldn’t get over how angry Harry was, but not at the right people. It was very 16-year-old kid in a way that we haven’t seen Harry before. He’s rash and prone to putting himself in bad situations, but I don’t remember him being this straight-up unpleasant.
This time around, I saw better where he was coming from. Leaving Hogwarts and then hearing NOTHING would be awful. Not getting to talk to your friends would be terrible. Having Dumbledore ignore you would be maddening. I also caught more moments where people around Harry called him out for his unpleasantness (mostly Hermoine, which is why I love her). That made it better too. What do you think of Harry in this one?
Jenny: He still annoyed me with his anger at times, however you are right it seemed not as bad this time around. I have developed a theory, this theory is also loosely based on my reading of the beginning of the next book so forgive me for sneaking ahead a little bit. I think I found him less annoying because I know what is going to happen. My theory is that when I read the books the first time I was closer to his age and anxious to find out what happened. I wanted to get to the action and stop listening to him whine, stop reading all the “boring” stuff. The first time I read this one and the next one I did not really like them partially because of how annoying Harry got with all his complaining and teenage angst and partially because it felt like she was just stalling through two books to get to where we were going. Now that I know what is coming and how vital all the information that is revealed in these two books and subtle way she injects all of the mythology, I am no longer annoyed but rather appreciative of the subtle and complex way the story plays out.
That was a somewhat long-winded way to say I found him far more tolerable, though still a silly teenage boy!
I would like to talk about Hermoine in this book. I think in books one through four she plays the kind and smart best friend, kind of tags along with Ron and Harry. Whereas in book five she starts to come into her own more. She calls Harry and Ron out on their crap, she stands up for herself more, she really leads the creation of the DA and rebels for the first time. I think her growth from book five through the end of the series is really awesome. I love her as a character in the first four books but I think she becomes such a strong person and role model for the age group that this book is really geared towards. I just love that she is smart but does not fade to the background anymore!
Thoughts on her? Thoughts on Dumbledore’s confession of his failings at the end of the book?
Kim: I have so much love for Hermoine! I think you’re definitely right — she’s great early in the series, but really becomes amazing through the end. I think Harry and Ron start to realize it more too, which makes me happy. I love the way she’s always a few steps ahead of them and, as they mature, they stop begrudging her that advantage.
Connecting to your theory a little bit, I think Dumbledore’s confession at the end was particularly heavy this time because you know where a misjudgment is going to take him next (sob!) and where it took him in the past with Tom Riddle. One of the things that’s different for me in this reading of the book is that I better understand the moment when you realize that your parents are not invincible, that even adults can make big mistakes. Harry is getting that moment with Dumbledore in this book, but I don’t know if he really gets it yet. I think on some level he still feels really betrayed, even though most of Dumbledore’s mistakes were made out of how much he really does love Harry. But having more “adult” adults in my own life made this whole confession at the end especially heartbreaking for me. What did you think?
Jenny: Oh Dumbledore… I think I also appreciated more where he was coming from this time. It is hard to let someone down, especially someone you know trusts and believes in you and who you love. But everyone is human and makes mistakes. As I read his comments this time I felt more sympathy for him. I wanted to comfort him more than Harry until his confession was over and I remembered Sirius was dead and then I cried again for Harry.
On a somewhat related note, I always romanticize Sirius after his dead. I remember I was so harsh on his character before and now all I can think is he is a good guy, poor Harry! I am such a sap
Kim: You were mean to him! How your feelings change, fickle reader. This book really does have a lot of heavy moments. And there’s just going to be more! See you back here when we chat about Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince!