Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling

Shandy Casteel

With her astonishing run of the first five books, Rowling's magical thrillers have grown increasingly darker, using deaths in books four and five to really give the story's arc an emotional heft the first trio were thin on.

Harry Potter and the Half-blood Prince

Publisher: Scholastic
Length: 652
Price: $29.99
Author: J.K. Rowling
US publication date: 2005-07
Amazon affiliate
It is good to have an end to journey towards; but it is the journey that matters in the end.
-- Ursula K. Le Guin

J.K. Rowling's sixth novel, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, accomplishes so much of what it needed to, which is not as easy as it may seem. Pulling together strands from all of the previous books and setting the stage for the seventh could have left this latest volume a meandering narrative mess. Instead, Rowling manages to balance the needed answers while adding insight and further shading already complex characters. It is this tangled mystery of Harry, the death of his parents, the rise and fall (and rise) of the Dark Lord, and all of the mystical revelations and relationships, which have hooked readers young and old. How else to explain the madness that has proceeded the last several releases of the Potter series with lines of avid fans hungering for the next clue?

With her astonishing run of the first five books, Rowling's magical thrillers have grown increasingly darker, using deaths in books four and five to really give the story's arc an emotional heft the first trio were thin on. By the end of the fourth book, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Rowling had brought back to form the malicious Lord Voldemort while killing off Hogwart's student Cedric Diggory in such an off-handed way that it was a revelation of where the series was ultimately heading. In the fifth book, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, it was Harry's godfather, Sirius Black who fell while battling Voldemort's supporters, the Death Eaters. So, it's no surprise that the sixth book deals yet another blow to readers with the most significant and affecting death yet. These days are indeed dark, even the Weasley family clock hangs precariously and constantly on its mortal danger setting.

But while the death is certainly fitting considering the novel's penultimate nature, most of the book is concerned with memory and history. Since Rowling first put down the words to the first chapter of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (or Philosopher's Stone, depending on your location), this has been a series which imbues its every turn with history and recollections, from the death of Harry's parents right through to the brazen and deftly-orchestrated ending of this newest addition which even as it unfolds is leaving a trail of clues and interpretations sure to have heads spinning for the next several years while every word is deciphered for meaning.

From the beginning, this book is set apart from the others by opening upon the Prime Minster of England who receives a visit from the former and current Ministers of Magic. These visits are hardly courtesy calls, but mirroring modern current events, stately warnings of the dire situation regarding both non-magical and magical world death and destruction. It's exceedingly difficult to read the book and not think for even the briefest of moments about the recent terrorist bombings in London, but then again, Rowling has always run an undercurrent of fascism and ethnic strife through the series, from the scorn of pure blood families for mixed-heritages to the slavish race of house elves who are nearly forever in service to their masters.

By even the second chapter, Rowling has eschewed her usual tact of initiating the books with Harry's summer return to his aunt and uncle's unwelcoming care. Here, it is the potions master Severus Snape taking center stage, as he is visited by Bellatrix Lestrange and Narcissa Malfoy, who begs for help with her son Draco's newly initiated directive from Voldemort which drives part of the sixth's novel's action.

For most of the novel though, Harry and Hogwart's headmaster Albus Dumbledore are paired off, using their time to unlock the secrets of Voldemort's immortality and to better understand the events of young Tom Riddle's life through collected memories. For some, this back story will seem halting, but to those who have savored every little corner of Rowling's universe, learning of Voldemort's heritage and the surrounding events of his rise to power will answer some of the questions since the series began, and especially the events of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, which loom larger now as the finale slowly begins to unwind.

None of this is accomplished at the expense of Rowling's imaginative and often humorous series. Harry's return to Hogwart's finds him more willing, at the suggestion of Dumbledore, to open up to his friends Ron and Hermione; Snape finally gets his dream job; and the Wesley twins Fred and George offer the magic world's only comic relief with their bright and cheerful joke shop. While there is now less to know about the comings-and-goings of the Hogwart's realm, older events play an increasingly vital role. Romance is filling the air and everyone is learning a little more, and no one more than Harry who chances upon a usefully annotated copy of a potions handbook, once owned and modified by the self-styled Half-Blood Prince. In purely delightful fashion, all of this ties together, and while the ultimate meaning of it all is still up in the air, by the time Dumbledore and Harry return from an almost perilous journey to see the Dark Mark above the Hogwart's tower, actions and vows take on a life of their own.

It's from this ending that the series finally accepts its own gravitas and lets the fulcrum swing past the point of no return. And while heartbreak will surely affect anyone emotionally invested in these books, Rowling has laid her tracks with precise reason, something that has been the most addicting facet of Harry Potter, the slow unraveling of a tale where all the parts are now coming back around and taking their rightful place in the puzzle.

While there's always a possibility the seventh book could disappoint, there is very little reason to despair. Rowling may have faltered here and there, but as she shows in this latest work, she never fails to deliver. While Harry and readers march towards the long-awaited showdown, the actual wrenching of hearts will be the several year wait until the story has cast its last spell.

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less

If The Prince of Nothingwood will popularly be remembered for celebrating the creative spirit of its star Salim Shaheen, it is equally an important communication on Afghanistan, it's culture and its people.

"Now I am just more tired and poor. So no, I haven't changed. I'm just older and more tired," says French radio journalist and documentarian Sonia Kronlund, as she looks back on the experience of making The Prince of Nothingwood (2017).

Joining Salim Shaheen, the most popular and prolific actor-director-producer in Afghanistan on his 111th no budget feature, Kronlund documents the week-long shoot and the events surrounding it. She crafts an insight into a larger than life persona, yet amidst the comedy and theatricality of Shaheen and his troupe of collaborators, she uncovers the heavier tones of the everyday reality of war and patriarchal oppression. If The Prince of Nothingwood will popularly be remembered for celebrating the creative spirit of its star, it is equally an important communication on Afghanistan, it's culture and its people. Alongside the awareness of the country cultivated by mainstream media news outlets, Kronlund's film offers an insight into a country that can humanise the prejudice and xenophobic tendencies of a western perspective towards Afghanistan.

In October of this year at the UK premiere at the BFI London Film Festival, Kronlund spoke with PopMatters about being driven by questions rather than inspiration. She also reflected on the subjective nature of documentary filmmaking, the necessary artistic compromises of filming in Afghanistan, and feeling a satisfaction with imperfections.

Why filmmaking as a means of expression? Was there an inspirational or defining moment?

Not really, no. I have always done documentary. I used to write scripts and TV series but I only make documentaries myself for radio and television. For this story, I figured out after a while that it deserved a bigger ambition and a bigger screen and that's why I don't very much believe in inspiration. To be honest, I made this film because I had to do something. I didn't have a big project where I thought: I want to make this. I went there and I found a little money and at the end the ambition and the inspiration came along the way. But there was not an urgent necessity to make this film. It fits with a lot of things that I'm interested in, like popular culture -- What does art stand for and why do we go to the cinema? What is the purpose? This is a question I'm interested in, but inspiration, not so much.

Has The Prince of Nothingwood provided you with the answers to those questions?

It has, and I hope it helps people to think about this question. It tells you that there is an urgent need to make images, to make films, even during war,and even if you don't have the money. And even if the films are not very good, they will find somebody who will like them. So something is going to happen, and I think that's very touching. I don't like Shaheen's films, I hardly watched them -- I paid somebody to watch them. But I'm very moved by all these people that do like his films, and it makes you think about the value of art and the purpose of why we make cinema. I used to study aesthetics in London, so it was one of the questions I had and while the film is lighter than this, that's what was in mind.

The film uses Shaheen as a doorway, beginning as a story about one man which becomes a story about Afghanistan, its people and culture.

Yeah, but it's not so much about Afghanistan and it's not my purpose is to say things about the country. There's one guy like him in Iran who makes cowboy movies in the Iranian desert and there's also a guy like that in Tunisia. I mean you have this person with an urgent need to film whatever they have under their hand and since it's war, then it tells you something about the war. But it's not so much interested in him.

There was a lot of editing, 148 hours that you haven't seen [laughs]. Making a documentary is really telling a story and I don't have any idea of objectivity -- it is my point of view on Shaheen. Some people say to me that they would like to show his films, that they really want to see his films, and I say: "You don't see how much I have edited. I show you the very nice parts of his films." People think he's a great filmmaker and that's the story I wanted to tell -- but I could have told another story.

To my mind, objectivity is a human construct, a falsity that does not exist.

Except mathematics maybe, and sometimes physics.

The purist opinion of documentary as objective is therein built on a faulty premise. From the subjective choices of the filmmakers that bleed into the film to the subjectivity of the subjects, it's not purely objective. Hence, it calls into question the traditional dividing line of the objectivity of documentary and the subjectivity of narrative fiction.

Totally! It's the editing, and why you chose this guy, how you film it and what you show, or what you don't show. It's not only subjectivity, it's storytelling. Not many people ask me about this, they take it for granted that it's the real Shaheen. But I'm not lying, I'm not saying things that aren't true, but I am telling a story, a fictional story out of what I filmed. I took scenes that happened one day and I put them with another story that happened three months later and that's why we had seven months of editing with three editors. So it was a lot of work.

One of the striking aspects of the film are the light and comedic moments offset by a darker and heavier sensibility, which include moments when, for example, Shaheen talks about arranged marriages.

We made 70rough cuts and there was one version we tested and you couldn't believe you were in Afghanistan. People would say: "Oh this is too funny. You don't see Afghanistan, it's just a bunch of crazy guys." I then said: "Let's put in a little more darkness." You then have to strike a balance and to me, if it's not perfect, I'm happy.

Shooting the film in a dangerous and volatile part of the world, was the approach that once you had enough footage you then looked to shaping the film in the edit?

It's not when you feel you have enough, it's finding a balance between security and artistic concerns. That's it. You have a plan and you have an agenda. There are things you want to do, but it has to be balanced with security concerns. The real story I was going to tell about Shaheen I found in the editing room and in the end, I only kept five days of the shoot. The whole film takes place in Bamyan (Province), nothing in Kabul, although I had weeks and weeks of footage there that I had to take away.

There's a moment when Shaheen asks if you are scared, which sees him verbalise our silent recognition of your boldness and courage to bring this story to the screen.

It's very difficult and it's not like you are walking in the street and there's a bomb. This is not what's difficult. The difficulty is to cope with your fear and to have rules and to follow or to not follow those rules. There are many foreign people that never go out at all in Kabul -- it is forbidden. You have British diplomats who do not even drive their car from the airport to the embassy -- they will take an helicopter that costs £2,000 each way. Then you have foreign people who walk in the street without a scarf -- these girls get kidnapped.

In between these you have Shaheen, who is telling me all the time that I'm too scared, because it's a man's value to be brave and he's a brave guy, there's no question about that. He was in an attack two weeks ago. There was a bomb in a Shia Mosque and he helped to carry out the bodies. So there's no kidding about the fact that he's a brave guy and he has to be because he's been fighting to make his films. But you are in the middle of this and I'm not a brave person at all and I don't think being brave is a very important question. It is, but I'm not brave, I'm very scared and so in the middle of all of this stress it's enough just to manage to not go crazy, or to not drink too much [laughs].

Salim Shaheen and Sonia Kronlund (courtesy of Pyramide Films)

Related Articles Around the Web

People aren't cheering Supergirl on here. They're not thanking her for her heroism, or even stopping to take a selfie.

It's rare for any hero who isn't Superman to gain the kind of credibility that grants them the implicitly, unflinching trust of the public. In fact, even Superman struggles to maintain that credibility and he's Superman. If the ultimate paragon of heroes struggles with maintaining the trust of the public, then what hope does any hero have?

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.