Optional Mandatory soundtrack to this post.]
(Note: This post will conclude my Half-Blood Prince posts. Before starting Deathly Hallows, I have two interim posts planned, to take stock of the series leading into its seventh and final book.)
Of all the memories I could share of my time living in Stout Hall at Oklahoma State, this is one of the less interesting ones to throw in the ol’ Pensieve. But it’s relevant nonetheless.
Stout was the honors’ dorm at OSU and the first place I lived in college. It was a kind of unique subculture that can probably only be created when a bunch of smart kids are moving into the same semi co-ed dorm at the same time that they learn the town has fairly lax enforcement of underage drinking laws. Many posts could be dedicated to Stout, but suffice to say, it was an environment where nearly any nerdiness could be indulged. Harry Potter had long since become incredibly mainstream by 2005, but I imagine there were still some new college students who might have suppressed, or at least not volunteered, their fanship. Just not in Stout.
I moved into Stout in August 2005 for my freshman year of college, about a month after Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince was released. As you know by now, I hadn’t yet become remotely a HP fan, but for those who were, I imagine the chance to be around that many fellow nerds was a goldmine for HP discussion. So it was in Stout that I first heard the big spoiler from Prince: Snape killed Dumbledore.
I doubt many people who actually intended to read the book really had anything spoiled for them. Like I said, this was a month after the book was released, and the impression I’ve always got is that most fans read each new book within a couple days (at most) of its release. Nevertheless, “Snape killed Dumbledore” became a thing, in Stout and, of course, in Internetland. If this hadn’t been the pre-meme era, it would have made such a great meme.
My reaction, having still only seen the first movie and a bit of the second, was fairly indifferent. I was still associating Alan Rickman more with Hans Gruber than Severus Snape, so I didn’t really see why the idea of him ending up as the villain would be so shocking.
Now, I’ve read Snape killing Dumbledore, and I suppose the most shocking thing is how shocking the event feels while not being at all shocking.
Because I read the book for the time already knowing the ending, it was easy to see how Rowling foreshadowed the climactic death. Really, she’d been foreshadowing for multiple books. We learned in Phoenix that the series has to come down to Harry vs. Voldemort, but we also have it confirmed for us that Dumbledore is mightier than either. Right there, we should see it coming. It might have been possible for to have the series’ final showdown with Dumbledore still alive, but really, the only way to raise the stakes appropriately high is for Harry to be the lone person capable of defeating Voldemort. The prophecy might have locked in the idea that only Harry could kill him, but even so, it wouldn’t feel as disastrous for Harry to die if you know the good guys still have someone else left who’s more powerful than Voldemort.
In Prince, the foreshadowing ticks up a notch. Dumbledore’s hand is blackened and withered from a mysterious injury that won’t heal. He disappears for long stretches. We’re told that he sometimes seems tired, weary. The signs are all there that perhaps Dumbledore doesn’t have long left.
But of course, that was not to be. Harry pursuit of Snape felt even more dramatic in the book with all the battles raging around, as members of Dumbledore’s Army and the Order of the Phoenix fought side by side against the invading Death Eaters. Neville may not have gotten much (read: any) face time in this book, but I love in the later battle recap that it’s mentioned that Neville was the first one to go charging after the Death Eaters as they climbed the Astronomy Tower. Team Neville 4eva.
I think the drama of Harry’s confrontation of Snape would have been heightened if it had been at least a little bit of a real battle, with Harry actually landing a couple blows, instead of Snape so easily brushing it all off. But that’s a mild criticism. It was still a high point to reach the moment when Snape has Harry at his mercy, and twists the knife a little deeper by revealing that he was the Half-Blood Prince, after Rowling purposefully (almost too obviously) hinted toward it being Voldemort all book.
After that, we get falling action that doesn’t really match the intensity of the climax that preceded it, and it would be unfair to expect it to. We get the aftermath of the battle and have some plot backstories explained, but the real goal is setting up the final book. Harry breaks up with Ginny, while she acts understanding to the point of near-indifference. It was a brief, emotionally void scene, which is actually kind of a fitting way to end what we saw of their “relationship” in this book.
The more interesting part comes in Harry revealing that he’s not returning to Hogwarts, leaving to chase the remaining Horcruxes. Rowling has been pretty adept at giving us a decent chunk of the books outside of Hogwarts, so as to expand her world beyond just that school. But there’s still no doubt that Hogwarts has been the heart of the series in many ways, a driving force for characters and plots. Harry’s decision to leave is bittersweet at best, and probably just bitter. Sure, he’s learned enough that he can leave, and he has enough responsibility that he has to. But that last part is more heartbreaking than we fully feel in the ending to this book. We’ve been told repeatedly throughout the series that Hogwarts is where Harry feels most at home, yet fate is now pulling him from it.
And now, we’re going to talk about “Purple Rain” by Prince. And yes, this repeated, horribly forced Prince/Prince series has all been so I could build up to making this one connection.
Prince doesn’t usually like to talk too openly about what exactly “Purple Rain” means. Nor does he necessarily need to. It’s a beautiful song regardless, and I’m always in my own world by the time he hits that long solo at the end; leaving the interpretation open means people are free to pull from it what they may. The first explanation I ever heard was that the purple rain refers to mascara running when a woman cries. But Prince was also inspired by and/or obsessed with the end of the world, as evident in the prior discussion of “1999.” The closest thing to explanation I’ve ever seen from him:
“When there’s blood in the sky — red and blue = purple… Purple rain pertains to the end of the world and being with the one you love and letting your faith/god guide you through the purple rain.”
Within the context of the awesome/awful Purple Rain movie, there’s a sense that this doesn’t have to be a literal end of the world. Prince’s character first performs it while thinking he may have lost everything: his family, his love, and maybe now his career. The song is his way of trying to start picking things back up when everything seems to be falling around him. Or maybe just his way of holding on.
And that’s why I’ve been so compelled by the parallels between the song and Harry’s world after Dumbledore dies. Dumbledore was such an anchor in Harry’s life throughout this series. He saved Harry from peril. Gave Harry advice. Provided Harry with the tools to undo harm and protect himself in the future. Even when they vehemently disagreed, Harry’s respect for Dumbledore won out over his anger. Dumbledore was a cornerstore without whom Harry couldn’t really imagine this whole magical world.
And now, he’s gone. Harry grasped around at straws, for revenge, denial, comfort that wasn’t really there. But nothing could change the fact that Dumbledore had fallen, staining the blue sky with the red of blood. Harry eventually has to give up the life he’s known for an uncertain future. He can’t undo the damage or save a reality that’s no longer there. He can only hold on as the purple rain falls all around him.