Sunday, November 8, 2015

RE-READ | Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
This whole re-read of Harry Potter has been like a comfortable reunion with an old dear friend.  There is no memory of imperfections or discord just pure affection and love and a sad reflection on why you just don't make friends like this anymore.  Reading Half-Blood Prince for me was a little like entering into the 6th straight hour or day of the reunion when you start to remember those little quirks and foibles that your friend had that irritated you:0).  I still love this book but it is the first one in my re-read where my unalloyed delight in the reunion has been ever-so-slightly slightly dimmed. 

The most interesting part of my re-read has definitely been re-discovering the character of Snape with the full knowledge of his motives.  I adore nothing more than a good gray character or anti-hero and Snape is a doozy.  Overall, Rowling did such a fantastic job; slowly developing him, dropping hints all along, having Dumbledore flat out tell the reader over and over that Snape is on the side of right but still having the revelation of just how heroic he is being a jaw dropping twist.   It is insane that Dumbledore does not reveal, at the very least to Harry, why he has such faith in Snape's.  Oh, I know there's good reasons for him holding his tongue - Snape would not thank Dumbledore for sharing his personal business and the fewer people that know of Snape's duplicity makes Snape's job of getting close to Voldemort easier.  However, Dumbledore must see the sheer immensity of hatred Harry feels for Snape, even before Harry witnesses Dumbledore's murder, and realize that it is a dangerous distraction that could easily end in disaster.  Of course, the real reason it is kept a secret is to set up the big twist in book 7, which is a totally legitimate reason, but this time around I can feel the manipulation and I resent it just a little.

Still and all.  The way she sets up and describes Dumbledore's murder is pretty perfect.  The hatred on Snape's face which Harry interprets understandably as directed at Dumbledore but which is really directed inwardly and at the horrible thing he must do. And Dumbledore's "please" is not a plea for mercy but one for Snape to follow through on his promise to kill Dumbledore when the time came. Dumbledore seems to be the only friend Snape has ever had and is probably the only person to believe in him  - in other words Dumbledore is as important to Snape as he is to Harry.  In fact, by killing Dumbledore, Snape renders himself alone and completely without support in the middle of an incredibly dangerous and stressful mission.  It had to have been the most difficult thing he has ever had to do.

Okay, as you can see I can get carried away talking about Snape:0).  I feel like he's the hero for the adult readers in many ways.  Harry is lovable of course and while Rowling does not fall into the trap of making him too heroic and perfect, he is still a very straightforward and iconic young hero.  Snape is much more complicated and I would argue that his job is more difficult and the choices he must make could not be made by a child. 

You know what else I can go on about?  How much I really dislike Ron this go round! The first time around I think I liked him a lot and was completely behind the idea of he and Hermione getting together.  This time around I understand why Rowling recanted and said it was a mistake to pair these two.  I couldn't agree more and for all the reasons she cites  - they would have needed counseling.  I don't necessarily think Hermione should have been paired with Harry though their relationship is generally much healthier and happier.  Hermione pushes Harry when he gets too fixated or too lost in his hero complex.  He gets angry with her but ultimately realizes that she's usually right and respects her.  All Ron and Hermione do is bicker and fight and they seem to have little in common but Harry.  Ron's crushing insecurity is worthy of compassion but is also a serious issue when it leads to him being with a girl he doesn't like, even when he knows it is crushing the girl he does like, simply to stroke his fragile ego.  I spent most of this book feeling incredibly put out by Ron and by Harry who keeps begging Hermione to fix things with Ron even though the situation is not even the tiniest bit her fault.

Add the manipulation and Ron's bad behavior to Harry's obsessive (even if he is partially correct) hate and suspicion of Draco and Snape and this book didn't quite come together for me as beautifully as all the others do.  There is of course many good things.  I really appreciated Harry and Dumbledore's conversations particularly the one where Dumbledore impresses upon Harry the role that love has played in his life and how powerful it is:
“By attempting to kill you, Voldemort himself singled out the remarkable person who sits here in front of me, and gave him the tools for the job! It is Voldemort's fault that you were able to see into his thoughts, his ambitions, that you even understand the snakelike language in which he gives orders, and yet, Harry, despite your privileged insight into Voldemort's world (which, incidentally, is a gift any Death Eater would kill to have), you have never been seduced by the Dark Arts, never, even for a second, shown the slightest desire to become one of Voldemort's followers!"
"Of course I haven't!" said Harry indignantly. "He killed my mum and dad!"
"You are protected, in short, by your ability to love!" said Dumbledore loudly. "The only protection that can possibly work against the lure of power like Voldemort's! In spite of all the temptation you have endured, all the suffering, you remain pure of heart, just as pure as you were at the age of eleven, when you stared into a mirror that reflected your heart's desire, and it showed you only the way to thwart Lord Voldemort, and not immortality or riches. Harry, have you any idea how few wizards could have seen what you saw in that mirror? Voldemort should have known then what he was dealing with, but he did not!”
I also really liked learning more about Voldemort, his origins, childhood and rise to power.  Other thoughts:
  • The Felix Felicis scene that gets the memory from Slughorn is really clever and awesome though (see below) there were some things I think the movie did better with this scene.  
  • I love that Harry takes Luna to Slughorn's party and think it is these acts of kindness and acceptance that really embody what makes Harry such a great character.
  • It's very odd that the way Ginny is described, in looks and personality, seems to so closely resemble Lily Evans, Harry's mother.  I'm surely not the only one to have noticed this, right?  It's an odd little Oedipal note.
  • Harry came across pretty ineffectual, at least until the end, during the Horcrux retrieval scene.  He doesn't seem ready to do all this on his own does he?
FINAL VERDICT:  The Half-blood Prince takes the story where it needs to go but I just wish I didn't notice the strings so much this time around.  4 out of 5 stars.

The Movie
I've whined a lot about the last two films, mostly about the fact that they have to cut out HUGE chunks of the books so that the movie isn't 17 hours long.  I think they did a horrible adaptation of Goblet of Fire, got a little better with the Order of the Phoenix and got even a little better with Half-blood Prince.  There are still things I miss, like Fleur and Bill if only because Fleur's scene towards the end of the book where she shows she's not just a shallow, stuck up girl but is as stout-hearted as any of the Weasleys, is awesome.  I'm also disappointed we miss meeting Tom's forebears who promised to have been super creepy and horrible.  And while the films frequently remove or change scenes they don't usually add scenes, so the fact that instead of Harry having a walk around the garden with Scrimjaw (sp?) at Christmas, The Burrow is attacked by Deatheaters who blow it up and then fly away using special evil flying skills seems an odd addition.

Another change the movie makes which I think undermines the scene is not having Harry petrified during Dumbledore's death scene.  It doesn't fit with Harry's character that he would just sit by and let all that go down without recklessly throwing himself into the situation, promises to Dumbledore or no.  I do think Michael Gambon does a good job with his "please", adequately leaving it open for interpretation but making it clear for folks in the know that he is asking Snape to do it rather than not to do it.

I think Gambon does a good job with this despite the fact that I have never really warmed up to him as Dumbledore because he...well...lacks warmth.  He comes across as straight up kooky with no accompanying twinkle in the eye and general feeling of bonhomie that Dumbledore exudes in the books.  For example, the scene in Dumbledore's office after he and Harry have just gone into the pensieve for the first time and they have this oddly flat conversation about how Slughorn would try and "collect" Harry and how Harry should let himself be collected comes across as...creepy.  I think that off tone is set by Gambon.   I like Gambon generally as an actor but think Richard Harris (R.I.P.) played Dumbledore better. 

Moving on to the other actors?  I reflected while watching that I am so happy and grateful that the actors that were chosen to play Harry, Ron and Hermione aren't drop dead gorgeous.  A bit of a crap shoot, of course, hiring them as kids and not knowing how they will look as they grow up and I am in no way implying that any of the actors are ugly. They're just regularly attractive, not CW teen star handsome/beautiful.  It's refreshing.

They also seem to be having a lot of fun in this installment particularly Grint and Radcliff.  This may actually be the funniest of the films which is surprising considering that it's quite sad overall.  Anyway, the film captures the "these kids are finally giving in to their crazed hormones" better than the book does. The discussion between Ron and Harry about Ginny and Hermione's "nice skin" is hilarious and Rupert Grint is laugh-out-loud funny under the influence of the love potion.

My last few small comments are:
  • I don't think Harry and Ginny have much chemistry in the movie which is a shame though romantic chemistry is not something Rowling did particularly well in the books either.  
  • I liked the actor who played the teenage Tom back in Chamber of Secrets better than this teenage Tom though apparently the original actor had aged well out of the part by Half-blood Prince.
  • During the scene where Slughorn reveals his memory to Harry, I love the imagery of a petal that turns into a fish which then later disappears signalling to Slughorn that Lily is dead.  This is not in the book but I think it is an effective way of conveying Slughorn's real affection and admiration for Lily and how sad he was at her death.
FINAL VERDICT:  I liked this film better than the last two and think it did a better job adapting the book despite some weird changes. Overall, I would say, watching the movies this closely to reading the books does not serve the movies well.  I think the books would be much better portrayed with a series of mini-series.  3.5 out of 5 Stars.

Pssst.... There's a bunch of other good blogger folk over at The Estella Society who are also doing an HP re-read.  You may want to check it out! #potterbinge

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