Thursday, June 21, 2012
100 Books #57 - J.K. Rowling's HARRY POTTER AND THE HALF-BLOOD PRINCE
People I trust on matters Potter told me I'd like this one a lot better than, say, the last two Harrys, those people were right. Well, mostly.
I am, though, getting some Potter fatigue.
So while I'm delighted to see Fred and George running their joke shop and to start off a book from the Muggle Prime Minister's point of view and all the other charming little humorous nuggets* that make a Potter book a Potter book, there are some other things that I don't find quite so charming. By which I mean, things that threaten the willing suspension of disbelief that is vital to the enjoyment of books such as these. By which I mean, well, consarn it, after five books and how many encounters with the bad stuff again, mightn't one reasonably expect that when the boy with the Dark Lord-detecting scar right on his forehead says something might be fishy, someone might at least be willing to give him the benefit of the doubt and check it out? Even if it's just one of his classmates?
But no. Here's another plot that depends largely on Harry's being right and nobody with authority believing him until it's too late. Sigh.
Also, I'm seriously missing a certain character whose name I'll not disclose to avoid spoilers even though I'm pretty sure I'm the last person in the world to read these books. Portrayed magnificently, if sparingly** by Gary Oldman in the films. Sob.
BUT, I can forgive a lot of this because of the inventiveness of this book's big plot MacGuffin: the advanced potions textbook, via which a long-ago titular "prince" communicates with Harry and which satisfies a longing I've had since the first book: for a look at the creative process behind all of these spells and recipes these kids have been struggling to master and memorize for hundreds of pages. There was a glimpse of that in the Weasley Twins' gags, but that was just a tease. Of course.
The mystery behind who made all of those margin notes that have turned Harry from a potions duffer to a potions superstar is the most intriguing one so far. Who was it? What became of that person? What were his or her motives? Is there any relationship to a certain other book that caused all kinds of ruckus in the second novel?*** This is the most original bit of plotting Rowling has done -- which is a good thing because otherwise, this book is a bit dismal, even dull. The other main plot (or what should have been the other main plot instead of the tedious All About Voldemort exposition) involving a student who was obviously originally intended to be a serious rival for Harry at the school but who had degenerated into a bit of hum-drum caricature a long time ago, finally seeming to rise to the status of actual villain, fell a bit flat for me, mostly because it was sidelined by the romantic escapades of the Main Trio. I feel a bit cheated by this; that whole story is told second-hand at the end, Scooby-Doo style. I would rather have read that story than about teenage soap opera romance, even with magic wands.
Do members of Rowling's intended audience really prefer will-they-won't they to werewolf attacks and kid wizards trying to become eeeevil?
The main surprise of the book, which defines this one for most people I am sure, was spoiled for me long ago, of course, but was still moving. Even if it hadn't been spoiled for me, I expected it in any case; in the Hero's Journey, he always loses his mentor before his greatest challenge. I was, though, mercifully still in the dark as to how this loss was going to happen, so it still managed to be a bit of an enjoyable shock, even though the betrayal had been pretty much foreshadowed for five books already.
So now the decks are cleared, the furniture stowed, the cutlasses out, the drums pounding, the powder and shot lined up by the cannons -- and the crew arguing with Captain Harry about whether he can really sail the ship alone, especially since he doesn't have a course to go with his mission. Bring on Deathly Hallows.
*Some of which might not be intentional? I'm still looking at about page 110 when Ron and Harry buy a large bag of owl nuts. Um.
**There is not enough Gary Oldman. Gary Oldman should be in all the films.
***But the answer turned out to be kind of nonsensical. An early candidate for the real identity of the Half-Blood Prince was ruled out based on the timing of the book's publication, but then the actual prince turned out to be someone pretty much the same age as the eliminated candidate. Um.