Fuldu ( fuldu) wrote,

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Makes us dance and run about happily

It's not on my official reading list, but I just finished Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, so here are some comments (actually mostly predictions regarding book seven, so even if you've read HBP some people might prefer to skip this), considerately hidden behind a spoiler-proof cut:

First off, that was the best first chapter ever. Woohoo Muggle politics! And the second chapter was no slouch, either. A whole chapter of Snape belittling, well, pretty much everyone is quite enjoyable.

It's clear that Rowling has finally decided to start tying things back together more directly, which I approve of. But I'm concerned at the amount she's trying to pack into the final book, as well as the fact that it suddenly seems like a much more prosaic fantasy novel. Based on the setup she's created in this book, book seven forces Harry to contend with no fewer than five separate quests (destroy four horcruxes and kill Voldemort), plus the optional Snape side-quest. That's not going to leave much time for Quidditch, even in a 1300-page book.

Of course the fact that the locket horcrux is so painfully easy to find should aid that some. Ask Kreacher where the locket is. You don't suppose his former mistress's son Regulas Alphard Black would know anything about that, do you? (Okay, so I had to Google to get the guess at the middle name, but it does seem that I'm not the only person to think this, and also that OotP innocently mentions such a locket in the Black home. And apparently a virtually negligible character in these books like Regulus is well-enough beloved to merit fan sites. And slash.) But, of course, given the fantasy quest trope, it won't be there any longer. Mundungus must have stolen it along with a variety of other things he took from Harry's house. It's a follow-the-clues quest.

What I still don't see is a whole lot of development for the surprise ending for book seven. Let's face it, Rowling's writing style has grown somewhat (not a lot, but somewhat) over the course of the series, but she had her ending planned out from the beginning. Books one through four all had the surprise twist to finish them off, because that was the way she thought about stories. Books five and six are more straightforward, partly because they moved in slightly different directions than the first four and partly because they were serving to set up the larger story to a greater extent. But book seven is going to have a twist.

And I've said this before, perhaps not in this forum though I think I have, but it merits saying again, because unlike the fairly straightforward speculation about Regulus, I don't see this (at least not the particulars I have in mind) turned up in any of the quick Google searches I ran. What's the main message of books one through six? Severus Snape is a shady character with unclear motives, Draco Malfoy is a bad guy and Lord Voldemort is the bad guy. In book one, Snape's a MacGuffin, Quirrell's the bad guy, except, oh, Quirrell is Voldemort. In book two, Draco's a MacGuffin, Tom Riddle's the bad guy, except, oh, Tom Riddle is Voldemort. In book three, Sirius Black is the MacGuffin, Peter Pettigrew is the bad guy who's working for Voldemort. And so on...

But given that framework, who can be the MacGuffin in book seven? Snape again? Maybe, but I think we've run that hare to ground at this point. He'll likely turn out to be on the side of good, but that's not going to come as enough of a surprise to be the MacGuffin. No, it has to be something bigger than that. Lord Voldemort is the MacGuffin.

Now, the audience this is aimed at is too young to accept the notion of Voldemort suddenly being a good guy, which you might accept from fantasy aimed at an older audience. He's certainly a bad guy, just as Draco is trying to show himself to be (though I suspect he also might shake out on the side of good, based on his final scenes in book six), but I don't think Voldemort is the bad guy, and haven't since book four. Book five didn't shake my resolve and book six actually has me more convinced I'm right, both with specific evidence and with the general impression it gives more than any of the previous books that nothing occurs or is said without Rowling having given some thought to the larger picture. For those who scoff and point to the seriously lacking quality of Rowling's writing as evidence that she's not really giving it much thought, I can't disagree, but would point out that what I'm talking about are her abilities as a storyteller, not as a writer, and I think she does the former immensely more effectively than the latter. And, if you still don't agree with me, I challenge you to find the first place in the series in which Sirius Black's name occurs.

So who do I think is the big bad? Given the amount of lead-up I've given to this, you'd sort of expect it to be a better answer than Mr. Ollivander, the wand-maker. But he sold a wand to Voldemort and a matching one to Harry Potter, telling Harry he expected great things from him (and think about how creepy John Hurt made that character in the movie). His appearance in book four to weigh the wands before the Tri-Wizard Tournament placed him at the center of a pivotal moment for the Wizarding world. I feel like he did something I found noteworthy in book five, but I can't remember what it was and I don't have it handy. And then, hidden amongst a number of other signs of impending doom in book six, we have this:

"Talking of Diagon Alley," said Mr. Weasley, "looks like Ollivander's gone too."
"The wandmaker?" said Ginny, looking startled.
"That's the one. Shop's empty. No sign of a struggle. No one knows whether he left voluntarily or was kidnapped."

Ollivander strikes me as a very Needful Things sort of salesperson (yes, I'll even read Stephen King when he writes Faustian novels), and compare King's Leland Gaunt to Rowling's Malvolo Gaunt, not that it's an enormously meaningful similarity given the usefulness of a name like Gaunt for establishing that a character is evil. He's stirring up trouble and then heading off to parts unknown to do it again.
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