“Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” by J.K. Rowling

The 2005 cover by Mary GrandPré. I still like it.

The 2005 cover by Mary GrandPré. I still like it.

I forgot what grade I was in when this book came out but I know I was in high school, probably a junior or senior. Harry Potter was such a craze back then that almost everyone would try to sneak a read in class, especially if the teacher had assigned a video for the class to watch. We would hold the book under the desk and attempt to read in the semi-darkness of the classroom. That’s exactly what the majority of my psychology class did. We were all reading as quickly as we could because it was rumored that someone important dies in this installment. But one day my psychology teacher got so frustrated with us reading and not paying attention to the lesson that he gave away the ending: “Look. Dumbledore dies now stop reading!”

“What?!” was my reply, “why Dumbledore?” Of all the people in the novel, why did Dumbledore have to die? This question pestered me when I first read the series. Back then I couldn’t grasp the meaning of Dumbledore’s death. I saw it as just another horrible occurrence in Harry’s life. Now that I’ve re-read the novel and seen the movies numerous times, I think I now know why Dumbledore had to die: he knew too much; to throw readers off; and he is a crutch.

Another great installment in the series, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince carries a hefty page count. I don’t find it unnecessarily long since various things occur that left me on edge. The most important are: the discovery of horcruxes; Prof. Snape revealed as a turncloak; Draco appointed assassin; the life and times of Tom Marvolo Riddle; and, of course, the fall of Dumbledore. Thus far in the series, Dumbledore seems to be privy to everything that occurs and in the last book he is featured as the mastermind behind all operations against Voldemort. Dumbledore took on the responsibility of piecing Voldemort’s past together in order to find a way to defeat him. In this installment, he has taken to tutoring Harry on the life of Tom Marvolo Riddle, prepping him for his job of ridding the world of Voldemort.

“Killing rips the soul apart.”

Due to this duty, Dumbledore discovers that Voldemort has created horcruxes. As we travel with Dumbledore and Harry into the memories of various people who encountered Voldemort in his younger days, it becomes more apparent to us that Voldemort despises weakness and fears death. We see that this fear originated from his mother’s death. He believes his mother is weak since she did not use her magic to save herself. Voldemort does not want to go the way of his family—weak and living in squalor. Instead, he prefers to continually shred his soul to ensure his immortality and maintain his power. As many of you already know, a horcrux is created by murder. When a person kills another human being, that person rips apart his soul. The ripped soul can then be encased in an object—or, in the case of Nagini, an animal—to ensure the person’s continued existence and temporary escape from death.

Voldemort has done this often—seven times. However, when his Avada Kedavra curse backfired on baby Harry, he unintentionally made Harry his eighth horcrux. Dumbledore explains all this to Harry including why Voldemort intentionally created seven horcruxes and why he implanted pieces of his soul in the particular objects he chose. A lot of conjecturing went into piecing Voldemort’s early years together. Dumbledore’s seemingly limitless knowledge helps him to make pretty accurate assumptions about the trajectory of Voldemort’s life and his early adventures. He has been hunting down the horcruxes and even takes Harry with him to find one. He must have known that the end of his time was near when one of the horcruxes caused his hand to wither away. I think that by carrying Harry with him on a horcrux hunt, he was passing on the torch, the duty, to end Voldemort.

Dumbledore tomb

With Dumbledore’s help, much of the mystery of Voldemort is solved. But Dumbledore’s omniscience brought about his downfall. He took all the discovery out of this discovery tale. His knowledge and explanations eases any confusion that Harry or the other characters may have. To swing the focus back to Harry puzzling out the mysteries of his life for himself, Dumbledore was taken out. This happened gradually with Harry first questioning Dumbledore’s actions. I believe that much of Dumbledore’s strength and influence comes from others blindly following him (similar to Voldemort). However, Harry’s questions and doubts about Dumbledore’s decisions usurps his power. Plus Dumbledore overplayed his role as a guide and started to become a god. Since there can only be one god in the Harry-verse, Rowling kicked Dumbledore out in this installment and made him human in the last book (check Rita Skeeter’s article on Dumbledore’s life).

Dumbledore’s death is also a ploy to throw readers off. This is the sixth book in a major series and it is a couple hundred pages long. Something extraordinary has to occur to keep readers reading. Indeed this installment carries some pretty surprising moments. One is that Harry is right and Draco is meant to assassinate Dumbledore. Ahh, how evil of Voldemort, trying to corrupt the soul of a child! For some reason, I really like the scene where Draco faces Dumbledore and seems to draw confidence from Dumbledore’s words to commit the horrible act. Dumbledore seems to never stop teaching and guiding his students.

“You dare use my own spells against me, Potter? It was I who invented them — I, the Half-Blood Prince!”

The next surprising moment is when Snape went dark side. Ohh!! He did the expected but it was totally unexpected. I mean, we already know that Snape is slimy and potentially evil but like all the blind followers in the series, if Dumbledore says he’s clean then he’s clean, right? But here comes Harry with his doubts and then we begin to doubt too, especially after reading the prologue. Still we hope for the best—maybe the Unbreakable Vow can be broken. But then we watch the fall of Dumbledore with Harry and we become numb then angry with Snape for always being a slime ball and forever evil. Why did Snape have to kill Dumbledore? Was he that hooked on Voldemort’s power? I found this hard to believe back in high school and read the section on Dumbledore’s death numerous times before it sunk in that he died. I felt as if I had lost someone close to me.

Unfortunately, Dumbledore is a major character that Rowling could afford to cut loose. He’s the god-like guide so he could appear in any form in this fantasy series (as a ghost, in a dream, in a diary, or the Mirror of Erised). Plus, he has completed his work as a guide and it is time that his pupil begins to view the world through his own round-rimmed glasses and draw his own conclusions. This fact helps Rowling to throw a monkey-wrench at her readers and have the Avada Kedavra curse placed on Dumbledore and have him dropped from the highest tower on Hogwarts campus. A double death. There’s no coming back from that!

Part of me is upset with Rowling for doing such a horrible thing but I do admire her for this. I think it is a tricky move to kill off a major character. Some readers might get so upset that they may consider stop reading (I did). But it’s okay if readers are so moved by the character that they consider this just as long as they don’t stop reading. They may pause to grieve for Dumbledore but the story—What is Harry/Snape/Voldemort going to do now? What will happen to Hogwarts?—keeps them reading. Also, sometimes after a major character is removed the story is unable to keep up. But the Harry Potter series plods on, pulling all its readers along with it.

“He could not let anybody else stand between him and Voldemort; he must abandon forever the illusion he ought to have lost at the age of one, that the shelter of a parent’s arms meant that nothing could hurt him.”

I think it’s obvious that Dumbledore was a crutch in Harry’s life. He was another adult that Harry could rely on and was akin to a family member, like a grandfather. Since Harry is cursed to not have any close relatives in his young life, Dumbledore had to be removed. Again this reiterates that Harry is the boy that lived, the boy that survives all obstacles thrown his way. Harry grows a little after Dumbledore’s death. He begins to understand and accept his responsibility: to face and end Voldemort. He was aware of what he had to do prior to Dumbledore’s death but I don’t think he understood that the task is up to him, and only him. Plus with all his family members gone, Harry further becomes Voldemort’s equivalent. With so much to be angry at Voldemort for, the approach that Harry takes to end Voldemort becomes more significant.

The 2013 cover by Kazu Kibuishi. I like that one is all green and the other all blue.

The 2013 cover by Kazu Kibuishi. I like that one is all green and the other all blue.

I enjoyed this installment not only because of the surprises thrown at me, but also for the little tiffs spread throughout. Hermione and Ron’s bickering kept my spirits up through this depressing book. I like how Rowling mixes the dark with the light and the light with the heavy. Voldemort’s life and Draco’s task are some heavy stuff. Including the eccentricities of the wizarding community alongside the heavy sections makes the story easier to digest. Plus it’s easier to keep up with the story and maintain an interest when there are several threads running through the book at once, many of which act like check points throughout the school year—Quidditch competitions, love stories, Prof. Slughorn’s parties.

As always, there is much to focus on in Rowling’s Harry Potter stories but I chose to discuss the most obvious. Other stuff that nagged at me include the fact that Voldemort was conceived under magical circumstances (his father was under a spell). It makes me wonder if that contributes to him being so evil. Is he unable to love because of the love potion his father drank? He has always wanted to believe he was special, that he mattered, especially when he was a boy living at the orphanage. Are his massacres and hunger for power and immortality his way of seeking importance? Love? Maybe since he’s unable to love another he confuses his craving for love as a need for more power, for the ultimate power of immortality. Another thing that nagged me is Harry finally falls for Ginny. 😦 I wasn’t too happy with that. I think Ginny placed a strong love spell on him. After all this time, now he falls for Ginny. She should of cuss him out before consenting to his affections! 🙂

Anyways, next is Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

Quotes from the book:

“Dumbledore says people find it far easier to forgive others for being wrong than being right.” — Hermione

“From this point forth, we shall be leaving the firm foundation of fact and journeying together through the murky marshes of memory into thickets of wildest guesswork.” — Dumbledore (I love this line!)

“Voldemort himself created his worst enemy, just as tyrants everywhere do! Have you any idea how much tyrants fear the people they oppress?” — Dumbledore

“Age is foolish and forgetful when it underestimates youth.” — Dumbledore

“It is the unknown we fear when we look upon death and darkness, nothing more.” — Dumbledore

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6 thoughts on ““Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” by J.K. Rowling

  1. Pingback: 2017 Reading Wrap-Up: First Quarter | Zezee with Books

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  3. Favourite of the Potter series, which I am a huge fan of. This book was spoiled for me as well, in a newspaper review no less.
    As far as Dumbledore’s death; he needed to die for the final chapter to have the significant weight of Harry defeating Voldemort on his own. D was also dying from the dark magic that infected him when he destroyed the ring. Snape kind of did him a favour.
    Great review.

    Like

  4. Pingback: “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” by J.K. Rowling | Zezee with Books

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