I stalled out on my Harry Potter reviews over the winter when my own novel was taking priority. This week it was so fun to set other stuff aside and read just for the sake of reading. And no place is more fun to escape to than Hogwarts. A LOT is going on in this one. It’s the most pivotal book in the series. A springboard for the final climax.
This time around, the entire wizarding world is on the edge of panic now that it is well-known Voldemort has returned. The landscape is one of fear, sudden disappearances, and suspicious deaths. Readers know (and Harry suspects) that Draco Malfoy, Harry’s schoolmate and nemesis, is in the Dark Lord’s employ. And some HUGE questions linger about Professor Snape’s loyalties, though Dumbledore trusts him implicitly. Even though security is especially tight at Hogwarts, still two students almost die when cursed objects find their way into the school. There is even talk of closing Hogwarts altogether.
Against this desperate background, Dumbledore initiates special “lessons” with Harry, showing him a series of memories involving the life of Tom Riddle, the boy who would grow up to be Voldemort. Together they come to understand the Dark Lord’s fear of death. It’s a defining moment in the series, the underlying theme: is death to be feared or not? Then they figure out Voldemort’s secret to immortality, and they take the first steps to counteract it. Unfortunately, their plans backfire. The book ends in tragedy, shifting alliances, and a lot of questions. But Harry’s path is clear, and at the end of it we can see the confrontation we’ve been waiting six volumes for.
There are some negative elements. Inferi are dead bodies that are enchanted to do Voldemort’s bidding, though they only feature in one scene that really isn’t too bad. I was more disgusted by all the “snogging” (British slang for kissing) Ron does in an attempt to make Hermione jealous. Harry gets two of his teachers drunk to elicit information from them. There’s also a smattering of mild profanities. And here we first learn of Horcruxes, the darkest of all dark magic, the willful ripping of the soul.
But this one has some really great moments between Harry and Dumbledore. I love Professor Dumbledore’s God-like wisdom and his pure belief that love is the most powerful magic in the universe, a magic Voldemort can never understand but Harry has in abundance. Here are a few of Dumbledore’s quotes:
(To Harry, when Harry is questioning Snapes’ loyalty and Dumbledore’s decision to hire him) “I think you might even consider the possibility that I understood more than you did.” Going along with Dumbledore’s judgement even when it makes no sense, that’s a pretty powerful illustration of trust, isn’t it?
“It is the unknown we fear when we look upon death and darkness, nothing more.”
And this tongue-in-cheek comment, “Divination is turning out to be much more trouble than I could have foreseen.”
Dumbledore also gives Harry a whole new perspective on the prophecy (concerning Harry and Voldemort) that says neither can live while the other’s alive. Just because it’s a prophecy doesn’t mean it had to be fulfilled, but Voldemort created an enemy for himself (Harry) when he acted on it. By trying to kill Harry, he gave Harry the ability to understand his thoughts and his language (parcel tongue), he planted in Harry the desire for revenge, and he gave Harry the greatest protection of all when he killed Harry’s mother who died protecting him. Harry need not dread the prophecy. But he can choose to meet it bravely. By taking the time to explain all this, Dumbledore is bolstering Harry’s courage for the final confrontation we all know is coming.
So I still advocate a 12+ age limit on Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, but I also encourage twelve-year-olds to read it. The positives far outweigh the negatives.
My other Harry Potter reviews: