Monday, September 27, 2010
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
So I wanted to take my time getting through this one. And I definitely took my time. Five years ago, I think I had it done in two days. This time I slowly read it over two weeks. While it isn't the longest book in the series, it does pack in a great deal of information for the reader to wade through.
We begin not long after Order of the Phoenix left off. Harry is back at his aunt and uncle's home, still reeling from the loss of his godfather, Sirius. But Harry finds himself in a better place, emotionally, than he was the previous summer. This time he's still in contact with his mentor, Professor Dumbledore, who has promised to come and personally escort him to the home of his best friend's family for the remainder of the holidays.
On the way, Dumbledore takes Harry to meet a retired professor, Horace Slughorn, whom Dumbledore is trying to convince to come out of retirement to return to Hogwarts. Harry helps to convince the old man to reluctantly come back. Once the school year starts, it's discovered that Professor Slughorn is the new Potions teacher, replacing Harry's least favorite teacher, Severus Snape. Snape, however, hasn't lost his job as a teacher. He's just been moved to the job he's wanted for years: Defense Against the Dark Arts.
This poses a slight problem for Harry. As he thought he would have been finished with Potions after his fifth year, he neglected to purchase the necessary books and materials for that class. So Slughorn loans him a used Potions book, one which belonged to "the Half-Blood Prince". This mysterious "Prince" left meticulous notes in the margins, improving upon the information printed in the book. This made Harry a whiz in Slughorn's eyes, awarding him good grades and a good luck potion as a bonus on the first day.
Along with his normal classes, Harry was instructed to take private lessons with Professor Dumbledore. These lessons were basically a history of the life of Lord Voldemort, from his acceptance to Hogwarts to his first rise to power. These lessons culminated in the discovery that Voldemort, who was obsessed with immortality, had in fact found a way to make himself immortal. Voldemort had created items called Horcruxes, objects which would house a piece of his own soul. Therefore, if his body was killed or destroyed, a piece of himself would still be tethered to this world, giving him a chance to, at some point, regenerate.
The climax of the story occurs near the end of the school year when Dumbledore takes Harry away from the school to find and destroy one of these Horcruxes. Once the duo retrieves what they believe to be the correct object, they return to Hogwarts to find that it has been overrun by Death Eaters (Voldemort's followers). For his protection, Dumbledore silently petrifies Harry, leaving him immobile under his invisibility cloak. Harry is forced to watch the action unfold before his eyes and is helpless to stop it.
That action results in the death of Dumbledore at the hands of Snape. Harry is outraged. For years Harry had been saying that Snape wasn't worthy of Dumbledore's trust, but he always had it. And now Dumbledore had paid for that mistake with his life. As Snape makes his escape and Harry chases after him, it's revealed that Snape himself was the Half-Blood Prince. It was his old Potions book that Harry had been poring over all year.
After the battle that takes place, there is much discussion over whether Hogwarts should remain open to students. Harry decides that, whether it's open or not, he won't be coming back to school. Dumbledore had started him down a path to ridding the world of Voldemort's evil once and for all. Harry takes it upon himself to find and destroy the remaining Horcruxes, and eventually, face Voldemort himself.
So what do we learn from all of this? That people you never learned to trust are really not trustworthy at all? That doesn't seem like a good lesson to walk away with. How about not putting your faith in the scribbled instructions of a second-hand book? But really, isn't that something Harry should have learned way back in the Chamber of Secrets when Ginny Weasley was controlled by Voldemort's old diary.
Harry's still a noble character and he's extremely loyal to Dumbledore, even after his death. What Harry walks away with is the knowledge of what must be done, no matter how the odds may be stacked against him. Harry's accepted everything he's learned over the years and is ready to come into his own. He's ready to be the person that Dumbledore always believed him to be.
Deathly Hallows is up next. I'll give a legitimate spoiler warning with that one since the movie hasn't come out yet.