Monday, April 25, 2011

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince: Chapter 2: "Spinner's End"

Note: I started writing this a long time ago on one of my many re-reads through the 6th Harry Potter book. I found this chapter fascinating. It was one of the few that was not through Harry's eye and mind. And even better, it was all about Snape and his relationship with Voldemort, Dumbledore, Bellatrix and Narcissa. I didn't really finish it, only getting so far as the two sisters showing up to talk to Snape. But it's been sitting as a draft long enough. So here are my beginning thoughts about Snape and what it tells us about who he is based on where he lives. It's something that some of us suspected, that Snape was from a poor muggle part of town and isolated as an adult just as he was as a child.

Once Bella and Cissy talk with Snape, we see that the spinner is not the street but Snape himself who tells Cissy and Bella what they need to hear so he can continue to do whatever it is he is doing. At this point we don't really know. But Cissy needs to hear that Snape will protect Draco and Bella needs to hear that he is loyal to Voldemort.

A bit of a time lag, there. But not because I haven't been reading or thinking about Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. So I'll tackle two chapters in the next few day in an effort to do some catching up.

Chapter 2: "Spinner's End"

Ah, after the first chapter that had important information to fill in some gaps and bring the reader up to date, but still a little fluffy, in my opinion, we get our first whole chapter about Severus Snape. I'm not one of those who liked reading about Snape in the first two books. I've said before that I found him irritating and two-dimensional. It was in the third book and the fifth book that I started to see there was much more to his character. Nothing nice, but more.

So, in this second chapter we are still not at Hogwarts and we haven't seen Harry. To go so long in the story without Harry is quite a big signal that these events are important for the overall story.

Some of my margin notes have to do with the description of the place. I had finished reading Oliver Twist not too long before this so the similarity to Dickens jumped out at me. The other thing that I noticed was Rowling's choice of words to describe the old "disused mill" as a relic. When I think of relics I tend to think in terms of finding some artifact in an archaeological dig, or something that is a reference to the Catholic Church.

I liked the exchange between Bellatrix and Narcissa, two sisters who are as different in their personalities and purposes as they are in looks. It's not the last time we will see just how different they are, and this was a nice set-up, since we haven't seen them together.

Side by side they stood looking across the road at the rows and rows of dilapidated brick houses, their windows dull and blind in the darkness.

"He lives here?" asked Bella in a voice of contempt. "Here? In this Muggle dunghill? We must be the first of our kind ever to set foot --" [HBP, US version, p. 20]

Thinking of the windows that are dull and blind made me think of eyes being called the windows to the soul. And here we have "eyes" that give no clue to the residents of the houses, or if there are even people still living there. What a perfect place for Severus Snape to hide out for the summer, away from Hogwarts, other wizards, and unnoticed more than likely by any neighbors. It's never clear whether it's his idea to be there or Voldemort's, or whether Voldemort was coaxed into telling Snape to be there. Does Snape always go home for the summer? I wouldn't have thought so; it seems he would have been safer at Hogwarts under Dumbledore's continued protection.

Bella clearly will do anything to please Voldemort, while Narcissa - Cissy - puts her own safety aside in an effort to protect her son, Draco. That takes a kind of courage that parents understand but that is totally lost on Bellatrix, who says later that she would be proud to have her son do a task for Voldemort. She might be so derranged that she would give up her only child to a cause, but most parents would side with Cissy.

The description of Snape's street as a labyrinth is an apt metaphor for the situation that Cissy is entering: she has been told not to speak to anyone of Voldemort's plan. She has to "walk" carefully so that she doesn't lose her way. When they find Spinner's End, the "towering mill chimney seemed to hover like a giant admonitory finger". [HBP, US, p. 21] Even the buildings on the street are warning Cissy to be careful, to perhaps reconsider what she is about to do.

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