8/06/2005

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince: Review

I admit it. I’m one of those who jumped on the bandwagon years after the craze started. I didn’t read Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone until 2002. (Before going any further something needs to be clarified: In the United States the book was changed to Sorcerer’s Stone for reasons I have yet to understand. They have also changed the text to be “American”. All British turns of phrase and idioms have been changed to American. I guess Scholastic figured that their audience wasn’t sophisticated enough to want to read it the way it was written) Harry Potter I had just gotten out of the hospital after a four week stint (one week for surgery, three for post surgical infection) and my brother gave me a copy of Philosopher’s Stone. He said: “I loved it, and the rest, so I’m sure you’ll like them too.” He’s four years older then me, and knows me pretty well, so I thought I’d try it. I think those books nearly saved my life. I spent the next year coming to grips with the fact that I was going to spend the rest of my life suffering from a chronic pain condition. At the same time, my wife developed a severe panic disorder. We were not in the greatest of shape. When my mother came down for a visit a week or so after my brother she had gotten the message about what would make me happy and came with Chamber of Secrets and Prisoner of Azkaban. After two months, I must have read the three books at least three times each. I consider myself fortunate in that, unlike others, I was able to read the first four books as a unit. It wasn’t until awaiting publication of the fifth book Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix that I became as obsessively impatient as, what seemed to be, the rest of the English speaking world. I even decided to extend my torment by a week, by ordering a copy from England’s Bloomsbury Publishing, instead of a local outlet. When I received my copy a week later than others, I was glad that I did. They still know how to publish books so that they will endure. The paper quality is superior, the bindings stronger, and does not exude the mass produced quality that pervades so many other new editions today. How well I remember checking out information sites about Harry Potter in the weeks and months leading up to Phoenix’s publication. Searching for any clue as to what may or may not happen. So I was interested to note a change in myself after placing my order for Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince last January. I felt no compunction to read the numerous speculative articles that people began writing from the moment publication was announced. I was no less excited at the prospect of getting my hands on the latest chapter in Harry’s life, than the previous time, but something had changed. For both Harry and me. Harry became orphaned at the age of one, and for the next ten years might has well have stayed one for all the familial support he received. It wasn’t until he came to Hogwarts that he began to feel like he belonged anywhere. With the death of his godfather Sirius Black, and the revelations contained in the prophecy, he found himself alone again. As the scar on his forehead has distinguished him from others physically, he is now separated emotionally and mentally from his contemporaries. How many of us, at the age of fifteen, have ever had to deal with the type of burden he found himself facing? It’s amazing how when you are dealing with some sort of issue in your life everyone knows what’s best for you. Friends, acquaintances, and family all have opinions on how you should be living your life. All based on what is best for them. Having been the recipient of much idle speculation myself, and knowing how much I despised it, I made the conscious choice to stay as far away from any of that concerning the Half Blood Prince as possible. It may sound weird, but I wanted to give Harry some space. It is testament to J. K. Rowling’s abilities as an author that one could actually care this much for a fictional character. Not just the character, but also the whole world she has created for our pleasure and education. The lessons Harry learns are ones that more of us need to comprehend. As Rowling makes clear in Half Blood Prince, no matter what is going on in our lives, it is important to remember that we still have a life, and to live and experience it to the best of our abilities. I have heard and read a lot of people complaining about the amount of time spent in this book on teenage romances. These are fifteen and sixteen year olds. Try to remember what your hormones were doing to you back then. Harry is a human being, who happens to be a wizard. Why should he act any different from other boys his age? I think Rowling has included the sub plot of romance just to stress that point. It doesn’t matter if your marked like Harry is for an uncertain future. Live in the moment and experience your life. As Hagrid said at the end of Goblet of Fire “No good sittin’ worryin’ abou’ it...What’s comin’ wil come, an’ we’ll meet it when it does.” What continues to make these books special is the fact that they are more than just an adventure story. Even as the action gets more intense and dangerous, Rowling deliberately diverts us back to the character’s somewhat normal school life. Intentionally or not, (she says she’s known from day one what each book will be about and it’s story) she’s provided us with a parallel to our own security-obsessed world. From the Ministry of Magic’s rather useless proclamations, Mr. and Mrs. Weasley’s obsessive behaviour, and Albus Dumbledor’s calm reminders and requests, the majority of adult figures in the book continue to stress the dangers people are in. These are not idle threats either, as Harry, Ron, and Hermione find out. Twice they are able to intercede to save a person’s life. Nevertheless, life doesn’t, and shouldn’t, stop because of these incidences. Harry is now Quidditch Captain and has to deal with selecting an all-new team. There are lessons to attend and two new teachers to break in. (yes two, and I’m not going to give anything away) On top of all that is a raging outbreak of Hormones. Of course, like us, their world is played out against a backdrop of mystery and intrigue. What’s Draco Malfoy up to? Is Severus Snape a double double agent? Will Hagrid forgive them for not taking Care of Magical Creatures? Where exactly does Dumbledore disappear to for great stretches at a time? Who exactly is the Half Blood Prince? Harry discovers the answers to all of these riddles, he thinks, as the book progresses. At the same time, he is growing within himself as a person, and coming to realizations about who he is, and what that entails. There are choices he will have to make, and then live with the consequences. In his last year before he officially comes of age, we watch Harry become an adult. While still impulsive and headstrong, he’s come to realize that he is answerable for all of his actions. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is about growing up, that last little bit of adolescent energy being curtailed by the responsibilities of adulthood. It shows us people in transition, moving beyond their childhood dreams and fantasies into the realities of adulthood. Played out against a background of tumultuous times, Rowling has given us an accurate portrayal of children and teenagers reaching their maturity. It is the right book for this point in the series. We know that Book Seven will be an end no matter what. How it will end we still don’t know, but the stage for the final showdown is now set. Harry will be seventeen when we next see him, an adult according to the wizard’s world. Will his first year as an adult be his last? cheers gypsyman

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