Pt. 6 of The Harry Potter Readstravaganza
“That old man’s still not dead?”
Just one of my reactions to this epic tome.
It should not count as a spoiler to say that in this book someone dies and breaks readers’ hearts. I mean, I didn’t say who died; maybe I’ve strongly implied it, sure, but if you’re really surprised, you’re like people who were surprised by Marley and Me. No – even worse; you’re like people surprised by A Dog’s Purpose. That is a movie where the same dog dies many times. The fact that the dog dies many times is part of the advertising campaign. It is the conceit of the story.
Or maybe I’m only saying this because I saw the movie years ago and forgot everything but bits and pieces of the ending, allowing me to pretend that, in hindsight, it was all so obvious.
Regardless, yeah – for a while now, I’ve been tapping my foot just waiting for Harry’s other beloved guardians to die. Spoilers if you haven’t read Order of the Phoenix: one of them just kicked the bucket. Why not two?
Craft, Tone, and Series Roots
Coming into this series, I expected the Wackiness Quotient to fall with each successive book. But you know what? It fuckin’ didn’t. Hagrid’s still lugging around his pink contraband umbrella. The Dursleys are still stupid. Peeves haunts us forever, and the Time-Turners are collapsing endlessly on a shelf of magical oddities.
(Actually, speaking of the Time-Turners, that’s a case where I get the feeling Rowling re-read Azkaban and said to herself, “Oh yeah, those things!” And then she slotted them in. That’s what happened, right? I have no proof; only faith.)
The Wacky Level stayed about the same (you can argue that the Whimsitude lowered)…it’s the complexity that rose. It took awkward and jittery leaps in Azkaban and Goblet, and then we got Phoenix, which was…probably even more awkward and jittery – but there’s beautiful stuff in there. To me, it’s like the later books have higher highs and messier lows.
Now that we’re at Prince, things feel more stable. And that’s odd, plot-wise, because Voldemort’s back and his Death Eaters are officially running amok again. The big wizard war has started! Even the prime minister is involved – the normal prime minister! And yet the “and yet life goes on” tone is stronger than in the previous book. We gotta stay at Hogwarts, we gotta have Harry continue his studies. You’d think that this book would continue on the downward depressing slope of Phoenix – Harry’s introduction to 12 Grimmauld Place was particularly angsty, yelly, and even a physically uncomfortable read for me – so why do things feel a little brighter?
In Prince, we have a better idea of what the danger is (Voldemort and his goonies, no mind-control tricks anymore), and our faculty at Hogwarts feels confident that it can stave that danger off, though it may not be able to stop it. Most importantly in my eyes, there are no trips outside of the castle; the most adventurous Harry gets is with trips into the Pensieve, trips that are quite literally in Dumbledore’s safe hands (although one hand may be blackened and crispy, thanks to some villain’s magical hijinx).
…And yeah, Harry also investigates Draco Malfoy, but…does that even count as adventure? It takes place solely in places we’ve been before. But we’ll talk about that later.
So Let’s Get Into It
I loved the first chapter with the prime minister and his continued meetings with Fudge. I guess I like anything that expands the scope of the world in a way that feels natural, brisk, and funny. But the next chapter, where Bellatrix Lestrange and Momma Malfoy meet Snape to discuss some evil plans, was a yawn for me. I know, I know, it’s revelations, but…who cares about Bellatrix Lestrange, and since when have I ever cared about, like, Momma Malfoy’s love for her son.
Add that to my belief that Snape is a bottom-tier Harry Potter character and you have a chapter that struck fear in my heart, since I thought we’d get a lot more of the Death Eaters, not one of whom I care about. The Dursley stuff was short and weak too. You know me – I love me some Dursley action. Those are some high-tier characters. If you put all the Harry characters into Smash, Dudley would kick Snape’s ass.
“But Joi,” I hear you saying, “that would continue the toxic pattern of Snape-bullying that James Potter began so long ago.” And to that I say “good” because Snape is on my Garbage Flip-Flopper Character Shit-List.
I’ve always thought Dumbledore was…like…okay. I enjoyed and respected him a lot in Socratephy Stone, where he did a great job as an authority figure, guiding Harry inasmuch as he could and should have. But now, much like how Voldemort no longer has any excuse for not throwing all he’s got into killing Harry, Dumbledore has run out of excuses not to tutor Harry more closely.
Last book, he admitted that after the whole Chamber of Secrets debacle where Voldemort came even closer to killing Harry, preparing the boy for some ultimate showdown of ultimate destiny was of ultimate importance. But he did nothing to prepare him. For years! He didn’t even make this guy take an extra Defense of Dark Arts course. What if Harry had turned out to be an expert in nothing but reading ancient runes? Then Dumbledore and the rest of the planet would be fucked. This is why Hermione’s not the hero.
Also, while Dumbledore’s lines have always been kind of quirky and wacky, it’s a little much for me. What’s his first line in this one? “And now, Harry, let us step out into the night and pursue that flighty temptress, adventure?” Get the fuck outta here with that. Who are you?
In Prince, Dumbledore does give Harry private lessons in the hopes of preparing him to live up to this prophecy thing where he has to kill Voldemort or else Voldemort will kill him. He is, after all, “the chosen one” and blah blah and stuff. Anyway, the training consists of trips through Dumbledore’s Pensieve and the Voldemort-related memories he’s gathered from peoples’ confessions, which is a rather convenient way to learn about Voldemort’s life and what makes him tick. I found it deeply interesting. It is refreshing, in some ways, for Harry’s training not to revolve around learning better spells or how to detect them.
I mean, in other ways it’s woefully irresponsible, but hey, it’s Albus “Complicit in Hogwarts’ Institutionalized Racism” Dumbledore. You take what you can get.
Also, Dumbledore explicitly states that the reason the, uh, Parselmouth pureblood hillbillies are so aggressive is because they’re inbred. Thanks for that…?
Back to the Kidz Korner
Let’s stop talking about odorous old people.
Warning: in this section I’m going to touch on relationship abuse. Feel free to skip to the next part. Scroll down until you see a weird crayon drawing of Ron and Lavender Brown kissing. (Their relationship was a mess, but not in an I-made-you-drink-love-potions way.)
I’ve never minded the teenage angst or the dating stuff. …Well, okay, I do mind Fleur’s whole existence, especially now that she’s tied to Bill Weasley and thus all the Weasleys are subjected to her. But I’m supposed to mind it. Wait…that doesn’t make it better, does it? Fortunately, Fleur’s never our villain or anything. She’s just the worst thread in a sea of threads, of which there are so many that readers can concentrate on things other than snogging. “Snogging” is a really interesting word. So is “git.” “Git” still sounds like a dirty word to me. It’s what you say to a horse.
What I don’t like, and can’t stand behind, is all this love potion business. It’s intriguing and unsettling that in a world of witches and wizards, love potions could be more mainstream and accepted in popular culture than our…yeah, I’ll go ahead and say it…our date rape drugs. Why are you selling this shit, Fred and George? In your joke shop?
In this book, giggly teenage girls are flocking to buy love potions and force classmates to fall in love with them. There’s a whole little subplot about Romilda Vane and her love schemes, which…yeah, admittedly I thought it was equally funny and gut-wrenching. Still, the fact that we’re accepting this love potion business as a kinda-funny thing for teens to do is troubling. I think the teens part is what gets me – no, it’s the teen girls part. When teenage girls do it, it may not be more acceptable, but it is seen as more…palatable. As if teenage girls can’t be too deeply cruel or manipulative. They’re only playing around!
There’s a moment at the Christmas party where Rowling, understanding that this stuff can go both ways, slots in a vampire man leering at young women…and that moment also feels like it’s meant to be equally funny and gut-wrenching…I dunno, this whole thing is uncomfortable. The moment exposes how if, say, Ron were putting love potion into Lavender’s drink, the audience would probably have a much harder time laughing at it.
Love potions play a more serious role in Voldemort’s family past, which shows that Rowling understands they can be serious business…but it’s the “can be” that bothers me, the fact that the wizarding world doesn’t see much danger in it. I don’t even think Hermione gives it the stink-eye.
But hey, this is the Wizarding “Rampantly Racist and Speciesist, Even in Ron Weasley’s Family of Regular Folk” World. You take what you can get.
As for actual, non-artificial romance…well, some would argue that Harry’s dating choices in this book were pretty artificial. But we’ll get to that in the spoilers section, since it happens so late.
Teenage Interpersonal Struggulaciousness
Socially speaking, Harry’s got his hands full. Now that he’s team captain, the Quidditch team gives him endless headaches, not least because Ron’s on the team and Ron’s Quidditching powers are still wildly inconsistent. Plus, because of Harry’s tiny-but-accumulating fuck-ups, Hermione feels ignored and belittled, leading to her worst beef with Ron since Azkaban.
Harry’s circle of friends has gently expanded to occasionally include Luna and Ginny, and to re-include Neville. By that, I mean he hangs out with Ginny occasionally and he hangs out with Neville and Luna, like, twice. I guess nowadays he’s too much of a jock to wanna hang around the little people? I like Neville and Luna enough that I think that’s too bad. If I were Harry’s mum, I’d keep asking why he never invites them to his birthday parties. Meanwhile, Ginny seems to me like Normal Girl Extraordinaire. Yeah, she’s got some bite and she makes a fine duo with Harry, but she’s not that funny (like Ron) and she’s not unusually intelligent (Hermione) and she’s not weird (Luna) so…sadly, I don’t care much for her.
Speakin’ of Ron –
Let me talk about the devolution of Ron and the supremacy of Hermione.
I still think Ron’s funny…not quite as funny as before, though. It has become clear that, in my eyes, he’s too pigheaded and self-centered to make a particularly funny adult. Now he’s pissin’ people off, and before he even asks himself what the problem could be, he’s runnin’ off with his three-weeks girlfriend and goin’, “What? What’d I do?” Also, he’s bad at managing his first romantic relationship, and unlike Harry’s first fling with Cho, Ron’s rom with Lavender is in everyone’s face because he can’t stop showing it off.
The first warning that Hermione is cooler and more gooder than Ron came in Azkaban, when she teamed up with Harry during the climax and proved a great and interesting ally even without Ron to serve as the icing on her cake. Maybe the second warning was the time Ron called someone a “midget” and Hermione gave him the stink-eye, but he didn’t try and apologize? I dunno.
Rowling tries to scuff Hermione up a little bit, dirty her image; long story short, she creates a bunch of canaries and then commands them to attack Ron, then leaves grinning. Also, she gets a jerk she doesn’t even like to date her at some party so that Ron will see it and get royally cheesed, showing her manipulative side. It’s not working for me because Hermione hasn’t really had a manipulative nor a canarially violent side – just an arrogant white-knight side.
I know the point is that she felt SO abandoned, betrayed, and belittled that she resorted to launching birds at someone, but still. But still. She’s still superior to Ron. Incidentally, Fred and George are also superior to Ron. They’re what Ron would be if he didn’t tell offensive jokes at dinner parties.
I imagine that Rowling, after a hard brainstorming session for Prince, said to herself, “I LOVE this scene where Harry gets an important memory from the new teacher! There’s just one problem: Harry is not NEARLY intelligent enough to come up with this plan. Also, I have no idea why this teacher would be in this place at this time. – Aha! I’ll put in a luck potion! That way, the characters don’t really need to plan anything to make it happen.” Thus, Felix Felicis (or Plotpoint Plotpointus) was born.
Wizardry, seen in the right light, is a series of plot devices. Need to have a flashback, but can’t leave Harry’s perspective? Pull out the Pensieve. The Time-Turner in Azkaban is the most obvious one, but Felix Felicis isn’t that different.
What gives Felix Felicis weight and makes it feel organic in this book, however, is the way the potion ties into the characters’ relationships. The Time-Turner was present throughout the third book, but as a weird and ambiguous background element that made Hermione tell people, “I’m leaving this scene…for reasons!” This time, our plot device fuckin’ matters. Our new teacher, Professor Slughorn, gives Harry the potion as a reward for doing really well in class. It makes sense that Slughorn would hand out such a wildly powerful bribe for good performance in the classroom: he’s a showoff, he likes flaunting his wealth, and he bribes, and milks, the heck out of students who prove themselves talented.
Later, in an effort to give Ron mad skills for the upcoming Quidditch game, Harry secretly slips Ron the potion. Hermione sees this and, knowing that it is not only cheating but also morally dubious, gets annoyed with Harry, and Harry is all like, “Ha ha, what? I didn’t do anything! Okay, I admit it, Ron, I slipped you the luck potion – which is a great thing, as we can all agree!” But then Harry does a DOUBLE reveal – he didn’t use the potion at all. He deliberately tricked Hermione into thinking he had (and Ron, but Ron didn’t mind). So he and Ron all but laugh in Hermione’s face, and she storms off.
I’m not sure why I just summarized that whole scene, since most readers of this article have probably read the book, but…my point is, that potion’s got legs. It broke up our heroes. And I haven’t even mentioned the Half-Blood Prince yet, and how Felix Felicis is tied to our introduction to THAT, and…aw, geez, I can’t keep writing this post forever. Look, for those of you who don’t know, the Half-Blood Prince is the mysterious first owner of an old Potions book that Harry’s using, and the Prince wrote a bunch of handy shortcuts and even original spells in the margins. The Prince is the reason why Harry’s so good at making potions now—aw, geez, why am I still explaining this!?
Weird Tidbits About Prophecy
Like I said before, this is the book where Dumbledore starts his hardcore Voldemort-slaying training with Harry. By that, I mean they meet up about five times throughout the book to jump into Voldemort-related flashbacks via the Pensieve, and they go over NO details on how to actually kill a seemingly unkillable man of dark evil, except maybe vague stuff like, “You have the power, Harry…the power to love!” Incidentally, Snape is proving himself zero help again, despite now being the Defense of Dark Arts teacher! By Dumbledore’s decree! What the fuck are you doing, Dumbledore?
At the end of Phoenix, he went into great detail about how the prophecy foretelling that either Harry would kill Voldemort or vice-versa was of the utmost importance, and how Harry’s the Chosen One and all that shit. But now he’s changing his tune? He’s saying the prophecy is only important because Voldemort believes the prophecy?? So he went from “the prophecy matters, Harry” to “YOU FUCKIN’ IDIOT, HARRY, THE PROPHECY LITERALLY DOESN’T MATTER! WHAT, YOU THINK PEOPLE ACTUALLY FULFILL THE STUPID PROPHECIES ON THAT STUPID SHELF? THEY DON’T! THEY DON’T!!!!!”
Then why is it such a big deal that people can manifest prophecies anyway? Why do people think prophecies are any more reliable than hauntings and daydreams? Why do they bother to capture them in little glass orbies and put them on a shelf in the basement of a – wait, why are these in a basement again? Oh, dear. I can’t be writing this all night!
SPOILERS: Ol’ Dumble Has Put Us In A Very Bad Spot
THIS is the book where we find out what Horcruxes are. I’ve seen that word bandied around so much that I’m surprised it didn’t appear by last book or the book before that. Horcruxes are to Voldemort what the Chaos Emeralds are to Sonic. Wait…that’s not right. What I’m getting at is, there are seven Horcruxes and they’re what make Voldemort immortal. So they’re the rings to his Sonic. Seven Horcruxes in hand, speed through nights with feet in sand.
The fact that Dumbledore left Harry with no direction regarding the hunt to find and destroy all these Horcruxes is…depressing. He’s so bad at this. Y’know, if he put McGonagall in charge of this, she’d’ve been on top of it. Just sayin’.
But instead he puts Snape in charge of the stuff he doesn’t wanna bother with, which turns out to be his undoing. Listen, I know that the very second chapter of this book was Snape revealing that his true allegiance was to Voldemort rather than Dumbledore, but I was still in suspense about it because he’s such a fuckin’ stupid flip-flopper. Also, Dumbledore leaves Hogwarts all the time to do secret stuff that he doesn’t tell anyone about, so there’s that against him too.
Also, Malfoy’s up to something this entire book. That’s something else big I forgot to explain in depth: Draco Malfoy’s story. Okay, so in the second chapter, Draco’s mom tells Snape to help or protect Draco or something, and Snape agrees, so then later we see Draco doing suspicious stuff at Diagon Alley, and then after that Harry tells Dobby and Kreacher to follow him, and it turns out he’s using the Room of Requirement for something suspicious and shady, and then also another student gets cursed and Harry thinks it was probably Draco, and then also after that…
Before I read this book (actually, even during my reading journey), people had told me, “Draco’s got a good arc in this one. He introduces some moral ambiguity for Slytherins.” And to that I say, Slughorn did a better job introducing mora ambiguity for Slytherins because I actually enjoyed his presence, oddly enough. Whereas Draco, while he doesn’t wanna be evil, doesn’t seem like he wants to be good either, so he’s just a morally-grey-but-definitely-leaning-toward-some-cowardly-type-of-evil waffle. Draco Malfoy better pull some fucking gymnastics in Deathly Hallows. By the way, what kind of stupid name is Deathly Hallows? Whose idea was it to use “deathly?” I’m sure people have been asking that for ten-plus years, but hey dude, it’s my first time. Gimme some leeway.
One of my favorite scenes was the one where Draco got fuckin’ owned in the bathroom by Harry when he used the Half-Blood Prince’s evil spell. Water and blood went everywhere. …I mean, I liked it because it was intense and it blindsided me, not because Draco got pulverized, but y’know, that part was a bonus.
A Moonlit Evening with Dumbley
Dumbledore’s last night with Harry is a night out to find a Horcrux. You might read that sentence and be thinking, “Good. Dumbledore is actually giving Harry some hands-on experience.” You’re right, but also, you’re wrong, for two reasons:
- They have to get to the heart of a cave that’s heavily magic-protected with elaborate magic that Harry’s never even heard of, let alone been prepped to sense and defend against. So the place is laden with booby traps that Dumbledore doesn’t always try to explain.
- It’s not even a Horcrux! (I’m gonna eat my words with this one when the not-Horcrux pocket watch that he got from that cave turns out to save Harry and give him all the guidance he needs to kill Voldemort, but still…as of this writing, this is A BIG ONE.)
Dumbledore’s taking Harry by the hand, putting him on a magic boat that Harry never would have known how to get access to, and guiding him over a pond full of Inferi, a type of magical creature that Harry only knows how to defeat because someone defined what an Inferius is at the beginning of this book, which is rather convenient. And then Harry doesn’t even really defeat them, since Dumbledore’s fire magic is so much stronger than most things Harry can put out.
The pocket watch they seek is in the bottom of a magical basin. You can’t reach your hand through the basin, and you can’t pour the contents of the basin out. To get to the pocket watch, you have to drink the magical substance out from the basin. You might read this sentence and be thinking, “Instead of drinking the substance, you could slurp it up and spit it out.” You’re right, but also, that’s the stupidest idea I’ve ever heard, because it won’t allow the scene where Dumbledore drinks I’m-screaming-because-I-want-to-die basin juice to happen, meaning it won’t allow Harry to have an emotional scene with Dumbledore with high stakes. I don’t count the part where Dumbledore shouts at Harry about how the prophecy doesn’t matter, because that didn’t have stakes and also it was just weird, it was a weird scene in general.
Rowling tries to make this convoluted tunnel of a scene make more sense by writing weighty lines like “he had to drink the water and take the little magic boat <i>because Voldemort had made it so!”</i> but, much like Hermione siccing canaries on Ron and therefore being as bad as him, it’s not working for me.
Return to Hogwarts, And to Death Eaters
I don’t care about the Death Eaters! They’re a bit cartoony for my tastes. Like they all look at innocent flesh-people and lick their lips saying, “Mmm! I do so love to be evil!” See, I’ve just combined Fenrir’s werewolfine animalishness with Bellatrix’s cackling villainessness. If I had written “so” with a dollar sign instead of an “s,” I would have included Lucius Malfoy in the mix too.
The other major Death Eaters we’ve been introduced to, that I remember, are Snape (I’ve closed the book on my feelings about that one), Draco (waffley little pissant), and Draco’s mom (my response to her is just a big WHO CARES).
Anyway, back to the plot of our actual book here. Harry and Dumbledore get back to Hogwarts, and Dumbledore is struggling because he just drank I-wanna-die juice, which he totally could have just spit out but y’know, whatever, he’s the headmaster so he surely knows best, it’s not like Draco is bringing an army of Death Eaters into the school, what do I know, etc. But there’s trouble at Hogwarts: it turns out that Draco has let in an army of Death Eaters! Well, it’s like five Death Eaters, but they’re still scaring the school.
Harry’s friends have been fighting them, and they haven’t been dying even though logically they totally should have. “Wait, that doesn’t make sense. Aha – they drank more luck potion! But now they’re out of luck potion, so I can’t use it next book,” the author laments.
Today’s Big Reveal!
It’s weird that the fact that Snape is the Half-Blood Prince is such a downplayed reveal. I mean, obviously the thing we care about during the big battle where Draco almost kills Dumbledore, flakes, and runs away so that one of the Death Eaters he brought in can kill ‘im instead, is Snape’s connection to Draco and all the bad people, not his connection to this smelly book. Of course it’s gonna be an afterthought. Still, it’s, like, the title of your book. Kinda weird, no?
Summary: Dumbledore dies, Hagrid’s shed gets burned down, the Death Eaters escape hand-in-hand with their fellow Death Eater Snape (good, good riddance), everyone is sad and upset. Harry pulls out the pocket watch from Dumbledore’s dead pocket, you know, the pocket watch they found in Voldemort’s Horcrux Cave, and finds out that it is probably not even a Horcrux, which makes him even more upset than he was already.
Ben Weasley is badly injured and also part-werewolf, and there is a surprisingly touching part where Mrs. Weasley and Fleur cry over him. It’s also surprisingly heartwarming to see various side and main characters pairing up.
Humorously, now that Snape’s gone and Dumbledore’s no longer alive to hear their scorn, even staff members are admitting, “Yeah, I never really liked Snape. I mean, I thought he was cool because Dumbledore liked him, but…yeah, Dumbledore was kinda stupid, wasn’t he. OOPS…” If Snape changes sides AGAIN in the last book, or if he gets an even sadder backstory, I’m not gonna take back a single word I’ve put against him. Come on, Snape, fuck you, get outta here, you don’t deserve better. Take how badly I’ve dragged Dumbledore’s name through the mud in all these blog posts and multiply that by, like, ten. That’s what Snape gets. That’s what Snape gets.
The book ends shortly after Dumbledore’s funeral, with Harry feeling pretty bad and directionless. One upside is the fact that he’s dating Ginny. I guess that’s happening now. It definitely feels more like Ginny had a crush on him for two books, nothing happened between them for three books, and then Harry had sudden eyes for her in this one; let’s try not to act like he had eyes for Ginny all along, Rowling.
I Hate This Book, Right?
Nah, of course not. I had a blast reading it. Having said that, it feels really safe, like it had some missed opportunities. Draco could have done some real acrobatics here. He could’ve made a cool duo with Snape, instead of it just being, “Draco stands at desk once, barks back and forth with Snape, Harry overhears it.” They could’ve made cool foils for Harry and Dumbledore. Instead, they make uncool foils, and they are both so bad, and terrible, and I hate both of them.
Prince is probably a better, more cohesive, more focused, less horrifyingly long thing than Phoenix, but Phoenix went wild in some stupid ways and often caught me off-guard, and Prince didn’t do none o’ that. Phoenix also had more characters “in frame” with the D.A. Gang, and…shucks, I like Luna and Neville. There were more zany and unexpected trips, including surprise trips through dreams and the mind. And Prince didn’t do none o’ that. It did a lot of other stuff. But it didn’t do that.
Favorite character: The Prime Minister. Come on, he’s just a hapless dude who puts up with the side effects of Voldemort’s dementor friends swooping across the country. He deserves a break.
Favorite scene: Sectumsempra
Ranking: Pholographer > Phoenix > Prince > Goblet > Chamber > Azkaban
What should I add to the list of favorites above? Let me know in the comments! You’ve got one post left to give me your ideas on this! One post left! The series is drawing to a close!!!!!
On to Hallows
I have no expectations this time. All I really know about Hallows is that someone I know really loves the part at the end of the last Harry Potter movie where Voldemort laughs. This person has even shown me a sliver of that scene. And yes, I agree. That is a great laugh. It’s so great to see stupid humorless villains laugh. Meanwhile, it’s great to see villains who laugh at their own mean jokes get dunked on (Snape). Again, if Snape turns out not to be such a villain, I am not taking those words back. That man knows better.
……..Welp, seeya next time!