Prince 2: 1999

[Optional soundtrack to this post.]

If J.K. Rowling intends to have an overarching message to Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, I doubt she means for that message to be the triumph of the hormonal urges of adolescence. But for a very large chunk of the book, we could take that away as the dominant theme.

At the conclusion of Order of the Phoenix, Harry found out that only he or Voldemort could survive. In Prince, he’s explored the origins of Voldemort — and what dark origins they have been. He’s been journeying to the past to find the secrets that may determine his future. He’s been growing stronger as a wizard, while taking on more responsibilities.

And with all of that life-changing, possibly soon life-ending, stuff going on, the one thing he can’t keep off his mind is … Ginny Weasley.

I remain incredibly disappointed in the romance, or lack thereof, between Harry and Ginny; all of a sudden, he liked her, almost obsessively, though I’m not sure we’ve ever been told a single thing he actually likes about her. But whatever criticisms I have about the origin of Harry’s feelings for Ginny, the pursuit of those feelings has been amusing and well-done. His emotional state is more affected by Ginny having a boyfriend than it is by the knowledge that he will one day have to be a killer or be killed.

The same triumph of adolescent affection is prevalent throughout the book thus far. Obviously, the biggest example is the continued evolution/devolution of Ron and Hermione from sparring partners to budding romantic partners and back to frenemies again. Their mutual affection is eclipsed only by their mutual immaturity, and thus they repeatedly find themselves besotted by various obstacles as they make each other jealous, reconcile, get angry — but never quite admit their feelings.

At times, these love triangles and their complications create a tonal unevenness in Prince, as the dark foreboding that will build to the book’s conclusion rarely matches with the teenage flights of fancy that build its romantic entanglements. But, perhaps another Prince can help us reconcile these shifts.

In 1982, Prince release 1999, his breakthrough album. The titular song played on the idea that the world might end in the year 2000, so, “Tonight I’m gonna party like it’s 1999.” The song was a protest of the proliferation of nuclear arms that could cause a fiery end to civilization at any moment. It’s a dark subject matter, and yet … it’s so damn upbeat. Consider the abrupt shifts in two of its verses:

War is all around us
My mind says prepare to fight
So if I gotta die
I’m gonna listen to my body tonight

Everybody’s got a bomb
We could all die here today
But before I’ll let that happen
I’ll dance my life away

The moral is twofold. First and foremost was the idea that violence and destruction are wasteful, unnecessary ends. But also foundational is the idea of making the most of whatever time remains.

And if Rowling intends an overarching message in Prince, perhaps it is that, instead: make the most of whatever time you have. It’s a platitude, but true. And we see it throughout this book; Harry might die, but for as long as he has, he’ll dream of Ginny. We go time and again from the evil schemes of Draco and the evil origins of Voldemort, to the first loves that seem inane to all but their beholders.

So Harry will chase Ginny, Hermione will chase Ron, and Lavender will chase the goal of a single intelligent thought. And all the while, darkness closes in. Because life is just a party, and parties weren’t meant to last.

****************************************

I’m through 21 chapters, 468 pages, of Prince. Other thoughts on this installment:

  • Dumbledore just revealed that since Voldemort requested to teach Defense Against the Dark Arts, no one has had the job more than a year. AHHHHHH is that the explanation at last?! Did Voldemort curse the job itself? Is that why we’ve had this revolving door of dangerous teachers? And maybe Dumbledore wouldn’t give Snape the job because then something might’ve happened to him? Did that whole situation finally just make sense?!?!?! I feel so relieved.
  • As you can probably tell from previous posts, my memories of the HP movies are often hazy; as someone who wasn’t already a big fan of the series, I didn’t always watch them super closely or absorb all the details. So, I thought I remembered Ron’s whole infatuation with Lavender was the result of a love potion. But the reality is he was just being kind of a dick to Hermione. I mean, I do get some of where he’s coming from. But Ron still hasn’t come across very well this book.
  • Why is everyone still so reluctant to believe Harry’s Draco-is-evil theory? I mean, Dumbledore, sure; he’s the man who knows everything but refuses to reveal the pieces to Harry, so whatever. But Katie Bell nearly dies, Ron is clumsily poisoned, and Hermione, especially, is still all, “Oh, it just couldn’t have been the son of a known Death Eater who goes to this school and has already done some fairly awful things to us over the years.” Riiiiight. Consider your “smartest character in the series” title revoked, Hermione. I’m giving it to Neville now. He’s barely had a line in this book, but there was brief mention of him earlier, completing an Herbology assignment before everyone else. Boom. Neville wins.
  • Young Tom Riddle has a delightfully creepy manner about him. From a child, we see his tendencies toward arrogance, impetuousness, and prideful superiority. Rowling works in some staples of pre-serial killer psychology, including the killing defenseless animal(s). But even as we learn more about Voldemort’s past, we never lose the sense of mystery. It’s becoming clear that Rowling has no intention of filling in every single hole in Voldemort’s backstory, and I think that’s a good thing. We’re learning main events that give us a greater sense of him as a character, but we’re not intended to know everything about him, we won’t get full perspective on each event in his life that molded him. We have never seen Voldemort in the present in this book, yet Rowling’s deft ability to make him a more fully realized character without losing that air of mystery has really added even more to the level he achieves as villain.
  • Percy is still king of the douches. I have no doubt that before the end of the series, Rowling will at least have him reconcile with his family, and perhaps try to redeem him as a character. But it’s too late for me. I’ll never forgive him for ruining Christmas for Molly Weasley.
  • I’m glad to understand the Room of Requirement, after expressing my confusion in a Phoenix post. Someone else’s use of the Room is discoverable, but only if a person knows exactly what it’s being used for. Draco/Umbridge could discover the D.A. headquarters because what’s-her-name blabbed, but because Harry doesn’t know exactly what Draco is using it for, the Room won’t reveal itself to his attempts. Right? I think I got it. Clever, and I’m always glad when Rowling closes another potential source of confusion or explains away an arguable plothole.
  • Every now and then, I wonder why Hogwarts isn’t depicted as a more terrifying place. Apparition lessons were such a time. A bored Ministry official calmly explains that leaving behind a limb during apparition is common for beginners — and of course, he only tells the students this after someone has done it; there’s no warning. Another example is Ron being taken in by a love potion, treated almost as ordinary fun instead of the horror it actually would be to have your affections so completely rewritten by magic (especially since we’ve already seen how far that can go, with Voldemort’s parents). Yet in Rowling’s world, no one is terribly upset by such things. Someday, Harry Potter will enter the public domain, and someone will be able to re-imagine Hogwarts as the demented place it would feel like if always taken realistically. I would say I look forward to it, but the copyright won’t expire til well after I’m dead, so I’ll just imagine it myself.

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