Friday, November 29, 2013

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince – J.K. Rowling
Entering his sixth year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, Harry finds himself with new resolve, understanding, and responsibility. As captain of the Quidditch team, it falls to Harry to maintain the Gryffindor winning streak while also facing his most difficult year of school, though surprisingly in different subjects. With help from a new potions teacher, and even more help from an inscribed potions book that belonged to the “Half-Blood Prince,” Harry finds himself at the top of the class. In addition to the increase in coursework, Harry also takes private lessons with Dumbledore to help him prepare for the day when he must finally face He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. More than ever before, the boundaries of morality, trust, and friendship are blurred beyond recognition as Harry finds himself facing ever more difficult and ambiguous decisions.

“Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” is a beautiful continuation of the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling. Harry learns to trust despite loss, build relationships despite being hurt, and connect with others despite his desire to isolate himself. He begins to see how important the people around him are, especially as he learns about Voldemort’s past. Moreover, Rowling manages to convey all this within the realm of average adolescent occurrences. As always, Rowling finds a way to write the themes of humanity into the world of wizardy and make it accessible to everybody. She creates such polar opposite characters in Voldemort and Dumbledore while also showing how everyone is connected by some underlying thread of commonality. However, she also shatters these universal lessons by confusing the uniting factors with secrecy, treachery, and disloyalty. The less certainty Harry experiences in his relationships, the more he learns to trust what is can be sure of – the supportive relationships in his life.

After the behemoth of “Order of the Phoenix,” “The Half-Blood Prince” feels like a breeze. Pithy, succinct, and only addresses the most relevant parts. Not that any part of Harry Potter is irrelevant, but the story moves along much faster in “The Half-Blood Prince.” Rowling also provides a refreshing change from the increasingly dark storyline by refocusing on hope, optimism, and connection. The sixth book also comes with more than its fair share of heart wrenching grief, but it’s not quite as overwhelming as in previous novels. She also manages to squeeze in politics, academics, and the equivalent of driver’s ed into one of the shorter novels in the series. Entertaining, enlightening, and ever relatable, this book is just as fantastic as any other Harry Potter book. You need to read it.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix – J.K. Rowling

Without time to recover from the shock of Voldemort’s return, Harry Potter feels trapped in a world of uncertainty and lies. Nobody from the Order of the Phoenix, a resistance group, will answer questions about how they plan to thwart Voldemort’s efforts, and the Ministry of Magic reports lies and slander in the daily newspaper, portraying Harry as a lunatic. On top of the stigma Harry is forced to deal with, he must also face his most difficult year yet at school. Professor Umbridge, the new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, brings her own agenda and challenges to school, sparking chaos and covert rebellion. As Harry struggles to find ground to stand on, everything in his world keeps shifting, creating more uncertainties and obstacles for him to work through. The only thing that seems to stay the same is the dark hallway Harry constantly returns to in his dreams.

General consensus describes “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” as the darkest novel of the series, and rightly so. Rowling aptly captures all the angst and isolation of adolescence and combines it with the struggles and grief of personal tragedy to create the melancholy, bitter world of Harry’s fifth year at school. The injustice of his friend’s behavior carries more weight than the political slander Harry faces from the government. Rowling’s emphasis on personal relationships lays the foundation for significant plot points in the sixth and seventh novels. In fact, Rowling reveals the most important point at the climax of the fifth novel. The ability to care for others, feel compassion, pain, and empathy, is both the greatest strength and most painful weakness of human connection. Rowling shows this in the way the characters construct supportive alliances in the face of frustration, develop patience and appreciation through poignant interactions, and reach out to others in times of need. Unfortunately, Harry is caught in the throes of adolescence, and rather than recognizing this strength, he registers the pain that necessarily accompanies relationships.

Rereading the fifth novel through my social worker lens was a very interesting experience. I read a lot more into the social justice side of the wizarding world, specifically in how discrimination determines alliances and what relationships are needed for individual and collective efficacy. I was also very intrigued by the emphasis on family. Spoiler alert – Harry’s blood connection to his aunt protects him from Voldemort. While this reinforces a traditional family model, an argument could also be made for Harry’s unconventional family, including the Weasleys, Dumbledore, Hagrid, his friends, and the Order of the Phoenix, who care for and protect Harry beyond his blood relations. Overall, Rowling proffers an optimistic interpretation of the world in which the ties that bind are stronger than the forces that divide. Read and consider, then let me know when you’re ready to discuss because I always love to discuss Harry Potter.