Author of Dark Fiction
Here’s the thing about the Harry Potter books…
Deep, huh? Well, deep or shallow, it’s the truth. I waited a long time to read the Harry Potter books because I wanted to experience them with my own children. My son (8) and I just finished the sixth book, my first daughter (6) and I are working on the first, and my youngest child (3) is content to commandeer her siblings’ wands and run around shrieking, “I have a Harry Potter stick!”
In other words, we all enjoy it.
I could write a great deal about Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, but it’s a tough book to write about without giving things away. And though I loved this novel for many reasons, I find it quite difficult to separate it from the other tales. This, I think, speaks to J.K. Rowling’s ability to connect the stories in a such a way that they each have their own identity while still continuing to trace a gigantic glowing arc through the sky along which the reader is able to ride from the first book to the seventh.
So before I tell you a few things I loved about the novel, please know that there might be spoilers below. Not huge spoilers, mind you, but I’m always afraid of letting something slip. So…be forewarned. Don’t read on if you haven’t read this book yet. And if you haven’t read the book, why are you reading a review of it by a writer whose skills don’t yet approach J.K. Rowling’s? Seriously. Get off the danged Internet and read this amazing series!
Some delights and terrors and sorrows…
1. Fenrir Greyback: Bet that surprised you a little. I know that this character played a relatively minor role, but on the page he was a scene-stealer, a flesh-chewer, and a perfect foil for one of my favorite characters, Remus Lupin.
An aside: About a year before I began reading the series, my Creative Writing class was discussing characterization. The kids began talking about the Harry Potter books. One remarked that the supporting characters were as interesting as the leads, which led another student to bring up Remus Lupin. She was halfway through her cataloging of his merits as a character when she stopped and looked up at me, as if seeing me anew. She then said, “Mr. (Insert real name here). You sort of remind me of Lupin.” When I later found out he was a werewolf, I was a little bit shocked (and secretly pleased). But when I really got to know the character, I found the remark incredibly gratifying.
Back to Fenrir Greyback (with whom I hope I have nothing in common)…
What made Greyback so incredibly interesting to me was not only the sheer ferocity of his behavior, but the diabolical simplicity of his motives. If the Harry Potter books were likened to Lord of the Flies and Voldemort’s ambition were compared with Jack’s (the leader of the hunters), then Greyback would be Roger, the sadist. This powderkeg of a character lives only to rend flesh and to guzzle the steaming lifeblood of his victims. Greyback doesn’t want to rule the world; he simply wants to terrorize it. I don’t know what kind of a role he plays in the seventh book (if any), but his unreasoning brutality added just the right note of menace to a book that largely—and sensitively—focused on the romantic relationships of its teenagers.
2. Fleur’s Surprising Reaction: I admit to falling prey to a stupid prejudice here, and I feel awful about it. But I wrongly assumed Fleur Delacour was a pretty face without a soul. In Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire she was the object of many male desires (Ron’s particularly), and though she was skilled at wizardry, she wasn’t an especially affecting character. She did seem affected, however, and when she showed up again in Book Six, I, like Mrs. Weasley, rolled my eyes and dismissed her as a fluttery, vapid future supermodel.
How wrong I was.
One mark of a great writer, I think, is the ability to surprise the reader without cheating. That’s J.K. Rowling. When something terrible befell Fleur’s fiance, I was all set to mentally berate her for her superficiality. But rather than making a caricature out of Fleur—as I fear I unknowingly did—Rowling transformed her and made her deeply endearing with a couple elegant lines of dialogue.
And I loved that. So here’s to continual reminders to not judge people by appearances or even their seeming personalities. People can still surprise us, and we need to give them the opportunity to do so.
*takes a deep breath*
3. Dumbledore: If you’ve read this far, you’ve only been assailed by minor spoilers. I don’t want to spoil this plot twist, but I don’t know how to talk about it without spoiling it. And the fact is, I don’t want to talk about it.
Rarely has a fictional character so resonated with me the way Albus Dumbledore has. In the first book he was wise, eccentric, and a constant source of comfort. As the series has developed, he has persisted in exhibiting those traits, but he has also grown more than most might think. He has revealed a penchant for trusting others too much. He has admitted how fallible he is, how prone to mistakes. He has been injured, accused of wrongdoing, and generally fed through a physical and emotional woodchipper.
And he has come through it all with an open, caring heart and an enormous capacity for love. One passage in particular, I think, summarizes this amazing character for me. In a scene that chronicles how Tom Riddle became Lord Voldemort, Dumbledore attempts to gird Harry’s resolve and confidence in the inevitable battle with his nemesis:
“Yes, you have,” said Dumbledore firmly. “You have a power that Voldemort has never had. You can—”
“I know!” said Harry impatiently. “I can love!” It was only with difficult that he stopped himself adding, “Big deal!”
“Yes, Harry, you can love,” said Dumbledore, who looked as though he knew perfectly well what Harry had just refrained from saying. “Which, given everything that has happened to you, is a great and remarkable thing. You are still too young to understand how unusual you are, Harry.”
“So, when the prophecy says that I’ll have ‘power the Dark Lord knows not,’ it just means—love?” asked Harry, feeling a little let down.
“Yes—just love,” said Dumbledore.
The above passage will strike some as too direct, too naive, or worst of all, too emotional.
It struck me as incredibly beautiful. There are all sorts of belief systems in the world, and no two people are exactly alike in their beliefs. But what Dumbledore says here is something that, were it adopted by more people, would alter our world for the better. Harry, for all his flaws, usually acts with good intentions. He befriends Luna Lovegood (another one of my favorite characters in all of fiction), gives of himself to others, and is willing to suffer so that others won’t have to experience the same pain. In other words, Harry loves.
And so can Dumbledore. Which is why this book was so memorable, wonderful, and painful to me.
I’m going to go now. My wife is making a delicious supper. My son and first daughter are ready to wrestle. And my three-year-old is racing around the house casting spells on the furniture with her Harry Potter stick.
And for that, J.K. Rowling, I thank you.