I've had nearly a full day to reflect on Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
, which I finished late Tuesday night. I hope to post my theory about Professor Snape in the next few days, but I need a little more time to do research.
I found no significant flaws in the sixth Harry Potter novel. I'm sure I could come up with some minor complaints (e.g. Gryffindor winning the final Quidditch match by such a large margin without Harry and with Ginny playing seeker instead of chaser), but the book was so good that I don't want to spend time on the negative.
I can now say, without any doubts that Harry Potter is better than Star Wars
, The Lord of the Rings
, or The Chronicles of Narnia
. Why? Because I care more about the characters, and there are more characters that I care about. Rowling's heroes and villians are realistic; you can relate to them. She tells a story of good versus evil without falling into the trap of creating characters that are entirely virtuous or entirely vicious. When I read the Harry Potter novels (especially years 3 through 6), I sometimes find myself sympathizing with the bad guy or getting fed up with the hero. I love what Rowling did with Draco Malfoy in The Half-Blood Prince
; and I love the treatment of the young Voldemort. George Lucas devoted three two-and-a-half-hour movies to making Darth Vader into a sympathetic character. But in only a handful of chapters in her new book, Rowling outdoes Lucas, making the young Tom Riddle (who is never as innocent as Anakin Skywalker had been) far more interesting and sympathetic than Lucas's tragic hero. (On a related note, I think that the lack of strong villians is The Lord of the Rings'
I will also say that Rowling does teenage romance as well (and probably better) than John Hughes or The Disney Channel. Somehow she truly understands what it is like to be a teenage boy in love: the jealousy, the guilt, the shame, the doubt, the complete lack of tact. Yet, unlike most teen movies and television dramas, Rowling doesn't assume that all sixteen-year-olds are into cheap beer and casual sex. She deals with sex and relationships in a way that the teenage me would have understood. No other major sci-fi/fantasy franchise (with the possible exception of Buffy the Vampire Slayer
) compares to Harry Potter when it comes to romance. Rowling made an excellent point in this week's Time
:There's something about [Narnia author C.S.] Lewis' sentimentality about children that gets on her nerves. "There comes a point where Susan, who was the older girl, is lost to Narnia because she becomes interested in lipstick. She's become irreligious basically because she found sex," Rowling says. "I have a big problem with that."
Having read all seven Narnia books before re-reading the first five Harry Potter books then the sixth, I agree. The article adds
:Rowling certainly isn't afraid of sex, as Order of the Phoenix--which had Harry making out with the beautiful, grieving Cho Chang--ably demonstrated. Harry and his friends are now 16, and it would just be weird if Harry didn't have more on his mind than wands and snitches. "Because of the demands of the adventure that Harry is following, he has had less sexual experience than boys of his age might have had," Rowling allows. "But I really wanted my heroes to grow up. Ron's hormones get fuller play in book six." Cue the throaty alto laughter. "Basically it dawns on Ron that Hermione's had some action, Harry's had some action and he's never got close!"
It's precisely Rowling's lack of sentimentality, her earthy, salty realness, her refusal to buy into the basic clichés of fantasy, that make her such a great fantasy writer. The genre tends to be deeply conservative--politically, culturally, psychologically. It looks backward to an idealized, romanticized, pseudofeudal world, where knights and ladies morris-dance to Greensleeves. Rowling's books aren't like that. They take place in the 1990s--not in some never-never Narnia but in modern-day Mugglish England, with cars, telephones and PlayStations. Rowling adapts an inherently conservative genre for her own progressive purposes. Her Hogwarts is secular and sexual and multicultural and multiracial and even sort of multimedia, with all those talking ghosts.
When I feel better prepared, I'll let you in on my thoughts about some of the plot points.