Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

by J.K. Rowling
Man. This book has generated tons of controvery among the Potter faithful, and while I’m not as outraged as some folks seem to be or as irritated as others, I’m not exactly jubilant, either, mainly because this book is not complete in and of itself, the way the others were. This book leaves us needing the next book to really understand what happened, and that annoys the hell out of me.
Don’t believe the next book is necessary? Let’s take a look. (spoilers ahoy)

Spoilers below! You have been warned!

No, seriously. I am giving major plot points away below, so … yeah. BE WARNED

OK.
WTF happened when Snape offed Dumbledore, I ask you? Seriously. There are, as I see it, two options:
Option the First: Snape really was a Death Eater at heart all along, a true follower of Voldemort.
This means that Snape has fooled everyone but Harry. That Dumbledore drastically misjudged him (and Dumbledore, for once, was so incredibly sure of himself about Snape that he would not hear any discussion about the subject at all).
It also follows that when Dumbledore said “Severus, please…” he was begging for his life. Now, admittedly, Dumbledore has a lot more to offer the world and is no doubt aware of that, but he clearly places a lot of value upon Harry and considers himself less important (and even less capable after drinking the potion, since he tells Harry he’s not afraid because “I’m with you”). So… that seems unlikely.
For Option the First to work, we have to assume that Dumbledore was unbearably fallable. We know he’s not perfect, but he is way damn close and it seems a bit late in the series for him to turn out to have this huge blind spot. What, were he and Snape lovers or something? What could possibly have made him so blind? Surely not his love of humanity – he was suspicious of Tom Riddle, who had done a lot less harm than pre-repentance Snape, even taking his youth into account.
Option the Second: Snape really is a good guy at bottom and was following Dumbledore’s orders the whole time.
This means Snape has had Voldemort fooled all along, which is possible – Voldemort is kind of an idiot in some ways and routinely sows the seeds of his own destruction. This also means that Harry, who was right about everything else in this book, was wrong about Snape (as usual!). Since Harry is usually wrong about something, this makes sense.
For Option the Second to work, though, we have to assume Dumbledore was … what, begging Snape to kill him? Why? That seems… weird. Granted, it had become clear that Draco wasn’t up to the task and Snape was going to die if he didn’t take over, but does Dumbledore really consider himself worth less than Snape? Sure, he likes the guy (so much so that he never really cracks down on him for the way he treats Harry in particular and Gryffindors in general), but sheesh.
No doubt I am simplifying things immensely and The Truth will turn out to be some blend of both. We never did hear what it was that made Dumbledore trust Snape (I think Harry is out of his mind to believe that it was merely Snape’s guilt over having gotten a two people he didn’t even like killed – yeah, he owed James his life, but COME ON! He hated the man), nor did we hear what would have followed that “please…” from the old wizard.
So… clearly we have to wait to find out what exactly was going on there. I really, really hope that Rowling pulls it off well because otherwise she has just pulled the rug out of all of us who believed her when she told us Snape was immensely courageous and really on the side of good back in books 4 and 5.
As far as the rest of the book goes, here’s a quick breakdown:

Stuff I thought was lame:

  • The uncertainty around Snape and Dumbledore.
  • Tonks and Lupin suddenly being in love for no apparent reason.
  • The constant use of the monster metaphor for Harry’s libido.
  • The scene wherein Dumbledore drinks the potion. On the one hand, it was delightfully evocative and scary, but OTOH it would have been a little bit nicer if we could have know just what the potion was doing. I know the books are from Harry’s POV and there was probably no real way to do it, but still.

Stuff I liked:

  • All the stuff at the Burrow (even the whole Fleur/Bill thing, which was a hoot).
  • Fred and George’s shop.
  • That delightful chapter wherein Snape makes the Unbreakable Vow. Brilliant dialog, seriously. It was very well-written. (and I know I usually bitch that Rowling isn’t that good a writer, but she’s very very good at dialog and this scene really showed it off)
  • Aragog’s funeral.
  • Slughorn – one of the very few characters who has a teeny bit of grey to him rather than being All Good ™ or All Bad ™. FINALLY, Rowling learned how to do that with someone besides Snape (who isn’t so much grey as mottled black and white.)

I think that will do for now.
(book 22 in 2005)

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7 Responses to Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

  1. MITCH! says:

    I’m for the second option. One should take into account the clandestine arguement between herr headmaster and der teacher. I don’t think Dumbledore was protecting Snape, though. I’m under the impression it was all done for Draco’s benefit. I think young Mr. Malfoy will either have a hand in Voldemort’s defeat (as will Snape), or AD wanted to do everything in his power to keep Malfoy from becomming the *next* Big Bad

  2. Rave says:

    I am also for the second opinion. After thinking about it, I wonder if Dumbledore and Snape didn’t have an Unbreakable Vow themselves, along the lines of “Do whatever is necessary to make Voldemort believe you’re working for him.” If you take that into account, Dumbledore is not begging Snape to spare him, but begging him not to blow his cover. I don’t think Dumbledore thinks himself less important than Snape, but I do think Dumbledore would sacrifice his life to keep Voldemort from winning. Also, if you think about it, after Snape killed Dumbledore, he hustled the Death Eaters out of the castle pretty fast, and kept them from hanging around killing people. And as a friend of mine said, J.K. is possibly not quite a good enough writer to have given us so many “Snape is really good” hints and then be able to justify his being evil the whole time.

  3. jon says:

    i couldnt get past the part where harry chases the death eaters through the fields of hogwarts. for some reason i visualized it like a scooby doo cartoon. everyone is animated and everyone is running in the same style as scooby and shaggy. :\

  4. ricky says:

    The second option! Very interesting! You know, that never occurred to me.
    There’s an odd passage in the book where Hagrid tells Harry that he overheard Dumbledore and Snape arguing and Snape says that he doesn’t want to do something anymore and that Dumbledore is taking too much for granted. To which, Dumbledore replies that Snape agreed to do it and, therefore, must.
    I didn’t really know what to make of that, given Rowling’s love of red herrings.
    It certainly would not have anything to do with Snape spying on Voldemort. And it wouldn’t have anything to do with Snape investigating his own house.
    What didn’t Snape want to do?
    As for the rest, I thought Fleur in the hospital wing was a very nice scene. And, also, when Dumbledore said he wasn’t afraid because he was with Harry.
    It’s sappy, but that was pretty good.
    Also, for anyone savvy enough to come up with Option Number Two, I guessing you likewise guessed that the real locket is in Sirius’s house–the heavy golden one that no one could open in last book.
    Jesus, do we really have to wait another two years to find out what happens???
    This is going to drive me crazy.

  5. Me says:

    Ever think that maybe Snape and Dumbly had switched places? The notice for spotting a death eater said to be sure someone wasn’t taking Polyjuice, so maybe Rowling was giving a hint (as you said, she’s not that great a writer). The thing that got me, though, was the Horcruces. I really, really, really don’t want the books to end with Harry Potter and the Scavenger Hunt of Doom

  6. David says:

    It’s the first option, I think… remember, Dumbledore said that he rarely makes mistakes, but when he does, he makes huge ones. I think that was his worst and last mistake, trusting Snape.
    I like the romance between Ginny and Harry… not much dialogue with them, but it was nice. Good thing that Rowling broke em up, though, or else it wouldn’t have been rememberable at all.

  7. Zackery Tolman says:

    The idea of dd switching places is a interesting idea, its a odd thing is when dd was showing memories of voldy’s past. DD was showing them from a glass file, he also showed his own memories from the glass file. In the 5th ans 4th book he showed his memories by putting his wand to his temple and withdrewing the memorie; even the most important memorie the prophiece about harry and voldy. So either dd used his highly advanced transviguration to switch places with someone else, or he has a twin that looks just like him