Baseball Crank
Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
July 21, 2005
POP CULTURE: Harry Potter's Sixth

I just finished the new Harry Potter book last night. It's well-done and entertaining once again, although the book in general hewed rather more closely to the formula of the prior books than I would have expected, given how far along we are into Voldemort's terror war (and at the risk of overdrawing the parallels, Voldemort's organization is a classic terrorist group, working in secret and spreading fear through random and/or unexpected violence). A more detailed review below the fold, but be warned that there are MAJOR SPOILERS, so don't click through if you haven't read the book yet but still intend to (in fact, one reason I pressed on to finish the book rather quickly was the fear that I'd hit major spoilers on the web, having already encountered one of them quite accidentally some months ago - click here for details). Now for the SPOILERS - READ ON AT YOUR OWN RISK:

*It did seem to me that, for the second book in a row, things were unaccountably quiet for most of the school year, given the state of open war involved. I know Voldemort was having people murdered regularly, but it does seem that you'd expect more of him than one major operation per year, always timed near the end of the school year. Is he really still so understaffed that he has to place his entire battle plan for the whole year in the hands of Draco Malfoy?

*By contrast, presumably the seventh book will break out of the mold, since Harry, Ron and Hermione will not even be at Hogwarts, which will put an end to the scenes of Quidditch, new Dark Arts teachers, exams, etc. (it's pretty clear that Rowling has run out of things to do with Quidditch matches). It will be interesting to see how many of the other characters come with them - I rather like a lot of the supporting characters, notably Neville and Lupin - or whether Rowling tries to strip the story back down to a few characters.

*Presumably, the last book will be structured around the hunt for the remaining four Horcruxes, which will give it a structure familiar to readers of fantasy novels. (Rowling's overall universe may be original, but her plot elements are always recognizable from other sources). Of course, Rowling has to rely on the plot device of Voldemort being both superstitious and predictable in his choice of the identity, location and number of Horcruxes.

*It took me about a half hour of bending my brain last night, but I'm pretty sure I figured out who the "R.A.B." who had already destroyed the Horcrux is, which if I'm correct should put me ahead of the game for the last book even before there are any official spoilers leaked. After futilely running mentally through characters with last named beginning with B - Borgin, Burke, Bagman, Bell, Blotts, Bones, etc. - and thinking which of them would have had a falling out with Voldemort (recall that only his supporters would refer to him as "the Dark Lord") it hit me that it really had to be Sirius' brother, Regulus Black. We know (or at least have been told) that Regulus was a Death Eater who repented but was fairly shortly thereafter killed. Plus, of course, it would be both heartening and ironic to discover that Harry had been helped along on his quest by the brother Sirius spoke of as being no good.

*The various romantic angles in the book were a bit much: some of the romantic storylines were amusing at times, but this book really had too many of them. The Harry/Ginny thing felt forced, as did the book-closing revelation of a Lupin/Tonks romance.

*I felt rather betrayed by the revelation that Snape had been a bad guy all along. First of all, the whole "Snape's on the good side but is a jerk and hates Harry" and "the kids always suspect Snape but they still have much to learn about people" plotlines gave the story some complexity that was lost here. And Snape and Draco both joining forces openly with Voldemort raised again the question of why they keep Slytherin House in business, if nearly everyone associated with it becomes a bad guy (I had at least thought that Sirius was a Slytherin, given his heritage, but Rowling even made a point in this book of noting that he'd been in Gryffindor). But the second chapter of this book also raised the tantalizing possibility that Snape had been genuinely playing both sides for some time. Having him turn out to have been on the bad side for years undid some of what Rowling had done in the prior books.

*My enjoyment of the book was colored by having seen the "Dumbledore dies" spoiler. I was glad he was given a timely sendoff at the end; for a while I thought he'd die mid-book and leave the whole "Riddle's background" investigation unfinished. For young readers, at least Rowling gives ample foreshadowing, between references to his age and blackened hand and the whole buildup with him drinking the poison at the cave. Dumledore's death serves two necessary plot elements - like Obi-Wan and Gandalf, his death leaves the hero to finish the task alone, without the aid of the bad guy's equal; and, his death underlines the point he had long made about the need to not fear death. Of course, it was nonetheless sad to see his last act be the betrayal of Snape, whom he had trusted.

*Maybe I'll return to them another day, but there seemed to be all sorts of parallels in mood and plot to Revenge of the Sith.

*The opening scene with the Prime Minister was funny, but it will have to be cut from the movie version - partly because the best parts were his internal dialogue, and partly because on film you can't finesse the "do we make him Tony Blair or not" aspect, which will be a distraction. Overall, the scenes with Scrimgeour underline Rowling's contempt for politicians and government, as they demonstrate that the more hawkish Scrimgeour is really not much of an improvement over the denial and appeasement of Fudge.

*You do sometimes have to stop and wonder why these people, Harry in particular, just never learn. I mean, anybody had to realize the possibility that the Half-Blood Prince was either Snape or Voldemort (in fact, the clues pointed to the latter), and Harry was even reminded early on by Ginny that he shouldn't trust books without knowing their sources. I mean, doesn't he at least know enough now not to try out potentially lethal spells on people without finding out what they do?

MORE THOUGHTS:

*The Harry/Ginny breakup was straight out of the ending of Casablanca.

*This link has some good quality speculation about Regulus Black, the location of the missing Horcrux and the possibility that we still don't know what Snape's really up to.

*On the other hand, the longstanding ambiguity about whether Snape is part vampire seems to have been laid to rest.

*The door is still open for Pettigrew to play a Gollum-like role, after Harry spared him, if Rowling wants to be that unoriginal.

STILL MORE: This comment thread at Michele's picks up some more interesting speculation, including the possibility - which I'm more convinced of now that I think about it - that Snape killed Dumbledore to keep his cover, and that Dumbledore knew it was coming. Lyford reaches the same conclusion, with supporting evidence.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 7:57 AM | Pop Culture | Comments (5) | TrackBack (1)
Comments

I also just finished the book last night!
A few thoughts:
1) I'm not sure the denoument with Snape is incompatible with him having played both sides for years - it wouldn't shock me if it turns out that he'd made the final choice of allegiance pretty late.
2) I would, though, really like to know exactly what Snape told Dumbledore to gain his trust - it must have been more than what Harry assumes after the encounter with Trelawney in order for Dumbledore to maintain his faith in the face of everyone else's skepticism.
3) Exactly right re: trusting the Half-Blood Prince - didn't they read the Chamber of Secrets? Why, exactly, didn't Harry at least ask Dumbledore who the HBP was? That was the first example in the whole series of what Roger Ebert calls the "Idiot Device" - when people act like total idiots for the sole purpose of advancing a plot device.
4) I thought this book was actually less formulaic than any of the prior efforts; the effort to track Malfoy never really went anywhere and there were generally fewer red herrings and action set-pieces for little purpose. (I thought the first 500 pages of Goblet of Fire were particularly egregious in this respect.)
I am looking forward to how much the last book really leaves the formula behind. I especially wonder how Rowling will wrap things up without the obligatory scene at the end where Dumbledore explains things to Harry. I really hope she doesn;t have him have the same conversation via a portrait or something. That would really be a cop-out.
5) ROTS? They're all ripping off the same source material. I had seen the betting spoiler, but expected it long beforehand for structural reasons: Harry can't be the last hope if Dumbledore is around. (For Order of the Phoenix, I assiduously avoided any spoilers and still easily guessed that the character to die would be Sirius; it had to be someone close to Harry but not too close, and there was only one character who fit the bill.)

Posted by: Dr. Manhattan at July 21, 2005 10:43 AM

Crank sorry if I accidently spoiled the Dumbledore dies plot line for you (Karl Rove made me do it).

I think Snape is still working against Voldemort. Dumbledore has to beg him to do as he promised (kill him) just as he had to coerce Harry into making him force feed the potion into Dumbledore's mouth at the cave. Did you catch how angry Snape became when Potter called him a coward? In Snape's mind he did a very courageous thing by following Dumbledore's orders even though Snape would be vilified for it.

I agree with who you think RAB was and I think the locket is at #12 along with another horcrux (the Black family tapestry - just a guess on my part).

Posted by: chris at July 21, 2005 11:23 AM

RAB = Regulus, as soon as I saw the initials I picked that up.

Snape as still a good guy is very believable, especially him begging Dumbledore "to not do it". He made the unbreakable promise before knowing what Draco was up to. (He claimed he did, but later interrogated Malfoy about the plan as well.) Having made that promise, either Dumbledore or Snape was dying, with Dumbledore weak and the chance to cement Snape's position on the inside, I think that is it. I do not think Snape knows about the Horcruxes. Expect mysterious clues from an unknown source. Plus he only blocked Harry, he could have at least hurt him.

Its obvious what Snape told Dumbledore, he hated Harry's dad, because he was in love with Harry's mom. That is why Dumbledore took him back, Dumbledore believed in the power of love.

-Brendan

p.s. big difference between SW and HP, the force comes from turning off feelings, and using feelings leads to the dark side. Love in HP is a powerful force which protected Harry and is the reason he alone can take on LV.


Posted by: Brendan at July 21, 2005 1:45 PM

I think the argument that Snape is still a double agent and killed an already dying Dumbledore at his request is pretty compelling. The strongest piece of evidence is Dumbledore's begging of Snape at the end - that is totally out of character for D to beg for his life - it is much more likely he is begging snape to follow through on killing him, a prospect Snape obviously finds difficult. If this is correct, no wonder Snape is screwed up! This guy is the spy who has been out in the cold for way too long.

Posted by: Coyote at July 22, 2005 12:09 PM

I believe that Snape is not working for Voldemort...no matter how much I DESPISE HIM...

As many have said...Snape and DD were arguing...Snape knew what he had to do, and so did DD...DD begged...not for his life but for his death...he may have been dying anyway.

Also, to tie in with this, When Harry keeps trying to Jinx, Curse, and enchant the hell out of Snape, Snape turns around and tells him slight hints...little devices...if he was evil he would kill harry...(Unless of course he had been under the Unbreakable vow with DD to protect and not kill harry...) But he keeps telling harry that he has to block out his spells and stuff, so that the person he is facing will not know his intentions. Also, before when Harry used the SectumSempra spell on Draco, Snape saw it but did not really make a move to expell Harry or anything...he may have indeed been trying in some way to help Harry...(I don't think he would have left HIS OWN BOOK in a cupboard at the school to conveniently give to Harry when he was no longer the potions teacher)

Also, on a different note. It may be highly likely indeed that Harry or the scar or whatever is a Horcrux. Throughout the entire book, DD says that Voldy creates Horcruxes from significant things that have meaning to him and prove his power and immortality. And DD also mentioned that a living creature - Voldemort's pet Snake - could be a horcrux...so maybe Harry is one...

Before you start slashing this down, remember that Voldy only learned about the first part of the prophecy...not the second where it says neither can live while the other survives...

But he DOES know that Harry is supposed to have some sort of special power, and he DOES go to kill either him or someone to make his final horcrux...and you must remember, NO ONE has ever survived the AK curse...so maybe harry was not actually hit with the curse...but was made a Horcrux instead when Voldy used the deaths of either his mother or father or both to create this last horcrux...

Cause...maybe Harry was truly important because he may be the heir of Gryffindor...(they were at Godric's hollow...why? somehow they may have some connection to Godric Gryffindor...hmmm)
or somewhat the like. Voldy knew that if he had used Harry as a Horcrux, then it would truly show his immortality and power and such because he wants to show that he puts his soul's power in a boy who is supposed to be marked as his EQUAL...DD even says that Voldy trusts NO ONE...that he believes himself above ALL....so perhaps he wanted to truly be a part of Harry's power and Harry a part of his...he could have figured this all out while he was right there in the room about to Kill Harry because it never says what exactly happens at that time, there is only speculation.

And so, the reason why Voldemort "Dissapears" or "Dies" is because he used Harry as the 7th Horcrux...i mean he even said..."Is not 7 the most magically significant number?" Perhaps after he split his soul into that many peices...there was not much else for him to do...i mean he really could not walk around soul-less....so yeah maybe that was why he "died" or whatever at the time...

MUCH MUCH more theories and proof-ish speculations on this but just giving u this little bit. Lets see what ya think.

Posted by: Bori at August 4, 2005 4:28 PM
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