4 – Plot/Story is interesting/believable and impactful
In Harry Potter and the Half-blood Prince, Rowling once again weaves multiple plot lines together to progress her larger story. Harry discovers a potions textbook which has been marked up by its previous owner, in ways that improve each potion, making Harry suddenly a stellar student in one of his least favorite subjects (much to Hermione’s chagrin). While at first charming, the book soon leads Harry and his friend to a dark place, after Harry makes use of several of the “darker” spells which have been written in the book. It becomes clear that, whoever the previous owner may have been, he (or she) was probably not a very nice person. The back-story behind the textbook and its owner comes to light late in the novel, with an alarming and plot-changing impact sure to stun and horrify anyone who has been reading the series in sequence. Also, throughout this book, Harry is traveling with Dumbledore through memories of Tom Riddle (Lord Voldemort) in hopes of discovering more about him, and any possible weaknesses. Dumbledore finally confides in Harry that, yes, it is very likely that, in the end, only Harry or Voldemort, but not both, will survive. The memories lead Harry and Dumbledore on a dangerous journey and, when they return to Hogwarts, it is to find the school in grave peril. Many beloved characters –and minor characters- are lost forever. The true terror and danger comes front and center, as the battle is brought out of the newspapers and into Hogwarts’ very grounds. Students are attacked, Professors are at war, and Ministry officials seem unable to contain the fear any longer. This is a chilling but beautifully rendered piece of the magical seven-year story – and, as we see in the end – it is the true “coming-of-age” point for Harry, Hermione, and Ron, all of whom must make the most difficult choice of their lives. Though dark and, at times, painful, the book also shows great positivity in terms of friendship and familial bonds, budding love, and loyalty.
4 – Characters extraordinarily developed.
All of the character and relationship development that J.K. Rowling has been molding throughout the first five books in the series has led to this moment in the story’s timeline. There are fewer new characters in this book than any of the five previous, which leaves ample time for focusing on what is happening with those we do know. For instance, romantic relationships begin to bud and, without spoiling anything for those who have not gotten this far in the series, there are some that are expected and hoped for, and some that were quite a surprise for me but, done well, still rather delightful. They also added another layer to the story – so that friendship and family ties were not the only bonds but, now a strong romantic-emotional attachment to one another also become impetus for fighting and persevering. There is one notable new character, Professor Horace Slughorn, who is well-developed and introduced in a rather fun and interesting way. He comes to Hogwarts to teach an open position which readers of the series may be surprised to learn is not predictable. Severus Snape, a regular of the previous books is also a prominent character here, who grows by leaps and bounds and not necessarily in a way readers might expect (or maybe they would). The relationship between Harry and Dumbledore, too, finally reaches that point where they have become almost peers; though Dumbledore is much older and more experienced than Harry, he begins to treat Harry as an equal, as one to be confided in, trusted, and partnered with. This is truly touching, especially as the story takes a turn in the end which results in the need for Harry to demonstrate true responsibility and take hold of his burgeoning manhood.
4 – Extraordinary Prose/Style, enhancing the Story.
Once again, Rowling’s talent for language and the written word astounds me. Though I have praised Rowling for her extraordinary prose throughout the series, I honestly must say that this is the first time where I truly felt enveloped by the story taking place, as if I was planted in a bubble in the middle of this exceptional world, and allowed to watch and hear what was happening all around me. I would sit down for what felt like a few moments, only to look down at the page number and realize I had just gulped down more than one hundred pages, without realizing it. This makes it sound as if the difficulty level is low but, actually, the plot is complicated, the vocabulary has expanded, and the chapters have lengthened; yet, despite all of these advances (or perhaps because of them) the story seems to move forward more fluidly, to read as if this were a spoken history – a play or an old drama (like Homer), meant to be experienced aurally and not just visually. It certainly plays out that way. There were, again, breaks in the prose, where other written items take the place of narration (like Hagrid’s tear-stained letter to the Gryffindor trio, explaining how a dear friend has passed away). While there were fewer than in previous novels (and I happen to be a sucker for these types of insertions), I did not really feel the loss until afterward, when reflecting on the prose and style. This is because the narration is done so masterfully, the dialogue so believably, that there is little to fault.
4 – Additional elements improve and advance the story.
While the primary setting for the novel is Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, as it is in the previous portions of this series, there are other familiar locations (the Burrow, Hogsmeade) which add interest and personality to the story. Also, the inclusion of memories to the plot allows for additions in setting, as well – such as Tom Riddle’s orphanage, the Gaunt family home, and an earlier Hogwarts. These inclusions enrich the story immensely, by allowing Harry (and the reader) a deeper understanding of this world and its characters. Another addition, haunting and masterfully created, is the cave which Tom Riddle visited as a boy, and which he turns into a darkly enchanted hideaway that Dumbledore and Harry must visit and escape from.
The most notable theme for me is this idea of growth into adulthood. There is a moment, after Dumbledore re-explains the prophecy of the Harry-Voldemort connection, in which Harry decides decisively that he will face death standing up. He notes to himself (brilliant internal monologue, by the way), that there is a difference between those gladiators who, walking into the arena to face certain death, do so of their own accord, head held high, versus those who are dragged into the amphitheater in chains and forced to fight. Harry understands that the fight, and death too, will likely happen either way, but it is the way in which one faces this moment that makes all the difference in the world. And, as Dumbledore points out, after all Harry has been through, the fact that he can face this moment, that he can still care enough about people and himself to put himself in front of Voldemort, before the world, says a great deal about Harry’s extraordinary capacity to love, and of the often misunderstood and underestimated power of love over hate.
Suggested Reading for:
Age Level: Adult, Teen
Interest: Education, Friendship, Magical Realism, Coming-of-Age, Family, Love, Fantasy, Good/Evil
“People find it easier to forgive others for being wrong than for being right.”