[DWJ] Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Melissa Proffitt Melissa at Proffitt.com
Sat Jul 21 01:10:59 EDT 2007

(All references are from the 1st American edition, 2005.)

I don't know what to think anymore.

Up to now, the series has had a straightforward plot (defeat Voldemort) and
a straightforward conceit (magic school story).  Yet by the end of _Harry
Potter and the Half-Blood Prince_ all bets are off.  The war between the
good guys and the bad guys is about to turn direct and nasty, and it seems
unlikely that Harry will actually return to Hogwarts for his final year,
though I wouldn't bet on it.  Not that I'm complaining--yet.  :)  It just
seems so unusual for a series to make such profound shifts in its eleventh
hour, so to speak.

_Half-Blood Prince_ definitely carries on with the promise of _Order of the
Phoenix_, becoming more like a young adult novel than any of the others in
content, form, and subtlety.  (Nota bene:  Seeing any of these movies
immediately after reading the book is a Bad Idea.  Too much has to be left
out, leaving you on the fast track for Cognitive Dissonance.)  It might as
well have been called _Harry Potter and the Raging Hormones_ with all the
romances flying around.  I'd forgotten in my discussion of _Order of the
Phoenix_ to mention how much I love love love Hermione being the maven of
all things relationshippy.  I enjoy seeing an intellectual character being
portrayed as something other than absent-minded or socially inept.  Granted,
in _Half-Blood Prince_ she can't seem to tell Ron how she feels, but isn't
it too often the case that we can solve anyone's problems but our own?
Rowling's got a real handle on the romance stuff too.  "Won-Won," oh my
gosh, I may wet myself laughing.

Hermione also turns out to have been the instigating force behind Ginny's
serial relationships, which started in _Goblet of Fire_.  I found I had less
trouble taking Ginny seriously as Harry's love interest this time, probably
because I knew it was coming.  His discovery that he likes her seems awfully
abrupt (p. 286) but I suppose sometimes it just hits you like that.  Still,
I felt as though there should have been more of an indication that he even
noticed her...and maybe there was and I missed it.  Ginny has turned into a
very solid character, and I love her characterizations of Fleur as Phlegm
(p. 91-95 among others).

It's hard to know what to make of the notes made by the "Half-Blood Prince"
(Snape) in Harry's used textbook.  It seems to be tied up with the
characterization of Snape himself; either they're the nasty inventions of a
very cruel person, or the desperate reaching-out of a lonely, bitter person
who only knows how to think in terms of attack and defense.  Either way,
it's a brilliant stroke to reveal more about Snape through his notes rather
than directly, where Harry's past interactions with Snape color everything
he learns from or about him.  Talk about sympathy for the devil.

The problem with reviewing this book is that so much of it goes unanswered
that those points are the ones that stay in your mind.  Why did Snape kill
Dumbledore (or, for some, is Dumbledore really dead)?  Who is R.A.B. and
what did he or she do with the Horcrux--is it really destroyed?  Is the
seventh book going to be a typical quest story, with Harry and his friends
hunting down Horcruxes until the final showdown with Voldemort?  Is Snape
evil?  If he isn't, why is he doing such a very good job of acting like it?
(You'll notice that I've very cleverly left asking such questions until what
is for me the night before the final book is released, because I don't
really care to speculate about the answers.  I don't know why that is.)

One thing I don't care for so much in _Half-Blood Prince_ is Harry's
paranoia over Draco Malfoy and his friends' unwillingness to believe him.
It's not so much that this is an unbelievable plot--the pressure has been
ramped up considerably, and Harry is justifiably suspicious of a lot of
people--but it's sort of an unpleasant one.  Harry paranoid isn't a pretty
sight, though at least he's no Mad-Eye Moody, and he really is drawing a lot
of unsubstantiated conclusions.  On the other hand, he's been right often
enough that I wonder at his friends not being more supportive of him, at
least as far as proving or disproving his theory.  Hermione and Ron act more
like the adults in this case, and I guess after the ordeal they went through
in the Department of Mysteries, I didn't want to see them losing that unity.

On the other hand, Malfoy himself becomes very interesting in this book.
He's been established as an arrogant braggart whose claims are probably more
full of hot air than substance, but it's not until he's given a mission by
Voldemort that we get to see whether the arrogance went all the way to the
bone or not.  And, amazingly, it doesn't.  When we see Draco being comforted
by Moaning Myrtle in the bathroom (p. 521-2), I'm suddenly reminded that
this is a kid whose upbringing gave him a lot of pride and nothing to back
it up with.  It makes the scene on the battlements more believable, where it
seems not only likely but probably that Dumbledore could have talked Malfoy
over to the right side (591-2).

But back up a bit to when Harry and Dumbledore go to retrieve the Horcrux
from the cave.  This, to me, is a rather singular event unlike anything else
so far.  There have been strange and wild settings, but none that seemed as
much like a challenge from a fantasy quest or a video game.  I do not say
this to be derogatory; I like such challenges.  But it is remarkably
different, and I think it marks the beginning of the series's transition
from magic-school-story to quest-story...if, that is, the seventh book
follows that pattern.  Like I said, I don't care for speculating, but this
is my last chance to talk about where I think the series is going in true
unfeigned ignorance.

Because the fact is that the ending of _Half-Blood Prince_ left me at a
loss.  I had supposed that Dumbledore would die, but I thought it would be
in the final book as part of the grand ending battle.  I believed strongly
that Snape was as loyal as Dumbledore claimed, and I do still; his actions
are less important to proving that than the fact that I believe Dumbledore
was not mistaken in him.  But more than this, I think J.K. Rowling would not
have kept Snape around as a red herring only to dump him in the penultimate
book.  Snape as confirmed bad guy has neither emotional nor narrative power.
And yet it's hard to see how his reputation might possibly be restored after
everything he did.

This is the first point in the series where I've wanted to know what happens
next.  Fortunately the last book will be delivered to my doorstep, along
with I don't know how many million books across the world tomorrow.  If
nothing else, being a part of this phenomenon, even at a remove, has been

Melissa Proffitt

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