Like millions of adolescents around the world (and more than a few adults, I’m sure), I have been eagerly anticipating the release of the new Harry Potter novel ever since I read Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix two summers ago. The fact that I’m old enough (barely) to have a child of Harry’s age for my own has never stopped me from diving headfirst into this enthralling series of fantastic novels.
After the dark and somber tone of the last book, with the wizarding world poised to face the return of the wicked Lord Voldemort (a villain so evil he makes Osama bin Laden look like Michael Kinsley), Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince promised to be an even more forbidding story. With the end of the series now in sight (this is the sixth book of a projected seven), we know that Harry and his friends are going to be forced to confront in earnest the dark forces that have loomed over their lives since the beginning.
After devouring the book in the two short days since it arrived on Saturday, I can assure you that author J. K. Rowling has met all my expectations and more. Once again, she has spun an immensely enjoyable journey through the magical world of Harry Potter, a near breathless story of heroism, intrigue, and cowardly villainy.
As with all the books, The Half-Blood Prince focuses on one year in Harry’s life, built around his sixth term at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. This time, though, the plot is less involved with Potter’s studies, and more with his preparations for the inevitable battle with his arch-enemy, Lord Voldemort, whom prophecy has decreed he alone can destroy.
Lead personally by Hogwarts Headmaster Dumbledore, Potter embarks on an investigation into the life and secrets of the man who became the Dark Lord, searching for his weaknesses and secrets in hopes of discovering the key that will enable Harry to bring about his downfall.
Of course, the story isn’t all deathly serious. Harry still finds time to enjoy the companions of his friends, as well as the thrills provided by Quidditch, the magical version of soccer played out on broomsticks. Also, Harry is finally able to express the feelings of love he has for a very special girl, emotions his heart has kept buried for too long.
Those who intend to enjoy the story on their own would do well to avoid reading too much about it, as the climax contains a huge, shocking event that will surely take away the breath of the series’ fans, if not bring a tear or two to their eyes. (No, I’m not going to give away the secret, but not everyone is as circumspect.)
There are already some critics who have started carping at the latest book, criticizing the writing as “flabby” and “wordy” and in need of more editing. While it’s true that The Half-Blood Prince would have benefited from a bit more editing and polish (as would virtually all bestselling novels), Rowling has the gift of writing clear and crisp prose, as well as a smooth style that makes even a 700-page behemoth read like a potboiler.
If there is a flaw to this penultimate entry in the series, it is that the author spends most of the book setting up events for the final, climatic volume. As a result, not as much happens in this one as in previous books. If you view the series as a continuum, however, rather than discreet stories, that fact is far less important, especially when the book finishes as strongly and as dramatically as this one does.
Rowling has capture millions of readers by opening their eyes to the possibilities that lie within the classic tradition of heroic fantasy. In addition to the traditional elements of wizards, witches, magic, goblins, dragons, etc., the Harry Potter series excels because it exists in a truly magical world fully formed from the author’s imagination. Like J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis before her, Rowling has created a self-contained universe for her stories, with characters, rules, practices, politics and history all of its own.
It is perhaps the less-fantastic aspects of the books, though, that make them such delightful reading for those of us who are closer in age to Harry Potter’s teachers than his schoolmates. There is more to these stories than just rousing tales of bravery, action-packed fights, and thrilling magical contests.
More mature readers can also appreciate the painful tales of embarrassment, triumph, loneliness and first love at Hogwarts, the inter-office politics and backstabbing at the Ministry of Magic, and the classic battle of good versus evil (which, as it so often does, plays out as a struggle between the virtue of the individual and the malevolence of the mob).
There is a certain reluctance among many adults, a sense of embarrassment even, to admit they like Harry Potter, believing that such books as these are not proper reading for anyone over the age of consent. Hogwash, I say. The delightful works of J. K. Rowling are not just for children. They are for anyone who ever wished for magic or dreamed they could fly, for audiences of any age who dared imagine themselves heroes vanquishing evil. They are books for any reader who loves a good story, well told.