I was a skeptic for years. Really, I was. The first five books had come out and everybody and their dog was telling me how great they were. First, I decided it was all overblown hype. Then, I pegged them as inconsequential kid's books. Finally, I said that I might
pick them up and have a read once all seven were out. In the end, though, the decision turned out not to be mine. At the start of this school year (it seems I've known Harry all my life, but it's only been nine months, really) I took a Children's Literature class, and the first book was on the reading list.
I devoured the first book in a night. I thought it was a load of fun, but not much else. After all, Rowling had simply taken the tried-and-true formula of the British schoolboy story and jazzed it up with magic. Same for book numbers two and three. It was a lather, rinse, repeat sort of formula, and, while I had a lot of fun reading the first three books, none of them really had a huge impact on me.Goblet of Fire
and Order of the Phoenix
, however, were something special. The characters, already well-fleshed out in the first three books, seemed to go beyond being mere names on a page. The darkened tone made everything much more tense. Et cetera, et cetera - I'm sure you all know what I'm talking about.
So, when Half-Blood Prince
came out, I was stoked. I read the entire thing in a night. When I put it down, though, I wasn't happy with it. I thought it lacked some intangible quality of the last two. The next day, I was mulling over what exactly was wrong with it. I couldn't put my finger on it. Eventually, though, I realized what it was. It had nothing to do with the writing, the structure, or anything of that nature.
When I read, even for pleasure, I tend to focus on things such as narrative and sentence structure, the plausibility and consistency of character and dialogue, and things along those lines. I realized, though, that in reading this book, my reactions had nothing to do with any of these. Rowling had successfully drawn me into her world, and the reason I was unhappy after reading the book was because, well, things looked pretty rough for Harry.Half-Blood Prince
, I think, is by far the best book of the series so far. Rowling's ratcheted up the tension to such a point where it's going to be nigh impossible to wait for the next book. But what she really succeeds at is the darkness of tone. If Goblet of Fire
and Order of the Phoenix
were dark, Half-Blood Prince
is pitch black.
I'd like to illustrate this with a brief excerpt from Dumbledore's death scene that I really think captures the tone of the book.But somebody else had spoken Snape's name, quite softly.
The sound frightened Harry beyond anything he had experienced all evening. For the first time, Dumbledore was pleading.
The death scene of Harry's greatest teacher (and, arguably, his most important father figure) is wonderfully underplayed by Rowling. Dumbledore doesn't go out in any blaze of glory, there's no fighting to the last gasp. His murderer simply walks up to him and kills. Harry, meanwhile, has been paralyzed and can do nothing - helplessness, it seems, is the word on this book.
Furthermore, the fact that we're presented with a book that contains no trace of confrontation with Lord Voldemort indicates that, well, we ain't seen nothin
Here's hoping for a quick turnaround on the last book. I fully expect it'll knock everyone's socks off.