- Probably my favorite book of the series, which isn't surprising when you consider that Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets was my previous favorite and probably for the same reasons. Although I enjoyed the previous two volumes, Goblet of Fire and Order of the Phoenix, they felt underedited and unfocused, and Half-Blood Prince is a welcome return to form.
- Writing about Alfonso Cuaron's version of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, blogger Andrew Rilstone wrote that the story JK Rowling "really wants to tell is the one about the schooldays of the previous generation: Pettigrew and Riddle and Harry's parents and Voldemort's rise to power. Harry is only the lens through which we see this history take shape." I disagreed with him at the time, feeling that an important part of the coming of age story is the hero discovering and understanding his past (remember what I said before about the detective novel being an empowerment fantasy? Part of Harry's empowerment--his becoming an adult--is understanding the reasons, personal and political, that have brought him and his world to the state they are in. Which, of course, leaves me with an opportunity to start talking about Veronica Mars, but that's a matter for another time). While I still think Andrew is off-base, there's no denying that the older characters have become much, much more interesting than the kids. It was almost disappointing when the narrative shifted away from the various adult characters Rowling had been focusing on for the book's first two chapters and came back to Harry, Ron and Hermione.
- Back in 2000 I read an interview with Rowling in which she said that Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire was a keystone book in the series. I've only now realized what she meant by that. GoF was a moment of dissilusionment--a passing from childhood to adulthood--and all the books that have followed it have mirrored the plots of the earlier, childish books in new, adult ways. Phoenix mirrored Azkaban: in the earlier book, Harry discovered his godfather, learned more about his family's past and his father's boyhood, and saved Sirius Black's life; in OotP, Harry discovered that the idyllic father he had imagined was very far from the truth and, of course, lost Sirius for good. The parallels between Prince and Chamber are too numerous and too obvious to mention. If the pattern persists, book 7 will take us right back to the beginning.
- My God, but Harry is a powerfully stupid. He's got plenty of good qualities, but he's definitely not one of the greatest minds of his generation. I have to say, I'm siding with Snape's description of the kid as 'painfully mediocre'.
- Two different people--Horace Slughorn and Rufus Scrimgoeur--try to "collect" Harry and place him in their camp, but of course Harry has already been collected. I'd like to see Harry as his own man, but there's no denying that it was satisfying to watch him put Scrimgoeur in his place--I didn't think the kid had it in him.
- Not that I'm clamoring for more of ALL-CAPS Harry, but is it really believable that he should have recovered so well from Sirius' death after only a few weeks? At the end of OotP, Harry was finally confronted with the fact that he wasn't the only person on the planet who had experienced loss and pain--finally shaken out of his teenage self-obsession--but it doesn't necessarily follow that he shouldn't need time to grieve.
- If Luna Lovegood doesn't become the permanent Quidditch commentator, I'm going to be very put out.
- Throughout most of the book, I was betting on either Dumbledore or Snape buying it. Don't hate me, but I'm very pleased with the result. Snape is a much more interesting character, and Dumbledore's perfection has always annoyed me.
- I Want My Props, part 1: on March 28th, 2003, I wrote in the discussion group Harry Potter for Grownups (post #54495):
What if Harry neglects the Quidditch team, because he's too busy fighting evil on Dumbledore's team? He has to choose between what's perceived as important and
what he knows is important, and he loses out, because his teammates are angry at him (and probably the rest of the house too).
- I Want My Props, part 2: on February 4th, 2003, again on HPfGU (post #51593):
My own personal view of Draco has for a long time been that he's the Potterverse equivalent of A.J. Soprano - the privileged son of a corrupt father who is simply too soft to successfully take over the family business. I believe, as many people do, that Draco will find himself unequal to the task of being a DE, although not necessarily for any moral reasons - he simply won't be able to hack it. And I also agree that
in such a case, there's a very good chance that either Lucius or LV will kill him. Frankly, I don't see any way that the series could end without Draco being either redeemed or dead.
- Once again, kudos to Rowling for showing how tricky and complicated the issue of racism is in the real world. Horace Slughorn is probably the most common kind of racist you'd find--the one who doesn't think of himself as a racist. He clearly prefers people of wizarding blood, and he maintains that preference in the general case even as he constantly makes exceptions to it in individual cases. And, of course, he is fundamentally a decent person. I hope he sticks around.
- The requisite opinion on Snape: I think it would be a shame if it turns out that Rowling has written this fascinating, multi-faceted character for six books only to make him an unrepentant bad guy. As a good guy, Snape is great precisely because he isn't good: he's nasty and petty and resentful and twisted and terribly sad. As a villain, all of those interesting qualities get buried beneath his fundamental badness. Also, Snape's betrayal of Dumbledore is so carefully ambiguous that I can only assume we're meant to question it.
- Oh, and finally: Regulus A. Black.
UPDATE: See my slightly more coherent thoughts here.