Thursday, 1 March 2007

Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince

Recently, Harry Potter fans (of which I am unashamedly one) were greeted with the news that July 21 is the release date for the next (and last) instalment. Only ever intended by the author, J.K. Rowling, to write seven books (one for each of Harry’s high school years at Hogwarts), the most recent, and sixth, instalment, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, was the most impressive and complete story so far. My expectations for book 7 (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows) are now almost impossibly high.
Book 5 (HP and the Order of the Phoenix) was the greatest disappointment. Trying (a little too hard I feel) to demonstrate Harry’s increasing frustration and isolation (at being 15, at being an orphan, at being attacked by very nasty forces) resulted in A LOT OF SHOUTING (no kidding, Rowling used capitals a lot which wears thin after a very short while). Also, the book topped 900 pages. Like a lot of modern day movies, more is not necessarily better. I felt that book 5 would have benefited from an editor prepared to stand up to the marketing behemoth that is ‘Harry Potter’ and made a tighter story as a result.
If you have seen the films and can’t see what all the fuss is about then I’m not surprised. The first two films were directed by Chris Columbus (Home Alone) and they were very much children’s films which (unfortunately necessarily) spent so long in set up and exposition that there was no time for character development. Film 3 was directed by Mexican Alfonso Cuaron (Y Tu Mama Tambien) who got the mix of teenage URST right. Film 4 was directed by Mike Newell (Mona Lisa Smile, Donnie Brasco) and on the whole it was quite boring [with the exception of two action scenes, one of them involving the dragon chase]. Film 5 incidentally is due around the same time as book 7 in July this year. Plenty of cross-promotion all round.
My expectations have always been high for this series of novels. While ostensibly aimed at the upper-primary / young teenager, the language and sophistication of the stories and characters meant that “kids of all ages” could enjoy them. Adults enjoy emotional maturity in equal measure with a character’s adventures and as the books moved progressively through to #5, that maturity just seemed to be lacking, in my opinion. My wife kept reminding me that the books “were aimed at children,” not at adults but I still felt that they could offer just a little more and still be accessible to children.
The Half-blood Prince (#6), which I have just re-read, has Harry coping as a senior with his school work, captaining his sports team, squaring up to his rival, Draco, and finding out a lot of information about the evil Lord Voldemort whose return to power is terrorising the wizarding community.
The emotional climax of this story is with the death of yet another important character. At the end of book 5, Harry loses someone close to him but was not, I felt, as relatively close to us (as a reader). The loss at the end of book 6 is personal to both us and Harry and the result is devastating.
“What was real and inescapable, was the awful pressing feeling in his chest … He moved, dreamlike, through the murmuring crowd to the very front, where the dumbstruck students and teachers had left a gap.”

We are in denial. We have been tricked before by Rowlings writing style and clever shifts in attention. Our insides are with Harry : we scream with denial. But the truth hits us. We are numb and wander around in a daze.
“Somewhere out in the darkness, a phoenix was singing in a way Harry had never heard before : a stricken lament of terrible beauty. And Harry felt that the music was inside him and not without : it was his own grief turned magically to song that echoed across the grounds and through the castle windows.”

With a renewed mission in mind (and the subject of book 7 yet to be played out) Harry knows that he must eschew his close relationships so that they cannot be leveraged against him in any future battles waged against the Dark Lord. “It’s for some stupid noble reason, isn’t it ?” says Harry’s girlfriend with whom he his breaking up. Unlike Superman and Spiderman in recent film outings though, we know there is no stoic joy to be had by spurning those you love. We know that he is just an ordinary sort of boy facing extra-ordinary challenges.
You need to start at book 1 and let the stories envelope you. The great advantage that books have over films is that they have the time and space to build deep relationships. As the books evolve, so do the characters, their relationships and their maturity.
Like a car wreck the terror just stops us. The momentum of the story however carries us onward to July 21. We can hardly wait.

1 comment:

lach said...

Nice review of the HP series. You're absolutely wrong about the books but quite right about the movies.

#6 (Half-Blood Prince) being the most impressive and complete? You're totally off your rocker. The book was just a cheapo set-up for the last one. Practically nothing interesting happened and it was just boring.

The 1st book is still my favourite, but I really enjoyed the 4th (Goblet of Fire). The 5th I can't remember all that well - probably should read it again. My least fav would be the second. A bit boring!

First two movies we're pretty bad. I still enjoyed them, but only just. (It's a major bummer that Rick Mayall's scenes were cut because the guy is funnier than a cat in a bag, I think he played that mischevous ghost, Peeves) The 3rd was great! I also agree with you about the 4th movie - boring. I also really hated the "blue filter" they put over it, none of the colours stood out and everything looked the same.

Still, looking forward to the 5th movie and the 7th book!