Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is a tough book and film to talk about. On one hand, Half-Blood Prince is clearly a stepping stone needed to set up the conclusion of the series, but on the other hand, it is its own story that tries to stand on its own and largely, in my mind, fails.
Looking back, I’m not sure which film upset me more after seeing it, Order of the Phoenix or Half-Blood Prince. My initial impressions of Half-Blood Prince, the book, was that it was really short and largely just a necessary piece of expository before the conclusion of the series with The Deathly Hallows. I enjoyed the subplot about the Half-Blood Prince, but felt the book’s title was serving as little more than filler around Dumbledore’s lessons with Harry and eventual trip to the Horcrux and resulting betrayal of Dumbledore by Snape. In a way, I’d split Half-Blood Prince into two parts: the continuing storyline about Voldemort, and the storyline about the Half-Blood Prince, which harkens back to the lighter tone of the first three books in the series.
When the film came out, my initial complaint was that now, even more so, the title was irrelevant. How many references to the actual Half-Blood Prince are there in the film? Two? Three? Two stand out, the first when Harry first gets his hands on the Advanced Potions book, and the second when Snape briefly mentions that he was the Half-Blood Prince. What should have been an important character development, now isn’t. I realize that the films are largely based around the action, the relationship between Harry, Hermione, and Ron, as well as Harry’s emotional journey and inevitable confrontation with Voldemort, but I still wish this had been handled differently. Snape is my favorite character in the films, largely due to Alan Rickman’s masterful performance, and I want to see him on screen as much as possible.
Reading the book version of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince feels extremely short, despite it technically being as long as most of the others books, but obviously not as long as Goblet of Fire or its predecessor Order of the Phoenix. Cliche, but it really is a page-turner, but the reason behind that will vary behind what you enjoy most about the series (see topics above). When I first read the book, I was only looking for those things that directly related to the overall mythos and struggle between Harry and Voldemort. I wanted to know what made Voldemort so evil.
Largely, I’m still left guessing. No man or angelic being is pure evil simply for the sake of being evil. What I mean is, there is always a motive. Lucifer’s original motive for rebelling against God has been debated amongst theologians for centuries, with the consensus being that it was either because he was jealous of the attention God was giving Adam and Eve (a more Jewish interpretation), or because Lucifer himself wanted to be God (a more Christian, Western interpretation).
So what’s Voldemort’s ultimate end game in the Harry Potter series? (Side comment – if this is explained better in The Deathly Hallows, bear with me as I’ve forgotten a lot in the book and I’m only about 200 pages in to it right now.) One possibility is mortality; Voldemort has mom and dad issues, angry at his dad for being a Muggle, and angry at his mom for being too weak to not use magic to save her life. Another possibility is simply magic itself: he wants to know all there is to know, to not be ordinary, to push beyond what anyone else has done; in light of the house of Slytherin, he wants to do “great things”. Another, related to his parental issues, is just a sheer hatred of all mudbloods and Muggles; a most Hitler-ish motive, minus the German national identity segment. Obviously the most pressing agenda during the time period the Harry Potter books are set in is to defeat and kill Harry Potter, but, if he accomplishes that…what’s next? Where does he stop?
Can a man be so evil that the only ultimate objective for him is the eradication of all human life, the whole world, as if it had never existed? Possibly. This has definitely been the goal of many of those villains who are all-powerful and yet seem to have suffered an ultimate loss. Annihilism almost. DC Comics villains have been guilty of this mindset multiple times. But I’m not certain this is where Voldemort is heading. He seems to just be existing on pure hatred while at the same time pure indifference. Makes for an interesting villain to the Harry Potter series.
However, as I re-read this book as part of this Harry Potter marathon, I found myself drawn a lot more to the relationships between the characters. I’ll confess that I became teary eyed during the film version when Harry comforts Hermione after Hermione gets angry and magically hurls the magical birds (sounds like a game) at Ron and Lavender. I’m a romantic and a softie, no sense in denying it, and my heart was breaking for Hermione in that moment, although I remembered how she acted toward Ron in the previous books. I don’t think it was until Half-Blood Prince that I accepted the relationship between Ron and Hermione, but I get it now. JK Rowling did an excellent job of making their relationship progress naturally, and from the perspective of a guy reading a relationship a woman wrote about, I found it extremely informative into the mind of women. I feel wiser for having read the book and paying attention; God willing, one day I’ll have a chance to act on it.
Now, Harry and Ginny still feels a little forced. If I was going to guess, the relationship between Harry and Ginny parts were added in a later edit, as they feel separate from the rest of the book. I don’t know…must be a literary criticism thing, but it feels set apart. Yes, I know Ginny had a crush on Harry for ages, but it just came so suddenly in this book. I’m aware that can happen in real life; it’s just rare. Yet I like Harry getting together with Ginny; I wouldn’t say it “feels right”, but it feels right.
But jeez is Ginny forceful in the films! Must be the ginger in her.
Finally, regarding Dumbledore…he had to die. It’s necessary for all the characters and the plot to kick in to high gear. And frankly, he became less likable of a character from Goblet of Fire on…and I think that was intentional on JK Rowling’s part. Less likable, debatable, but definitely more distant. Also necessary. And I’m glad it was Snape who killed him instead of Draco Malfoy; this is the first book that Draco truly becomes a character and not just a foil for Harry, and I’m full of sympathy for him. He is a victim and has had a harsh life, but at the same time, utterly responsible for his own actions. If Draco can be redeemed, anyone can.
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is once again a better book than film. This is largely due to the restrictions of film and lack of productional oversight, but still manages to stand strong as its own entity separate from the book of the same name. The book, while largely existing as a stepping stone to the final chapter in the series, is still important for its many character moments and necessary back story of key players. And as part of a read through of the whole Harry Potter series, is an amazing story that you won’t want to put down.