Old School Wednesdays presents an epic reread of The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling. THIS MONTH ON THE RE-READ: we dive into the shenanigans of book 6. There is just one book left before we have finished the entire series. WOE.
Old School Wednesdays is a weekly Book Smuggler feature. We came up with the idea towards the end of 2012, when both Ana and Thea were feeling exhausted from the never-ending inundation of New and Shiny (and often over-hyped) books. What better way to snap out of a reading fugue than to take a mini-vacation into the past?
This time, on our Old School Wednesday journey, we continue our OSW feature for the first half (ok, two-thirds) of 2016–The Epic Harry Potter Re-Read with our joint review of The Half-Blood Prince.
Title: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
Author: J.K. Rowling
Genre: Middle Grade, Young Adult, Fantasy
Publisher: Bloomsbury (UK) / Scholastic (US)
Publication Date: First published 2005
Hardcover: 652 pages (!!!!!)
The war against Voldemort is not going well; even Muggle governments are noticing. Ron scans the obituary pages of the Daily Prophet, looking for familiar names. Dumbledore is absent from Hogwarts for long stretches of time, and the Order of the Phoenix has already suffered losses.
As in all wars, life goes on. Sixth-year students learn to Apparate — and lose a few eyebrows in the process. The Weasley twins expand their business. Teenagers flirt and fight and fall in love. Classes are never straightforward, though Harry receives some extraordinary help from the mysterious Half-Blood Prince.
So it’s the home front that takes center stage in the multilayered sixth installment of the story of Harry Potter. Here are Hogwarts, Harry will search for the full and complex story of the boy who became Lord Voldemort — and thereby find what may be his only vulnerability.
Stand alone or series: Book 6 in the Harry Potter series
How did we get this book: Bought
Format (e- or p-): Print
Previously on the Epic Harry Potter Re-read:
- Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone / Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
- Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
- Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
- Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
- Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
**All reviews/discussions on this re-readalong will contain inevitable spoilers–if you don’t want to be spoiled, best look away. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.**
Well, this is a weird one. I am not sure what to think about Half-Blood Prince. I have pretty much clear-cut impressions of all the books in the series so far i.e.:
HP #1 – Good
HP #2 – Good
HP #3 – Awesome
HP #4 – Crap
HP #5 – Fantastic
I find myself torn between Awesome and Crap with this one.
I mean, how do you justify following up the action-heavy, dark-filled, heart-stomping, rage-inducing, well-written Order of the Phoenix with a book that basically consists of alternating between a long series of info-dump sequences and nothing-is-happening at Hogwarts, then being thrown an ending that is mind-blowing awesome, soul-crushing and also super rushed? And wtf is up with the utter non-sense story of the Half-Blood Prince anyway?
This is the most uneven of all the books so far.
Here are a few disjointed thoughts:
-Let’s start with Snape: when I first read the series I was firmly on the “Snape is good, working on Dumbledore’s camp”. I ended the series with a love for that character. I still like him as a fucked-up character who is “NOT A COWARD” *weeps openly*. However. I don’t care which side he is on or how good he is at potions or Defence Against the Dark Arts, Snape is a horrible bully that doesn’t deserve a teaching post at Hogwarts. He just doesn’t – no teacher such treat their students like this, and I am dumbfounded that Dumbledore allows a teacher such as Snape to carry on teaching at Hogwarts.
-Humanising the Malfoys? Hell yes. I loved the underlying story of giving a young boy a chance – Draco hasn’t full-on gone to the Dark Side and Dumbledore/Snape are willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. Doubly awesome because of Snape’s own story. Triply awesome because Dumbledore is doing the same he did for Tom even though THAT totally backfired.
-Harry Potter, the hero of this series has an enslaved House-Elf working for him. Let me repeat it : the hero of the series puts an enslaved House-Elf to work for him.
-What does the Half-Blood Prince arc adds to this story except needed Deus ex Machina? It’s utter nonsense: can you really image Snape leaving that book behind to be used by other people? No. Just no.
-I was so onboard the Harry – Ginny train and I don’t think I had fully appreciated how awesome Ginny Weasley is upon first reading the novel. But she totally is. Awesome.
-Speaking of romance: it made me sick how everybody – all the good guys! All the women! – were so prepared to hate Fleur for no reason other than her beauty. Wtf is up with that? Not to mention, all the women suffering because of their romantic lives: Tonks, Hermione, Lavender, Merope. Side-eyeing this to the next galaxy and back.
-Life at Hogwarts: continues the same with House cups. Quiddtich. Exams. Meanwhile, news from outside world are full of death, cursed people, fear and devastation. The juxtaposition is weird, off-putting, terrifying and sadly, utterly believable in replicating what goes on in the real world. Life goes on and all that jazz.
-Dumbledore’s death is shocking, perverse and utterly sad. It is also terrifying because now Voldemort doesn’t have anyone to fear.
-The ending and Harry’s decision along Ron and Hermione’s.
-That throwaway comment about how only Luna and Neville responded to the call to patrol Hogwarts because they were probably the only ones who really missed being part of DA because how that made them feel better about themselves still SLAYS MY SOUL.
-Speaking of soul slaying: here we have the idea of the Horcruxes introduced and it’s really clever how it picks pieces (haha) from previous books and make them fit together: the diary! Nagini!
-Did I like reading up on Voldermort’s backstory? Yes. Did it have to be done via long, clumsy info-dumpy? No. Was there any other way of doing this? I don’t know. But heck, so much filler story.
-I feel like this would have worked as a better 5th book in a series instead of a 6th . As the last act before the grand finale, it is a vast disappointment.
But like all Harry Potter books, I think I love it anyway because of the characters more than anything else.
But it might be a love that happens in spite of and not because of if that makes sense?
That… was a lot of random but pertinent information, Ana. Ok! My thoughts, and reactions to all of the above:
For me, the Harry Potter re-read has been on the whole utterly delightful. I love this series very much, and I haven’t done a comprehensive re-read of the series in its entirety, ever. It’s hard to separate how I feel about the books and series now versus the feelings I have for the series and franchise as a whole (after basically growing up with the novels, the excitement over new releases at midnight and driving to various stores, the joy/disappointment/but-mostly-joy of the films, HARRY POTTER WORLD, etc). In the case of The Half-Blood Prince (I preordered and picked up my copy of this book at a supermarket in California–if you can believe that! At midnight! With a bunch of other muggle nerds!), I have always felt a deep connection. THIS is the book in which the wizarding world has finally accepted that Voldemort is BACK, for realsies, and all the shit goes down. We learn about horcruxes, as well as Tom Riddle’s terrifying past at Hogwarts and his relationship with Dumbledore. We start to see the war actually touching the lives of everyday people (and characters with whom we have become acquainted over the course of the series); we see the fear and loathing that Voldemort prays upon and instills in others. And, in contrast, we finally begin to understand why Harry Potter is so important, and what he represents to the Dark Lord.
In other words: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, while not without its moments of incredible frustration (TREATMENT OF FEMALE CHARACTERS), remains one of my favorite books (I LIKE INFODUMPS AND HORCRUXES) in the series. It’s a huge turning point for Dumbledore, Harry, and Tom Riddle–it is the scene-setting book before the final, inevitable showdown that will result in so much death, but so much triumph. It IS the darkness before the dawn. And I kinda fucking love it.
So I will talk about what worked for me, especially in the context of building the conflict between Harry and Voldemort, as well as the equally important subconflicts with Snape and Dumbledore. The most appealing part of this book, to me, is the history it gives us, and the insight into Tom Riddle’s psyche as he fully embraces the dark side and becomes Lord Voldemort. Learning about his mother, Merope, and the sad days of the impoverished, last blood relatives of Salazar Slytherin is a heartbreaking thing–had Tom been raised by his natural parents, or his natural grandfather and uncle (had they been alive/not in Azkaban), would things have been different? Had Harry been raised in an orphanage as Tom was, would Harry have been different?
Also, now, think about Tom’s upbringing in contrast to Harry’s–Harry, who had a mother and father who died for their son, versus Tom’s mother, who Tom probably came to believe died because she didn’t care enough for Tom to save herself with magic. How would that change the way you would grow and decide to nurture your magical abilities? What would such a thing do to your capacity to love, as Dumbledore mentions so many times to Harry? Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince may be exposition-heavy and full of infodumps via pensieve, but, like Dumbledore, I actually think those memories are important in understanding the enemy–for both Harry Potter, and for us readers. Watching Tom Riddle become the favored child at Hogwarts, all the while using his education to glean information about the darkest arts and secret to his own power and immortality via many horcruxes is, frankly, terrifying. Knowing what teenage Harry is up against–without Dumbledore, in the greatest hour of need–is the stuff that great showdowns are made of. Rowling frames the battle very clearly here–Love versus Fear–with all of Harry’s anger and skepticism and pent-up-frustration questioning Dumbledore’s theory. And, to me? It works.
I loved the humanizing of Draco (and how Dumbledore almost, almost convinces him at the end only to be interrupted); I loved the darkness of Snape. I was firmly in the “Snape is a FOE” camp, and can you blame me? This book is the culmination of Snape’s bullying and belittling of Harry, his support of Draco and his impartiality as House Head for Slytherin. It’s the book where he kills Dumbledore–of course all according to plan, but reading this for the first time? How on earth could anyone think Snape was good? COME ON. (All of that said, I agree that the “Half-Blood Prince” book and story isn’t as fleshed out as it should have been.) I love the discovery of Horcruxes, the integration of Slughorn into the story.
I also think when reviewing this book, we HAVE to talk about it in the context of the film–which in my opinion is probably the worst of the entire franchise, including Sorcerer’s Stone and Chamber of Secrets. The film leaves out SO MUCH–Snape’s dramatic reveal at the end, ALL of Voldemort’s backstory and family history and obsession with Hogwarts, the reveal of the horcruxes (in a way that actually makes internal, logical sense), the chemistry between Harry and Ginny, the utter frustration and ultimate despair Harry feels because no one believes him re: Draco and Snape… The movie is not satisfying. I have many bitter feels towards the movie.
Have I rambled on enough yet? There are many things that the book does wrong–agree with Ana at the outrageous treatment of Lavender and Fleur (and the crappy attitude everyone has towards them), the house elves and Harry’s treatment of Kreature, and certain other rushed parts of the book. But overall? The Half-Blood Prince remains my third favorite HP book.
Ana: 6 – Good
Thea: 8 – Excellent
About the Epic Harry Potter Re-Read:
Extending through August, we will be re-reading each book in the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling. (We’ll also be re-watching all of the movies, but we won’t be reviewing those.) Why are we doing such a thing? Because we are nostalgic for these books that we basically grew up with; because we’ve had so much fun with re-reads over the past year, especially for Old School Wednesdays (see Percy Jackson and The Dark Tower); and most of all, because this August, we Book Smugglers are going to watch Harry Potter and the Cursed Child in London. AAAAAA!!!!
Are you also a Harry Potter fan? Are you new to the books? Do you want to join our re-read fun? Well you’re in some serious luck (and you don’t even need Felix Felicis) because here’s the full schedule.
Harry Potter and The Sorcerer’s Stone – January 27
Harry Potter and The Chamber of Secrets – February 24
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban – March 23
Harry Potter and The Half-Blood Prince – June 22
Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows – July 27
Join us, won’t you?