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Books: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Shortly after Mr. and Mrs. Girl visited Seattle, Maggie wrote about her husband's hithertofore secret addiction to Harry Potter on her website. I dropped her a note to sympathize:

Me: If we'd known our spouses shared the same affliction we could have gotten them going on Harry Potter and then slipped off to catch a movie.

Maggie: The Queen too, eh?

Me: And how. Fortunately she has lots of friends who also suffer the ravages of Pottermania, so I am spared the coerced conversations. But if she ever decides to attend an event that starts with some word coined by J.K. Rowlings and ends in "-con," we should get together, the four of us, and stage a group intervention.

Maggie: If you think Bryan would help us stage a Potter intervention, you're nuts. They'd be much more likely to overcome us, tie us to a sofa, and read aloud until our eyes glazed over.

Me: No no, by "group intervention" I meant you and I could get intervention for both of them at the same time. I figure we could get better rates that way.

Maggie: Bulk-rate Harry Potter intervention ... now there's a potential gold mine.

Me: Hey, yeah. We could stage a fake convention called MuggleCon or ConWeasley or somesuch, and people would urge their Potter-addled loved-ones to get all dressed up and go. And then, after everyone arrives, we would seal the doors and have a bunch of specialists would come in and intervene the shit out of everyone. PROFIT!

Maggie: However, as a conscientious business partner, I should point out that we could make a lot more money just organizing Mugglecon, and then robbing people blind for stuffed toy owls and boxed lunches. Of course, it would be tough to shower away the stench of shame afterwards...

The sixth book, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, had been released at the time I wrote this, but I hadn't read it. Nor did I plan to. I'd read the first five books, but Harry Potter And The Order Of The Phoenix was so dreadful that I swore off the series forever.

But then I found myself between novels, and Half-Blood Prince was laying around our house, and I figured I'd just read a few chapters to tide me over until my next trip to the library. And then ...

Um, intervention for three, please.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is easily the best of the series, and the first I thoroughly enjoyed reading. And I'll tell you why, too: J.K. Rowling's publisher finally decided to assign her an editor. Her fourth and fifth books (Goblet of Fire and the aforementioned Order of the Phoenix) were released at the height of her popularity, at it was clear that no one dared edit The Sacred Word of Potter; as the result the books were long, rambling, unfocused, and boring. Worse, Rowling decided to make Harry act like a teen in the last few books, apparently forgetting that everyone hates teens for good reason. Half-Blood, on the other hand, while only slightly shorter in length than the previous book, has a much tighter narrative, one in which every scene actually advances the storyline (unlike earlier novel, where entire chapters could have been excised). And Harry stops acting so insufferable, so the whole thing doesn't come across as a 800 page LiveJournal entry.

I'd recommend you read Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. The problem is that I cannot, in good conscious, recommend you read all the books that come before it.

So here's my Harry Potter Reading Plan, similar in spirit to my How To Watch The Star Wars Prequels primers.

  • Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone: The book is relatively short and you'll breeze through it in a couple of bus rides, so you might as well read it. It's enjoyable in a "kids book" kind of way, even though I was pissed that the "logic puzzle" the kids have to solve doesn't make a goddamned bit of sense. The movie was also okay, though if you've seen any of the Lord of the Rings flicks you are bound to be disappointed. Just read the book, you pansy.
  • Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets: If you read the first novel, you've already read this one too, as it has pretty much the same plot structure. The film too is rather lackluster. My advice: skip them both, read the Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets Wikipedia entry and call it a day.
  • Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban: I actually liked this one quite a bit, and it was my favorite before I read Half-Blood Prince. Rowling starts introducing darker themes, and drops the standard Scooby-Doo plotline that she structed the first two novels around. The film is also pretty good, so take your pick.
  • Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire: Oh dear, here's where everything goes pear-shaped. Entirely too long and utterly lacking in internal consistency, Goblet of Fire contains a couple of important revelations, but the story arc as a whole is sound + fury = nothing. Paradoxically, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is the best of the four movies, so watch that instead.
  • Harry Potter And The Order Of The Phoenix: AVOID. There's no film yet but the Wikipedia page is exhaustive, so just read that.
Follow the above steps, read the surprisingly, um, readable Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, and against your better judgement you'll find yourself actually looking forward to the next and last book in the series, due to be released next year. I know I am.

Now, if I could only get this stench of shame out of my clothing.

Posted on June 28, 2006 to Books


My father, who would truly benefit from a Pottervention, also hated the fifth book when he read it. But he swears up and down that it's much better the THIRD time you read it.

So, you know, just do the whole 8 million pages two more times and you're gold.

Posted by: Candace on June 30, 2006 4:57 AM

Books on Tape are another way to go - I have a rule that I never watch Kentucky football - I always listen to it on the radio and do something productive at the same time (mow yard, wash cat, etc.) That way I'm around if anything interesting happens, but I haven't wasted my time completely if we just get pounded again. I listened to HP5 on tape while doing some serious yard work.

Posted by: Jeff on June 30, 2006 5:16 AM

There are unsubstantiated rumors that Ms. Rowling is going to write an Eighth book, detailing the aftermath of all the shenanigans and goings on.

You're not off the hook yet, bucko.

Posted by: Keith on June 30, 2006 6:11 AM

I've only read The Sorcerer's Stone, found it enjoyable but really nothing out of the ordinary for standard fantasy fare. I'm always told they get better and I have to more. But I have to mention the Ms. Rowlings makes the classic first time DM mistake which you can use to annoy your Harry Potter fan (spoilers ahead)......

Why the heck does Dumbledore set up a bunch of circumventable tricks and traps to "protect" the sorcerer's stone? Only Dumbledore and the Sorcerer are supposed to have access to the stone so why make puzzles and riddles? The color potion riddle is particularly egregious. Dumbledore could have simply told Sorcerer, "It’s the red potion.” or even better just given the Sorcerer the correct potion. Do Dumbledore and the Sorcerer have to ride the broom to get the key? If not, why have it? (Just to give Harry’s player something to use his Skill Focus:Quiddich on…)

It’s easily corrected by mentioning they were attempting to draw out Voldamort or that magic must be constructed this way or something of the like.

Posted by: Eric on June 30, 2006 8:05 AM

I could never be a film or literary critic because I am so addicted to them purdy moving pictures that I barely notice plot holes big enough to drive a truck through. Same goes for most books.

I tend to just skim through entire sections of crappy dialog waiting for the next bit of action and don't remember what I read 10 mintues after I read it. I held out for years but finally read all of the Harry Potter books last year....in a span of about 1 month. I read fast but retain very little. The only thing I remember is the last one was good.

At least I think it was the last one...who knows.

Posted by: Duane on June 30, 2006 8:41 AM

Is being in "good conscious" being conscious, or unconscious? 'Cause I can see arguments either way....

Waiting for you to skewer Dan Brown now that JKR is out of the way. That dude NEEEDS some skewering.

Posted by: JPed on June 30, 2006 9:04 AM

Wow. I read the first five and enjoyed them well enough (though I agree that they got progressively more sloppy and rambling. Also, I wish they'd been around to read when I was twelve or so - I probably would have been TOTALLY lost to them). But I started Half-Blood Prince two or three times and just can't finish it - I've gotten at least a hundred and fifty pages in and nothing has happened. It's just boring! I suppose at some point I may try again, but right now I'm just inclined to wait and watch the movie when it comes out.

Posted by: SMurph on June 30, 2006 9:14 AM

I tend to disagree. It seemed like nothing happened in the Half-Blood Prince. Nothing. It was a letdown, really. Especially when the death was revealed to me on a MMORPG. I didn't even cry and I know I should have.

Maybe it needs a re-read but I have bigger fish to fry.

Posted by: Rachel on June 30, 2006 9:20 AM

I actually found Half-Blood Prince to be one of the worst of the series. It felt plodding and not well paced, as almost all of the action occurred within the last 100 pages or so. It also felt somewhat pandering to the movie audiences with all the references to how tall and big everyone was getting, etc.

In the end, because of how she'd set up her characters and their actions throughout the book, I didn't buy the ending and it felt hollow, rather than shocking. I'll read the last book, of course, but will do so out of a sense of closure rather than excitement.

Posted by: Darren James Harkness on June 30, 2006 9:20 AM

I second the Books on Tape suggestion! I've been a Books on Tape fan for years. (Favorites: Moby Dick and Stoker's Dracular.) The reader for the HP books is so good that you don't mind the rambling...in fact, like the 'digressions' in Moby Dick, it becomes all about voice and nuance.

Related, while Rowlings is not as good a writer as Pullman certainly, I don't think she's as easy a target as folks seem to make out.

Posted by: Al Tabor on June 30, 2006 10:57 AM

You know when you need a Potter intervention? When you have myriad bumper stickers that say things like "Deatheater," "Muggle Vehicle-authorized by the Ministry of Magic," and "Republicans for Voldemort" AND your license plate is "S Black." I seriously saw that car the other day. MuggleCon would make a killing off of that loon alone.

Posted by: The Girl on June 30, 2006 11:59 AM

I too am a member of the Pott-Anon's. But I find it rather cute to have my significant other bouncing with joy when we go see a new Potter movie.

Posted by: Micah Rousey on June 30, 2006 12:34 PM

Better save your own life and join me ...

Posted by: Lord Voldemort on June 30, 2006 12:54 PM

I once ran into a Harry Potter convention at a university in England where I went for an academic conference. Wizards hats, you name it.

The were all so cute. I'm not sure I can disapprove of a thing that makes adults dress up and look ridiculous and adorable and absurd. They were having so much fun, it was clear. But the books. Eck. Boring as hell.

Posted by: ozma on June 30, 2006 2:16 PM

After you're done with Brown, can you do King. The Gunslinger series is spanning, what, generations? And now he's in the damn thing up to his neck. Do King, do King, oh pleeeease do King next.

(Fine print: In fairness to King, he was almost killed in an accident - an accident which apparently inspired or in some way brought about some pretty darned good novels, imo.)

Posted by: marleyinoc on June 30, 2006 6:19 PM

My main objection to the Harry Potter series is that for some reason, North Americans had to have the title of the first novel changed to the "Sorceror's Stone" from the "Philosopher's Stone". As if we wouldn't find philosophers that entertaining: we're all familiar with the Monty Python song, we know they were all a bunch of pissants.

Oh wait, I guess that was just Kant. My mistake.

Posted by: Deron on June 30, 2006 6:59 PM

Are you kidding? I *loved* the Order Of The Phoenix. It brought back the long forgotten memories of teaching at a math camp for teenagers... we had a really neat camp going, until a new director took over and rearranged everything and, in a nutshell, killed the camp - it shut down several years after she became director. The book made me relive every moment of it. On the whole, I noticed that the HP series seems to be especially popular with the teachers... they swear it's because HP entices little kiddies to read large books, but we all know the truth... it just strikes a chord with them. They can relate.
The best part about Half-Blood Prince was the geeky preteen kids leaking the spoiler all over the Internet... so hilarious... my son had "Snape kills Dumbledore" as his signature at one point over at Newgrounds BBS.

Posted by: Goldie on June 30, 2006 7:27 PM

I too know the shame of locking yourself in a room for a day and a half until you finish the newest Harry Potter but I didn't like 'The Half Blood Prince' mostly because when you couldn't have anymore plot twists, my favorite characters seemed to die. Ho hum. Very disappointing. But, of course, the day Harry Potter #7 comes out, I will buy it and read it. Possibly twice. Even if it is utter crap.

Posted by: Kelsey on July 1, 2006 3:38 PM

This reminds me of a line from PCGamer's review of one of the Harry Potter videogames: "EA (the games' publisher) could ship a turd in the box and it would still sell."

Posted by: brendan on July 2, 2006 4:35 PM

I thought Half-Blood Prince was the worst of the series, personally -- totally unimaginative, to the point where I felt like several scenes were actually blatant rip-offs of the Lord of the Rings and Indiana Jones. She's scraping the bottom of the creativity barrel, in my opinion. Thank god there's only one book left in the series, so she won't have time to make it devolve completely into utterly unbearable crap!

That said, I still love "U-No-Poo," which made me laugh out loud. Thank god for the Weasleys.

Posted by: Meg on July 2, 2006 7:24 PM

After I initially read Half-Blood Prince I would have disagreed with you, as I found it somewhat boring and mainly set-up for the last book. However, on car trips my husband & I have a set agreement - he drives & I read to him. As I was reading this most recent HP book to him I found myself so interested in the book (despite already having read it) that I wnted to take it out of the car to continue reading it.

By the end of this second time round I was completely sold - it is by far the best yet.

Posted by: Molly on July 3, 2006 7:27 AM

Oh, and I have a theory - the locket was taken by Sirius Black's brother, the one who was a death eater and died young. In The Order of the Phoenix when Kreacher the house elf was hoarding items from the Black household one of the items the kids saw in his little corner was a large gold locket.

Posted by: Molly on July 3, 2006 7:40 AM

The locket is mentioned as being in the cabinet that the kids clean out in Chapter 4 (I think) of Order of the Phoenix. Reading it to the kid a chapter at a shot and wow, can that book stand editing. I pointed out last night that the entire chapter (5?) about the Ministry of Magic could go, because it doesn't advance the plot at all and only contains one reference to a character who will be mentioned again later (that I can recall -- read it years ago). "Yeah, but now we know what the Ministry of Magic is like!" explained the kid.

Posted by: Chris on July 3, 2006 8:00 AM

Hey, Order of the Phoenix was my absolute favorite book in the series! Half-Blood Prince just dragged on and on and was pretty much a prequel to Book 7.

I'm 28.

Posted by: Jennifer on July 3, 2006 9:38 AM

I disagree. The Order of the Phoenix is said to be one of Rowling's best precisely because of its detailed chapters. One of the most distinctive things about the Potter books and a reason so many people are fans is the imagination and time taken to describe new characters or places. I mean, would you honestly read something that gave a couple of sentences as a description of something completely out of this world? With Rowling you get a sense of really being there; the more you know the more it becomes reality....and the magical craziness of it all comes to life. That being said, I'll never understand those who say the books drag on and have no plot. They're brilliant.

Then again I just might be one more crazed fan doomed to love Harry Potter for life.

Posted by: Angie on July 3, 2006 1:41 PM

I think that the books are getting better and worse the farther the series goes. I do agree that Rowling is getting better with her descriptions and that it's easier to sink into the world. The only thing I don't like about them is that Rowling seems to be trying to make the books bigger as they go along, and I don't mean in lenghth. Every book from four till now has had an aura of "Holy Shit!!!! I can't believe this if fucking happening!" towards the end. My guess is that both Harry and Voldemort will simultaneously die at the end of the seventh. Despite that, I think I'll enjoy it.

Posted by: Triskle on July 3, 2006 5:02 PM

I've tried reading several of the Potter books, but I haven't finished one yet. Gawd, they're tedious. I like the movies, though. My favorite part of the most recent one (unless I've missed one) was when Hermoine said, "Does my hair really look like that from behind?"

Hair. Yeah. That's what she'd be thinking about, given the viewing angle and her age.

Posted by: MarkDM on July 3, 2006 6:10 PM

Come on, man, Order of the Phoenix rocked it hardcore. Harry gets to make out with a crying asian chick. What more do you want?

Posted by: ELF Radio on July 3, 2006 7:55 PM

"Tedious" isn't the issue here. It's whether you are an avid reader and these books interest you.

Posted by: some dude on July 4, 2006 2:58 PM

I haven't read any of the books, but I've listened to them all on tape/cd. The guy who does the readings is great with voices for all the characters. I can't imagine making myself read one of those tomes, but it makes the 600 mile drive from Seattle to Helena, MT go by pretty quickly... Recommended if you have to traverse eastern Washington.

Posted by: Fred Flintstone on July 5, 2006 8:52 AM

I like the Potter books for the same reasons I like hot dogs. I can eat 52 of them in 12 minutes. Naw, just kidding.

But am I the only person on the planet who has noticed that Goblet of Fire was completely pointless? I mean...that whole charade... Why not just grab him, beat the hell out of him and throw him into the trunk of a car like regular hoods do?

Well, I will be up all night reading Book Seven. /sigh

Oh, and I have to agree - Prisoner of Azkaban was the best, until Half Blood Prince. Now it's a toss up.

Posted by: Xoebe on July 5, 2006 11:34 AM

I just wanna tell you that Harry Potter series is one such series that everybody likes that. I myself is mad about those series and love to read them. J.K Rowlling is really great. She has really make all of us crazy!

Posted by: Steven Chappel on July 8, 2006 3:29 AM

i think jk shud not have killed dumbledore as potter needed his giudance a lot. jk is gonna kill potter and voldy in de last book.

Posted by: danfan on July 14, 2006 6:06 AM

I noticed that Goblet of Fire was absurdly excursive, too. Great yarn, but if they needed Harry to be delivered to Voldemort on a plate, wouldn't it have been far easier for Moody to just call him into his office and say, "Here! Have a cup of tea! Or a book about defense against dark magic! Or whatever other object I've cleverly disguised as a portkey!"

Also, I thought the GoF film was the worst yet: they cut out so much from the books that the movie was shot full of plot holes. I don't have very high hopes for the rest of the movies, owing to the length of text that will need to be cut.

As for the Order of the Phoenix: I liked the length of the book, because JKR was taking the time to bring us into Harry's world, and doing it well.

It's also pointless to speculate on what she could have cut out until after the seventh book comes out, because little things that seem unimportant regularly become significant later in the series.

For example, the scene where the kids are cleaning out the drawing room in OotP seemed like it could have been cut--until you read Half-Blood Prince and realize that they had come across the horcrux locket in the corner cabinet.

Moreover, she spends time on subplots that don't do much to advance the plot, but they underscore, mirror, symbolize, or foreshadow other things going on in the plot. Such as Tonks' love for Lupin, and how it made her unable to morph. That underlines how Merope Gaunt was unable to use magic after her husband left her.

I think all of that will have something to do with Harry's relationship with Ginny in the final book; after all, Harry's ability to love is what is supposed to help him defeat Voldemort. It would be interesting if that ability was somehow compromised or affected in Book 7, and the examples of Tonks and Merope Gaunt show us one way it could happen.

Ah, hell. I just looked back over that text. Intervention, please?

P.S. For an interesting analysis on the amount of attention JKR pays to symbolism in her work, check this out: Psycho-sexual imagery in the Chamber of Secrets. Go on. You know you want to.

Posted by: Vermicious Knids on July 18, 2006 6:18 PM

That URL didn't come through, for some reason, so here's the link to the essay:


Er, and just to be clear, I didn't write it, so this isn't me pimping my own work. I just found it interesting.

Posted by: Vermicious Knids on July 18, 2006 6:19 PM

I read a lot of science fiction and fantasy, and a fair amount of it comes from the "young adult" section of the bookstore/library, as I can usually finish those in an evening, after the kids are in bed. So I feel I have some basis for comparison here. Prisoner of Azkaban was a good book, and remains my favorite-- I agree the first two were "mostly harmless." (Pumpkin juice as a popular beverage with kids is just plain silly.) Goblet of Fire was just about unreadable due to the angst saturation level, as well as having a stupid plot, as noted by others. I've reread parts of Order of the Phoenix, though-- mostly the bits where Harry is an underground teacher. I guess as a teacher and subversive, I like those bits. I also thought the scene with Petunia at the beginning of the book was very interesting. Wandering around the Ministry of Magic was somewhat tedious, and lacked credibility as well. The court scenes, however, were very interesting. Gave an important perspective to how the wizard world isn't the wonderful idyllic escape Harry wants it to be.

I haven't decided yet about Half Blood Prince. I guess I'll read it again -- unlike the others, I've only read it once so far. To me, it really felt like the "middle book" of a trilogy: just a setup for the final book. It was no surprise to me that Dumbledore was removed in the final pages-- he had to go to fit the formula, so that Harry could be forced to go solve the main problems himself. (Note that I didn't say "died," as it seems likely to me that Dumbledore will still be making appearances. Not for nothing does Rowling like to toss around mythical symbols like phoenixes.)

Mostly I like reading about Snape-- not because he's likable, but because he isn't, and because Rowling has put so much work into making him into a complex character. Half Blood Prince was, of course, the ultimate Snape book. Or maybe penultimate -- it remains to be seen what will happen in Book 7.

I doubt there will be a book 8. Rowling has said publicly that all loose ends will be tied up at the end of #7, and I think she's sick of writing the series.

Posted by: edalton on July 19, 2006 10:31 AM