Thursday, May 14, 2009

Time to Revisit Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Whenever a new Harry Potter movie is about to come out, many of us like to prepare by re-reading the book. I'm not sure that's a particularly good idea, but I always do it anyway, which brings me to the point of this post.

Over at The Hog's Head, Travis Prinzi is leading a discussion of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, three chapters a week. That's a nice pace, easy to keep up with, but slow enough to pay attention to the details. I've been reading and following the discussion-starting posts, but haven't had the time to join in the discussion. Instead, I've decided to just post here as I read the book again. And I'll finally make use of all those margin notes I made. I've never been one for writing in books; even highlighting in a text book always felt wrong, but after reading Half-Blood Prince where Harry poured over the notes made in his potions book so many years before, I decided that the best place to write my own notes was in the book itself. After that, as I re-read each of the Harry Potter books, I made notes in the margins, at the end of chapters, and even at the end of each book. No more trying to keep track of all the journals I started and didn't finish.

Before writing this time, I thought it best to look back to see what I had already written. No need to repeat the same thing. So I found that I had posted about HBP in 2007 after my second reading of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

So, here goes.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
Chapter One: The Other Minister

"While this chapter is a nice tie in with the book, and covers things such as a change in the Minister for Magic, the Ministry of Magic's realization that Voldemort is back and that Sirius was innocent, it doesn't do much more. Rowling apparently intended this chapter for several previous books and finally felt that it belonged here.

I'm still not sure why she seems to feel it was such an important chapter, unless it is a huge foreshadowing of the eventual merging of the two worlds."

Those were my notes on the first page. I'm still not certain why the chapter meant so much to her that she tried it in several different books before using it here. It does end up being a unique way to catch the reader up on what has been happening and to remind the reader of past events. We usually get all that from Harry's point of view, and Harry is not in this chapter at all. So perhaps the important point is that we are about to start getting some information beyond Harry's limited perspective.

The two worlds - the Wizarding world and the Muggle world - never really merge, but the lines separating them are blurred. We learn that the Muggle Prime Minister is always introduced to the current Minister for Magic upon entering office, and this one picks up with Fudge being sent to pave the way for Rufus Scrimgeour, the new Minister for Magic.

One of the brilliant things that Rowling has done throughout the books is to use humor even when the story is dealing with serious or scary things. The image of the Muggle PM learning about wizards, hearing a portait talk to him, seeing people stepping out of his fire and then telling him about dragons, dementors, and all sorts of magical happenings paints a funny picture. After all, when the PM asked why his predecessor hadn't warned him, Fudge asked [HBP, p. 6, Scholastic]:

"My dear Prime Minister, are you ever going to tell anybody?"

By the time Scrimgeour arrives, the PM is up to date on the severity of Voldemort's return. Fudge points out to him that they all have the same concerns: the collapse of the Brockdale Bridge, the murders of Emmeline Vance and Amelia Bones, and Herbert Chorley, a Junior Minister gone wacky, now residing at St. Mungo's are events that are part of both worlds.

It's somewhat of a relief to hear that Fudge was finally sacked. It took them long enough. Our first meeting with Scrimgeour is his first meeting with the Prime Minister. He seems stronger and more capable than Fudge, and at least more business-like. "There was an immediate impression of shrewdness and toughness; the Prime Minister thought he understood why the Wizarding community preferred Scrimgeour to Fudge as a leader in these dangerous times." [HBP, p. 16, Scholastic]

Amidst all that disturbing news, we learn that Kingsley Shacklebolt is now ensconced in the PM's office as his most able new assistant, put there without his knowledge to protect him.

The PM still doesn't quite get the importance of all this information, especially that his Junior Minister won't be around for awhile:

"He's only quacking!" said the Prime Minister weakly. "Surely a bit of rest. . . Maybe go easy on the drink. . ." [HBP, p. 18, Scholastic]

Hmmm, it seems an apt description of what we see with some public officials, who are seemingly slightly mad.

But his real frustration is that they are wizards and should be able to do something about it because they can do magic. That is the problem after all, which Scrimgeour and Fudge both understand [HBP, p. 18, Scholastic]:

"The trouble is, the other side can do magic too, Prime Minister."

This sixth book ends up being quite different in style than the first five Harry Potter books. So perhaps having this first chapter be quite different was a good choice after all. It's Rowling's way of letting us know that we are in for many changes.

With that, I'll call it a night and save the second chapter for a separate post, as it's one of my favorite chapters.