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

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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