Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Harry Potter & the Half-Blood Prince (book)

Originally Written and Posted at Epinions.com on 7/20/05 w/ Additional Edits.

When J.K. Rowling emerged with the Harry Potter book series in 1997, it was an immediate success that in 2000, it's popularity reached a peak with the fourth book in the series, Harry Potter & the Goblet of Fire. By that point, two film adaptations for The Sorcerer's Stone and The Chamber of Secrets both directed by Chris Columbus in 2001 and 2002, respectively, were wildly successful. By this point, the fifth Harry Potter book, Harry Potter & the Order of the Phoenix was in full-on anticipation.

Finally, the fifth book was released in June 2003 to rave reviews but met with some indifference for the very first time as some complained about the book's epic length, a few new characters, and Potter's transition from a young boy to a troubled teenager. Still, it did nothing to stop the success of the franchise while in 2004, Harry Potter & the Prisoner of Azkaban drew rave reviews from fans since many felt that bringing Mexican art-film director Alfonso Cuaron to the forefront helped give the series some depth. Though Azkaban and The Order of the Phoenix did see a decline in the fanbase of Harry Potter, the franchise is still alive in J.K. Rowling's sixth book on Harry Potter's young life in Harry Potter & the Half-Blood Prince.

Like many of the previous stories, the books pick up where the previous one took off where in The Order of the Phoenix,Potter becomes more troubled by the role he's taken on while dealing with a near-totalitarian stature at Hogwarts School and the return of Lord Voldemort. With new nightmares and the truth about his parents, Harry finds himself at odds with colleagues, enemies, and even the school headmaster Albus Dumbledore as the result leaves Harry more wounded than ever as he suffered the loss of his godfather who tried to save him from Voldemort's trap. The wizarding world, who had deemed Harry as a psychotic, were forced to realize Voldemort has returned.  The aftermath leaves not just Harry aware of his own flaws but the foolishness done by the Ministry of Magic and its Minister Cornelius Fudge.

Harry Potter & the Half-Blood Prince is a multi-layered, complex, and far darker story than anything Rowling has written that leaves everyone knocked out cold. With the Muggle world starting to learn about mysterious deaths and incidents that was occuring to their world while a new Minister of Magic has been appointed. For Harry, his return to the Dursleys had been brief as he returns to the magic world accompanied by Dumbledore. After getting an old teacher out of retirement, Harry and his friends Hermione Granger, Ron and Ginny Weasley return to Hogwarts where Harry becomes increasingly uncomfortable in his newfound popularity as The Chosen One. While his friends have been distracted by other things with Harry now Captain of his Quidditch team at Hogwarts.  Harry learns more about Voldemort's past and the secrets into defeating him that would leave huge losses around him as Harry faces his own fate and those he cares for.

The innocence and humor plus traditional structures of mystery that revolved in the first three books definitely went into transition for more epic-like textures in the last two books. In this one, Rowling restrains herself a bit with some success in terms of not letting things get in the way of excess which is why the Order of the Phoenix had some complaints about its length. In the Half-Blood Prince,there's a more suitable length although the only big flaw in that is the underutilization of many key characters and supporting players that are loved by the fans. Despite that, Rowling does test new limits and new ideas for her writing and it's changed. Especially when it involves not just violence but language and adolescent romance that almost reaches to the point of some strong sexual content. In this book, Rowling gets her hands dirty which won't be good for younger fans because they're not going to be ready about a lot of the romantic subject matter.

Rowling's approach to storytelling also starts out differently, while it was nothing new since the Goblet of Fire started out with a look into Lord Voldemort's past in a house. In the Half-Blood Prince,the book again starts out differently in not one but three different openings that are going around in the same time. The first one is the introduction of the new Minister of Magic in Rufus Scrimgeour, who is a tough-minded, warlike Minister as opposed to the less-controlling Cornelius Fudge. Scrimgeour is a very interesting character because after dealing with a totalitarian-like tone in the last one, there's something Scrimgeour that the readers immediately knows isn't going to be very good.  Though he has a persona similar to Winston Churchill, he also the war-monger tone of Richard Nixon.

Immediately as the story unfolds with the war between Death Eaters, Dementors, and other dark creatures going up against the entire British wizard community, we see Scrimgeour's actions in ways that are unbelievable. Even in a meeting with Harry in an attempt to make him a poster boy, as he is now called The Chosen One with people now knowing about a prophecy of him and Voldemort. Harry's recent troubles with the Ministry and its members (except for Arthur Weasley, Ron's dad, who had been promoted) only makes him more suspicious and unhappy over their recent tactics.

Then around the same time Scrimgeour and Fudge have a meeting with the new Muggle Prime Minister, who suspects of incidents and deaths occuring around him. There is a more disturbing meeting between Bellatrix Lestrange, Narcissa Malfoy, and Severus Snape. Narcissa, distraught over her husband's capture and Draco to fill in the role of his father as a Death Eater, makes an Unbreakable Vow with Snape to protect Draco. In that meeting, we also see Wormtail, briefly, in this strange meeting as the role of Snape becomes more ambiguous with Harry becoming even more suspicious about his relationship with Dumbledore.

Then, there's Draco who disappears frequently during the entire story for some mysterious reason until Harry and the readers begin to learn about Draco's vulnerability. Draco has been known as an arrogant, racist bully who likes to be ahead of everyone.  With this book, readers start to see a vulnerable side of Draco as he struggles with not just the new role as a Death Eater.  Even with the task he's been given as Harry suspects him while he would also have a confrontation with Dumbledore very late in the book as Dumbledore understands what the boy is going through.  Even as Harry learns what is happening to Draco as he too, would gain sympathy for one of his enemies.

Aside from those two meeting in the first two chapters, there's a third that leads everything to where the main focus of the book is. Harry, who leaves the Dursleys after a few weeks' stay, learns that he will return to their home one final time until he turns 17 where the protective spell that he's been given will be lifted.  Dumbledore also finally gets a chance to scold the Dursleys for the way they treated Harry as well as they way spoiled Dudley.  Dumbledore accompanies Harry to try and persuade Horace Slughorn, an old colleague to Dumbledore, to return to Hogwarts. Slughorn is a new character that is a bit eccentric, yet has a shameful past that is a key element into Voldemort's defeat. He's certainly a likeable character even though he's someone who picks favorites over connections and some amount of fame in which Harry, Hermione, Ginny, and Neville Longbottom are a part of, which they don't really like.

There's an in-crowd thing early on in the book aside from the Slug Club that Harry had to be a part in. While Neville and Luna Lovegood don't have a lot to do in the book, there's a moment when Harry could've ditched them but because they were with him on the D.A. last year. He chooses them. Luna does have a few funny moments in the book given to its lack of humor.  Though Neville doesn't get much to do in the book.  He does start to show his potential as a great wizard rising thanks to a new wand and some confidence as Professor McGonnagall disses his grandmother over her lack of infatuation with Charms.

Still, this is why Rowling chooses to focus on the trio of Harry/Ron/Hermione and their relationship but that relationship begins to splinter a bit as Ron has found himself a new girlfriend and Hermione is becoming annoyed with an old Potions book Harry has used that used to be own by a mysterious figure called the Half-Blood Prince where Harry becomes a Potions virtuoso. It's this book where Harry begins to use spells unbeknownst to him that at first might seem fun until one shows its dark intentions. Not like Voldemort's diary in the Chamber of Secrets, this book is filled with mystery with Hermione becoming suspicious.  Even as she looks for clues into who the Half-Blood Prince might be.  The revelation of who the Half-Blood Prince isn't just shocking but also goes into detail into that person's background.

If Harry doesn't have Hermione or the Weasleys to confide in, there's Dumbledore. The character of Harry is more restrained as his relationship with Dumbledore goes almost beyond the student/teacher realm as they investigate into Voldemort's past and his family background.  Some of which shows some amount of sympathy to the dark wizard and his descent into the dark side. There, secrets are unveiled into Voldemort's survival as well as deadly objects that have kept him alive.  These objects would be known as Horcruxes as it's up to Harry to find out what Professor Slughorn had told the young Tom Riddle so many years ago.  What's unveiled is something even more shocking into not what Voldemort did to attain immortality but how much he did at the risk at his own soul.

With Harry also dealing about his suspicions towards Snape and Malfoy along with his lessons, and becoming the Captain of the Gryffindor Quidditch team.  He also has to deal with newfound feelings for Ron's little sister Ginny. Readers knew that Ginny has had a crush on Harry for years but their relationship has been more of an brotherly approach from Harry's view. By the last book as Ginny, who had a new boyfriend at the time, becomes a person Harry can talk to as she had now gotten over her crush on him.

In this book, Harry has a harder time dealing with her new romance with Dean Thomas.  Notably in the way she's treated by Ron and her twin older brothers Fred and George where at one point, Ron nearly calls her something offensive as they drew wands at each other. There is a wonderful conflict in Harry's mind that at one point when he's in bed, part of me expects him to relieve whatever feelings in a point of... "She's Ron's sister! But she's so hot! Yeah but she's Ron's sister!" It's pretty much one of the funniest moments of the book as Harry comes into some internal conflict.

Speaking of Fred and George, since they're not in Hogwarts anymore and now running their own joke shop. They're not used very much which makes their presence missed in terms of some needed humor for the book. Whatever humor that is left aside from the Weasleys is from Fleur Delacour, who is engaged to the eldest Weasley child Bill, to the dismay of Mrs. Weasely, Ginny, and Hermione. It's not just the Weasley twins who aren't used very much. Tonks isn't used much since she's busy protecting Hogwarts while feeling very depressed though the reasons are unveiled in the end. Lupin doesn't appear much either since he is underground trying to be a spy for Dumbledore. Hagrid also doesn't appear as much, though he like the other supporting players, as he mourns for his pet spider Aragog as the famed creature does get a nice send-off.

If those flaws do give fans a sense of disappointment, then there is a more troubling subject that really gives the Half-Blood Prince an emotional punch that hadn't been given in previous books. The subject of death, which is surrounded early on with the mention of Sirius and some key members of the Ministry. Students also go through near-death experiences with one of Harry's classmates leaving the school over a death. Then, when the book reaches its third act, the death is unexpected and the perpetrator is even more shocking.

In that subject, the level of violence is something younger readers will be overwhelmed by. Especially since it's going into almost Quentin Tarantino-approach of violence. This and the impending death really leaves the book with an ending that is hanging by a thread. It's somewhat abrupt by the final pages as everything around Harry becomes uncertain. If there's a big reason why the Half-Blood Prince is brilliant, it's because it paves the way for what is to come in the seventh and final book. That one will probably a big, epic book where all we know is that Harry and Voldemort will have to go into a big, final battle. If there's one great thing Rowling did, it's heightened the anticipation for the final book which is sure to blow away everything that is done before.

Harry Potter & the Half-Blood Prince is truly one of the best book of the series. Despite whatever flaws and tones it has for younger readers, it's still one amazing story from J.K. Rowling. Of course, after a few reads.  Readers will end up looking for clues that relates to what is discovered in the Half-Blood Prince while paving the way for the seventh and final book in Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows.  Notably as the ending sets up for the journey Harry, Ron, and Hermione must take into finding the remaining Horcruxes to defeat Voldemort once and for all.  In the end, Harry Potter & the Half-Blood Prince is a harrowing yet complex book that serves as a teaser for the grand finale of the Harry Potter series.

(C) thevoid99 2010

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