Book Discussion: Harry Potter & THBP
This is the sixth book in a series of seven planned stories by J.K. Rowling about the adventures of a teenage wizard named Harry Potter. The books chronicle his lifestory, his educational experiences at the magical school Hogwarts, his friendships, his budding romance(s), and his battles with Death Eaters, the wizards who are committed to supporting the evil Lord Voldemort (who just coincidentally killed Harry's parents when he was a baby).
In this installment, there are four major developments: Harry's two closest friends, Ron and Hermione, eventually fall for each other, while Harry comes to recognize that his feelings for Ron's sister Ginny are less than brotherly--though by the end of the book, Harry tells Ginny that he can't be with her because Voldemort would use that as a reason to kill Ginny. Harry becomes highly proficient at making potions using an old textbook edited by "the Half-Blood Prince", who, it turns out, was Snape, the Potions teacher at Hogwarts who has been given the new job of Defense against the Dark Arts, a post he long coveted. Headmaster Dumbledore teaches Harry about horcruxes, into which he says Voldemort has placed pieces of his soul. Only by eliminating the horcruxes can Voldemort be killed, and the search for them drives this book (as it will the last, presumptively). Dumbledore has found and destroyed several, and the end of the book sees Harry helping Dumbledore track down another horcrux, but in the process, Dumbledore has to drink what appears to be some sort of poison that weakens him at a critical moment when Hogwarts is invaded by the Death Eaters and there is a confrontation in which Dumbledore is killed by Severus Snape. Snape, the former (?) Death Eater who has held a long-simmering grudge against Harry, appears to have betrayed Dumbledore and killed him before fleeing with Draco Malfoy (another student, son of a Death Eater, and Harry's nemesis) to rejoin Lord Voldemort. The book concludes with Harry and his friends at the funeral for Dumbledore--where his familiar, the phoenix Fawkes, is seen flying off from the school--and Harry speculating that he won't be returning to school in the fall, since he must continue the search for the remaining horcruxes so that Voldemort can be destroyed.
Some questions to start off our discussion, then:
As with the last two books, there's another major character death, this time the surrogate father Dumbledore. Although we might speculate about whether Dumbledore did in fact die (as a former teacher of Transfiguration, he may have worked out a way to swap places with his familiar, the phoenix Fawkes, prior to being hit by the death-curse), I'm wondering: was it necessary for the figure with the strongest magical abilities in the series--the only wizard Voldemort apparently feared, which people say repeatedly about Dumbledore--to be killed, in order for Harry's heroism to come to the fore at the end of the series? Does this mean that in a coming-of-age tale like this one is, the young adult must be bereft of anyone who could 'save him' at the last moment (presumably, the confrontation with Voldemort that will happen in book seven), in order to show that the young adult hero can really face the world on his own, without help?
What is the limiting factor of "memorable characters" for a series of books? In each book, JKR has introduced new characters and fleshed out what was previously known about several more. By the sixth book in the series, there are several characters who previously played large roles that have been permanently sidelined (Dolores Umbridge, Gilderoy Lockhart, Wood the Quidditch captain of the Gryffindor), others who appeared in this book but who had a much smaller role than in earlier ones (Hagrid, Professors McGonagall, Flitwick, and Trelawny, the castle ghosts and Filch, Firenze the centaur, Luna Lovegood, Seamus and Neville, Crabbe and Goyle), and other characters who appeared in roughly the same proportion that they did before (the Weasleys, Ron, Hermione, and Harry himself). Without writing "War and Peace" is there an upper limit on the number of memorable characters that an author can keep in play over the length of a series? Has this angle been handled well by JKR?
What does it mean to set a story in a school for magic, yet to show over several years that the girls are smarter than the boys, and that the two central male figures routinely don't even do their own schoolwork but copy from their best friend? Although this may parallel trends in education today, what does it do to the story that Harry's main adventures have less and less to do with schoolwork, books, and spells, even though in the end, his very life may depend upon how well he masters those spells in order to defeat the enemy, Voldemort? And is Hermione right to be angry with Harry about the edited Potions text by "the Half-Blood Prince", or is that just sour grapes that she's no longer number one in a class? After all, the last time a 'mysterious book' showed up (the diary of Tom Riddle), it was Mrs. Weasley who berated Ginny (who was possessed by the diary) for trusting an unusual or mysterious artifact. If Harry's book was better than Hermione's, wouldn't the rules of friendship suggest that he should have shared the spells with her and with Ron?
Draco, Harry's archenemy, is revealed at the moment of confrontation with Dumbledore to be unwilling to kill the headmaster. Even though he knows this action may lead to his death from Voldemort, he cannot kill--is this scene actually the moral center of the book, and not anything that Harry does himself? The supposedly 'bad kid' with the 'bad parents' has a redeemable nature?
The Order of the Phoenix, the band of good wizards that Dumbledore assembled to fight the Death Eaters, were at the center of the previous book's actions, with combat scenes and planning meetings that excluded Harry and his friends due to their age. Was it necessary to 'demote' them in order to put the action-focus back on Harry, for the good of the series?
New spells appear in each of JKR's books, allowing the reader to mirror Harry's learning process, and the spells then get used for good effect at a later point (lumos, accio, impedimenta, and so on). What is the most memorable spell learned in this book? I might argue for an unusual choice: in the peculiar chapter where the Black sisters go to meet Snape at his home, there is a binding, Unbreakable Vow made, in which Snape pledges to help Draco perform his task or die himself. For the purposes of the book's exposition, this spell isn't really necessary: Snape could show up and kill Dumbledore without that earlier scene. Is this binding spell perhaps the reason why Dumbledore has always had such unshakeable faith in Snape, even when others do not? Is Snape in fact still a double-agent against the Death Eaters who, despite having killed (?) Dumbledore, is still working for the side of good because of an Unbreakable Vow made long ago?
And just for speculative purposes, is Dumbledore really dead? Is Harry a horcrux himself? Is Regulas Black the R.A.B. who apparently stole one of the horcruxes? And if you were a werewolf like Remus Lupin, why wouldn't you learn how to make wolfsbane potion, even if you couldn't brew anything else?