Welcome to Comfort Reads: where I talk about re-reads and what I’ve learned on second (or twelfth) encounters.
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling
some facts & opinions
- publication year: 2005
- movie release date: 2009
- age of my first encounter: 15
- favorite moment left out of the film series: The Dursleys! Again! If you don’t recall, there’s a moment that’s completely left out of the first part of Book 6. Dumbledore doesn’t pick Harry up on a subway platform, the way he does in the film; instead, he shows up at the Dursley’s house and politely gives them shit. He forces them to sit on the couch and attempts to get them to converse politely, as well as conjuring glasses of mead which hit the three muggles over the head when they refuse to drink them. It’s just a hilarious moment in a world of anxiety and fear, yet another reason I appreciated Dumbledore.
- favorite magical object/creature introduced: Felix Felicis. I realize this isn’t an object, but at this point in the series pretty much everything has been introduced, so I’m going to expand the category a little. I enjoyed the addition of strong, difficult potions in this book, from the way Ron accidentally overdoses on Romilda Vane’s love potion to the way Harry fake spikes Ron’s juice with Felix to get him to play a better Quidditch match. I find more humorous moments every time I read the later books in the series—for instance, I was cracking up when Harry (on Felix) gets Hagrid and Slughorn rip roaring drunk in order to get Slughorn’s memory.
- best supporting character: Ginny Weasley. Ginny has perhaps my favorite character arc in the series. She goes from unable to even speak in Harry’s presence to dating him, from being manipulated by Voldemort’s horcrux to being one of the strongest fighters in the D.A. She goes from being super shy to being incredibly popular—and for good reason, cause she’s fiery and smart and fabulous. The one thing I hate about Book 6 is just how little time Harry and Ginny get to be happy. The first time I read the book, I felt so cheated, because part of me had been waiting for them to get together for years. OTP, the end, Amen.
- best professor appearance: Dumbledore. I saved this one for the last book in which he fully appears. I also saved my Dumbledore discussion because my feelings about him keep changing as I keep reading. As a kid, I looked up to Dumbledore as a god of the Harry Potter universe, the saving grace, the ultimate teacher. But as I look back, I see the many flaws in his actions and behaviors and the way he treats Harry. I hate the way Dumbledore keeps secrets from Harry in the name of protecting him, but also because he believes Harry will figure it out eventually. It just seems like such a cop-out, but of course, we re-readers know Harry does figure it out, and that’s part of the story. Obviously I’m very conflicted.
- best Dumbledore quote: “You are protected, in short, by your ability to love! …The only protection that can possibly work against the lure of power like Voldemort’s! In spite of all the temptation you have endured, all the suffering, you remain pure of heart, just as pure as you were at the age of eleven, when you stared into a mirror that reflected your heart’s desire, and it showed you only the way to thwart Lord Voldemort, and not immortality or riches. Harry, have you any idea how few wizards could have seen what you saw in the mirror?”
The Half-Blood Prince disappointed me in 2005. After the 870 pages in Book 5, I was expecting more from Book 6, which I devoured in a matter of two days and was left feeling pretty…well, empty. It’s not a matter of being disinterested in the plot—because I actually do enjoy the mystery surrounding Malfoy’s erratic behavior, the cute romantic subplots, and (most of all) the revelations of Voldemort’s past. I love the culmination of the Harry-Dumbledore relationship, and my heart breaks when it’s cut short in the end. So why was I so disappointed? Why is Book 6 still my least favorite (perhaps up there with Book 2)?
I’ve thought about this a lot. Would I still be upset with the length of Book 6 if I was reading it on my kindle rather than holding it in my lap? But I think my problem comes down to wanting more from Harry’s last year actually attending Hogwarts. I wanted more of the classroom details, particularly as the kids embark on yet more difficult magic, including Conjuring Spells, Non-Verbal Spells, and complex potions. I think my desire for more is even stronger, knowing that Harry doesn’t come back to school next year—some part of me wants the experience of diving into the magic school world to last longer.
That being said, there’s a lot to love about The Half-Blood Prince. What I think Rowling does so well in this one especially is the balancing of dark and light elements. I’m not talking about magic, I’m talking about plot and subplot. The beginning of the story is in stark contrast to the earlier books in the series, in that the Wizarding world is openly at war with Voldemort and the Death Eaters. The entire series has built to this moment, and Harry is highly aware of his role in the events: namely, that he’s The Chosen One. At the same time, though, he and his friends are teenagers, and I love the inclusion of romantic faux pas and angst. Ron and Lavender make me cringe, and Harry and Ginny make me swoon, but the teen drama adds lightheartedness to an otherwise terrifying world within the book. As I’ve said before, reading these books was an important part of my coming-of-age process as well as a fantasy escape from the real world, and it can’t be understated how valuable that is.
This is the first time in the series when the “it’s not who you think it is” trope gets turned directly on its head. For pretty much the whole series, Harry has mistrusted Malfoy and Snape, who both turn out to cause the most damage: Malfoy helps Death Eaters enter Hogwarts, and Snape kills Dumbledore. Now, those of us who’ve read the series know that Snape was always acting on Dumbledore’s wishes, even in killing him, but the experience is nonetheless painful to read, even knowing what happens in advance.
On re-reading, I really savored Harry’s forays into Voldemort’s mysterious past—and I hated how much of that is left out of the film. Whether for time reasons or not, the films treat the use of the Pensieve to gather information about Voldemort as secondary to what’s going on in the present day, but I’m with Dumbledore in that nothing is more important than understanding how Voldemort came to be. The film leaves out the trips down memory lane to Voldemort’s ancestors, the Gaunt family, which means we don’t understand fully Voldemort’s connection to the Slytherin line and the Peverells, which is his big connection to Harry’s bloodline. While the film talks about Horcruxes, they don’t really delve into Voldemort’s particular interest in trophies, in objects of personal importance to him that eventually came to house parts of his soul. The result of leaving all this out is that we don’t see Harry grappling with his own connection to Voldemort: both orphans raised by Muggles, both depended from similar Wizarding lines, both enamored with Hogwarts in a way that other students couldn’t understand.
I’ve said this before, but I’ll say it again: Harry’s struggle to separate himself from Voldemort is the crux of the story here. There’s an obvious connection between them that becomes most pronounced in Book 5, and Harry desperately wants to prove to himself that he’s nothing like his nemesis. This continues in Book 7, which I’ll be discussing next week. Ultimately, though, Dumbledore explains it best: the difference between Harry and Voldemort is nothing more or less than the power of love. I’ve thought a lot about how Harry’s character could have been different in other circumstances; if he’d been raised by a Wizarding family and grown up famous, rather than finding out in adolescence, he would’ve turned out a lot cockier. Had he befriended Malfoy in Book 1, rather than Ron, he might’ve become a Dark wizard—the tendency is there, but it’s overwhelmed by Harry’s ability to love, even when it makes him feel weak.
Is Book 6 your favorite or your least favorite, or somewhere in between? What are your favorite aspects of the penultimate book in the series? Have a favorite Voldemort memory? Let me know in the comments, and, as always, thanks for reading!