Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

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Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince



J. K. Rowling continues her enormously popular series about a young, orphaned wizard with her sixth novel, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2005). Once again breaking sales records on both sides of the Atlantic, Rowling's second-to-last Harry Potter book keeps readers on the edge of their seats by killing a beloved character at the end, as she warned she would.

Harry, now sixteen years old, nears maturity in the wizarding community and begins to experience the complexities of adult life. He tackles much more difficult lessons at school, matures in his understanding of evil in the world, and even finds love during this eventful year at Hogwarts. Rowling delves deeply into Voldemort's past, and examines the path that takes a young, orphaned Tom Riddle and turns him into the most evil wizard in history. Harry studies this path under the guidance of a more forthcoming Albus Dumbledore, and he learns how long and difficult his journey will be to defeat the Dark Lord. Despite the growing complexity and darkness of the series, Rowling nevertheless includes her trademark humor and whimsy within its more than six hundred pages. Readers continue to delight in the many fantastic creatures and marvelous mysteries of her magical world.

As with each previous novel, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince caused a frenzy of anticipation. With only the final story remaining, Harry Potter fans show no indication of losing interest; in fact, the movie adaptations and series merchandise, in addition to numerous language translations of the series, continue soar in popularity. Rowling satisfies her readers' expectations with this tale of an action-packed year of young Harry Potter's schooling, and leaves them with a shocking cliffhanger, thirsty for the series finale.


J. K. Rowling was born Joanne Rowling on July 31, 1965, in Chipping Sodbury, England. After a thorough education in the classics, including a degree from Exeter University, Rowling worked various jobs before becoming a full-time writer. She was married in 1992 and had a daughter in 1993, but she divorced her husband that year. As a single mother, she often struggled to make ends meet, even going on public assistance at one point.

During this period, Rowling wrote Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, which was published in England in 1997. The book was published as Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone in the United States in 1998. The novel, about a young wizard's coming of age, was a huge hit in both Britain and the United States, and Rowling has since become one of the most successful novelists of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. She followed up on the success of the first Harry Potter books by writing five more installments of her planned seven-book series: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (1998), Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (1999), Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2000), Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2003), and Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2005).

The Harry Potter series has earned Rowling worldwide fame and a substantial fortune; some estimates value her net worth as greater than the Queen of England's. Each new installment in the series has broken sales records. In 2005, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince sold 13.5 million copies in the United States alone. The film versions of Rowling's books have also met with enormous success. In addition to popular approval, Rowling's work has garnered much critical acclaim, earning the British Book Award, the Nestlé's Smarties Gold Award, the Whitbread Prize for Children's Literature, and the New York Public Library Best Book of the Year award. Rowling spends much of her time corresponding with fans across the world, communicating a deep concern for the readers, many of whom are children. Rowling remarried in 2001 and had another child in 2005. As of 2006, she lives with her family in Scotland.


Chapters 1-5

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince begins with the confused muggle, or non-magic, prime minister overseeing various calamities happening throughout England. Cornelius Fudge, the former minister of magic, reveals that Voldemort has regained power and is wreaking havoc on the wizarding and non-wizarding worlds alike. Rufus Scrimgeour, the new minister of magic, visits the muggle prime minister and informs him he has assigned a wizard guard to protect the office.

The scene changes as Draco Malfoy's mother, Narcissa, visits Professor Severus Snape's house before the school term begins. Despite the protests of Narcissa's sister, Death Eater Bellatrix Lestrange, she entrusts Snape with knowledge that her son has joined Voldemort's followers and that Voldemort has ordered him to kill Albus Dumbledore, the headmaster of Hogwarts. Fearing a dreadful reprisal by Voldemort should her son fail, Narcissa compels Snape make a magically binding unbreakable vow, in which Snape promises to protect Draco by completing the evil task should Draco fail. Snape's loyalties are unclear; he appears to be a double agent.

When Harry Potter enters the novel, it is as he awaits Dumbledore's visit to the Dursley house. When Dumbledore arrives, he explains how Harry has inherited all the possessions of his godfather, Sirius Black, including the evil house-elf Kreacher. Upon leaving the Dursleys' home, Dumbledore reminds them that Harry must return once more before he turns seventeen and comes of age. Harry welcomes Dumbledore's arrival, and he eagerly leaves with him to persuade Dumbledore's friend, Horace Slughorn, to teach at Hogwarts during the coming year. Although resistant to the idea at first, Slughorn agrees to accept the post after Harry appeals to his love of celebrity as well as his fear of Voldemort.

After leaving Slughorn's house, Dumbledore escorts Harry to the Weasley home, known as "the Burrow." There, Harry learns that Bill Weasley became engaged to Fleur Delacour despite the family's lukewarm feelings about her. He also meets up with best friends, Ron and Hermione, and they all receive better-than-expected results from their previous year's exams.

Chapters 6-10

Harry celebrates his sixteenth birthday at the Burrow. As the school year approaches, he and the Weasleys visit Diagon Alley to buy books and, in the process, run into Draco Malfoy. Their suspicions aroused, Harry, Ron, and Hermione follow Draco into a shop known for dealing in objects associated with the dark arts. They overhear a vague conversation in which Draco refers to mending something, and Harry believes he is involved in an evil plot; Ron and Hermione do not agree.

Aboard the Hogwarts Express, the train to Hogwarts, Professor Slughorn has a private party for students he considers socially important, and Harry attends. After the party, Harry pulls on his invisibility cloak to enter Draco's compartment undetected. He listens as Draco boasts about a mysterious plan he has for the year. It turns out that Draco is aware of Harry's presence, however, and he magically petrifies Harry just as everyone leaves the train. Luckily, Auror Nymphadora Tonks finds Harry and brings him safely to Hogwarts. Once at the school's welcome feast, Harry discovers that Snape, whom Harry blames for his godfather's death during the previous year, will be the new teacher of defense against the dark arts. Slughorn will take Snape's place as potions master.

As the students settle into the new year, the sixth year students sort out their schedules. Harry discovers that Slughorn will allow him to continue with potions classes, keeping alive his dream of becoming an auror, a Ministry of Magic agent who apprehends dark wizards. Harry, Ron, and Hermione learn about casting silent spells in Defense Against the Dark Arts and about love concoctions in Potions. Harry uses a borrowed potions textbook filled with handwritten hints from a previous student to win a bottle of luck potion called Felix Felicis. The student who had previously owned the book had written on the back cover: "This Book is the Property of the Half-Blood Prince."

Harry attends his first of several private lessons with Dumbledore, and he finds out that they will be investigating Voldemort's past. Dumbledore reveals his theories about the transformation of Tom Riddle into Lord Voldemort, and he wants Harry to view several stored memories to understand. The first memory takes Harry back to Voldemort's mother's adolescence. Merope lives in squalor with her cruel father and insane brother. Dumbledore explains how Merope probably gave a handsome neighboring muggle a love potion, causing him to marry her. Once the potion wore off, however, the muggle abandoned Merope, then pregnant with Voldemort.

Chapters 11-15

The sixth-years find out that their classes will be highly demanding. Harry decides to continue using the suggestions in his borrowed potions book because they seem to produce positive results; Hermione voices her disapproval of this decision. Romantic relationships begin to form as Ron and Hermione flirt with each other. Hermione even helps Ron win his Quidditch tryout by magically sabotaging his competition. Both friends still maintain that Harry overreacts in his concerns about Draco, and when Harry blames Draco for an incident at Hogsmeade, they refuse to believe him. Fellow student, Katie Bell, receives a package intended for someone else while outside the castle. She opens it to find a necklace, and she immediately falls under an unknown but extremely painful curse. She is rushed to the hospital. Harry is certain Draco is responsible.

In another private lesson with Dumbledore, Harry learns about Merope's death in childbirth, and Tom Riddle's early experiences in an orphanage. Harry also watches as Dumbledore first meets Tom and tells him that he is a wizard. Tom displays characteristics of leadership and power, mixed with a deep cruelty, which mark his actions later as Voldemort. Dumbledore emphasizes that Harry must study these personality traits if he will ever defeat Voldemort.

Romances become confused as Ron decides to date Lavender Brown and Harry discovers he likes Ginny Weasley, Ron's younger sister. Ron feels embarrassed because he has never kissed a girl, and Lavender represents a way to solve that problem. Harry finds himself wildly jealous of Ginny's new boyfriend, Dean. And Hermione acts hurt whenever Ron and Lavender kiss in public. Quidditch season begins and Gryffindor wins its first match against Slytherin. Ron plays well as goalkeeper because he believes Harry has given him some lucky potion, although he did not. Draco is mysteriously absent from his post as Slytherin's seeker.

The holidays approach, and Professor Slughorn hosts another party. Harry asks Luna to be his date, disappointing the throngs of girls who desperately seek Harry's affection. (After a period during which Harry was branded as a deluded, paranoid boy by the wizard media, he had emerged as a hero after a battle with Voldemort the previous year, making him the object of much female attention.) Hermione brings Cormac McLaggen to make Ron jealous. Draco crashes the party but looks ill. He and Snape have a confrontation on which Harry eavesdrops; it appears that Snape wants to help Draco with his project for Voldemort despite the student's resistance.

Chapters 16-20

Harry spends Christmas with the Weasleys at the Burrow. There, he learns much about the happenings within the Ministry of Magic and among the Order of the Phoenix. Harry shares his concerns about Draco and Snape with an unconvinced Arthur Weasley. Remus Lupin describes the dangerous werewolf, Fenrir Greyback, and his loyalties to Voldemort. The minister of magic also stops by the Weasleys' house under the pretext that his employee, Percy Weasley, wants to wish his family a merry Christmas. Since Percy is estranged from his family, it quickly becomes clear that Scrimgeour has ulterior motives. The minister asks Harry to do the wizarding community a service by publicly supporting their current safety efforts; Harry refuses because their efforts seem ineffective and shortsighted. He declares himself loyal to Dumbledore, not to the Ministry.

After the holiday, Harry has another lesson with Dumbledore, this time to view two more memories. The first memory shows Voldemort visiting his Uncle Morfin. Soon after that visit, Voldemort's muggle father and grandparents are found dead, and Morfin confesses to the murders. Dumbledore suspects that Voldemort actually committed the murders and altered Morfin's memory. The second memory shows a younger Professor Slughorn discussing dark magic with student Tom Riddle and his friends. Tom asks Slughorn about horcruxes, a mysterious, but obviously deeply evil, form of magic. At this point, it is clear that Slughorn has altered his memory to protect himself. Dumbledore gives Harry his most important assignment: Convince Slughorn to divulge the accurate memory. When Harry attempts to retrieve the memory, Slughorn responds angrily and avoids his prized potions student for awhile thereafter. But Slughorn is forced to help Harry when he brings Ron to his office looking for an antidote to a love potion Ron has accidentally swallowed. Ron recovers from the love potion, but he has a deadly drink in his professor's office. Harry saves him with a trick learned from his borrowed potions textbook.

Harry continues to be suspicious of Draco's mysterious disappearances, although his friends still doubt there is any basis for these concerns. Hagrid reveals overhearing an argument between Dumbledore and Snape in which the latter wanted to withdraw from an earlier promise. Dumbledore holds him to that promise, however. Harry enlists the help of house-elves, Dobby and Kreacher, to follow Draco and find out his activities.

Ron and Hermione reconcile while he recovers in the hospital wing from his poisoning. In another lesson with Dumbledore, Harry watches Voldemort's activities after leaving Hogwarts. Although he desires to return as a teacher, Voldemort accepts a job collecting dark objects when the school rejects him. In one memory, Voldemort first charms and then kills a woman who owns an object he desires. In the second memory, Dumbledore refuses Voldemort the opportunity to teach at Hogwarts again.

Chapters 21-25

Harry finally deduces that Draco has been working on his project in the Room of Requirement, a magical room that appears only for those who need it and assumes whatever purpose they need most. But when he attempts to enter and catch Draco in the act, he cannot make the door appear. He also finds retrieving Slughorn's memory more difficult than he expected. Amid these challenges, Harry receives a note from Hagrid asking him, and Ron and Hermione, to attend the funeral of his giant spider, Aragog. Ron and Hermione convince Harry to take some Felix Felicis before attending the funeral, as a way to help obtain Slughorn's memory during Potions class. The lucky potion allows Harry to make seemingly simple decisions and have them turn out fortuitously. Running into Professor Slughorn on the way to Hagrid's house, for instance, and convincing him to come to Aragog's funeral offers little challenge to Harry. Hagrid and Slughorn drink together after the ceremony, and Slughorn easily releases his memory in his relaxed state. Harry rushes to Dumbledore's office to share the memory, and it is then that he learns the definition of a horcrux. In the memory, Slughorn describes how a horcrux allows a wizard to encase part of his soul in an inanimate object, but it requires murder to do so. Dumbledore explains how Voldemort wants to become immortal by creating seven horcruxes, allowing him to stay alive through several normal deaths. Dumbledore also shows how Voldemort gave Harry the power to defeat him the moment he tried to kill him. By killing his parents, Voldemort ensures that Harry will remain motivated solely by love in his hunt of the dark wizard. And love is the one thing Voldemort cannot obtain. Harry leaves Dumbledore's office confident in his ability to vanquish Voldemort.

Romantic alliances shift, as Ron and Hermione begin to date and Ginny breaks up with her boyfriend, leaving Harry hoping to figure out how to date his best friend's sister without losing his best friend. Harry also continues to pursue Draco, and he encounters him in Moaning Myrtle's bathroom. After overhearing Draco's concern about failing in Voldemort's assignment, Harry has a fight with him. Draco nearly uses an unforgivable curse in their clash, but Harry thinks quickly and uses an untested curse the Half-Blood Prince had written in the potions textbook he uses. He quickly regrets this decision when the curse causes Draco to bleed profusely from deep wounds. Snape enters and, after delivering Draco to the hospital wing, demands Harry give him his potions textbook. Harry gives him Ron's book instead of the Half-Blood Prince's, and Snape punishes him with detention during the last Quidditch match of the season. After Gryffindor wins the match even without their star seeker, a celebration erupts. In the excitement of the party, Harry and Ginny find themselves carried away enough to kiss.

When Harry later runs into a drunken Professor Trelawney, who is also looking for the Room of Requirement, he discovers that Draco must have completed Voldemort's project. He also learns from her that Snape, in fact, was the one who sent Voldemort to kill Harry's family so many years ago. With both pieces of information, Harry rushes to Dumbledore's office and challenges him. Dumbledore will not disavow Snape, but he still invites Harry to accompany him on a trip to destroy one of Voldemort's horcruxes. Harry remains enraged about Snape's participation in his parents' deaths, but he still wants to go with Dumbledore.

Chapters 26-30

Dumbledore brings Harry to a cave in which the young Tom Riddle tortured two children. In that cave, several magical barriers prevent Harry and Dumbledore from proceeding easily; Dumbledore deciphers each puzzle's solution, however. They find themselves facing a dark, still lake, filled with Inferi—reanimated dead bodies loyal to Voldemort. The horcrux is hidden at the bottom of a stone basin filled with green potion. Dumbledore figures that he must drink the potion to reach the horcrux, and he makes Harry promise to force him to keep drinking despite any protests he may make. Once Dumbledore begins drinking, Harry realizes how difficult that promise will be to fulfill, as Dumbledore agonizingly begs to stop drinking. Once they finally attain the horcrux, however, they also enrage the Inferi. Dumbledore battles the Inferi with fire, and then Harry must help his greatly weakened professor out of the cave with the horcrux.

Once back at Hogwarts, Harry and Dumbledore enter the tower and hear a battle in progress. Death Eaters entered the castle while Dumbledore was away, and several aurors and students are engaged in a fight with them when Harry arrives. A very weak Dumbledore only wants Snape's help, but when Harry dons his invisibility cloak and tries to go find him, Draco enters. Dumbledore petrifies Harry, immobilizing him. As Harry stands motionless and invisible, Dumbledore calmly converses with Draco, despite the student's unconvincing threats that he will kill the professor. Draco describes how he let the Death Eaters into the castle using two magical cabinets. Dumbledore gently tells Draco that he is not a murderer, and he offers him protection. Draco seems to be wavering when more Death Eaters arrive. Snape enters, just when it appears one of them might kill Dumbledore. Dumbledore presents a vague plea to Snape, who immediately uses the Avada Kedavra curse to kill Dumbledore. The Death Eaters, Snape, and Malfoy leave, and the petrifying spell that had kept Harry frozen wears off. Despite being completely stunned by Snape's actions, Harry finds the strength to fight several Death Eaters in his pursuit of Draco and Snape. When Harry finally catches up to Snape, the professor blocks the student's spells and reveals himself to be the half-blood prince. Snape escapes from Hogwarts with Draco, and Harry rushes back to find Dumbledore's body splayed at the foot of the tower. Harry removes the horcrux, a locket, from Dumbledore's cloak, and he discovers that it is actually a fake. Someone else, with the initials R. A. B., had found the true horcrux and left the fake in its place.

In the aftermath of Dumbledore's death, the phoenix Fawkes sings a sorrowful song. Several people recover in the hospital wing after fighting the Death Eaters, including Bill Weasley who was bitten by werewolf Fenrir Greyback. No one knows how Bill will recover from his injuries, but Fleur earns the favor of Molly Weasley by remaining loyal and continuing to want to marry him. It also becomes clear that Tonks has looked ill all year because of her love for Remus Lupin, who had refused her advances until now because he is a werewolf. The teachers all discuss how to proceed without Dumbledore as headmaster of Hogwarts, and they consider closing the school. Harry feels profoundly alone.

Harry finds it hard to believe that Dumbledore is dead, watching as the funeral ceremony proceeds. Witches and wizards flock to pay their respects to the fallen Dumbledore and, at the end of the ceremony, Dumbledore's body bursts into flames, leaving a white tomb. At this point, Harry has a revelation. He realizes he must now face Voldemort alone after so many people have died attempting to protect him. He recalls his parents, his godfather, and now his beloved Dumbledore. In this spirit, he breaks up with Ginny, citing his need to face Voldemort alone. She understands as he walks away. Ron and Hermione follow, however, vowing to remain by his side to the end.


Fleur Delacour

Part Veela, Fleur is a beautiful woman who visited Hogwarts during the Tri-Wizard tournament in Harry's fourth year. Her engagement to Bill Weasley is not initially welcomed by the Weasley family because they find her haughty and somewhat shallow.


The house-elf Harry freed in his second year, Dobby now works in the kitchens at Hogwarts. He appears whenever Harry needs him, this year helping him investigate an evil plot in the castle by following Draco Malfoy and keeping watch on Kreacher.

Albus Dumbledore

Headmaster of Hogwarts, Dumbledore is a most powerful wizard and remains the only wizard Voldemort has ever feared. Dumbledore advises the Ministry of Magic and holds the loyalty of many wizarding families. He also gains Harry's confidence and esteem with his kindness, becoming a father figure to the orphaned boy. In Harry's sixth year, Dumbledore investigates Voldemort's past and helps Harry realize that he must eventually defeat the evil wizard. He generally attempts a peaceful solution before resorting to violence, although he does fight Voldemort at the end of Harry's fifth year. His philosophy centers on his belief in the power of love. In this book, Dumbledore refuses to accept that Draco Malfoy has turned evil; instead he offers him protection and a path toward goodness. Dumbledore also remains adamant that he can trust Severus Snape.

Marvolo Gaunt

Marvolo is Voldemort's grandfather. He lives a life of destitution and feels cheated because he believes his pureblood connection to Salazar Slytherin should grant him a better life. He remains an enemy to the Ministry of Magic for all of his life and raises his children in an atmosphere of squalor and abuse.

Merope Gaunt

Voldemort's mother, Merope endures a poor and dismal childhood with her cruel father and her insane brother. After falling desperately in love with a handsome muggle, she enchants him with a love potion and marries him. When the love potion wears off, her husband abandons the pregnant Merope. She dies after giving birth to her son in an orphanage. The Gaunt family is directly related to Salazar Slytherin.

Morfin Gaunt

Morfin is Merope's brother and Voldemort's uncle. He is violent and insane, supposedly because of the intermarrying among Slytherin's heirs in order to keep the family line pure. Morfin is framed by Voldemort for the murders of the Riddles.

Hermione Granger

Hermione is one of Harry's best friends. She is born of muggle parents and thus endures taunts of being a "Mudblood" from insensitive witches and wizards. Her strength lies in her high academic achievement and intellectual abilities. She excels in her classes and exams and can perform very advanced magic for someone her age.

Fenrir Greyback

A violent werewolf, Greyback is loyal to Voldemort. He enjoys attacking children, striking fear among wizarding parents, and he even begins attacking people when he is not fully transformed into a wolf. In this respect, he is unlike other werewolves.

Rubeus Hagrid

Gamekeeper and professor of care of magical creatures at Hogwarts, Hagrid is a half-giant with a sweet disposition. He befriends Harry, Ron and Hermione, and becomes their sentimental favorite. He is fiercely loyal to Dumbledore and performs many services on his behalf.


The Black Family house-elf, Kreacher becomes Harry's property after Sirius Black dies. His loyalties are with Voldemort, but he must begrudgingly serve his new master, Harry Potter. He would rather belong to others in the Black family line.

Bellatrix Lestrange

Sister of Narcissa Malfoy, Bellatrix is a Death Eater who killed Harry's godfather, Sirius Black. She is suspicious of Snape and believes he is disloyal to Voldemort. She is present when Snape makes his unbreakable vow.

Neville Longbottom

Neville has been one of Harry, Ron and Hermione's close friends since their first year. Less adept at magic than the other three, he often feels inadequate, probably because his browbeating grandmother has convinced him he will never be as capable as his parents were. His parents were tortured into insanity by Bellatrix Lestrange when he was a baby.

Luna Lovegood

A member of "Dumbledore's Army" or the "D.A.," Luna fights against the Death Eaters at the end of the story. Luna does not have many friends because of her dreamy disposition and belief in the fantastic.


Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince was released in an unabridged version on audio CD by Listening Library in 2005. Jim Dale narrates. This CD is widely available through bookstores and online merchants.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone was adapted as a film in 2001, starring Daniel Radcliffe and directed by Chris Columbus. Running 152 minutes and rated PG, the 2005 DVD version is available from Warner Home Video and includes deleted scenes and supplemental cast interviews.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets was adapted as a film in 2002, reprising Daniel Radcliffe's role as Harry Potter and continuing Chris Columbus's role as Director. Running for 161 minutes and rated PG, the 2005 DVD version is available from Warner Home Video and includes deleted scenes and supplemental cast interviews.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban debuted as a film in 2004, again starring Daniel Radcliffe as Harry Potter but under the new direction of Alfonso Cuarón. Running for 142 minutes and rated PG, the 2005 DVD version is available from Warner Home Video and includes deleted scenes and supplemental cast interviews.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire debuted as a film in 2005, with returning star Daniel Radcliffe as Harry Potter and with new director, Mike Newell. Running for 157 minutes and rated PG-13, the 2006 DVD version is available from Warner Home Video in a two-disc special edition set.

Remus Lupin

Lupin was best friends with Harry's father and godfather while they were alive. He was bitten by a werewolf when he was young and is therefore one himself. He transforms into a wolf at full moons and is thus assigned to infiltrate a werewolf colony as a service to Dumbledore. He also offers friendly support to Harry.

Draco Malfoy

Harry's enemy from the time they met, Draco poses a serious threat of murder in this novel. He spends his school year disappearing into unknown places to work out his plot for Voldemort. But the plan takes longer and proves more difficult than Draco originally thought, and, when he does find some success, his conversation with Dumbledore weakens his defenses. Readers view him, for the first time, to be as vulnerable and insecure as any other adolescent boy.

Narcissa Malfoy

Draco Malfoy's mother, Narcissa, worries that Lord Voldemort, whom she serves, is trying to punish her husband by charging her son with the dangerous task of killing Albus Dumbledore. She gets Snape to make an unbreakable vow to help Draco complete his task.

Minerva McGonagall

Professor of transfiguration at Hogwarts, McGonagall also serves as head of Gryffindor House. McGonagall is a close confidante of Dumbledore's and becomes headmistress in his absence at the end of the story.

Moaning Myrtle

Myrtle is the ghost of a school girl who was killed at Hogwarts fifty years earlier. She haunts the bathrooms of the castle and befriends Harry, Ron, and Hermione in their second year. In Harry's sixth year, Myrtle develops a crush on Draco Malfoy when he hides in the bathroom to bemoan his promise to Voldemort.

Harry Potter

The title character for Rowling's series, Harry Potter is the young, orphaned wizard who attends Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry in order to learn magic. He is on a quest to destroy the evil Lord Voldemort, who killed his parents when Harry was a baby, and who continues to terrorize the wizarding world. Because Harry survived Voldemort's deadly curse as an infant, he is known as "the boy who lived." In this book, the wizarding world now wonders whether Harry is also "the Chosen One," amid rumors that Harry is fated to defeat Voldemort. During Harry's sixth year, he and Dumbledore study Voldemort's past, and when he finds himself alone at the end of the book, vows to spend his life hunting Voldemort. His friends, Ron and Hermione, promise to stay by his side.

Tom Riddle

See Lord Voldemort.

Rufus Scrimgeour

Scrimgeour becomes the minister of magic after Voldemort returns to power. He seems loyal to the good side, but focuses primarily on the appearance of progress against evil, characterized by false arrests and searches rather than on a serious attempt to curtail Voldemort and his followers.

Horace Slughorn

The newest potions master and an old friend of Dumbledore's, Slughorn shows a fondness for befriending prominent people. He also holds, in his memory, a key to understanding Voldemort's rise to power.

Severus Snape

Formerly potions master, Snape finally gains the desired post of professor of defense against the dark arts during Harry's sixth year. He continues to needle Harry cruelly, and his loyalties are unclear as the story progresses. Although Dumbledore constantly proclaims his unwavering trust in Snape, Harry never loses his suspicions. Snape makes an unbreakable vow with Draco Malfoy's mother at the beginning of the book, promising to help protect Draco from Voldemort. By the end of the novel, Snape's is revealed to be the half-blood prince, whose potions have helped Harry throughout the school year. His actions make his loyalties highly questionable.

Nymphadora Tonks

Tonks works as an auror, or fighter of evil wizards, for the Ministry of Magic. She is assigned to protect Harry and saves him on at least one occasion. She spends much of Harry's sixth year looking pale and sick because, Harry later finds out, she is in love with a man who refuses to commit to her.


The most evil wizard in history, Voldemort terrorizes both the wizarding and non-wizarding worlds while attempting to gain more power. Dumbledore and Harry investigate his past, trying to discover the secrets of how Tom Riddle became Lord Voldemort. Tom spends his childhood in an orphanage and, before he understands that he is a wizard, uses his magical powers to control and hurt the other children. His cruelty only increases as he studies magic at Hogwarts, and he gains followers who later become the Death Eaters. Dumbledore reveals how Voldemort hides several pieces of his soul in inanimate objects in order to become immortal.

Arthur Weasley

Patriarch of the Weasley family, Arthur also works for the Ministry of Magic. He is fascinated by muggles, and often questions Harry about their non-magic lifestyle.

Bill Weasley

One of Ron's brothers, Bill works for the Ministry of Magic and plans to marry Fleur Delacour. He is attacked by Fenrir Greyback in the story's final battle, and will carry deep scars on his face throughout his life.

Ginny Weasley

Ron's youngest sibling and only sister, Ginny becomes a central figure in the sixth story. She not only exhibits skill on the Quidditch field and wit among her friends, but she also becomes Harry's girlfriend toward the end of the year.

Molly Weasley

Matriarch of the Weasley family, Molly knew Harry's parents when they were alive. She becomes a mother figure to Harry.

Percy Weasley

Brother to Ron, Percy graduated from Hogwarts with high honors. Loyal to the Ministry of Magic before his family, however, Percy remains estranged from his parents throughout Harry's sixth year.

Ron Weasley

Ron is one of Harry's best friends, along with Hermione Granger. He brings Harry into his large family and remains fiercely loyal to Harry throughout their many dangerous adventures.


Good versus Evil

The main conflict in Rowling's seven-book series seems to be a clear-cut battle between the evil Lord Voldemort and the good Harry Potter. But each successive novel complicates this simple equation, and Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is no exception. Between her depiction of the Ministry of Magic as inept and her vague characterizations of Professor Snape's loyalties, Rowling leaves the reader to question uncontextualized notions of good and evil.

Harry Potter clearly represents good in his quest to eliminate evil from the wizarding community. His motivation, as Dumbledore explains, comes from his love for his parents, and thus keeps him innocent. And certainly Voldemort represents evil; his actions cause fear and panic in the wizarding community, and his goals revolve around immortality and selfish power. But many other characters do not fit so neatly into a category. The minister of magic, for example, makes questionable decisions in his effort to catch Voldemort and his followers. He orders false arrests, and he attempt to use Harry as a smokescreen for the Ministry's actions. Although these decisions do not seem exactly ethical, they cannot be deemed evil, either. As in real life, good and evil do not present themselves unambiguously to Harry Potter, and he must make the best decision he can in each situation.

Professor Snape presents the most complicated representation of good and evil. He claims to be both an agent for Dumbledore and for Voldemort. After leaving the Death Eaters many years ago, Snape returned to Hogwarts and pledged loyalty to Dumbledore. He maintains to Voldemort, however, that his loyalties remain with the Dark Lord and that he will be a spy in the castle. Despite many instances in which Snape clashes with Harry, Dumbledore continues to trust him. But Snape's final actions in the sixth book cause this trust to seem misplaced. Rowling leaves Snape's true allegiance a mystery for now.

Individual Responsibility

Harry approaches manhood this year, and he begins to realize the responsibilities he will face as an adult. For such a young man, he has faced much loss in his life. First, Voldemort killed his parents in an attempt to kill Harry as a baby. Then, he spent eleven years with his aunt and uncle, who neglected him. Soon after finding some respite from his loneliness with his godfather Sirius Black, Harry loses Sirius, who was killed fighting Voldemort. Finally, Dumbledore protects Harry during their quest for a horcrux, and as a result, faces death at the hands of the Death Eaters. These many people defend the young Harry throughout his early years, but the sixth book indicates a change is coming.

Throughout his penultimate year at school, Harry studies Voldemort's youth to learn how to defeat him. As he watches all the cruelty Voldemort inflicted upon the world over the years, Harry begins to understand how important his task will be. But when Dumbledore gives up his life, Harry has an epiphany. He realizes that no one else can sacrifice themselves for him and that he must face Voldemort on his own, as a man. Harry's talent and life experiences make him uniquely qualified to challenge Voldemort. Although he is scared, he accepts the responsibility now facing him. He finds courage and confidence in those who have gone before him, and he becomes mature enough to take on the task alone.



From the beginning, Rowling envisioned the Harry Potter series as consisting of seven books, one for each year of Harry's schooling at Hogwarts. The series follows the lives of the same main characters—Harry, Ron, and Hermione—through each novel and continues the narrative from one book to the next. Although each of the Harry Potter books can stand independently, there are several plotlines and thematic threads that link the series together, and each successive novel moves the characters and the plot forward. The opening chapters of each book include a brief summary of events that have transpired in the previous books, keeping the reader informed of earlier plot action and acting as an introduction to the series for first-time readers. The books open with Harry eagerly anticipating the beginning of a new year at Hogwarts. By the middle of each book, which usually coincides with the Hogwarts Christmas break, some conflict or mystery has arisen at Hogwarts. Each book comes to a climax, usually some kind of confrontation between Harry and Lord Voldrmort or Voldemort's followers, near the end of the school year. As the series draws to a close, major plot points and themes begin to move toward the final culminating battle between Harry and Voldemort. Rowling uses foreshadowing to hook the reader's interest in the climax and resolutions to be revealed in the remaining books in the series.


  • Of Rowling's main characters, who can be considered "good" and who can be considered "evil"? What defines a character as good or evil? Does Rowling rely mainly on actions to determine a character's morality, or does she focus on a character's motivation? Or does she use a combination of both? Use specific examples to illustrate actions and motivations that illustrate good or evil. How many of Rowling's characters seem to be neutral (Horace Slughorn, perhaps)? What is Rowling's overall perspective on good and evil? How does it compare to other pieces of literature about good and evil?
  • Albus Dumbledore lives by the philosophy that love is stronger than evil and more powerful than magic. What kind of love does Dumbledore mean? For what purpose? Cite examples from the novel where non-magic solutions are as effective as magic ones. Find examples where magic is, in fact, more effective than non-magic. What can you predict about the events in the final book in the Harry Potter series based on Rowling's emphasis on love in the first six novels?
  • Research the role of the sidekick in literature. How do Ron and Hermione play the role of sidekick? How have their roles changed or stayed the same by Harry's sixth year? Are they truly sidekicks, or do they have fully developed characters on their own? How do they influence Harry? What specific kinds of support do they each provide for him? Would Harry's life be substantially different without them? How will Harry's ultimate quest to kill Voldemort be changed by having Ron and Hermione by his side?
  • Watch the Harry Potter movie adaptations. Which characters in the books are represented as the books present them, and which characters seem different? Cite examples from the texts to show discrepancies between the books and the movies. Why would there be differences in characterization between these two types of presentation? Which characters seem more interesting in the books than in the movies? Which are more interesting in the movies? Research other popular books that have been turned into movies. What problems does movie adaptation present, and how do the Harry Potter movies rate in terms of adaptation success?

Limited Omniscient Third-Person Point of View

In spite of the fact that the novel is written from a third-person point of view, throughout much of the book Rowling unfolds the action through Harry's perspective. Using third-person limited omniscient point of view, an author presents the events from an outside perspective, but reveals the perceptions of one or more characters. Rowling sometimes chooses simply to present conversations and actions and let the reader draw whatever conclusions they want about a character's motivations. She does this with Snape quite frequently, as in the scene early in the novel when Snape makes an Unbreakable Vow to Narcissa Malfoy or, later, when he kills Albus Dumbledore. The reader does not know what thoughts pass through Snape's mind in these moments, which creates considerable dramatic tension. Readers do, however, frequently have access to Harry's thoughts, hopes, and fears. In fact, much of the final chapter of the novel, "The White Tomb," centers on Harry's thoughts and emotions as he struggles to come to terms with Dumbledore's death and what it means to him.

Children's Fantasy Literature

The Harry Potter series fits generally in both the categories of children's literature and fantasy literature. As children's literature, the books repeat schoolyard themes of friendship, interpersonal conflict, and coming of age. The first several books in the series in particular reflect this tradition, as they show Harry becoming close friends with Ron and Hermione, managing his dislike of Draco, and balancing schoolwork and personal interests. As many children's books do, Rowling's texts also present a mystery within each year; Harry and his friends spend the school year unraveling that mystery and finding solutions that the adults around them cannot manage. During Harry's sixth year, he focuses on studying Voldemort's past. He learns the characteristics that help turn an orphan into an evil wizard in the hopes that this knowledge will empower him in his final battle. Harry also trails Draco throughout the novel, despite the disapproval of friends and faculty. As opposed to other years when Harry's instincts about Draco prove misguided, this time he is correct in suspecting the young Malfoy of working for Voldemort. His efforts save the school from further damage at the hands of the Death Eaters. Rowling includes many typical elements of children's literature in her series, although they evolve as Harry begins to enter adulthood in the later texts.

Also considered fantasy novels, the Harry Potter novels weave magic into the characters' everyday lives. Throughout normal daily activities such as attending classes and eating meals, the students at Hogwarts experience fantastic details such as moving staircases, mischievous ghosts, and levitating candles. These elements align Rowling's work with other popular fantasy series about imaginary worlds, such as C. S. Lewis's The Chronicles of Narnia series and J. R. R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy. The distinguishing feature of this genre is the creation of a separate world for the reader, one which stands on its own, apart from the reader's world. Many of Rowling's fans cite this feature as their favorite element of the novels; that is, they admire the series's ability to transport them to a different place and delight their senses with the many charming magical elements of Harry Potter's world.


Literary Sensation

Published as the sixth of a seven-book series, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince was greatly anticipated by readers worldwide. Rowling's novels continue to attract vast numbers of fans, young and old alike, and thus each text's publication is a cultural event in itself. Midnight book launches as well as enormous speculation regarding plot turns accompanied this book's debut. Criminal allegations were even made in cases of content leaks and premature book distributions. The frenzy over Harry Potter's future only grows with his sixth year at Hogwarts, and especially so as a key figure dies in this second-to-last book. Anticipation for the final book rises to new heights as readers grasp the cliff-hanger surrounding book six: Does Snape betray Dumbledore's trust in him?

The War on Terror

Politically, the sixth book in the series takes place in a divisive and chaotic fictional environment. The Ministry of Magic tries to protect the muggle community because Voldemort expands his cruelty to include devastation outside of the magical world. Rowling presents a world with many similarities to the political environment of the early twenty-first century. In Great Britain and America especially, involvement in the Iraq War and the War on Terrorism continue to dominate the political landscape. One may interpret the Ministry of Magic's inept response to Voldemort as a commentary on Prime Minister Tony Blair's and President George Bush's attempts to quell global terrorism through a Middle Eastern war. Critics of the war all over the world question how involvement in Iraq can stem the flow of terrorism globally. In a most eerie similarity, London faced a terrorist attack in its subway system much like the attack presented in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince within days of the book's publication. The second half of Rowling's series illustrates a well-meaning government ill equipped to deal with the ever-changing threat of Voldemort; similarly, the twenty-first century western world struggles to adapt to the evolving challenges terrorists present after the September 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center in New York.


Rowling's writing has garnered so much praise from adoring fans that most early negative criticism has dissipated. Whereas some critics of the series cite Rowling's childlike approach in her early novels, the later novels' growing complexity in character development and plot seem to impress most readers. Further, the novels' continuing entertainment value, through six long installments, has garnered Rowling much more praise than criticism. Her fanciful presentation of magical creatures, charms, and curses often delights the most cynical reader.

Academic scholarship began surrounding Rowling's work as the series progressed. Critics and literary scholars continue to generate serious literary analyses of the writing. Topic: The Washington and Jefferson College Review published a special edition focused on the Harry Potter books in 2004. A collection of scholarly essays on the Harry Potter series titled Scholarly Studies in Harry Potter: Applying Academic Methods to a Popular Text, edited by Cynthia Hallet, was published in 2005. Further, international academic conferences gather every year to discuss the famous works. Students need not venture far to find considerations of literary technique, symbolism, or genre of Rowling's popular writing.

The last holdouts of negative commentary about Harry Potter come from two camps: the staunchly religious and the extremely intellectual. Some religious leaders as well as small communities continue to renounce Harry Potter books as promoting satanic expressions of magic. From vague concerns to serious book bannings, these critics call Rowling's positive presentation of magic problematic. The Ontario Consultants for Religious Tolerance maintain a thorough website, www.religioustolerance.org, which chronicles the many different responses to Harry Potter from religious groups. Alternately, well-respected intellectuals such as William Safire and A. S. Byatt also target Rowling's work, deeming it insubstantial. They say that popularity alone does not vault the books to the status of instant classics; instead, they contend that Rowling's works exist in the realm of entertaining, but not serious, reading.

Fans' enthusiasm for the Potter books has made criticism largely irrelevant, as Ross G. Douthat noted in the National Review (London): "Reviewing a Harry Potter book is the ultimate superfluous act." By the time the sixth book in the series had arrived, most critics acknowledged the author's shortcomings while endorsing the book and the series nonetheless. "Sadly, the latest Potter book, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, suffers from all the usual faults of the series," remarked Douthat, as he prepared to describe Rowling's reliance on clichés, uppercase type, and adverbs. "Yet for all these weaknesses," he continued, "the Potter saga succeeds as few fictions do, and proves, in the process, that there's more to writing than felicitous prose or perfect psychological realism." In a review for Canada's Globe & Mail Andre Alexis reached the same conclusion. He wrote, "First, to be kind, [Rowling] hasn't got the finest ear," but concluded, "Children are unlikely to notice, or care about, Rowling's shortcomings. And that's the truest testament to her talent."

Looking at the overall arc of the series, some critics were disappointed in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, charging that it does not stand on its own as well as it should. "[Rowling] has become so fixed on the overall sequence of her novels, that the narrative shape of this one book is no longer a concern," observed John Mullan of London's The Guardian. Rosalind Casey, of the Houston Chronicle, felt similarly: "Rowling seems to have rushed the ending, just so she finally could heave a sigh of relief and say, 'OK, now I'm ready for the last book.'"


Laura Baker Shearer

Shearer is a professor of American literature. In this essay, Shearer examines the ways in which Severus Snape's actions bear out Rowling's philosophy of love and redemption.

Severus Snape's role in the Harry Potter series has been controversial from his first appearance. In Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, Snape singles Harry out in his first Potions class, calling him pompous and humiliating him in front of the class. Harry comes to dislike him intensely; readers usually agree with Harry. In later books in the Potter series, readers learn of Snape's conflict with Harry's father in their school days, and it seems even clearer that Snape has bad intentions when it comes to Harry Potter. But Albus Dumbledore's continued trust in Professor Snape makes all these assumptions questionable. When the most powerful wizard on the side of good insists on trusting Snape so thoroughly, eventually placing his life in his hands, readers start to second-guess their own judgments concerning the distasteful potions master.

A careful reading of the first five books of the Potter series shows that those who would label Snape as evil may have rushed to judgment. By the end of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, author J. K. Rowling herself seems to indicate that we should not be fooled by surface indications. Rowling has provided underlying evidence throughout all of the Potter books that Professor Snape, however unpleasant he may seem, does in fact work on the side of good. His loyalty to Dumbledore is part of Rowling's overarching theme of the redemptive power of love.

Snape does give readers a powerful reason for doubting his loyalty in the final pages of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. At the climax of the story, a weakened Dumbledore begs for Snape's help as the headmaster lies, unable to move, against the wall of the castle tower. In fact, Dumbledore requests Snape's assistance alone during his last hours. When Snape arrives at the tower before Harry can help him, Dumbledore whispers, "Severus … please." After this vague plea, Snape, with "revulsion and hatred etched in the harsh lines of his face," uses the death curse on Dumbledore. "A jet of green light shot from the end of Snape's wand," Rowling writes, "and hit Dumbledore squarely in the chest." All of the characters, from Harry to Professor McGonagall, believe that Snape killed Dumbledore in cold blood. All believe that Dumbledore's trust was misplaced, and that Snape is in league with Lord Voldemort. But Snape's apparent betrayal only masks a larger truth about love and redemption in Rowling's novels as a whole. While Snape may not be friendly or pleasant, he is Dumbledore's man, and thus a powerful supporter of the redemptive power of love.

Rowling focuses on the power of love from the beginning in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. Dumbledore often reminds Harry that his mother sacrificed her life for him when Voldemort attacked, and that her sacrifice covered him in a love completely alien to the evil Lord Voldemort. In many ways, that love protects Harry throughout his adventures at Hogwarts. First, Professor Quirrell cannot stand to touch Harry because of the love surrounding him. Evil literally crumbles when it comes in contact with love, and thus Harry overcomes Voldemort in their first encounter at Hogwarts. In book six, Dumbledore clarifies the extent to which love gives Harry remarkable power. "Voldemort himself created his worst enemy," Dumbledore explains to Harry, "By attempting to kill you, Voldemort himself singled [you] out … and gave [you] the tools for the job!" Harry will never be tempted to join Voldemort, continues Dumbledore, because he killed Harry's parents, and thus the orphaned son will always feel a deep hatred toward the evil lord. "You are protected, in short," says Dumbledore, "by your ability to love!"

It is within the context of the theme of love's power that readers can come to look past appearances and see that Snape may not be evil after all. Dumbledore, the character who develops and expresses the theory of the redemptive power of love, consistently expresses his faith in Snape, stating without question, "I trust Severus Snape completely." Dumbledore's unwavering trust in Snape remains the clearest indication that readers should second-guess their assumptions about him. Remus Lupin sums up the problem succinctly: "It comes down to whether or not you trust Dumbledore's judgment." And, Rowling implies, the smart reader does. As Dumbledore has explained to Harry, something powerful has passed between the two men, something akin to a conversion experience, and Dumbledore believes without a doubt that Snape is worthy of his confidence. In Snape's actions through the Potter series, readers see evidence of Snape's loyalty to Dumbledore and of Dumbledore's loving desire to protect Harry. For example, though Snape appears to be attacking Harry during a Quidditch match in book one, he is, in fact, protecting him from his worst enemy. Despite his obvious dislike of Harry during their private lessons in book five, Snape is still attempting to protect Harry from Voldemort. He may have few kind words for young Harry Potter, but he acts consistently throughout the first five books of the Potter series to keep the boy wizard out of the clutches of Lord Voldemort.

In Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Snape's actions are more ambiguous. They have to be: Lord Voldemort, only a shadowy threat until the end of book four, has regained human form, reassembled his band of Death Eaters, and reestablished his power. Snape is under Dumbledore's orders to establish a relationship with his former master, a wizard renowned for his ability to read minds. Snape must be convincing in his support of Voldemort. But for characters such as Harry, who are predisposed to believe the worst of Snape, his actions are often plainly evil. Harry believes the worst when Hagrid describes overhearing a fight between Dumbledore and Snape, in which Snape appears to want out of a previous arrangement. Hagrid describes overhearing the two arguing. "I jus' heard Snape sayin' Dumbledore took too much fer granted an' maybe he—Snape—didn' wan' ter do it anymore," Hagrid reports. Although this scene seems to mean that Snape does not want to remain loyal to Dumbledore, it may alternately indicate that Dumbledore has asked a task too difficult for Snape to bear. That task, most likely, is Dumbledore's murder. To maintain the trust of Lord Voldemort's followers, Snape is compelled to make an unbreakable vow to Draco Malfoy's mother in which he binds himself in an agreement to kill Dumbledore if the need arises. Harry and Hagrid know nothing of this vow, but the reader does. The reader then can see that Snape's argument with Dumbledore most likely centers on his reluctance to kill the headmaster.

Events directly preceding Dumbledore's murder lend further support to the argument that both Snape and Dumbledore are motivated by the power of love. Just prior to Snape's arrival at the castle tower, Dumbledore orchestrates a long conversation with a scared Draco. Although Draco purports to be on the verge of murdering Dumbledore, the headmaster remains calm. "Draco, Draco, you are not a killer," Dumbledore says soothingly. Obviously, Dumbledore is stalling. Is he merely hoping to buy time until he can be rescued? Possibly. But he is also trying to spare Draco from the irreparable damage his soul will suffer if he actually manages to commit murder. He continues by offering Draco protection if he will renounce Voldemort. He is stalling not only for his own sake, but also for Draco's. Dumbledore knows that if the Order of the Phoenix does not arrive in time to save him, then at least Snape will arrive in time to save Draco from making a huge mistake. Dumbledore knows Snape will murder him in Draco's stead. If, for argument's sake, one assumes Snape kills Dumbledore only at Dumbledore's request ("Severus … please"), one may then expect Snape to whisk Draco away to keep him safe. Snape does this very thing, immediately leaving castle grounds and disapparating with Draco. If Draco does eventually switch loyalties and abandon Voldemort, Dumbledore's loving sacrifice will be doubly redemptive. Not only will he have saved Harry Potter's life to allow him to go on and defeat Voldemort, but Dumbledore will have also died in the conversion of Draco Malfoy. This kind of sacrifice, in which one of the most notoriously evil wizarding families might turn good, would be the crowning victory for Dumbledore and his philosophy.

The transformation of evil into good would underscore Rowling's larger philosophy of redemption throughout her writing. "There are things much worse than death," Dumbledore explains to Voldemort in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix; in fact, he says at the end of the first book, "After all, to the well-organized mind, death is but the next great adventure." As Dumbledore's alter-ego has always been Fawkes, the phoenix, readers might expect that a "resurrection" of sorts is not too far a field. Indeed, "Harry thought, for one heart-stopping moment, that he saw a phoenix fly joyfully into the blue," during Dumbledore's funeral. Love and redemption are worth dying for, Rowling illustrates, and Snape's actions may just be the key to that positive, life-affirming message.

Source: Laura Baker Shearer, Critical Essay on Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, in Literary Newsmakers, Thomson Gale, 2007.

Ross D. Douthat

In the following review, Douthat discusses the success of the Harry Potter books, despite the author's stylistic shortcomings and religious critics.

Reviewing a Harry Potter book is the ultimate superfluous act. No critic can hope to lay a glove on J. K. Rowling's series, which long ago passed into the realm of universal approbation reserved for mothers, flags, and balanced budgets. The only remaining Harry-skeptics—Christian fundamentalists on one hand and literary scholars like Harold Bloom and A. S. Byatt on the other—have been banished beyond the pale of civilized discourse, and everyone else has given in: We all love Harry, and Voldemort take anyone who doesn't.

It's not that the anti-Potter types don't have a certain point. Judged purely on her literary style, the world's bestselling authoress isn't in nearly the same league as the canonical greats of children's literature—the C.S. Lewises and Kenneth Grahames and Frances Hodgson Burnetts. Not that Rowling is untalented, precisely, but her craft gives the impression of having been stunted by success, as if her development as a writer stalled (or her editors began taking long vacations) when the royalties started rolling in.

Sadly, the latest Potter book, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, suffers from all the usual faults of the series. The protagonist's interior life hasn't moved beyond the realm of cliche: Harry's stomach lurches, his heart sinks, his mind races, and you can tell when he loses his temper because he tends to BELLOW IN CAPITAL LETTERS! (Though less frequently, thank God, than in The Order of the Phoenix, the last Potter installment, which sometimes felt as if it were written on a laptop with a broken Caps Lock key.) Nor has Rowling managed to shed her addiction to adverbs: Nothing can be said, but it must be said grimly, or coldly, or quickly, or slowly, or scornfully, or hastily, or worst of all, succinctly—all of this in the space of just four pages. And of her tedious magical shootouts—all flying spells and ducking wizards and shouts of "come on!" and "look out!"—the less said the better.

Yet for all these weaknesses, the Potter saga succeeds as few fictions do, and proves, in the process, that there's more to writing than felicitous prose or perfect psychological realism. As with James Fenimore Cooper, or H. P. Lovecraft, or any of the host of novelists whose stories linger long after their stylistic blunderings are forgotten, it's in that mysterious more that Harry Potter's success resides: not in the telling, but in the tale.


Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone is the first book in Rowling's series and appeared in England under the title Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone in 1997. Harry Potter learns he is a wizard when he is eleven years old and finds that there is a place where he fits in: Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. He helps keep the Sorcerer's Stone safely out of Voldemort's reach by the end of the year, with the help of new friends, Ron and Hermione.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (1998) represents the second year of schooling for Harry. He learns how Voldemort opened the Chamber of Secrets at Hogwarts fifty years earlier, and he must figure out how to close it again before it kills another muggle-born student.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (1999) takes place during Harry's third year of school. He learns about a godfather he never knew he had during this eventful year, and he also discovers how a friend betrayed his father many years before.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2000) takes a significantly darker tone than the previous three novels. In it, Harry enters the Tri-Wizard tournament at Hogwarts, but he faces his most difficult challenge in a graveyard with Voldemort. When Harry's friend is murdered, he knows that Voldemort has regained full strength at last.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2003) chronicles how a small band of witches and wizards attempt to quell Voldemort's return to power. Harry continues in his fifth year of schooling, but he finds it difficult not to help the Order in their fight. Another friend dies at the end of Harry's fifth year.

The Chronicles of Narnia, published between 1950 and 1956, has become a beloved children's classic. The seven stories detail four brothers and sisters and their entry into a magical world called Narnia, where they lead a magical and epic battle between good and evil.

That the tale succeeds so well, across so many books, can be credited in large part to Rowling's genius for plotting. Though the Potter books are a casserole of genres—a dash of Tom Brown's Schooldays, a helping of Narnia and the Arthurian legends, a serving of Sweet Valley High (the little wizards have grown up fast)—it's the spirit of Agatha Christie, or perhaps even John le Carre, that broods heaviest over Hogwarts. Each volume follows the structure of a suspense novel: Something nefarious is afoot, and Harry & Co. attempt to ferret it out, usually succeeding just in time for summer vacation. And only in the most carefully crafted whodunits and thrillers do you see the kind of intricate narrative webs, thick with plot and counterplot, dropped hints and hidden clues, that Rowling seems to spin with ease.

The success of her spinning is evident in The Half-Blood Prince, which until its shocking conclusion is a surprisingly uneventful book, packed more with information than with action. Voldemort, Harry's nemesis, has returned from the half-dead, gathered his allies, and launched what might be best described as a terrorist campaign against the magical establishment. The contemporary echoes are obvious, as are the political swipes. In previous books, as Voldemort's power grew, Rowling delivered a cutting portrait of a craven bureaucracy unwilling to face up to the threat. But now that her war has begun in earnest she offers thinly veiled jabs at Guantanamo and the Patriot Act, depicting innocent wizards being locked up by a hysterical Ministry of Magic—a poorly timed message, one suspects, in the author's native Britain.

Amid this gathering storm, calm prevails at Hogwarts, and much of the novel is taken up by the efforts of Albus Dumbledore, the school's aging headmaster and Harry's mentor, to unpack the riddles of Voldemort's past and prepare Harry for the confrontation that awaits, inevitably, in the seventh book. This unpacking takes us deep into the Dark Lord's childhood, and the various revelations demonstrate how cleverly and carefully Rowling has constructed her sub-creation. Her wizarding world isn't quite a secondary landscape on the scale of Tolkien's Middle-Earth: Rather, it's a cracked-mirror view of our own world, with more raffish charm than donnish depth. But it's still a marvelously complex place, thick with tangled family trees, buried secrets, parallel pasts, and double agents. It's a place where plotlines that seemed to have been dropped books ago bear unexpected fruit, where tossed-off comments must be scrutinized carefully—and where everything is seen through Harry's teenage eyes, which suggests that readers should always be wary of leaping to conclusions.

But even the most dexterous plot needs characters, and here, too, Rowling excels—not in plumbing the depths of the self, but in dancing nimbly on the surface of personalities, relying on archetype and caricature in ways that call to mind the best of Dickens. Like a Copperfield, Pip, or Twist, Harry is an appealing everyman surrounded by an astonishingly vivid supporting cast; and just as the Heeps, Micawbers, Fagins, and Havishams are often more memorable than Dickens's protagonists, so too is it the old familiars like Dumbledore and Rubeus Hagrid, Draco Malfoy and Severus Snape who keep readers returning, book after book, to the Potter series.

This genius for character and caricature, though, isn't the only quality that Rowling shares with Dickens. There's also her talent for moralizing without polarizing, a rare gift and a necessity for an author with so wide a following. (The conclusion of The Half-Blood Prince, I suspect, will provoke more tears worldwide than the passing of Little Nell.) Dickens played to a wide audience by mixing a liberal zeal for social reform with a conservative ardor for domestic virtue. Rowling, similarly, ditches the traditional fantasy novel's hints of racism and chauvinism in favor of a liberal-minded multiculturalism—the villains lust after the kind of racial purity that an author like Tolkien granted only to his most heroic characters—while keeping the genre's conservative, good-and-evil core intact. Dark is Dark and Light is Light, and though the twain may meet in some conflicted characters—the fascinating figure of Snape, for instance, Voldemort's-lackey-turned-Dumbledore's-man (or is he?)—there's never a sense that they can coexist for long, or that any George Lucas-style "balance" is possible between them.

It's true that Rowling hasn't written a Narnia-style religious allegory. (Though I wonder if even an Aslan cameo—or a seventh book titled Harry Potter and the Passion of the Christ-would mollify her more zealous Christian critics.) But again, as with Dickens, it doesn't take much special pleading to find a strong religious subtext to her story. The Potter books are heavily medieval, for one thing, stuffed with elements and humors and alchemy and Latinate spells, and stuffed as well with Christ-symbols—phoenixes and stags and unicorns, all associated with the forces of light, and arrayed against the serpent-sign of Voldemort and his Death Eater acolytes (whose name suggests a grisly parody of the Eucharist).

Then there's the central role that death plays in the novels, and the contrast drawn between Harry's companions' willingness to lay down their lives—by the end of The Half-Blood Prince, the hero has lost parents, godparents, classmates, and dear friends to the struggle—and Voldemort's all-too-familiar fear of his own mortality. The Dark Lord's name means "flight-from-death" for a reason, and Rowling is unstinting in developing this theme: More than anything, what distinguishes good from evil in the Potter books is whether a character accepts the admonition, Whoever would save his life must lose it.

Which leads to the inevitable question, whose answer awaits us in the seventh book: not whether good will triumph over evil, but at what cost? The Potter saga began with a sacrificial death: Harry's parents giving their lives to save him, and with him the whole world. If Rowling remains true to her theme, it will take another such sacrifice to complete her achievement, and bring this great, dark fairy tale full circle, and to an end.

Source: Ross D. Douthat, "Redemption at Hogwarts," in the National Review, Vol. 57, No. 16, September 12, 2005, p. 48.

Michiko Kakutani

In the following excerpt, Kakutani examines evolution and maturation of the main character through the sixth book in the Harry Potter series.

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Source: Michiko Kakutani, "Harry Potter Works His Magic Again in a Far Darker Tale," in the New York Times, July 16, 2005, p. B7.


Alexis, Andre, "Everything She Does Is Magic, "in Globe & Mail (Toronto, Canada), July 25, 2003, p. D3.

Anatol, Giselle Liza, Editor, Reading Harry Potter: Critical Essays, Praeger, 2003.

Byatt, A. S., "Harry Potter and the Childish Adult," in the New York Times, July 7, 2003, p. A13.

Casey, Rosalind, "In Light of a Dark Turn, 'Harry' Still Brilliant," in the Houston Chronicle, July 19, 2005, p. 1.

Douthat, Ross G., "Redemption at Hogwarts," in the National Review (London), September 12, 2005, p. 48.

Grossman, Lev, "Love Potions and Tragic Magic," in Time, July 25, 2005, p. 62.

Scholarly Studies in Harry Potter: Applying Academic Methods to a Popular Text, edited by Cynthia Whitney Hallett, Edwin Mellen Press, 2005.

Mullan, John, "Into the Gloom: As Harry Potter and His Friends Grow Up, John Mullan Feels the Adult World Encroaching," in the Guardian (London), July 23, 2005, p. 9.

Religious Tolerance.org, www.religioustolerance.org/potter.htm (July 2, 2006).

Rowling, J. K., Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Scholastic Press, 1999.

――――――, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Scholastic Press, 2000.

――――――, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Scholastic Press, 2005.

――――――, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Scholastic Press, 2003, pp. 814.

――――――, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Scholastic Press, 1999.

――――――, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, Scholastic Press, 1998, pp. 17, 297.

Safire, William, "Besotted with Potter," in the New York Times, January 27, 2000, A27.

Tolkien, J. R. R., The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King, Houghton Mifflin Company, 1994; originally published separately in 1954 and 1955.

Topic: The Washington and Jefferson College Review, Vol. 54, Fall 2004.


Scholarly Studies in Harry Potter: Applying Academic Methods to a Popular Text, edited by Cynthia Whitney Hallett, Edwin Mellen Press, 2005.

This collection of essays analyzes the Harry Potter series using a variety of traditional academic approaches. It treats Rowling's texts as serious adult literature rather than strictly children's literature.

J. K. Rowling Official Site, www.jkrowling.com (July 1, 2006).

Rowling uses this website to correspond with her fans worldwide. She answers readers' questions and gives updates on upcoming books.

Kirk, Connie Ann, J. K. Rowling: A Biography, Greenwood Press, 2003.

Kirk makes connections between Rowling's life and her writing, showing what details in her books may correspond to experiences in her life.

Neal, C. W., The Gospel According to Harry Potter: Spirituality in the Stories of the World's Most Famous Seeker, Westminster John Knox Press, 2002.

Neal challenges religious groups who target the Harry Potter series. She uses evidence from the books to forward an argument that Rowling creates a positive spiritual atmosphere in her books.

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