Friday, July 1, 2011

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J. K. Rowling

Book Jacket

The war against Voldemort is not going well; even Muggle governments are noticing.  Ron scans the obituary pages of the Daily Prophet, looking for familiar names.  Dumbledore is absent from Hogwarts for long stretches of time, and the Order of the Phoenix has already suffered losses.

And yet...

As in all wars, life goes on.  Sixth-year students learn to Apparate--and lose a few eyebrows in the process.  The Weasley twins expand their business.  Teenagers flirt and fight and fall in love.  Classes are never straightforward, though Harry receives some extraordinary help from the mysterious Half-Blood Prince.

So it's the home front that takes center stage in the multilayered sixth installment of the story of Harry Potter.  Here at Hogwarts, Harry will search for the full and complex story of the boy who became Lord Voldemort--and thereby find what may be his only vulnerability.


Thus continues my epic reread of the Harry Potter series before the final movie comes out on July 15! (What will we do when there is no longer a new Harry Potter creation to look forward to?)

If you haven't read the Harry Potter series yet, WHAT ARE YOU DOING HERE? Go out and read them immediately. Thank you. For the rest of us, spoilers are ahead, because I will talk about each book with the revelations of the whole series in mind.

If I had to sum up Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince in two words, it would be this:  love and enemies.  And while I appreciate that Rowling includes romance in her novels, I was never very invested in it.  Ron/Hermione were obviously end-game by this point, so the Lavender and McLaggen relationships were mostly uninteresting, though often funny.  I don't particularly like Ginny, mostly because of the awkwardness of their burgeoning relationship, so that didn't hold my attention.  Tonks and Lupin?  Incredibly unromantic, especially from Lupin's side.

So if the "love" part of Half-Blood Prince didn't wow me, why do I love it so much?  Because of the "enemy" part!  This is the first book that really centers on our villains, whether that means delving into Voldemort's past, waffling on Snape's loyalties, or watching Draco's descent into evil.  The best stories have villains that are complex and understandable (even if you don't like them).

Voldemort's past.  Rowling continues to straddle a really interesting balance between nature vs. nurture (previously as free will vs. destiny with the prophecy).  Voldemort undoubtedly came from a long line of messed up and selfish people.  But he also chose to use his magic to hurt others.  He chose to deny his Muggle father and fully embrace the supremacy of his Wizard mother. 

And horcruxes!  This is maybe the most brilliant thing in any book ever.  I adore the idea that killing someone tears your soul apart.  And of course someone who would willfully split their soul into seven pieces in order to achieve immortality would end up a creepy snake of a man.  This is what separates Voldemort from Harry (along with that love thing)...Harry won't kill.  He is all about that Expelliarmus spell.  And the awesome thing?  He wins with it!  But I'm getting a book ahead of myself...

Snape's loyalties.  I remember the good old days of internet Potter obsession and speculation.  After the 6th book came out, there were scads of websites and essays devoted to this:  Is Snape good or evil?  Of course, we later find out he was on Dumbledore's side all along, but my word.  Rowling is a genius for so carefully portraying him in such a light that people could so adamantly defend both sides of the argument.

Draco's descent.  Oh, Draco!  I love the little selfish kid so much!  He is the reason why I love the 6th absolutely captures how far in over his head he is.  Throughout his childhood, he has idolized his dad.  He believed his dad was always right, and he followed in his footsteps.  But at the end of Order of the Phoenix, Lucius is shipped off to Azkaban and Draco becomes a Death Eater.  He thinks he wants that, because it means stepping into his father's position.

But then he finds out what it really means to be Voldemort's follower.  There's constant fear, both for himself and his family.  There's the killing.  And he can't do it!  The scene between Draco and Dumbledore is absolutely heart-breaking.  He is such a scared little boy, and if the other Death Eaters hadn't burst in, you know he would have accepted Dumbledore's offer of forgiveness.  Alas!

And of course, Dumbledore.  He is one of my favorite characters.  He is wise, powerful, and pleasantly hilarious.  Even when he's staring death in the face.  And my word!  This book is a gut punch.  The pages when Harry force-feeds him the potion in the cave make me bawl.  AAGGH I just can't.  And his death--so sudden, so quiet, so awful.  I felt like Harry, disbelieving and numb.  But of course, our hero has to lose his mentor so that he can fully become the Chosen One.

Five out of five Vanishing Cabinets.

Release Date:  July 2005
Reading Level: Grade 4+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection: YPL ROW

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