Sententiae viri ex temporibus duobus

Finished Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

The juggernaut that feeds J.K. Rowling’s bank account is not to be stopped and I, for one, shall certainly not be tossing myself beneath the wheels to use my corporeal mass to stop its onslaught.

I visited Borderlands Books after the book’s release after grabbing a tasty cr?pe breakfast with my girl Elle chez Ti Couz. We headed up from 16th on a lazy Sunday past the hipster botiques and furniture stores as we picked our way up Valencia.

I had only planned on grabbing a copy of Piers Anthony’s Macroscope, but I wound up favoring my independent bookstore my custom by grabbing the Anthony work and taking HP6 on the way. HP6 cost more, but having this place there after a tasty cr?pe is worth supporting and buying it at Costco or Wal-Mart doesn’t build the community of the Mission district.

Anyway, it was a fine book (no surprise). I must be honest, I’m very much in awe of the way Rowling’s writing style has matured with her characters. HP1 is rather cardboard-cutout in terms of both narration and character development. HP2 is more of the same, but HP3 marks a turning point, the na?ve models of behavior and understanding associated with being a youngster start to fall apart in an increasing series of morally complex situations. This real-world (wizard noir?) style writing reached its zenith in the 4th book, the Goblet of Fire. The subsequent book, Order of the Phoenix, kept with the style but I feel got a bit confused in its voice. The action sequence at the end of the book was confused, muddled, and a bit blas?. Trying to manage an enemble onslaught presents formidable challenges that seemed to muddy up the end result. It also brought in that most powerful bone of contention: prophecy. I thought this was a backwards step.

(Rowling excels at first-person action: Harry chased the Snitch, Harry and Voldemort trade barbs. This is surely an extension of her excellent feel for teenage dialog - the where of the conversation is a backdrop for the conversation)

…BUT this book turned it back up and is firmly on the footing of HP4. Here are some key focus points

Yuck, party mel?e combat (w00t D&D) returns

We see a return of group-action fighting. I still find this a bit irritating: “X did this and Y thought that but ducked under Q’s spell of something.” I realize this is an attempt to give some of the other characters some screen-time and to make it seem like the Hogwart’s class is not a bunch of potatoes plus this dynamic ?bermagus.

Nevertheless perhaps it would be better to put our supporting cast fighting, as we call in the video game trade, mini-bosses in the scene of combat versus the hurlyburly “some guy was knocked out, and this guy ran after that bad dude”. I don’t feel that any of these characters are in jeopardy - I feel like it’s a game of freeze-tag with much higher stakes. It’s an astounding display of kinetic energy, but there’s not a lot of dramatic depth associated therewith. See: Any Michael Bay film - actually don’t, just remember noise, and blowing stuff up.


The old nag of prophecy was trotted out in the last volume. groan Prophecy inevitably leads to narrative dissatisfaction; as my friend Roahn says, “Just who the hell is in charge here?”.

I have written extensively on this topic so this is a real sticking point for me. Nevertheless, Dumbledore resolves, with all the skill of those Greek characters for whom prophecy was so irksome (and not infrequently lethal), that odd quality of prophecy which leads to the orobous-like loop of:

Is prophecy objectively true because it’s objectively true or is it true because someone chose to believe it, and if, when they chose to believe it, did it not do just as much as if the prophecy had been objectively true in the starting case

I’ll not detail its mechanics here because it’s one of the best bits of dialog in the series.

Tying loose ends, establishing the framework

This book goes a long way in explaining the mechanics of The Dark Lord: How can he rise again, what was up with unicorn blood in part 1, what’s up with the prophecy, what’s up with his fixation on HP. Ultimately Rowling is cleaning up house for the climax of the series in the next, and final, book: Harry’s final confrontation with The Dark Lord.

Harry gets lucky

No, no, not with Hermione or Ginny, Rowling voices one of my criticisms (as many others'): Harry is not particularly smart, not particularly gifted, he just seems damn lucky. This is voiced by the darkly-tinged Snape early on in the book. I regret that this criticism is not reversed, Harry doesn’t seem prone to study (Hermione is still his reference library bitch on this one), he doesn’t really seem to have learned from the last book to this one (in the previous he tried to learn a skill, he failed, it would have been helpful, not once during the summer did he brush up on it?), he just seems to mark time on the wall and avoid getting killed or worse, expelled, through dumb luck, dumb being the operative word.

Dumbledore steps up

The benevolent headmaster, all too often a mere plot device, gets developed as a character (although I would have liked to have seen more).

Well, I’m ready for book 7 a year or so from now. I hope they release some really cool leatherbound editions for all 7 some time. Wouldn’t be cool if they made big Magic Grimoire-looking books?