Novak (novak) wrote,

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Personal: After reading Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Some responses on Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, tossed out in various people's journals and reprinted here.

Great grief at the loss of Dumbledore and the end of Harry's childhood. He's grown up so much from the fifth year, but the lapses we saw this year won't be "allowed" anymore by the structure of school-life allowing him to be a child. I don't think it's a coincidence, as far as the narrative goes, that wizards come of age at 17.


To kesil, commenting in frey_at_last's journal:
Hmmm... Having just finished about 90 mins ago, still musing on it, and starting to read all the spoiler cuts I'd been carefully skipping, I'm going to pick this discussion to take issue with as my first effort in response to the book.

I have to disagree where kesil writes, I really expected that after the last book she'd take some risks in the last two and surprise everyone with a shift maybe comparable in nature, if not skill, to Tolkien's language between Hobbiton and Mount Doom. I think we have exactly that kind of "shift in nature" here: the happy school-novels of Hogwarts are now over. There's no going back from the events of HBP, and no seventh-year at Hogwarts is now likely or necessary. Harry has set himself up now as a hunter, or circumstances have set him so, and now submission to constraints of the "I'd better not be out of bed after hours" sort are no longer realistic, or indeed wise.

Ron and Hermione's decision to follow him, while a bit less certain, is not terribly surprising. Of course Harry needs the support against the Death Eaters, particularly if he is putting himself outside of the workings of the Order of the Phoenix as well as that of normal wizarding society, but that is less certain. And of course the teaming of the three, along with simply being one of the chief devices of the novels as a whole, is also the chief expression in Harry's life of Love, that power that distinguishes Harry of Voldemort and seems likely to have some role in his downfall. There is also the sheer fact that, come of age or no, Harry lacks the years and experience that even beyond a seventh year of education and one's NEWTs, make for the sheer power and skill of a Voldemort or a Dumbledore. The triumvirate functions as some balance to this. Even if it is wise (if possibly also cliché) for Ginny to step aside, I doubt that the strong-minded youngest Weasley is so easily persuaded to remove herself entirely from the future.

kesil argued in response that:
All that's true, but it's not remotely original. I don't dispute that JKR's trying to make a more adult book, but writing about more adult things doesn't make it's all the same angst and pratfalls.

Oh no, Malfoy's spurting blood from a poorly-chosen spell, and the dark, lasting consequence is...being fixed up two seconds later and detention on Saturdays! Oh dear, Voldemort is getting stronger but Harry Potter is being established as his nemesis and will hunt him down to avenge his parents! Harry finds love but has to forsake it for good! It's all just SO cliche...the more I think about it the more depressed I get.

I think we have to separate out plot and theme here...the themes are acceptable, if a little trite. The plot is terrible, rote little devices and games that can be seen from a mile away. Again, the word games bother me a lot. I'm endlessly annoyed by her Past Students At Hogwarts Are Causing Trouble Still Today. We have a 50-year old book of potions with notes apparently revolutionizing the field, and yet potion-making technology in the wizarding world is still where it was half a century ago? And the children are using the same books? It may seem a niggling thing, but that's the sort of glaring absurdity that tends to pop up when writers have no depth to their plots...things just get shoehorned in.

JKR doesn't really have a's just our world with wizards and wands. A classic fantasy plot device, and always classically bad. It's more or less bad allegory, and I'm convinced there's no literary form worse than allegory. What's Rowling trying to build? Maybe a teen coming-of-age story, but if it's a world, she's failed. Depressing.

So I answered:
I can't buy that last for the simple reason that I so enjoy the world while I'm there: sure, it's no Middle-Earth or Wheel of Time-world, but neither does it fail to be in that it never tries to go in that direction. I don't see where at all you think it could be allegory: by being "our world with wizards and wands" it comes closer to satire than anything else, although its point it not satirical, and so the satire in the story is more occasional than thematic.

And I don't see where one can avoid "Past Students At Hogwarts Are Causing Trouble Still Today" as a major plot device. When you're dealing with a culture that apparently has only one school in their country, who else? :-)

As to Draco spewing blood and detention being a result, I would gather that it's well-established that the nature of the education seems to involve far more inherent risk of injury than any of us are likely to remember from our own jr. high and high school experiences. And Snape, of course, had his own reasons for not wanting to draw too much attention to Harry's spell use and its source.


To frey_at_last's dismay over Ron and Hermione growing more close:
Poo! Use a different word and a negative assessment can be a positive one: It wasn't "too predictable!" It was "slowly and carefully developed!"


nimoloth said: It is good fun to read some Harry Potter where I have no idea what is happening next :), as opposed o re-reading the other books.

I totally relate to that sensation--and to saralinda's of having to put it down at moments and, if not dance around the room, at least let some of the sheer energy of the pleasure of reading the story drain out of me by doing something else for some minutes, like grinning at my new bookcases and much-tider apartment (for having shelved all my books).


In response to a long passage in myrhapsody's journal:
This novel was the one that made it the most clear (as someone said below) just how careful Rowling is: over and over we saw something having been set up in the exact phrasing of something from novels (and years) earlier. And somewhere in this one, Dumbledore assures Harry that because of his brilliance, his errors are of a similarly spectacular sort. Perhaps Dumbledore, like Ron in The Philosopher's Stone, knew that there could come a moment when his own sacrifice would be what was called for. Maybe, pleading with Severus for the healing and protection that he needed in that moment, he feared his own death and (immediate) failure, for it is certainly a different thing to "fear death" as such and to fear being killed at a given time or in a given way. And I think that that ambiguity is what Rowling has carefully designed for us to have to be left with.


Luna commenting on the Quidditch match was priceless: not the kind of thing that I imagine could have ever really happened in a community of teachers who have lived with her for half a decade, but great fun nevertheless. This is, after all, about the "willing suspension of disbelief..."


As to saralinda's:

The only frustrating part of the book for me was what I can't help but refer to as the "Mines of Moria/Dead Marshes" scene, in which Harry and Dumbledore must cross an underground lake. "Don't touch the water." Seeing tentacles surfacing. The whole thing was WAY too LOTR. I mean, it's okay to be influenced by a writer, but I was SEEING the frickin' mines in my head while reading it, and that can't be a good thing. I think JKR made up for her borrowing by making the Inferi really scary, and coming up with the unique potion-drinking challenge to find the Horcrux.

I gotta say, "Can't see it." I've seen you stress this point a few places now and I have to strongly disagree with you. I've read The Lord of the Rings some forty times and know it as intimately as I know any text, and I never made a connection, much less saw it as such a derivation. Like the Mines of Moria, it was underground. That's about it. No boat in the mines. No boat in the Marshes, even, where the ambiance is much more eerie and suggestive with the Will-o'-the-Wisp kind of "candles of the dead," there. Of course, now that I think if it, if you're referring to Peter Jackson's schlock-horror, zombie-filled Dead Marshes, well, that I could perhaps allow a bit more similarity in the descriptions.


I cannot understand the amount of sheer nonsense I've seen written that seem baffled by the book as not falling into the writers' expectations for being a compendium of hidden homoerotic and pedophile love-affairs. The focus on "ships" is particularly mind-numbing when relationships are being seen as utterly divorced from the plot. I understand a little better now why those tabloids at the supermarket and drugstore checkout counters keep selling so well. How someone might miss Harry really "coming of age" to their dismay that Harry and Draco weren't really lovers is amazing.

My instinct is to not see Dumbledore as having sacrificed himself, and that he came face to face with misplaced trust in Snape, but I will allow that the set-up to the scene leaves a very well-constructed ambiguity to which a lot of people are pointing. I myself find it somewhat inexplicable that Dumbledore would petrify the invisible Harry just prior what what is likely an immediate Death Eater attack: there was no such sense of a need to do that in the combat at the end of The Order of the Phoenix, nor any need to prevent Harry from being at risk in dealing with Voldemort's traps earlier in the night. That move, more than anything else, in face of a real lack of knowledge of what was going on below or who was coming up the steps, is the most inexplicable of the lot. I also have to note, that the themes of good and evil, death and loss, and even perhaps redemption, might impell us to be cautious regarding Snape. And certainly his inexplicable rage at being called a coward by Harry begs some questioning. I can accept that some things Harry might say would be things Snape would not dismiss with a sneer and might even blow up over, but this was different and it certainly stood out to me as it seems to have to others.

So it seems our fun in Hogwarts might really be at an end. I wonder if that means that the last book's climax won't have to happen at the end of the school year?
Tags: books, harry potter, personal

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