Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

I didn’t go shopping for a new novel at midnight - although I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t tempted ;-)

There’s maybe a little bit of a backlash going on against JK and Harry. That’s normal, though - it’s hardly the first time something’s got really popular only to have the critics show their intelligence by moaning about how poor it is. The ‘review’ in the New York Times (if that link asks you for a login, may I recommend - one of those websites everyone should know about, just type in the site and it’ll give you a login to use) makes a very valid point:

Rowling's gift is not so much for language as for characterization and plotting

Sometimes the writing is a little… not so good. But it’s been a while since I’d picked up a Potter book, and I’d forgotten how compelling and engaging the characters are. And the latest book is definitely much more about character than about plot progression. I like that. That’s why I enjoyed Lost In Translation so much.

I’d been thoroughly underwhelmed with the last book, and didn’t think too much of this one. But for each of them I’d grabbed a copy on the morning of their release and then burned through it in well under 24 hours. Over the last six days I’ve re-read them both, and discovered that taken at a more sensible pace (as sensible a pace as I ever read a novel at, anyway, 1200-odd pages in maybe 5 days - okay, so I am on holiday) they’re both highly enjoyable.

The visible growing-up of the series continues, even in writing style. As an experiment, compare the first couple of chapters of the first book to the first couple of one of the more recent ones and you’ll see what I mean. In happenings, the last few have certainly got much nastier. But before we complain, how do you remember Little Red Riding Hood going…?

There’s a surprising amount of snobbery out there, against ‘grown-ups’ reading books meant for ‘kids’. To that, all I can say is get over it. A cracking story is a cracking story. Just look at The Da Vinci Code - as I’ve said before, cracking yarn, mental plot, but Dan Brown can’t write for buttons. And that’d also be a good lesson in how not to do characters. But if you leave your prejudice behind, I’ll bet you enjoy.

If you’re new to the whole thing, I will say that Potter takes a while to really get going. I’d peg Goblet of Fire as where it all starts happening in earnest (and probably as the highlight so far), but the unfortunate thing is that without the earlier books you may well get a bit lost.

Man, this has turned into a bit of a ramble, hasn’t it? What can I say, I like it.

And I hope you all appreciate the trouble I’ve put myself to avoiding spoilers :-D

Now, to the serious bit.

An interesting read from Mark Greene of LICC on the Potter phenomenon and the varied Christian response:

If you’re undecided about whether the Potter books are essentially a ‘good thing’ or not, then the latest instalment, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, is unlikely to help you make up your mind. No darker than Potter 4 or 5 but much easier to read, it is a funny, engaging tale in which, if anything, Rowling’s powers of characterisation are keener than ever. Whilst the Pope and a number of other Christian commentators regard the series as a portal to the occult, Rowling has constructed a coherent fantasy world that has little, if any connection, with the worldviews or values of real witchcraft or Wicca. Indeed, the first novel celebrates the willingness of three separate individuals to lay down their lives out of love for others. Similarly, throughout the series, it is not Harry’s skill as a wizard that rescues him from death but his courage and loyalty, the sacrificial love of his mother and the selfless help of his friends and teachers. It is, of course, entirely right that we should carefully critique the work of the most popular author of our age, but sobering that, back in the school room, our children are studying all kinds of often brilliant literary texts - humanist, existentialist, nihilist, materialist and expressly anti-God – with hardly a pamphlet on how to do so through Biblical lenses. Alas, the Church’s rapid engagement with Rowling is not an indicator of a wider engagement with literature or the national curriculum in general. Sadly, it reveals the opposite: we are obsessed with the superficially ‘spiritual’, the fantasy world of witches and wizards, and have, on the whole, ignored the superficially ‘secular’ – from Aldous Huxley to Harold Pinter, from the theology of maths to the philosophy of history. Christ, however, came to reconcile all things to himself – “whether things on earth or things in heaven”. (Colossians 1:20) And that includes the ordinary as well as the extraordinary, the world of pots and pans and performance targets, as well as the world of cauldrons (leaky and sound), kettles, and the Care of Magical Creatures.

Need I say I whole-heartedly agree with him?

I might even go so far to say that the books contain quite a powerful and relevant moral for today. If you take the series as it is to date (1 to 6), then I find one of the major recurring themes to be power and the correct use of power. Another one might be picked up in the trailer for the next movie, the choice “between what is right, and what is easy.”

Am I the only one who finds plenty to appreciate in that?

I don’t like to talk in terms of ‘the moral of the story’. It’s more the assumptions and ideas that are expressed underneath the storytelling. But it’s there.

I do believe we are guilty of not being critical enough of all the various media around us, but I also think we sometimes get a little too critical when something pops up big on the radar. When it comes to Harry Potter, my conclusion is to say relax and enjoy it - there’s plenty of good in there. The Crash Test Dummies are singing in my head, except I really doubt that a book-burning’s in order.