Monday, November 21, 2011

Notes on The Half-Blood Prince (book version)

Warning: Harry Potter spoilers!

* I noticed in the earlier books that the author used a strictly limited third person point of view focusing on Harry, such that we, the readers, were not privy to any scenes where Harry was not present. We learned about Voldemort's resurrection - as the rest of the wizarding world did - because Harry was there when it happened. This was particularly apparent in the last book, as Harry's sharing of Voldemort's dreams/feelings felt almost like an excuse (though a good one) for us, the readers, to be able to know what Voldemort was up to without leaving Harry's presence.

Knowing that The Half-Blood Prince opens with a scene far removed from Harry - when Snape makes the Unbreakable Vow (and then the official introduction of the new Minister) - I was wondering if the book would deviate from Harry's perspective for that. I don't know if it's the first time the series has done so, but I thought it was interesting enough to be worth mentioning. Indeed, now that Voldemort is back and threatening the world outside Hogwarts, there are things of importance happening even beyond Harry's scope of knowledge!

* And speaking of Snape... Knowing what I do, having already finished the series in movie form, I can't help looking at Snape as a good guy. But Bellatrix's interrogation (due to her rightful distrust of him) reveals an important point - that Voldemort, a highly skilled Legilimens, grilled Snape on his involvement with Dumbledore at Hogwarts, and not only did not kill him, but decided to retain his services as a Death Eater/spy.

There are only two explanations for this - either Snape was able to convince Voldemort that he's bad, or Voldemort believed that he still has use to him despite his lack of total allegiance. In the first case, we are led to believe that Snape really is bad (and since the series' conclusion seems to contradict this view, I think it's possible that he legitimately "swings both ways", and can't conclusively decide between good or evil, which is why he can convincingly fool both Voldemort and Dumbledore) - unless...I suppose Snape could have extracted his most sensitive memories before meeting with Voldemort - like he did before Harry's Occlumency lessons in the last book. Presumably (judging how the magic is allegedly supposed to work) Voldemort can't read Snape's thoughts that aren't currently in his head at the time of reading.

In the second case, it's possible that Voldemort knew Snape's true loyalties lie elsewhere, but nevertheless had reason to believe that retaining his services could be beneficial to him in the long run. Considering that Snape's involvement is crucial in Voldemort's plan to assassinate Dumbledore, this is plausible. So plausible, in fact, that I'm beginning to wonder exactly how much use Dumbledore's brilliant plan to let Snape kill him to earn the Dark Lord's trust really was. What did they gain after all? Thinking back (to the movies), it might have something to do with tricking Voldemort into not understanding how Dumbledore's wand works. Didn't he also have something to do with giving Bellatrix a fake sword of Gryffindor? Yeah, wasn't he the one who showed Harry where the real sword is, which is of course integral to the destruction of the Horcruxes?

At any rate, it's complicated, and I'll have to wait and see what happens in the final book.

* I have to admit, I don't understand why Slughorn was so resistant to giving Dumbledore his memory. I know that he was ashamed of giving Tom Riddle the information he needed to create his Horcruxes, but as in the end Harry assures him, giving up the memory is the best and only way to make up for that, and is (in Dumbledore's opinion), crucial to fighting back and ultimately defeating Voldemort. I don't care how ashamed he was, and how much he might have been implemented in aiding the Dark Lord's rise to near immortality, but withholding that memory is nothing short of active resistance to the Order [of the Phoenix], and outright protection of the Dark Lord. Then again, he was head of Slytherin, not Gryffindor, so I guess I shouldn't expect noble actions of him where self-serving deeds could suffice.

* I love that the book delves deeper into Tom Riddle's life history, as well as the significance of the Horcuxes, than the movies did. It makes a lot of sense that the plan to defeat Voldemort would require diving into his mindset, and looking at the kind of person he is and was, in order to locate and take advantage of his weaknesses. The very fact of knowing about the Horcruxes is evidence of that - how important it is to understand Voldemort in order to defeat him - but I think the movies underplayed that fact.

And the Horcruxes themselves were regrettably glossed over in the movies. I think the idea of the Horcruxes is wonderfully fascinating - not just the idea of using items to harbor portions of your soul, as if they were extra lives, but the fact that they are treasures! I love treasures, and especially collectible treasures that form a set. But it's more effective if you know something about why those treasures are valuable, and the trouble it took to acquire them. I don't recall the movies ever mentioning that the ring was Voldemort's grandfather's ring, that the locket was his mother's, and that both were family heirlooms that presumably belonged to Salazar Slytherin himself! And I also like the idea of collecting trinkets from each of the founders of Hogwarts. It really is too bad the movie didn't include the scene where Voldemort asks Dumbledore for a teaching job at Hogwarts; it seems to me like that's a perfect scene to illustrate the transition between the curious Tom Riddle, and the malevolent Dark Lord.

* Dobby is less annoying in the books, because since he appears more often, he has more chances to demonstrate how helpful he is. Whereas, in the movies, he shows up in The Deathly Hallows and all you've got to remember him by is the crap he pulled in The Chamber of Secrets.

* I'm less annoyed by the Hermione and Ron pairing in the books, I think partially because I see Hermione more as a brilliant nerd, than the brilliant gorgeous nerd that Emma Watson makes. I still think she deserves better - namely, Harry - but what can you say if Harry simply doesn't have those feelings for her? Regardless, I thought Harry and Ginny's kiss (finally, towards the end of the book), was charmingly sweet. Even though it directly preceded the very terrible events of the book's conclusion, quickly destroying the happy feeling it created. The whole scene in the cave was very creepy and suspenseful.

"It is the unknown we fear when we look upon death and darkness, nothing more."

* The "ghosts are transparent" exchange between Snape and Harry was hilarious! Snape is an off and on character - he was downright pathetic at the end of The Prisoner of Azkaban, but when he's on, he's really cool. The scene where Harry unknowingly uses Snape's spell to put Draco in the hospital - wow, what a scene, with Snape chastising Harry for using "very Dark magic", and one of his own spells, at that. At the end of the book, during the chase to escape Hogwarts, when he yells at Harry to stop calling him a coward - that was real. It has to take courage to be sneaky enough to double-cross the Dark Lord, and presuming Dumbledore's trust is founded, for him to agree to kill a truly great wizard that he respected and who treated him well (the sort of treatment I get the impression he hasn't received much of throughout his life) in order to do so. But so few people know enough about him to understand (and not knowing is precisely why they distrust him). He's a tragic character, that's for sure.


  1. As far as point of view goes, I THINK (not certain) the introduction is the point where we may see something of the wide world, and then return to Harry's skull. The opening of book 1, for example, has McGonagle watching over Privet Drive and Dumbledore with the De-luminator, iirc.

    Never thought of it before, but I'd suspect another aspect of Slughorn's resistence was fear of grave retribution from Voldemort's side. The horcruxes were, without a doubt, Voldemort's number one most sensitive secret, knowledge he did not entrust to any of his followers (even when he gave the diary horcrux to Lucious), and it was fear of retribution from the dark lord that initially made Slughorn apprehensive of joining Hogwarts, so we know it's a concern on his mind.

    I confess to not necessarily understanding Snape & Dumbledore's plan here. Because of the curse that Dumbledore recieved in destroying the ring, he was doomed to die, regardless of any factors. So his sacrifice here was relatively minimal. But to go so far as to... allow death eaters to waltz right into Hogwarts, turn a blind eye to a plan that could have been undone at any moment, a plan so blatant that even Harry discovered it? Brash...

    I suspect that this grand scheme was done to protect Malfoy. Poisoned though he is by his upbringing, he is still a child and he deserves a chance at a good life. I'm not convinced that Voldemort really needed any convincing as to how loyal Snape was... but your theory makes a LOT more sense, in so far as risking other students' lives for Malfoy? I'm not sure that's entirely moral. But since I consider Malfoy the point of this scheme, you can see now why I was so eager to see Malfoy make a genuine redemption (Dumbledore gave his life, after all), instead of remaining the same worthless self-serving assfuck he's always been.

    Couldn't agree more with what you said at the end. I'd have to rank Snape as one of the all-time tragic characters. He wouldn't probably make my top 10 for favorite charas in the series, but he's the most interesting and probably the most worthwhile character in the series hands down. Should the time come for the mythology to be continued, I hope Snape is the main character.

  2. Good points.

    You're probably right about Slughorn being afraid of Voldemort, but then I don't see why Voldemort wouldn't just have him killed rather than risk him giving up his memory - once the memory has been passed on, Slughorn's no longer a singular threat to Voldemort. Of course, telling it would incur Voldemort's wrath, but if Voldemort ever got a hold of him, I think he'd be dead either way.

    You have reminded me that Dumbledore never did get around to telling the story about the ring, and how he hurt his hand. I can guess, but I was hoping to hear what it was like for Dumbledore to defeat the Horcrux. I was thinking that it was a lapse of judgment that Dumbledore didn't make sure Harry realized how to destroy a Horcrux, since he must have figured it out himself to have vanquished the ring. I was also wondering how more or less convenient the timing of Dumbledore's murder is - not just at the end of the school year, which makes it a good conclusion to the story, but after Harry has been taught enough about the Horcruxes to at least stand a chance. I wonder what would have happened if Draco had completed his task earlier than expected, before Dumbledore imparted as much of his knowledge to Harry. Would he have then stepped in and stopped Draco, though? Questions, questions.

    When Draco was holding Dumbledore hostage on that tower, I felt that after the first few moments, it started to become pretty uncomfortable. Draco should have killed Dumbledore and been done with it, but the way he stalled, while pretending as if he could do it at any time (which was an obvious facade), as Dumbledore's strength waned, it almost seemed a pathetic situation for such a great wizard to be pushed into. I guess I'm glad Draco didn't have it in him (actually, I think I'd like Draco a lot more if he had some balls), and it was great to have a chance, as a reader, to hear about Draco's plan and how he pulled it off, but Dumbledore went down in such an inglorious manner. I guess that's part of the tragedy of it all.