Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince

"And now, Harry, let us step out into the night and pursue that flighty temptress, adventure." —Albus Dumbledore

Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince slightly edges out books 3, 5, 7, and 4. But really it is difficult in this series to have a favorite book. Much like the Chronicles of Narnia, they are all so good. Also, much like the Chronicles of Narnia, The Lord of the Rings and even books considered more as classics of the English language, this series is great literature and has earned its place among them. It is a worthy branch on the tree of story; a truly great sub-creation.

So why choose Half Blood Prince as favorite? That is hard to say. In some ways though, it just feels like the most enjoyable read. Up until the last few chapters, it is certainly Harry’s best and most care-free year. That is ironic, since he now finally has the knowledge that he is the “Chosen One” and will have to kill or be killed. Perhaps that is why the year is so easy for him. Now that he knows the worst to come, he can simply enjoy the little childhood that remains.

It is also the year that Harry has the most contact with Dumbledore. Dumbledore has, up until now been a largely unseen character, more of a barrier and protection, just stepping in to explain things at the end of each year’s adventure. But this year he takes an active role giving Harry his final preparations for the fight to come. Together they learn as much as they can about the enemy and how to destroy him.

Strangely enough, for a book with so much background on Voldemort; it joins Azkaban as one of only two books where Voldemort does not really appear. In fact, books six and three are similar in that both have largely inactive adversaries. In Azkaban it is Sirius, unseen until the end and a bit of misdirection anyway. Here it is “merely” Snape and Malfoy yet again. They have only ever before been red herrings or bullies.

That is not to say that there is no threat this year. Harry’s world has become a world at war. People are being killed left and right and nothing is safe anymore. Perhaps that is why the focus seems to linger on the good things that remain. People are scared too. Parents are either being killed or pulling their kids out of school due to the dangers everywhere. The new character this year, Professor Slughorn, is a calculating coward. Not a bad man, just a weak one. He is truly an appropriate character to introduce in this atmosphere. His fearful self-preserving type is the dominate sort in such times, but we also discover that in the better days it is his sort that help bring about the evil that they later fear.

For all the fun Harry and company have simply being students this year (and the many laugh out loud moments Rowling injects—“Dobby has not slept in a week, Harry Potter!” “Had a house-elf test every bottle after what happened to your poor friend Rupert.”), the last five chapters are tough to get through. Rowling demonstrates that her imagination is not just great at inventing fantastic thrills, but she can also devise torturous lose/lose situations. In a way, the whole year has been set up as just that—but the reader doesn’t learn the details until the next book.

There are clues, however. The time between the publication of Half Blood Prince and Deathly Hallows was a thrill of speculation and clue searching. (For example, compare the last full paragraph on (US edition) page 571 to the same one on page 595.) Those who noticed these clues early on had a good idea of what was coming. The final reveal, however, is magnificently done in the last book.

1 comment:

  1. Really good analysis, as usual. We can't wait until Friday (Mike's day off)to see the movie. Maybe some of the crowds will have died down by then,too. Our cine added a 3a.m. showing after all their midnight ones were sell outs and it sold out too!
    I looked up page 571 in my book and I had written "p.591" in the margin. :-) One of my favorite laughs: "The Aurors are part of the Rotfang Conspiracy...They're working to bring down the Ministry of Magic from within using a combination of dark Magic and gum disease."


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