Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince: Scattered Thoughts

Assume spoilers ahead.

  • 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.

12 comments:

Rich said...

Some scattered responses:

I'm happy to have the Audiobook version (unabridged on 8 CDs) of CoS and can recommend them highly to you.

If the pattern persists, book 7 will take us right back to the beginning. I don't think I could stand that much Dursley stuff, if this idea is to be taken literally. But I do think that somehow the mother and father he glimpsed in the enchanted mirror will be putting in an appearance somehow.

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. Well, the Sorting Hat never did consider putting him into Ravenclaw, after all. But I thought the most of the way through that the "Half-Blood Prince" was just going to be Voldemort, myself. He's the bad guy conspicuous in this book by his absence. I was hoping that Neville was going to be given a bigger role as the Chosen-One-who-might-have-been. and maybe the one who would get bumped off in place of Harry. Oh well.

Dumbledore's perfection has always annoyed me. I think he had the same flaw that Yoda did over in that other universe, trusting someone who seemed to everyone else to be so fundamentally untrustworthy. God help us all if Lucas gets it in his head to direct the film of HP Episode VI.

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. I'm hoping to find out what was his motivation in taking the Oath so willingly in chapter 2, which drives the climactic fight of this book. Ms. Rowling will have to write on a pretty high level to round off Snapes's story in a satisfying way in the last book.

Dan Hemmens said...

You raise an interesting point about the later books mirroring the earlier ones. It's not an angle I'd considered before, but strangely it contributes to my misgivings about the series, rather than my respect for it.

I very much feel that what went wrong with the later Potter books is much the same as what went wrong with the Star Wars prequels: they stopped being stories in their own right, and became treatises about the world. Order of the Phoenix may be a dark mirror of Azkaban, but that doesn't really excuse the fact that nothing actually happens in it. HBP may be a subtle mirror of CoS, but what that means is that it contains a lot of elements that don't actually have anything to do with the story (insofar as there is one).

Other thoughts:

I'm mildly irritated by the Is-He-Or-Isn't-He with Snape. "Is Snape Evil?" was a fine plotline for book 1, but it's been done. As you point out yourself, if he does turn out to be evil, it destroys his entire character, so you wind up with a "mystery" that only really has one possible resolution.

Regulus A. Black? Possibly, although I can't *believe* that Hermione didn't check the Black family tree while she was looking for the initials.

Abigail Nussbaum said...

Regulus A. Black? Possibly, although I can't *believe* that Hermione didn't check the Black family tree while she was looking for the initials.

That's a good point. However, there's an awfully compelling theory having to do with the fact that in OotP, the kids find a locket while cleaning out Sirius' house, and now Mundungus seems to have cleared the place out...

Damn it, I stopped hanging out at HPfGU because it was making me see monsters in every shadow, and now I'm doing it again. These books seem to bring out the conspiracy freak in me.

Dotan said...

I figured that RAB is Regulus Black about forty minutes after finishing the book, Saturday evening.
The Potter books certainly seem to rewards the conspiracy mindset, and I got the impression that JKR was expecting her audience to have brushed up on Order of the Pheonix before reading this one.
A point which is flagged and not adressed properly is why Dumbledore's trust in Snape is so unshakable; I think it goes deeper than his basic faith in the inherent good in everyone, and expect Rowling to explore it in the next book.
Nice point about the mirroring of the earlier books in the later ones; but even without it, the last book will echo the first, because it will have to give closure for the initial set-up.
And yeah, I agree that an ambigious Snape is more interesting than an evil one, just like Tom Riddle (presented here very much as Potter's dark reflection) seems interesting while Voldemort is painfuly dull.

Rich said...

Tom Riddle (presented here very much as Potter's dark reflection) seems interesting while Voldemort is painfuly dull.

Now we know why - it's because he's only got a sliver of soul left, all the rest having been stowed away in Horcruxes.

Any bets on how many pages before Ginny finds herself in another situation of Mortal Peril?

Dan Hemmens said...

A point which is flagged and not adressed properly is why Dumbledore's trust in Snape is so unshakable; I think it goes deeper than his basic faith in the inherent good in everyone, and expect Rowling to explore it in the next book.

Perhaps I'm just an old cynic, but I really do think that "he felt guilty over the deaths of the Potters" was actually supposed to be the answer.

There's a fair amount of fan-speculation wrt Potter that actually ignores things that are stated in the books. Look at all the speculation about the Prophecy, when it was pretty clearly stated at the end of OoTP that all it meant was that Voldemort had "marked Harry as an equal."

NickPheas said...

So is it just me, or is Neville the Chosen One?

Abigail Nussbaum said...

I think it's been pretty well established by now that Neville isn't The Chosen One, Nick. The twist to the prophecy (which was stated in OotP and hammered in in HBP) is that the person who did the choosing was Volemort, not some external force/fate/deity-type-thingy. Neville was in the running, but the choice has already been made and he wasn't it.

It's kind of clever, when you think about it, and ties into the strong theme of choice in the books.

Anonymous said...

A point which is flagged and not adressed properly is why Dumbledore's trust in Snape is so unshakable; I think it goes deeper than his basic faith in the inherent good in everyone, and expect Rowling to explore it in the next book

I must agree with Dan here that Dumbledore had trust in Snape because he thought Snape felt guilty over the death of the Potters. Another reason why Snape had Albus' trust is because Albus thought he was spying on the Death Eaters. When really he was a Death Eater spying on Dumbledore.

Anonymous said...

harry potter are the most amazing i have ever read!although the first 3 books where a bit childish, i certainly loved th rest of them!do you aggree?

Anonymous said...

i strongly believe that j.rowling had not intented snape to be a traitor in the first place.the explanations than are given to belatrix about why snape really is a death eater in the beggining of the book are insufficient and i will be deeply dissapointed if i am not given a proper reason in the next book.

mackenzi said...

ohhhhhhhhh i am so looking forward to watch the 4th movie.i am wondering how YOU KNOW WHO will be?Don't you?[:

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