Oh, the horcrux!
BACKSTAGE PASS - Lanz Leviste () - July 29, 2005 - 12:00am
(Note: If you have yet to finish Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince and would not want any key plot points revealed, do not continue reading.)

OXFORD, England – Hogwarts is just down the street from me. Literally. Okay, technically. Eh, let’s just leave it at semi-technically: Christ Church College here in Oxford has been used as a stand-in for the castle’s interior scenes for the film adaptations, its Great Hall, staircases and cloisters all recognizable.

After almost a month of the summer in Oxford without a TV, I’ve been forced to read more than I ever have in such a time span – something that I recently have been struggling to find time to do when rigorously plowing through my NEWTs, er, GCSEs, I mean. Storming through Virginia Woolf and Sylvia Plath (oh, how I adore you two) and Hemingway and other books I’ve always wanted to read, and discovering the hysterical and slightly disturbing surrealism of Haruki Murakami ("The Second Bakery Attack" from The Elephant Vanishes collection is my favorite), I was just awaiting the July 16 release of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. In other words, by July 15, if I wasn’t certain that by midnight the book would be in my hands, pulling a Virginia Woolf into the River Thames didn’t look so far-fetched.

Having already read the book twice (the first time by July 16, 10:48 pm), "it" still lingers. You know "it." "It" is the most painful reading experience I have ever endured. "It" is the most heart-wrenching and most devastating blow to the gut J.K. Rowling has so far rendered to the page.

Let’s first be clear though: This is not meant as a review. I am writing this as a fan, a fan that loves this series as much to the extent that he need not elaborate on the level of such an obsession any further in the risk of saying something defensive and thus potentially offensive to, say, the religious right; yes, that means you, Ratzinger, and no, the Harry Potter books aren’t "subtle seductions" that "deeply distort" what you call Christianity. It was best-selling author Don Winslow that said it best when I heard him speak here in Oxford last week: "Which would you rather be left alone with a child: a Harry Potter novel or a priest?" ‘Nuff said.

As I mentioned, I shouldn’t get myself started.

Nevertheless, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, J.K. Rowling’s penultimate chapter to her seven-part series, is a deeply startling change in tone for the author. In many ways, it suffers from great change and the fact that Rowling is obviously and evidently setting up book seven throughout Prince; Fudge resigning as Minister and Snape finally becoming Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher were both initially so alarming that they took time to get used to. Most jarring was the realization that Harry, Ron, and Hermione were on the verge of adulthood; they swore and made great use of the finger, and have love lives that generated enough heated PDA to make TomKat proud. Rowling, of course, playfully censors their perfectly normal teenage actions for the younger set; nonetheless, one still has to wonder whether she uses "snog" as a euphemism for something far more explicit. The profoundly startling psychological growth spurt affected me personally: these were characters I had grown up with since pre-pubescence, and their present high school woes struck me with a resonance Rowling has never till now achieved.

With this, her writing style is maturing with her characters. A cliché nonetheless, it must be said that Prince is undeniably her darkest, most morbid work to date. She somberly plays on striking post-9/11 references (the London bombings just more than a week before the book’s release is a distressing parallel to the similar terrorism mentioned in the first chapter) and the sinister gravity of the social instability of both the wizarding world and the Muggle world. She, for the first time, completely destroys the solace and barriers of the comfort zone we once knew as Hogwarts: Death Eaters easily enter the castle, and we realize nowhere else is safe.

"I thought I might go back to Godric’s Hollow," Harry vows, what I felt was one of the most unsettling yet utterly perfect lines of the novel. Throughout the book, Rowling carefully begins to allude to and tie up plotlines from the past five installments, revealing the astonishing scope this entire epic encompasses. It is evident that she has been mapping out this finale since the very beginning, and with book seven is going to bring everything full circle to where it all began.

"It," the death of Dumbledore, though exceedingly devastating, was something that needed to happen; it was necessary for Harry to defeat Lord Voldemort himself. He lost the only parent he had ever known to Snape, the man Dumbledore completely trusted. With this, I realized that anything was possible with Rowling’s pen: Dumbledore, as it turned out, was flawed and wrong, an idea thoroughly difficult to digest. All the hugs I’ve given to friends after just finishing the book (and all the hugs I’ve also needed) propose a pain and sorrow that is necessary in Rowling’s as well as the real world. In book seven, Harry martyring himself to kill Voldemort is entirely possible; again something painful, but totally necessary.

Thus, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is not just the darkest so far of the series, but also the most human. It is not my favorite nor the best (that distinction goes to Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix), but its explosive ending gives us a taste of how flat-out amazing Rowling seems to be promising book seven will be.
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For comments, e-mail me at lanz_gryffindor@yahoo.com.

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