Rory of According to Rory and I are embarking on another project together, a sort of online book club, and so we will be posting book reviews at the end of every month. To start it all off, though, we are going back to an oldie and goldie subject: our favourite Harry Potter book. While the project itself is about reading two different perspectives on the same book, this one is a little different. We are looking at the whole saga, and what book spoke to us the most among the 7 books.
In my case, it’s Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. It contains spoilers so if you aren’t familiar with the story, proceed at your own risk, or come back later.
I was in high school when the book came out, and around the height of my atheist phase, so concerns about the presence of “magic” in the book that keep resurfacing in certain circles were not at the forefront of my mind, however in hindsight, I find that there are more Christian themes in the saga than people are lead to believe. It’s not like there aren’t wizards in The Lord of The Rings so, really, it’s just a ploy of the fantasy genre and most kids are aware that it isn’t reality. Jesus Himself spoke in parables, so the power of storytelling really is that big, and it’s worth looking at what the story tells us, being mindful also that a book always speaks beyond the intentions of the author, and all worthy literature will end up pointing to Truth one way or another, openly or by what isn’t said.
One of the reasons this saga has been impactful on my upbringing is that, unlike a lot of modern relativist ethics, it makes good and evil a concrete binary: while the wise words of Sirius Black to Harry in the Order of the Phoenix remind us that there are light and darkness in all of us, we have a real enemy. Evil is personified in Voldemort and his aptly named Death Eaters. It is not a philosophical concept to grasp with, but a reality that is always hanging on the world that J.K. Rowling created. People have put all sorts of modern political interpretations on it, mostly seeing them as the Nazis, but I believe it reflects a higher metaphysical truth. Tom Riddle was a being with potential for good, who rebelled against the entire order of the world in which he lived, and like a certain fallen angel who rebelled against God, became the greatest evil known to men. However, the parallel ends there: Tom Riddle was, after all, a human, and as such he had both the potential for light and darkness; his past illuminates his journey toward the dark side, in a way that almost induces pity. The world JK Rowling created is a world that deeply needs a Saviour.
There is no Christ-like hero like Aragorn in these novels, even though they centre around a character who is meant to be a saviour, and in a way, the saviour ends up being someone else, and neither of them would get there without the help of others. The biggest lesson in this book, though, will be that help comes in unexpected places. While there are many questionable character traits that can be attributed to Severus Snape, the revelations about him in the 7th book throw a different light on the events of the 6th. It reminds us not to base our judgement on our limited understanding: we only see a part of reality, and we don’t know what truly happens when we aren’t witnesses, we can’t be sure we know the full truth about what we witness and most importantly, we don’t know the hearts of people.
One of my favourite characters in the saga is Draco Malfoy, and this book has him take near centre stage with a mission that is presented as something positive but really it’s a punishment for the failure of his father and he was always expected, in fact we could say he was set up, to fail. Had it not been for Snape, he would have. Snape is also another favourite character of mine, despite some of his dubious traits, and he is by far the most complex and accomplished character in the whole saga. He is an antihero in the Byronic tradition, but he shows us the power of redemption, which as a Christian is a theme dear to my heart. Not only he shows us the power of redemption and turning away from evil and towards good, but also the power of human forgiveness. All this is mostly stuff from the 7th book, but the seed is sown in the 6th as we see him revealed to be the mysterious Half-Blood Prince, who invented a spell to use on enemies (which was seriously bad, by the way). Another character that shows redemption is Regulus Black, who first appears as a mysterious acronym in this book and is a much-underrated character.
I guess as an insecure, bullied and rejected teenager, I could see myself reflected in this outcast character even before the revelation of who it was, a thought process that goes through the mind of Harry in the book too. I’m also a cunning person with an analytical mind, and I see my passion for cooking as a real-world expression of the same talents Snape had for potions, so really I’m very much like him. I am also a lot like Draco, who has a lot of insecurities behind the self-assured façade he presents to the world, and that’s how he ends up in the situation in which he finds himself in this novel. Thanks be to God my quest for acceptance in my family never took me to anything morally reprehensible and worse than developing an eating disorder…
The book is much more adult and dark than its predecessors, which probably colours my views of it now as a 30yo compared to the original release: I grew up with the books, and so they spoke to me at the age I was, but this remained with me long after because it doesn’t read like a nostalgic excursion into a book from my past. I could easily pick up the 2 final books for the first time at this age and not feel infantilised. It’s also one of the better ones stylistically, although the Italian translation was so horrendous my teacher in school sent off my homework translation of the first chapter to the publisher pointing out that even a schoolgirl could do a better job than the professional they paid.