Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is Dark and Getting Darker
Jeannette Jaquish's Theater Scripts Website
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is Darkest Yet
by Jeannette Jaquish
In “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince”, the characters have deepened. Dark characters are darker. Harry and friends, especially Harry, have put away put away their childish ways, though perhaps have taken on some childish adult ways. Dumbledore is showing his age. All this, barely two weeks after the last book ended.
Unfortunately, the book begins tediously. One of Rowling’s flaws is the overuse of conversation when a summary telling would do. If your child’s eyes are glazing over after barely beginning the book, suggest that he or she skip the first chapter, just for now, and start with the second. Explain that the first chapter is just the Minister of Magic telling the British Prime Minister (because the Magical World situation has gotten so bad) all that we have learned in previous books: Voldemort, Death Eaters, dementors, giants and other dangerous creatures are loose. Chapter 2 will hook them as Draco Malfoy’s mother runs desperately through a decrepit neighborhood to the home of a Hogwarts teacher to plead for and receive a disturbing promise that the reader will search for loopholes. From there, the book continues, with rare exception, anyway, with fast paced and exciting events that will keep your child glued to the pages.
The previous book, “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix”, ended with a battle at the Ministry of Magic between Harry’s little army of trained students and Voldemort’s Death Eater followers, a battle in which Harry’s restless godfather, Sirius Black is killed. Later, Dumbledore confesses that it was his fault for not warning Harry that Voldemort would try to lure him to the Ministry of Magic, which Voldemort did. In other words, Rowling based the entire plot on Dumbledore making a dumb mistake.
But these and other unpleasant aspects of Book 5 (such as a sullen, tantrum-throwing Harry) have magically disappeared. Rowling describes a magical world in terror of Death Eater attacks and kidnappings (among many others, Ollivander the wandmaker has disappeared), and the possibility that anyone could be controlled by the Imperius curse (a 9 year old tries to kill his grandparents), the Ministry of Magic is flailing, jailing, and making dire warnings while assuring they are in control (sound familiar?), dementors are breeding, and werewolves are joining Voldemort. Dumbledore’s incurably curse-burned hand and two students struck down prove that Hogwarts is not safe.
With such turmoil in the background, Harry still has the responsibilities of school. As the new Gryffindor Quidditch team captain he runs tryouts, deals with squabbling teammates and tries to avoid detention on game day. His Auror track curriculum is difficult and he has to dodge love potions from his new gaggle of groupies.
And sift clues. What is Malfoy up to? Is he just bragging to Pansy or are his threats to a Dark shopkeeper, and frequent disappearances from the Marauder’s Map significant? The new teacher -- returning from retirement actually -- Professor Slughorn has a custom of drawing successful and connected students into his circle. Who has he included in the past and did he give too much career advice? The replacement of the Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher is worrisome, but it does allow an old potions book with powerful notes written in the margins to fall into Harry’s hands. Who is the author, this Half-Blood Prince, so focused and brilliant at refining spells and potions? And why does Dumbledore dismiss Harry’s suspicions of Malfoy and Snape? How does Dumbledore know he can trust Snape whom he sent to get cozy with the Voldemort gang by pretending to spy on Hogwarts for them?
But most fascinating are Dumbledore travels with Harry into the Pensieve memory bowl to witness various people’s memories of Voldemort’s history. A Ministry official’s memory shows Voldemort’s mother’s teenage life as an inbred/pureblood daughter of an abusive Wizard-trash father and her infatuation with a handsome horse-riding aristocrat. Dumbledore’s memory shows his first meeting with the manipulative, and perhaps cruel, orphan Tom Riddle, as he is offered a place at Hogwarts. Other memories recall Tom’s later explorations as he unravels the story of his birth parents and settles a very old score. As Tom becomes Lord Voldemort, we witness his machinations to enlist followers and render himself immortal. When Harry manages to charm (or manipulate with mead and Bambi eyes, who’s splitting hairs?) a crucial memory from a resistant teacher, Dumbledore’s fears are confirmed and his and Harry’s direction to defeat Voldemort is determined.
And although we are spared a visual description of dementors breeding, a word of warning for parents: Though the violence, terror and sorrow are no stronger than in previous Potter books, the romances are more physical. Although the descriptions never get graphic or suggestive, a depiction of the common room where 11 through 18 year-olds hang out includes a couple “thrashing like a pair of eels” on a couch. This seems below Hogwarts’ usual standards of conduct, especially with prefects involved. Rowling’s characters have used swear words and rude finger gestures (without her quoting the words or specifying the finger), and certainly any but the most sheltered child has witnessed worse, but now, on page 365, a rough character uses the four-letter “S” word for a promiscuous woman. I cannot imagine a parent reading it out loud to a child, however, it would be easy to alter the sentence.
Many anticipated circumstances and characters are but glimpsed in frustratingly short scenes: the prophecy and whether it is Neville or Harry, Wormtail (how long has he been hiding there?), the Dursleys who don’t even put up a fight this time, Hagrid and his strangely behaving younger giant brother Grawp, house-elves Dobby and Kreacher (even though Harry has inherited Sirius’ house and Kreacher, Kreacher doesn’t really affect the plot), and pets -- Ginny has a new puffy one but no owl, cat, frog or rat affects the plot. It seems like Rowling just reminds us of these guys to use them next book. She’d better because they are missed here. It’s a shame she couldn’t give these characters some of the space overly devoted to the main characters’ romances, or rather their angst about whether to have a romance and their resentment-blinded tromping of the romance they could be having.
The death at the end is hard to take, but not a total shock, and there are others whose deaths would cause us more grief. There are also a few clues that strung together, in the style of a grand conspiracy theory, could suggest it is not all it seems.
Or the clues could instead be small flaws in storytelling. Rowling makes a few. For instance, on the tower when both sides want to get down quickly, no one uses the two broomsticks laying there. Other curious moments might be flaws in plot development or actually evidence of a character’s real intent: Oddly, Snape does not follow Harry when he commands him to bring the book with a deadly spell hand-written in the margins. Harry hides it and Snape does not use his Legilemency skills to read Harry’s mind to find it. Snape could have gotten Harry expelled for nearly killing a student but doesn’t. Are these instances of poor plot progression to keep Harry active in the story, or clues to Snape’s true intent?
It was disappointing to have no more revealed about whether Harry or Neville Longbottom was the boy prophesied to either kill or be killed by Lord Voldemort. [Rowling didn’t even include a restating of the prophesy in this book, though Trelawney’s retelling of the before and after (she doesn’t remember making the prophesy itself) gave us another story twist.] Faltering, good-hearted Neville would be a stirring new hero to join Harry and the clues were there: besides him fitting the prophecy’s birthday description, in Book 5 we learned that he was using his father’s wand, broke it in the Ministry battle, in fact, which could explain his poor spell-casting abilities. This year he has his own wand, one of Ollivander’s last before his disappearance, yet Neville has his smallest part in a book yet.
We can only hope Rowling features Neville and all the other barely mentioned characters when she ties up the many tangled ends in Harry Potter Book 7.
Jeannette Jaquish is a children’s theater script author. Her scripts website is www.angelfire.com/scifi/theaterscripts. Email her at link below.