Tuesday, April 9, 2019

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

This post contains major spoilers. 

Harry Potter and the Half – Blood Prince by J. K. Rowling is the sixth book in the series. I found this to be one of the most entertaining entries of the bunch. Rowling also throws in some particularly interesting elements into the mix here. 

Harry and his friends are back for their sixth year at the magical school of Hogwarts. In this installment, war has broken out between the law-abiding wizarding community and the evil Lord Voldemort and his allies. People are dying.  Voldemort has also hatched a plot to kill Hogwarts headmaster and great wizard Dumbledore. 

Harry also comes into position of an old textbook that someone owned years earlier. The person called himself the half-blood prince and had written all kinds of helpful spells and tips in the book. Harry uses this information to excel in his classes and conjure up some unique spells. Harry’s friend Hermione suspects that the Half Blood Prince might have been evil and that Harry is looking for trouble by using the book. 

The climax of the story arrives when Voldemort’s allies, known as the Death Eaters, invade Hogwarts in an attempt to kill Dumbledore, and an all-out magical battle erupts.

There is a something of a pattern contained within these books. The first two -thirds or so involve Harry’s day to day activities over the summer and then at Hogwarts. Rumors and hints that the evil Lord Voldemort is engaging in nefarious activities abound. The last third of the books usually advance the plot and develop the characters and sometimes reveal some neat surprises. This book more or less follows that pattern but throws in some distinctive touches early on. In what I found to be some of Rowling’s best writing, Voldemort’s origins and his young life are illuminated. Dumbledore has a magical memory device called a pensieve, on which he can replay people’s memories. The great wizard has been digging into Voldemort’s origins and past. He uses his pensieve to show Harry Voldemort’s story through other people’s memories. We see how Voldemort’s parents met when his mother bewitched his father with a love potion. When his mother died, Voldemort, originally named Tom Riddle, was abandoned and left in an orphanage. A few years later, a young Dumbledore, who had discovered that Riddle had magical powers, brought the young Riddle to Hogwarts. Riddle is depicted as a cold, narcissistic and cruel boy who develops a cult-like following. Passages in which Harry views his various life stages are chilling. At one point, Harry watches a young Dumbledore come for Tom top take him to Hogwarts, 

It was a small bare room with nothing in it except an old wardrobe and an iron bedstead. A boy was sitting on top of the gray blankets, his legs stretched out in front of him, holding a book. 

… He was his handsome father in miniature, tall for eleven years old, dark-haired, and pale. His eyes narrowed slightly as he took in Dumbledore’s eccentric appearance. There was a moment’s silence....

“I am Professor Dumbledore.” 

“‘Professor’?” repeated Riddle. He looked wary. “Is that like ‘doctor’? What are you here for? Did she get you in to have a look at me?” 

He was pointing at the door through which Mrs. Cole had just left.

“No, no,” said Dumbledore, smiling.

“I don’t believe you,” said Riddle. “She wants me looked at, doesn’t she? Tell the truth!” 

He spoke the last three words with a ringing force that was almost shocking. It was a command, and it sounded as though he had given it many times before. His eyes had widened and he was glaring at Dumbledore, who made no response except to continue smiling pleasantly. After a few seconds Riddle stopped glaring, though he looked, if anything, warier still. 

“Who are you?” 

“I have told you. My name is Professor Dumbledore and I work at a school called Hogwarts. I have come to offer you a place at my school — your new school, if you would like to come.” 

Riddle’s reaction to this was most surprising. He leapt from the bed and backed away from Dumbledore, looking furious. 

“You can’t kid me! The asylum, that’s where you’re from, isn’t it? ‘Professor,’ yes, of course — well, I’m not going, see? That old cat’s the one who should be in the asylum. I never did anything to little Amy Benson or Dennis Bishop, and you can ask them, they’ll tell you!” 

“I am not from the asylum,” said Dumbledore patiently. “I am a teacher and, if you will sit down calmly, I shall tell you about Hogwarts. Of course, if you would rather not come to the school, nobody will force you —” 

“I’d like to see them try,” sneered Riddle. 

“Hogwarts,” Dumbledore went on, as though he had not heard Riddle’s last words, “is a school for people with special abilities —” 
“I’m not mad!”

“I know that you are not mad. Hogwarts is not a school for mad people. It is a school of magic.” 

There was silence. Riddle had frozen, his face expressionless, but his eyes were flickering back and forth between each of Dumbledore’s, as though trying to catch one of them lying. 

“Magic?” he repeated in a whisper. “That’s right,” said Dumbledore. “It’s... it’s magic, what I can do?” “What is it that you can do?” 

“All sorts,” breathed Riddle. A flush of excitement was rising up his neck into his hollow cheeks; he looked fevered. “I can make filings move without touching them. I can make animals do what I want them to do, without training them. I can make bad things happen to people who annoy me. I can make them hurt if I want to.” 

His legs were trembling. He stumbled forward and sat down on the bed again, staring at his hands, his head bowed as though in prayer. 

“I knew I was different,” he whispered to his own quivering fingers. “I knew I was special. Always, I knew there was something.” 

“Well, you were quite right,” said Dumbledore, who was no longer smiling, but watching Riddle intently. “You are a wizard.” 

Riddle lifted his head. His face was transfigured: There was a wild happiness upon it, yet for some reason it did not make him better looking; on the contrary, his finely carved features seemed somehow rougher, his expression almost bestial. 

“Are you a wizard too?” “Yes, I am.” 

“Prove it,” said Riddle at once, in the same commanding tone he had used when he had said, “Tell the truth.” 

Dumbledore raised his eyebrows. “If, as I take it, you are accepting your place at Hogwarts —” 
“Of course I am!” 

“Then you will address me as ‘Professor’ or ‘sir.’“ 
Riddle’s expression hardened for the most fleeting moment before he said, in an unrecognizably polite voice, “I’m sorry, sir. I meant — please, Professor, could you show me —?” 

I find the above to be well written. Many aspects of Riddle’s character are illustrated here. Riddle is a psychopath. Rowling depicts a young man who is inwardly seething with malice. There is a reference to the fact that Riddle has hurt people before, how he is angry at those around him, how he craves more power, and how he is able to change his behavior in an attempt to fool those around him. 

Within the story Rowling has begun to weave in the contrast and compare theme between Voldemort and Harry. There are many similarities, both are orphans, both are special children surrounded by people who have trouble understanding them etc. The two are connected psychiclly. However, unlike some other fantasy series however, Harry is not tempted by the dark side. He does at times show imperfections as he becomes understandable angry at people who try to torment him or who he thinks are manipulating him. It is not in his nature to succumb to malice.  

Several people have pointed online that Riddle was conceived via an act of deception as his mother used a love potion on his father. Thus, he was the product of “fake love.” This idea rings true to me. It seems to ease very well into the personality that Riddle and Harry each developed. 

The book also ends strongly. The magical battle within Hogwarts is very well written. Furthermore, Dumbledore has been killed in the battle and as the result of events in other books, many of Harry’s other strong adult protectors are dead. Harry’s realization that he must now take on Voldemort’s without them is powerful and effective. 

And Harry saw very clearly as he sat there under the hot sun how people who cared about him had stood in front of him one by one, his mother, his father, his godfather, and finally Dumbledore, all determined to protect him; but now that was over. He could not let anybody else stand between him and Voldemort; he must abandon forever the illusion he ought to have lost at the age of one: that the shelter of a parent’s arms meant that nothing could hurt him. There was no waking from his nightmare, no comforting whisper in the dark that he was safe really, that it was all in his imagination; the last and greatest of his protectors had died and he was more alone than he had ever been before. 

I find that the above is another well written passage. In light of everything that has happened in the series before, it is dramatic,  stark and effective. The books have obviously turned more serious. It seems to me that Rowling has managed the transition in a believable and effective way. 

I liked this book a lot. Because of the above strengths, it may be my second favorite book after the first in the series. It is an enjoyable read, it is full of cleverness and engrossing developments.  The characters, while not all that complex, continue to be fun to read about. There were some serious and interesting aspects woven into it all. I have one more book to go in the series. 


mudpuddle said...

i admire the way you've picked up the psychological backgrounds of the various characters and how their motivations contribute to the development of the main plot... one day i'll have to duplicate your journey at Hogwarts and experience a few of the ideas that you've mentioned for myself... many tx...

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks Muddpuddle. I think that digging into the minds of characters is a lot of fun. Plus, reading this many books in a series that has the same characters almost forces one to dig a bit.

Kathy's Corner said...

Excellent review Brian, this sounds like such a fascinating series and I particularly liked learning more about who the young Voldemont was. As you say, Harry and Lord Voldemont came from similar damaged backgrounds but Voldemont was never able to rise above his childhood and just kept getting worse. Also good point about Harry realizing that there comes a time in life when you are no longer a child and you have to begin steering your own ship so to speak. I'm tempted to read this book first but I am sensing the Harry Potter series should be read in sequence.

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks Kathy. Rowling doing paint a picture of how Voldemort got worse over time. Harry’s predicament at the end of the book is stark. I would definitely recamend reading the books in order. So much not work if the books were read out of order.

Sharon Wilfong said...

Really good review, Brian. I am reading the Potter books vicariously through you. A couple of interesting points: the concept of malice and psychopathic thinking and also, that someone might become that way, because they were not conceived out of love.

Although if that were true, we'd all be in trouble, because surely not everyone in our lineage was conceived for the "right" reasons.

Still, I enjoyed your review and since I'll never read the books I thank you for that.

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks Sharon- I definitely agree. Not being conceived out of love is not a reason for someone to be a bad or malicious person. In fact, that is a very bad idea. I do not think that Rowling was trying to reflect reality with that one. I thought that it was just neat symbolism.

Suko said...

Brian Joseph,
I've only read the first HP book (as mentioned before) but this one sounds excellent as well. I enjoyed reading your commentary, as usual. It can really be fun to read books in a series, and it seems that you really are!

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Suko - I am enjoying thelanguage stages. Faust is considered by many to be Goethe's magnum opus and the greatest work of German literature.[1]

The earliest series. I do like reading series too. If you go on with your Harry Potter reading I would recommend going in order.

James said...

Do the summer days of Harry seem a bit dull compared to the magic wars in the later sections of the book?

Brian Joseph said...

Hi James - Early on, in the first two books, Harry’s time with his relatives The Dursleys was very interesting. But they have gotten very repetitive by this time. So the magical wars are much more entertaining in the later books.

Sue Bursztynski said...

I remember when I first read this, there was much argument about Snape - was he a good guy or a villain? I was in the “good guy” brigade, carefully reading and noting the evidence. There was more evidence in the final book, well before the Pensieve revelations.

It’s interesting that the author compares and contrasts Tom Riddle and Harry. Even after all the dreadful things Tom has done, Hogwarts is referred to as the home of the two orphan boys.

Someone commented that there is something very much like the Ewells(To skill A Mockingbird) about the Gaunts, with Merope as Mayella Ewell, and I can see that.

Stephen said...

Reading your review I can only sigh -- Rowling used to write so well, but the movies she's done are...weird.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Sue- I have actually finished the last book now. I still find Snape to be a bit morally ambiguous. I may be in the minority however.

The Ewal And Gaunt parallel is interesting. I wonder if it was intentional.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Stephen - My wife and I were just talking about this. Maybe she just needs to stick to novels.

Alicia James said...

Very well written. I find the similarity between Harry and Voldemort especially unique. Both have similarities that are undeniable, yet one chose goodness, and the other chose malice, much like in real life, in which both the good and the bad exist.
I also found the quote especially interesting.

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks for stopping by and thanks for the good word Alicia. Voldemort seems to be sociopathic by nature. Harry’s personally type also seems natural.

Paula Vince said...

Great wrap-up. The Half Blood Prince is my favourite because of all the revealed backstories, mystery on campus, and psychological goings-on. You bring out so many good points, such as the limitations of the education system, and safety concerns about inviting a child like Tom to enroll, who had already displayed his psychotic personality. He was 'inwardly seething as malice' as you say, and the other students didn't deserve to have him unleashed among them. In retrospect, one of the big mistakes made by Hogwarts staff. Makes for a great story though.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Paula-You raise a good point thaf Tom should never have been allowed at Hogwarts. In some ways Dumbledore, for all his benevolence, allowed the weak to be bullied by the strong. He also allowed too many to bully Harry this way.

Whispering Gums said...

Yes, so my kids said. Book 4 picked up the pace again and turned a new, and somewhat darker and more interesting corner?

Judy Krueger said...

I recently also read this volume of the series. I thought that Dumbledore was regretting having given Tom/Voldemort the benefit of the doubt and trying to make up for that by showing Harry all those scenes from Voldemort's life, giving him an edge Dumbledore thought he might need. Also thought this volume moved from children's literature into YA, with all the romance and snogging. Your review gives me much to think about as I prepare to write mine. Thanks for giving me the incentive to finally finish the series.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Judy - Indeed Dumbledore ended up being too trusting here. Here, it seemed that Dumbledore was executing a sort of master plan to prepare Harry.

This one did raise it a notch.

I look forward to your commentary.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi WG - I think that this one was a little darker. There has been a gradual trend in that direction throughout the series.

Felicity Grace Terry said...

Oh dear! I think I clicked on 'create a link' instead of 'post a comment' in which case goodness only knows where my comment might be.

Anyway at the risk of repeating my comment.

Love your insight into this book.

This was a series of books I read as they came out. I keep meaning to re-read them but have never done so. Perhaps now is the time.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Tracy - A lot of people read these as they came. A lot of people seem to also reread them. It is such a popular series.

HKatz said...

I've enjoyed catching up on these recent posts. With the HP series, I've always wondered most about Snape's character, which takes some twists along the way (and in spite of not reading the last two books, I was given spoilers about his fate). It will be interesting to hear what you have to say about him at the end of Book 7.

I also enjoyed reading your initial reaction to Russell Blackford's book. I hope you revisit the book on this blog. One of the most disconcerting things I see in talking about U.S. politics is how an ordinarily intelligent person can suddenly revert to nasty remarks or simple soundbites in response to a politician's name or specific stance. It's like I'm suddenly talking to a Facebook post and not a person, in those moments. And yes, there's also the way some people relish getting others fired or harassed at home and work over a poorly worded tweet or a "wrong view."

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks Hila. Snape is indeed interesting. He really has a lot of awful traits despite choosing to oppose evil.

I will be posting about Blackford’s book. Things have gotten out of control. As you mention, the incivilty is terrible. But the social media mobbing, censorship, targeting of employment of people is an affront to decency and freedom. I will have more to say soon.

baili said...

I really liked this one dear Brain!

specially the passage you shared is provoking and very interesting

fact about riddle's background sounds effective to reveal his negative nature

Harry seems in this book more clear and decisive

a wonderful commentary ,so enjoyed it!

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Baili - As the series moves, Harry does become more confident and more sure of himself.

So many books, so little time said...

You know I love Harry Potter and started re reading them this year, think i am on book three or four next, just trying to catch up with blog commitments first. Love the books and movies, you are so spot on about Voldemort. Did you know she got the names for some of her characters from a graveyard? I found Tom Riddles grave and took a photo of it, not sure how many others there was. Fab books I just love them. Great commentary as always Brian xxx


Brian Joseph said...

Thanks Lainy. I did not know about the names. That is neat. It is also very cool that you got that picture.

The Bookworm said...

Great discussion post as usual and I like how you delve into the books and get to the core of the characters. I enjoyed all the books but these last few ones especially. Tom Riddle was definitely a psychopath. I liked that Rowling showed us Voldemort's background and let us see him as a child. And the Death Eaters were creepy. I hope you enjoy the final book!

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks Naida - Though I liked the first book the best, after that one I liked the last books the best.

Voldemort’s origins are so interesting. Often fantasy epics, such as Lord of the Rings present the evil antagonist as having obscure origins in this remote past. Voldemort’s more contemporary origins were refreshing.

The Liberty Belle said...

I thoroughly enjoyed your insightful review. This book is my second favorite in the series. Harry Potter and The Order of the Phoenix, which introduces us Luna Lovegood, tops my list.

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks Liberty Bell. Luna was a great character. She is also fun to read about.

Anusha Todurkar said...
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