With all the hoopla that surrounds that release of a new installment in the Harry Potter series it would be easy for J.K Rowling to buckle under the immense pressure she must feel to deliver a new and refreshing story in the series. Not only does she deliver but she also continues to raise the bar and out due herself, by giving new information, connecting the dots, and revealing a shocking betrayal with the loss of a beloved character.
Beware–Major Spoilers Ahead
When last we left Harry he and his friends returned from the battle at The Ministry of Magic with Voldemort’s Death Eaters where Bellatrix Lestrange killed his Godfather, Sirius Black. Not only did Harry have to deal with that loss, but also the information contained in a prophecy made by Sybil Trelawney. Which foretold of the birth of a boy who, once marked by the Dark Lord, would have the power to vanquish him, and that neither could live while the other survived.
Half Blood Prince begins slightly differently than others in the series. In a chapter that has been brewing in Rowling’s mind for thirteen years, an unsuspecting muggle Prime Minister is visited by Cornelius Fudge and is told that Lord Voldemort has returned and several muggle atrocities including a bridge collapse, a hurricane, and a few murders are in fact the work of Voldemort. To that The Prime Minister says “But for heaven’s sake-you’re wizards! You can do magic! Surely you can sort out – well -anything! The Minister of Magic replies, “The trouble is, the other side can do magic too.”
Once again Harry is sent to stay with his muggle relatives, Aunt Petunia, Uncle Vernon, and their spoiled son, Dudley. Harry’s stay here is the shortest ever as Dumbledore comes to Privet Drive to get Harry and take him to The Burrow, the home of his best friend Ron Weasley.
Once back at Hogwarts Harry learns that greasy potions teacher, Snape, has finally achieved his dream to teach Defense Against The Dark Arts. Dumbledore summons Harry to his office to begin a series of trips into his pensieve to learn the true nature of Lord Voldemort, and the beginnings of Tom Riddle and his family. Draco Malfoy is sneaking around the castle, and seems to be on a mission given to him by Voldemort. Harry receives Potions advice from a second hand Potions book filled with doodling by someone calling themselves “The Half Blood Prince.” Two students are mysteriously attacked and almost killed. Love is truly in the air as some rumored matches finally happen. Harry learns the reason why Voldemort did not die when his curse for baby Harry backfired. Voldemort made himself almost immortal by creating six horcruxes, which are created by the splitting of one’s soul through the act of murder. Each horcrux will have to be destroyed before Voldemort himself, the last and 7th piece of his soul, can be destroyed. Then in a shocking turn of events Death Eaters converge on Hogwarts, and Snape, revealed to be the mysterious Half Blood Prince and who Dumbledore has always trusted to be on the good side, kills Hogwarts’ beloved headmaster. Harry vows to not return to Hogwarts. Now alone, he must search for the final horcruxes in order to have a chance to kill Voldemort.
Half Blood Prince is structured slightly different from the other books. We do not see Harry until Chapter 3. Much more back story is revealed, and Harry spends more time with Dumbledore and less with Ron and Hermione. It is much faster paced than its predecessor, Order of the Phoenix, and runs some 200 pages shorter. It does lag at times, but reaches a fever pace by the last seven chapters. Rowling brings together elements from previous books, as she is so adept at doing. So much so that I found myself wanting to re-read the series to see what I missed.
While Prince is the darkest of the series, the other five certainly contained dark elements, Rowling still manages to remind us that the characters are still teenagers, and indulges us with a few lighthearted moments. We learn that Mr. Weasley’s pet name for his wife is “Mollywobbles,” which may be the cutest thing I have ever heard. Luna Lovegood gives a memorable commentary during a quidditch match and describes some of the action by saying, “…but now that big Hufflepuff player’s got the Quaffle from her, I can’t remember his name, its something like Bibble – no Buggins -,” and describes a player as suffering from “Loser’s Lurgy” because he couldn’t hold onto the Quaffle. Love is blooming all around and outside Hogwarts. Bill and Fleur Delacour are to be married, Ron and Hermione move close together after Ron (“Won-Won”) ends his snog fest of a relationship with Lavender Brown, which quite frankly made me ill. Harry finds a much more suitable girlfriend in Ginny Weasley, and in my favorite, Remus Lupin returns the feelings Tonks has for him. If anyone in the series deserves some love in his life, its Lupin, He has had such a hard life, has seen the death of all his friends, but has never become bitter or unkind. I just hope he lives long enough to enjoy his new found love.
This book also sees a maturation and change in the characters. Harry is much less of a jerk and does not yell at his friends any more. He is less of a rulebreaker, and finally understands that people do have his best interests at heart. I liked him much better this time around. We finally get more than a glimpse of Narcissa Malfoy. We see her as a desperate mother who would do anything to protect her son. We also see a different side of Draco. When ordered to kill Dumbledore, he can’t do it and breaks down at the thought of what Voldemort will do to him if he fails Don’t get me wrong he still is a pompous jerk, and speaking of the biggest pompous jerk of all time and now maybe an evil traitor, Severus Snape, the former potions teacher, who Dumbledore has always unconditionally trusted. Could the wise Dumbledore truly have been that wrong about him and was his willingness to see the best in people his ultimate weakness. Lord Voldemort’s past is finally told which ranges from the abuse his mother, Merope, suffered from her father and husband, Tom Riddle Sr., to his childhood in an orphanage, and ultimately to his quest for immortality. Is evil set a birth? Would he have been different person had his mother stayed alive for him.
Prince is the most unsettling and leaves Harry, his friends, and their readers in a genuine sadness that has never really come across in the serious. More so than when Sirius died, the wizarding world has been torn apart with the death of Dumbledore. Now more than ever Harry is alone in his quest. I heard the rumors about who dies in this book before it came out, but I never thought that Rowling would actually kill off Dumbledore this early in the series, but I guess in the end Harry’s quest is truly destined to be his own. Rowling did give Dumbledore a fitting send off, including the mournful song of Fawkes and when Harry remembers Dumbledore’s idea of a few words, “nitwit,” “oddment,” “Blubber,” and “tweak.”
More than any other in the series, more questions are left to be answered:
*If Harry does not return to Hogwarts what will the structure of book 7 be?
*Is Snape truly evil and has he been on Voldemort’s side the entire time? If so, how could Dumbledore have been so blinded by him?
*Where are the remaining horcruxes and will Harry be strong enough to find them without a seventh year at Hogwarts? We know what the horcruxes are; Marvolo Gaunt’s ring which was destroyed by Dumbledore, Tom Riddle’s diary which was destroyed by Harry, a cup belonging to Helga Hufflepuff, either an unknown item belonging to Godric Gryffindor or Rowena Ravenclaw, Voldemort’s snake, Nagini, and a locket belonging to Salazar Slytherin. The locket should have been hidden in a cave, but was stolen and replaced with a fake. Is this the locket Harry encountered in Order of the Phoenix while cleaning 12 Grimmauld Place, and if so where are its whereabouts now? Does Kreacher have it or did Mundungus steal it?
*Who is the mysterious R.A.B who switched the real locket and left a note for Voldemort?
The fact that we care about what happens to Harry is the real magic, not spells or incantations. J.K Rowling has created a group of fictional characters that we have grown to love so much that we care about what happens to him. I don’t know of a better way to measure the greatness of a book.