03 May 2013

Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince Readalong

His dumblin' days are sadly numbered. I can hardly think about it.
There is so much happening in the last quarter of this book that I hardly know where to start. Except, of course, by thanking Alice for hosting this readalong.  If anything has been made clear during my participation, it is this: despite our collective nitpicking about contradictions and inconsistencies and our tendency to bicker about our beloved characters, this is a magical, magical world that JKR has created.  It is not, perhaps, world-building on a Tolkien scale, but it is still the world I most want to dwell in when I want to escape from this one.

And now, on to Chapter Nineteen: Elf Tails: it's interesting to me that Hermione is the first one to analyze the two different attacks on Katie and Ron and peg them for ultimately being the same.  She may not excel in creative magic like the twins do, but her mind is sharp and logical and she doesn't get distracted by dissimilar superficial details. It's Our Girl at her best.

Same chapter: Mr Weasley says it was a lucky day that Ron sat with Harry on the Hogwarts Express, but really, isn't it just the opposite? Would half of the Weasley's troubles exist if it weren't for Ron's close association with Harry? Would Harry have even been sorted into Gryffindor if he hadn't made friends with Ron on the train? Still, good on Arthur Weasley for being a glass-half-full kind of guy.

Same chapter: I'm sorry, but couldn't a 5th grader have found a loophole around the instructions Harry gave Kreacher? Harry didn't tell Kreacher that he couldn't tell, say, Bellatrix or Narcissa, that he (Kreacher) was following Draco.

Chapter 21: The Unknowable Room. I'm curious about Harry's and Snape's disagreement on the best way to tackle dementors.  Harry = producing a patronus and Snape = occluding? That's my hunch.

Brief detour to the Drarry sexual subtext: Draco calls Harry the Boy Who Scored, Harry later says under his breath multiple times, "I need to see where Draco Malfoy keeps coming secretly" and "I need to see what Draco Malfoy is doing inside you." Yeah, baby.

Chapter 23: Horcruxes. I wonder, not for the first time, why it's only murder that can split a witch or wizard's soul.  It's terrible, but it doesn't seem like the worst thing to do to somebody.  Seems like what Bellatrix & Co did to the Longbottoms was worse. And is it just the act of murder that splits the soul, or is that additional creation of a horcrux that does it?  And where does killing leave off and murder begin?

Chapter 24: Sectumsempra.  Does anybody else find it disturbing that in the same chapter in which Harry slices open Draco Malfoy and nearly kills him, that he finally gets Ginny Weasley? Way to reward your characters for brutality, Jo. On the other hand, the monster in Harry's chest at the end of this chapter inspired THE best pieces of fanfiction I've ever read: The Way We Get By and Drop Dead Gorgeous, by Maya/Mistful, aka Sara Rees Brennan.  If you can find them anywhere on line, I recommend that you do so.

Chapter 26: The Cave. Very cool, very creepy, but unnecessarily complicated, perhaps?  Could they have flown on brooms to the middle of the lake? Couldn't Harry have shot the aguamenti'd water straight into Dumbledore's mouth? Couldn't Dumbledore have taught Harry a quick spell to produce fire when he was conversationally telling him how they would keep the inferi at bay?

But oh, my hear melted the first time I read Dumbledore say, "I am not worried, Harry...I am with you." And then every subsequent time I read that, my heart just broke, because of course I knew what was coming next.

Tarot card: The Lightning Struck Tower
Chapter 27: The Lightning Struck Tower.  There's a lot going on here. Besides the obvious, I mean.  It breaks my heart a little bit that Draco has had such a tough year that the sympathy and praise he gets from Dumbledore mean so much to Draco. What a terrible position to be in: forced to plot your way to kill one of the greatest wizards of your time, with pain of death hanging over you--not just yours, but your entire family's.  I imagine Draco would have been in much better shape if it was only his own life on the line. Poor Snape, because the moment he's been dreading all year finally arrives. If Dumbledore is correct, then Snape believes he is splitting his soul to keep Draco's intact. Poor Harry, to be invisible and petrified the entire time.

Poor Draco
Chapter 28: The Flight of the Prince.  I don't understand how anybody who has ever read any kind of story with a red herring before could still think that Snape was evil after reading this chapter. Snape is fleeing for his life with Draco and he still is trying to teach Potter, still trying to protect him. I remember reading this chapter the first time, in the wee hours of the morning, feverishly turning pages, re-reading the scene on the tower and then this one, going back & forth between the two chapters. Comparing the "revulsion and hatred" from one scene with the "demented, inhuman" look on his face, the pain visible there compared to the pain of a dog being burned alive.

Chapter 29: The Phoenix Lament.  I'm mostly fine until I get to the scene when Fleur and Molly arrive in the hospital wing and have their moment. Then I cry and cry.  I have neither really liked nor disliked Fleur, but at this moment I love her. "What do I care how 'e looks? I am good looking enough for both of us, I theenk." Indeed you are, Fleur.  Indeed, you are. But can I just say here how much I hate the inconsistency of Fleur's speech?  Sometimes she is capable of pronouncing a"th" or "h" and sometimes she is not?

Ach, I am out of time.  But this book leaves me with an ache that the others don't, and not for the obvious reasons. No, instead I'm left wondering how and when the Snape/Harry story arc will be resolved, because in HBP, it's clear to me that theirs should have been the most important relationship in this series.  And I don't mean that just because Snape is the most interesting character, but because of all of the layers of the story that would wrap up if they came to a true reconciliation. A reconciliation between Snape and Harry is a reconciliation between generations, it's a righting of past wrongs, it would come from a place of understanding instead of blind prejudice, and oh, shoot, I really am out of time and can go no further.

I'll just say this: that if you think Snape is as interesting a character as I do and would like to read some excellent fanfiction that beautifully addresses the Harry/Snape issue, please read Theowyn's Harry Potter and the Enemy Within. It's not slash, everybody stays in character, but it's a thoughtful exploration of the student/professor relationship and, to my mind, a better story for Harry's sixth year than HBP was. 

32 comments:

  1. For Horcrux creation, it's got to me more than just the murder that splits the soul, right? Or else Voldie's soul would be in more than just 7 pieces.

    "Couldn't Harry have shot the aguamenti'd water straight into Dumbledore's mouth?" - Yes this! At first I thought the spell would only work on a vessel of some sort, until he used it on Hagrid's hut. Plot hole, JK.

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    1. Yeah, I think it's pretty clear from the HP equivalent of the midrash that creating a horcrux is separate from the Avada Kedavra. But what isn't clear from the text itself is whether any killing splits the soul but that all the pieces stay tucked into your own body if you've not made a horcrux vessel for the split part.

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    2. Ah gotchya. So each time you kill your soul is all broken up inside you, but it's still all there. Now I can't help picturing Voldie walking around sounding like a maraca, what with all his broken soul pieces banging around inside him.

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    3. Maybe it's the wine, but I just read "macarena" instead of maraca and my mind immediately went to seeing Voldie do the dance but he was noisy 'cause all of his split soul pieces were banging up against each other with every movement.

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    4. Well I like that so much better, so let's pretend I said that. Internet, please GIF that for me.

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  2. "But can I just say here how much I hate the inconsistency of Fleur's speech? Sometimes she is capable of pronouncing a"th" or "h" and sometimes she is not?" Yeah, that'll be JK's french racism coming out (racism? Xenophobia, obviously.)

    I feel like the deal with horcruxes is that murder makes your soul more pliable and mushy, and so it's easier to rip apart to create the horcruxes? But then again, surely murder does bad things to the soul anyway, so maybe it does just split it into many parts? I don't know, it all seems kind of metaphorical, except that it isn't and Voldemort has LITERALLY done it. This is the worst attempt to explain something ever...

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    1. When Dumbles is discussing horcruxes with Harry he says he saved making them for important deaths, like Harry would have been. I imagine that means there is separate magic (especially since if there wasnt ALL the death eaters would have horcruxes) to put take the soul and place it in the item.

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    2. Yeah, I think the separate magic is a given for the creation of the horcrux. Which, of course, is all the more reason that one could accidentally have been created when Voldie tried to a-k Harry as a baby. Because there was no other artifact found in the ruins of the Potter house that Voldie might have taken there with him to use to make the horcrux. Except his wand, and we've already had the discussion of how Voldie got his wand back...

      PLotholes and inconsistencies--I dislike them because I want to have ALL the knowledge when it comes to Harry Potter.

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    3. Ah yes, I see. I believe the Maraca Macarena is the appropriate answer then.

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    4. How Voldie Got His Wand Back. Excellent movie. (This comment isn't the least bit helpful.)

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    5. You're wrong. That comment was EXTREMELY helpful in making my work day better. Now I'm off to drink wine!

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  3. I remember talking through this book with friends when it came out, and we definitely considered the possibility of Snape not being a death eater, and probably hoped for it to, but I don't think I was ever fully convinced either way until the reveal.

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    1. My two best friends and I talked about this all the time before DH came out. One of them was with me--never really doubted Snape after book one. The other was appalled with both of us and almost seemed to call our morals into question.

      Interestingly, I was trying to suss out some reactions from people who had only ever seen the movies, so I asked around with the kids in my family. My question was something like, Is Severus Snape realllly evil, or just realllly unpleasant? They all thought about it and voted for unpleasant, even after having watched the HBP film. And as I've been re-watching the films during our readalong, I'm occasionally surprised by how much is given away, re: Snape's loyalties. Of course, I'm looking for those things, but still...

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    2. I think the films definitely defang Snape somewhat. I mean, his meanness tends to be more comical, like in that scene where he knocks Harry and Ron's heads together. While I don't think anyone who read the books ever doubted that Snape had an evil streak in him (even if they believed he was on Dumbles side from the start).

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    3. As Hermione would remind us, evil is a pretty strong word, Kayleigh. :-)

      But yeah, you're right. THe movies do defang Snape (good word).

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    4. Perhaps, but he's definitely nasty/extremely bad. I mean, if Lily's safety hadn't been threatened there's nothing to suggest he wouldn't still be a death eater murdering innocent magic folk. Myeh, I love Snape but I'm also under no illusion that he's a good person.

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  4. I'm SO glad you mentioned Kreacher! I was going to rant about it, but I restrained myself. After Kreacher's role in Sirius's death, WHY would Harry trust him to ever do a damn thing for him? He could've just called on Dobby and Dobby would've been happy to help him, all by himself.

    I was wondering about the Horcrux thing! If it's that killing itself that splits your soul, or the act of creating a Horcrux after killing. I'm inclined to think that it's the combined act of killing and then creating the Horcrux. Cause otherwise, where would that torn part of your soul go to? It would stil be inside you, but split? But would that have any negative effect or make a difference? And what about wizards who kill accidentally, or in self-defense, or in the line of work as an Auror or something?

    Stuff like this is why JK needs to put out a HP Encyclopedia.

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    1. See above re:Maraca Macarena and Voldemort. :-)

      I think, ultimately, that JKR is pretty vague about this and we'll never know, but that won't keep me from thinking about magical theory in Harry Potter until my dying day.

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    2. Guys, Kreacher totally redeems himself in the next book. I'm actually choking up a little to think of it.

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    3. SO true, Kayleigh. I was not saying I didn't have sympathy for Kreacher. Just that a moderately smart 5th grader could have found a way around Harry's strictures about following Malfoy.

      In fact, the whole time i was reading the cave chapter, I was feeling terrible about what I rememebred about Kreacher from book 7 AND thinking how bad of an ass Regulus must have been to figure out how to get there. And then I re-remembered that voldie had used Kreacher and therefore RAB was quite such a badass afterall since he had Kreacher's lead to follow the second time round. WHICH ONLY MADE ME FEEL MORE SYMPATHY FOR KREACHER. Not only did he have to swallow the poison the first time, he was forced to give it to Regulus the second time. Terrible, terrible, terrible.

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    4. NO I DON'T WANT TO LIKE KREACHER. Dammit, Rowling.

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  5. Eek, Tolkien. I am not a fan though yes, his world-building is better. I'd prefer a GRRM comparison though. :]

    You're right, Hermione's brand of smarts is more around the logical aspects. In fact, her intellect is really only incidentally related to magic, as that is what she studies. She'd probably also do fantastic in, say, chemical engineering or criminal profiling.

    The dementor thing is interesting. I suppose that hiding your happy thoughts from a dementor could be effective, but is it efficient? You could only protect yourself that way, whereas a patronus would protect a group.

    OH MY GOD. I have been wondering for years why Harry didn't just aguamenti the water into Dumbly's mouth. So glad I'm not the only one!

    As for Snape...I don't get the impression that he's splitting his soul. He doesn't murder Dumbly, he helps him out and also protects Draco. Still hard to do, but I don't think he could make a Horcrux with that. Also, on re-readings I absolutely see how he continues to teach Harry even as he flees, but that was totally lost on me my first couple of times around. I made that point on a review a couple of years ago and was told that Snape is just taunting Harry and yes, he is, because that's what he does best - but it's more than that. I missed the teaching for the taunts my first time around though.

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    1. I've not read (or watched) GRRM, but I can see how it might approach (or perhaps exceed? idk) Tolkien's world-building. Creating languages and mythologies and hundreds of years of history for your stories that don't even become relevant unless you read the 15-volume appendices? I WISH that JKR's world had that sort of completeness.

      re: Snape's soul splitting...maybe. You might be right. But in the scenes we get later from the pensive, it seems that there's some question in Snape's mind about the soul splitting, orperhaps he's just making the point to Dumbledore that Dumbledore has been using Snape for the greater good for most of his life.

      re: Snape's evilness: you're probably right about that, too. i've been so ridicuously pro-snape for most of this series that it all seemed obvious to me. that he's protecting and teaching Harry right until the end, and being taunted with "Coward" when he'd just done the most bravely difficult thing in his life put him over the top.

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    2. I absolutely think that Snape is feeling used. Whether or not his soul splits and even though it's not actually murder, it's still a lot to ask of someone and Dumbledore seems to see Snape more as a tool than a man. Not okay.

      GRRM may not go to quite the same levels of mythology and language creation as Tolkien (I've never read the appendices and couldn't quite make it to the end of LotR) but I think he creates more unique and distinct places and has far better characterization. Plus that's all background for a plot, whereas in LotR the background seems more the point than anything. But we can discuss when I post my review of LotR in a few days. :]

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    3. I look forward to your review. For a long time, the LOTR books were my favorite fantasy books and among my favorite stories ever, but even while I was loving them I was frustrated not to see more strong female characters.

      I definitely agree with you that background in Tolkien is overly important compared to, say, character development.

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  6. "Would half of the Weasley's troubles exist if it weren't for Ron's close association with Harry?"

    I think...probably? Because most of the Weasleys would be in the Order of the Phoenix regardless. And that seems to be where they get themselves in the most trouble. Arthur Weasley would still have been guarding the prophecy in the Ministry of Magic, and he still would have been attacked by Nagini. Also, Ginny totally would have ended up in the Chamber of Secrets no matter what.

    But Harry probably also would have still saved them, even if he wasn't close personal friends with a Weasley. So Mr. Weasley is basically wrong about all that luck rigmarole.

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    1. Hmmm...yeah, I was accounting for the Order in my guess of about half the troubles. Maybe they'd still have about 1/3 of the trouble, then. because yeah, they'd still be in danger from the Order. But if Ron and Harry hadn't been best friends, Ron probably wouldn't have eaten a box full of chocolate cauldrons that weren't his.

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    2. Ooooooooh true. Whenever this subject comes up around my husband, he gets indignant about Ron rudely devouring someone else's chocolates. Because that's the important part of the story, obviously.

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  9. Particularly enthralled by all your Rickman gifs. I am a freakish fan of everything that man does. Pretty big on The Harry Potterses too, so I must thank you for leading me to this meme and, as always, for your earnest and entertaining posts.

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  10. Also, I will definitely read the fan fiction on this one - a first for me - because, much as I love Alan Rickman, I love Snape more.

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Please, sir, may I have some more? (Comments, that is!)