Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling
Published in 2005
Genre: Fantasy, contemporary fantasy
“It was nearing midnight and the Prime Minister was sitting alone in his office, reading a long memo that was slipping through his brain without leaving the slightest trace of meaning behind.”
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince continues building toward the eventual climactic confrontation between Harry and Voldemort. After the battle in the Department of Mysteries in The Order of the Phoenix, Dumbledore reveals that the prophecy foretold that the only person who can defeat Voldemort is Harry. His sixth year at Hogwarts finds numerous changes in the form of Professor Snape now teaching Defense Against the Dark Arts, Harry finding a potions book with notes in it written by the unknown “Half-Blood Prince” that helps him present himself as a potions prodigy, and the responsibility of being Quidditch Captain. Along with these changes, Harry begins private lessons with Dumbledore in order to arm themselves with knowledge to use in their fight against Voldemort.
Dumbledore has promised to tell Harry everything and in order to better do so, the two begin having private lessons in which they look through various memories regarding Voldemort’s origins and youth in order to search for clues and vulnerabilities.
The lessons with Dumbledore not only teach Harry about Voldemort’s past and quest for immortality, but also help him to gain skills he would not have otherwise possessed. Harry’s homework is to coerce Professor Slughorn (the new potions professor) into giving the original memory of a conversation between himself and Voldemort that Harry and Dumbledore need in order to better understand Voldemort’s evil plans. Though his initial attempt goes awry due to his lack of subtlety (he straight up asks Slughorn about horcruxes and in turn causes the professor to begin avoiding him), Harry uses the Felix Felicis potion, which provides luck for a short amount of time, that he had won in Slughorn’s own class and succeeds in attaining the necessary memory.
Harry’s dislike of Snape and Malfoy crosses into the realm of obsession in The Half-Blood Prince, which is aptly named since Harry, Snape, and Voldemort are all considered “half-bloods” due to one side of their families being muggles and the other side wizards. There are other parallels between the three characters that become quite apparent in the story. All three have an aptitude and interest in the Dark Arts and exhibit obsessive behavior in their pursuits. Harry obsessively tries to find out what Snape and Malfoy are plotting, Snape studied the Dark Arts and potion making rigorously, and Voldemort followed every avenue and possibility in his search for immortality.
The fundamental difference between Harry and Voldemort, however, is that though he is nearly predisposed to excel at the Dark Arts due to his connection to his would-be-killer, he has the one thing that Voldemort does not: the capacity to love. Through this, Harry is empathetic and cares for others, his strength comes from his friends and the love that they share for him. Voldemort has not known and cannot know love. He is isolated and rules through fear and power, but that power is not all-consuming, though his pursuit of it is.
I knew that Dumbledore was going to die when I started rereading the series, mainly because “Snape kills Dumbledore” is probably the most well known spoiler of my generation. However, despite my knowledge of the event, I didn’t know exactly when it happened except that it took place in one of the last two books. Previously, I had read the first five books and part of the reason for my rereading the series was to finally finish it. His death didn’t really hit me until the characters were discussing Lupin’s apprehension about marrying Tonks and McGonagall says, “Dumbledore would have been happier than anybody to think that there was a little more love in the world.” I have to admit that I teared up a bit, which is saying something because only one other fictional death affected me this way. I think this is a testament to Rowling’s mastery of the craft and the way in which we, through Harry, began to look at Dumbledore as a fixed point of strength and warmth. Dumbledore’s death not only devastates Harry, but brings about a conviction in him that he realizes he is no longer protected and that he must take the responsibility and quest before him.
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince has, what I believe, to be the most dark ending in the series thus far and with good reason. The ending of the book sets up the events and path ahead of Harry in the final book. Dumbledore is dead, leaving Harry to continue on his own without help from mentors and he now has the knowledge and ability to stop Voldemort. Knowing this, he tells Ginny that though he truly cares for her and has enjoyed their time together, they cannot be together because he doesn’t want her getting hurt by Voldemort in an attempt to harm him. He believes the task ahead is his own, but is corrected, as he has been so many times in the past, when Hermione and Ron both tell him they are coming. After all, Harry’s greatest strength is those he loves and who love him, so his best asset is the fact that he doesn’t have to go alone into the darkness.
Verdict: 4 bottles of Felix Felicis out of 5
Recommended for: Everybody now, everybody then, everybody ever, everybody never, and anyone who isn’t Severus Snape
Not recommended for: Draco Malfoy (poor, poor Draco), Albus Dumbledore, Severus Snape, or Ronald Weasley’s love life.