With the Fifth book of J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, the storyline shed its concerns of childhood courage, fortune, and naiveté, and instead became one of adolescent rage, indignation, and embarrassment (replete with the title character’s own complicity in an act of punishing, forced self-mutilation). Now, that is interesting! [Well, I’ll own up to the fact that I’m a nerd and would have read it without these elements.] Two years have passed, and we now have the sixth installment of the series, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, which, like its predecessor, also successfully depicts the nuances of the various stages of adolescence.
When we last left off, Harry saw nearly all the institutions upon which he relied (a close friend, a crush, and even his school) smashed in a glorious manifestation of disillusionment. But, as anyone who made it past his or her teens can tell you, life goes on. And the students of Harry’s wizardry academy are contemplating their futures with the same melancholic uncertainty. Friends are failing school, or thinking of dropping out. Or joining the army; as one student says, sulking with his head in his girlfriend’s lap, “I mean think about it… When the Dark Lord takes over, is he going to care about how many [S.A.T.’s] anyone’s got?” Harry thinks so; that’s why he’s disappointed with his aptitude test grades. “Harry looked back down at his results,” Rowling writes. “They were as good as he could have hoped for. He just felt one twinge of regret… This was the end of his ambition to be a [wizard knight]… He had known all along that he wouldn’t, but he still felt a sinking in his stomach.” As fantastic as the book’s elements are, this could be any high school.
Because Ms. Rowling uses this volume to further develop the back-story of the seven-book saga, we learn that, upon his graduation, the Dark Lord himself had similar concerns to Harry and the other sulking boy, the villainous Draco Malfoy. “So Voldemort went off to Borgin and Burkes,” Harry’s headmaster explains, “and all the staff who had admired him said what a waste it was, a brilliant young wizard like that, working in a shop.” Despite the misleading title, these three characters, Harry, Draco, and Voldemort, form the thematic triad of this novel. In the end of their youth, all have major decisions and tasks to accomplish. How they all succeed at these tasks will have extremely serious consequences on their world’s future. One question, in my mind, remains for Rowling as well as for Harry himself: will he ever become more than a supporting character in a story greater than his own?
Despite the wonderful elements upon which I’ve harped, I have to be critical of this book. Unlike some more serialized book series (I will use the example of George P. Pelecanos, whose novels I have previously reviewed on this webspace), this book and its predecessors cannot stand alone as one work. More frustrating to this reader is Rowling’s stylistic misconduct. Her attempts at comedy through repetition are grating. And the ellipses (including ones in a quote cited earlier in this review) are a textbook case of overuse. This calls to mind the episode of Seinfeld in which a character uses an excessive number of exclamation points! much to Elaine’s chagrin. This is somewhat forgivable in dialogue, but becomes unacceptable when it is used as a crutch upon which to build an eerie, suspenseful mood. That’s what words, not dots of ink, are supposed to do.
Readers who are into this series will not be disappointed. (Hell, most of those people have probably read this book already.) Rowling delivers the goods (action, romance, major plot developments) that fans want. The book lags for a bit in the middle, picks up big time through the last two hundred pages. The ending is wholly original, and surprisingly unsettling – one could go on and on about its implications, but I’ve already said too much. In one of the final lines, Rowling writes, “Harry could not bear to hear these things, nor did he think his resolution would hold if he remained sitting beside her.” Will it hold? Harry must go home for the summer, reside with his asshole relatives, and, for one last time, be a child.
Thank goodness for growing up. One last thing: I don’t look like Harry Potter. Daniel Radcliffe looks like me.