Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
By Ryan Hamm
July 14, 2009
With the movie in theaters, we revisit the sixth installment of the series
I still remember exactly where I was when Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince came out. Not because anything especially notable happened, but because it was the first time I'd ever gone to a midnight release for a book. My best friend and I went to Barnes & Noble and waded our way through the mass of robed kids and their parents (along with some middle-aged people who had spent way too much time on their costumes). In our "we-just-graduated-from-college-so-look-how-cool-we-are" sense of irony, we bought copies of Harry Potter along with a Bible and a book on existentialism, sure that those items had never been purchased with a new Harry Potter book.
And then I went home to read. And read. And read. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is one of those books that seems to beg you to read one more chapter before bed ... and then asks the same thing when you finish that chapter.
Of course, this is nothing new: Each of the Potter books is gripping in its own way. I still remember successfully not studying for finals in high school while I read The Sorcerer's Stone and ignoring friends to finish Order of the Phoenix in a day. But what is it about these books (and the sixth book, specifically) that makes them so compelling? With the movie adaptation of Half-Blood Prince in theater's tomorrow, we thought it would be a perfect time to take a look back at the book that inspired the film. I promise there won't be any spoilers, so if you're looking forward to the movie but haven't read the book, don't be afraid (but you should also go read the book immediately).
I think the first reason that a lot of us really enjoyed Half-Blood Prince can be summed up in one word: Snogging. All of the relationship drama simmering under the surface starting in the first or second book (seriously, it's there), finally comes bubbling to the top in the sixth installment. Kisses are exchanged. Love potions are consumed. Jealous rages are had. In other words: This is a book about high-schoolers. And J.K. Rowling does a great job (better than in some of the other books in the series) capturing the feeling of that first serious high school crush and all of the confusion and drama that accompanies it.
Half-Blood Prince also ups the ante on just how evil and pervasive the forces of Lord Voldemort have become. Sure, he's always been bad and powerful ... but in this book, he and his followers are responsible for suffering and destruction all over Britain. Dark clouds and storms? That's Voldemort. Mysterious decimation of a bridge? Voldemort again. Weird tornadoes? The Dark Lord's doing. The atmosphere of dread and genuine menace lurks over the entire book—even when the characters seem safe, you know that the safety might not last beyond the next few pages.
Finally, Half-Blood Prince gives, for pretty much the first time, backstory on Voldemort. The character is fleshed out more fully—not that it gives him shades of gray (I mean, he is the Dark Lord), but it makes his desire for power and his thirst for magical knowledge a little more grounded in the character's history. The background brings the whole story's themes into greater relief—Voldemort's wizarding prejudice is shown as being part of a larger problem, and his disdain for following the path of good because it seems "weak" is explored in even greater detail.
If anything, the book is worth reading just to see the parts of the story that that the movie will inevitably leave out. The characters are fantastic as always, Rowling's writing is sharp and terrific and the story propels you to the end so quickly you'll probably return for a re-read before too long. So by all means go see the movie tomorrow—I certainly will. Just be sure to read (or return to) the source material. I promise it's worth it.