“‘And now, Harry, let us step out into the night and pursue that flighty temptress, adventure.’”
My love affair with Harry Potter began in January of 2000 when I was home from college on winter break. All my friends had already gone back to school, so one day, out of sheer boredom, I picked up Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. My mom had purchased a copy for my little brother on recommendation from our local indie (Hi Rakestraw Books!) and she’d been bugging me to read it ever since. I had been resisting thus far, because I was in college and didn’t read children’s books, but eventually she wore me down. I ended up reading the first three books in a day and a half. An obsession was born, as was an inkling that I might want to work in children’s book publishing one day. I was still in college when Goblet of Fire came out, worked a midnight party as a bookseller for the release of Order of the Phe0nix (an experience that cemented the idea that I was not built for retail), was attending a graduate seminar in publishing when Half-Blood Prince was released, and finally had a full-time job in children’s publishing when the series ended with Deathly Hallows. I can’t claim to have spent my childhood with Harry Potter like some people, but in a sense, I did grow up with him.
“‘The trouble is, the other side can do magic too, Prime Minister.’”
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (Scholastic 2005) is a bit different than the rest of the books. On the one hand, we’re finally getting this very serious Voldemort back-story that sets up the plot for the climax of the series. Yes, it’s necessary exposition, but these scenes quietly build up the tension and anticipation until things explode into chaos and awfulness at the end. On the other hand it’s also the last chance for teenage hormone high jinx before characters start dropping like flies in Deathly Hallows. I love that even though these kids have the weight of the world on their shoulders, they still act like typical teenagers. Between the Romilda Vane love potion fiasco and the My Sweetheart Necklace, Half-Blood Prince makes me laugh more than any other Harry Potter book. These two different tones could be wildly incompatible, but to me at least, it works. With the entire Wizarding World now openly at war, it’s nice to have the humor to balance the darkness. And the zombies. Man are those things scary.
“Dumbledore’s man through and though, aren’t you, Potter?”
When re-reading Half-Blood Prince I tend to skim the Pensieve exposition scenes. It’s terrible I know, but Voldie was a really creepy kid who grows up to be an evil megalomaniac. I get it. What I do look out for in those scenes is Harry’s evolving relationship in Dumbledore. After the tragedy of Sirius’s death, which might have been prevented if he had just told Harry what the hell was going on in the first place, Dumbledore prepares Harry to be an active participant in the fight, rather than the object or symbol that both sides are fighting for. And even though he still has a temper and his pet “Draco and Snape are working for the Death Eaters obsession” (which turns out to be RIGHT. Sort of.), Harry also gains a new maturity and confidence. Also, I LOVE the scene at the beginning where Dumbledore lays into the Dursley’s for how they’ve treated Harry. He said exactly what I had been wanting to say for years, only I probably would have let those firewhisky mugs beat them a lot longer. It was so satisfying.
“‘I am not worried, Harry,’ said Dumbledore, his voice stronger despite the freezing water. ‘I am with you.’”
Of course Dumbledore’s biggest impact on the story comes at the end, when he, you know, dies. SPOILER! Dumbledore’s death was actually the only one in the series that didn’t surprise me. As Princess Consuela said, this is a classic Hero’s Journey, and in a Hero’s Journey, the mentor has to die so that the hero can come into his own. That doesn’t mean I wasn’t extremely sad, particularly while reading the reactions of Lupin, McGonagall, and (sob!) Hagrid. His death also raises a lot of questions. Why was he begging Snape? What was he raving about when he was drinking the potion? And how the hell is Harry going to find all those Horcruxes by himself? And we had to wait 2 whole years to get the answers to those questions. Torture!
“Harry’s jaw dropped. Where a split second before there had been an armchair, there now crouched an enormously fat, bald old man who was massaging his lower belly and squinting up at Dumbledore with an aggrieved and watery eye.”
Now we can’t talk about this book without discussing newbie Professor Slughorn. He’s really the first noticeably non-evil Slytherin that we get to know. Though he has lingering prejudices against muggle-borns, Old Sluggy is drawn to people with talent and potential, no matter what their lineage is. He enjoys his luxuries and being the Kingmaker, but has no desire to actually lead or join the fight himself and his exuberance masks a deep shame about his role in Voldemort’s rise to power. Like every character that inhabits this world, he has layers. He’s a nice contrast to all of the heroes and villains running around this series.
“‘DON’T … CALL ME COWARD!’”
And of course we have Snape, the Half-Blood Prince himself, who’s both a hero and a villain. Or possibly neither a hero nor a villain. Whatever, it’s complicated. He’s probably the most interesting character in the whole series and it’s fascinating how much your perception of Snape changes once you re-read the books. Moments that seem so black and white the first time around, become a lot more nuanced and layered the second (and third, and fourth, and so on) time around. I don’t want to step too much into Deathly Hallows territory, so I’ll just say that overall I don’t think Snape is a good person — he’s too malicious and cruel — but he’s not evil and he’s definitely not a coward.
“Friends they might be, but if Ron started calling Lavender ‘Lav-Lav,’ he would have to put his foot down.”
My favorite part of Half-Blood Prince though is, of course, all of the teenage romance drama. I mean, most of us have never been The Chosen One in an epic fight against evil, but we might understand what it’s like to pine for your best friend like Hermione, date someone just because they like and want to make-out with you like Ron, or lust after your best friend’s sibling like Harry. And I remember a couple years ago when my little brother was still in high school and he was so perplexed that the girls in his class were so … giggly. And occasionally weepy. That’s sooooo Lavender Brown. She’s might be a bit of a stereotype, but there are tons of Lavender Browns in high schools all across the world I hope they all have better taste in jewelry though.
“Harry was left to ponder in silence the depths to which girls would sink to get revenge.”
Ron and Hermione continue their “will they, won’t they” nonsense which has been building up FOREVER. Seriously, just make out already. Ron, being a typical teenage boy, acts like such a prat, but I love that even practical, rule-obsessed Hermione loses it. She’s confunding people, attacking people with magic birds in fits of emotional rage, and revenge dating narcissistic (and apparently handsy) assholes. She can sometimes come off as such the goody two-shoes, that it’s awesome to see that chink in her armor. And of course, Harry is put hilariously and uncomfortably in the middle. I love the scene in Herbology where Ron and Hermione start tentatively, and somewhat vaguely, discussing their feelings for each other, and though Harry’s not surprised, he starts making a lot of noise so he doesn’t actually have to listen to it. Amazing.
“The creature in his chest roaring in triumph, he grinned down at Ginny and gestured wordlessly out of the portrait hole. A long walk in the grounds seemed indicated, during which — if they had time — they might discuss the match.”
And Harry has his own problems, what with the mysterious chest monster (which by the way just might be the most ridiculous/funniest metaphor for romantic angst that anyone has ever come up with) that pops up every time Ginny is around. Now I didn’t have any strong feelings one way or another about who Harry should end up with, but I enjoy Harry and Ginny together. Some of my co-bloggers disagree — and I’m sure will explain why in the comments — but I think they both have a thirst for adventure and a quick tongue that makes them compatible. Plus, their first kiss after Gryffindor wins the Quidditch Cup is satisfyingly triumphant and dramatic. I enjoy a passionate romantic gesture, as long as it’s not happening to me. Although, poor Dean Thomas, who I became inexplicably obsessed with after reading Deathly Hallows. It’s gotta be rough watching your ex-girlfriend hook up with The Boy Who Lived.
“‘You said to us once before,’ said Hermione quietly, ‘that there was time to turn back if we wanted to.
We’ve had time, haven’t we?’”
I remember being more anxious after finishing Half-Blood Prince than I had after any other book in the series. The answers were so close and I just knew that book 7 was going to be crazier and more intense than any that had come before it. I was not wrong. However, I also felt a little sad that the adventure was almost over, that book 7 was the last Harry Potter book I’d ever have to look forward to. I feel the same way about the last movie coming out this week. I am super excited to see the culmination of the story on the big screen, but this is it. Oh well, I guess I’ll just have to re-read the books for the 43rd time. Thanks for the magic, Harry.