On July 15, 2005, one minute before midnight, millions of people around the world were lined up at their local bookstores to purchase Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. Why did the penultimate book in Rowling’s best-selling series soar to the top of the best-seller lists before it even hit the shelves?
One possible reason is that J. K. Rowling is a consummate storyteller. From Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (1997; published in the United States as Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, 1998), the first book in the series, to the newest volume, her spellbinding plots are compelling, suspenseful, and multilayered. Although each book follows a similar story lineHarry and his friends fight the powers of evil personified in Lord Voldemort, a renegade wizardRowling makes each tale fresh by adding new and often quirky characters, unexpected plot twists, and cliffhanger endings. She also explores philosophical issues such as good and evil and right and wrong, although rarely are these categories sharply drawn. Ambiguity is more often the rule in Rowling’s work than the exception.
Another reason Rowling’s Harry Potter novels keep fans reading is that the enchanting world she creates is imaginative and original, even though she borrows freely from classical literature, mythology, and folklore. While her work sometimes echoes masters of fantasy such as C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien, as well as Roman and Greek myth, she puts her own unique spin on these influences. In Rowling’s wizarding world not only do witches and wizards fly on broomsticks, they also use them to play a dangerous, fast-paced game called Quidditch. Photographs and pictures of people on walls and in newspapers wave and talk. Centaurs teach divination classes. Bestial werewolves are not all bad, and subservient house-elves are not all good.
Finally, she creates a host of engaging characters that readers loveand love to hate. Harry and Albus Dumbledore, Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger, Tom Riddle and Severus Snape, Ginny Weasley and Sirius Black, Peeves and Headless Nick, Dobby and Kreacher, Luna Lovegood and Neville Longbottom, Rubeus Hagrid and Grawp, Dolores Umbridge and Cornelius Fudge, and many other intriguing individuals with oddly appropriate names people the pages of Rowling’s novels. Although she bestows magical powers on her characters, they have the same flaws and foibles that mugglesor nonwizardspossess, making them attractive and accessible to readers.
Many of the above-named characters appear in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. The sixth book of the series opens in the office of an unnamed prime minister of England, who is awaiting a telephone call from the equally anonymous president of a “far off country”“a wretched man” in the prime minister’s view. While he waits, he ruminates on a series of catastrophic events which have been plaguing his countrya freak hurricane, a bridge collapse, and two high-profile murders. Suddenly Cornelius Fudge, the inept minister of magic who favors lime-green bowler hats, arrives in the prime minister’s office via the flames in the fireplace. Fudge informs the prime minister that what seem to be random disasters are actually carefully planned attacks on the muggle domain by dementors, sinister specters. The scene in the prime minister’s office is both ominous and humorous as Rowling sets the stage for the tragic conflict to come and has a bit of fun at the expense of politicians who are more concerned about their public images than governing their countries.
Meanwhile, as the dementors wreak havoc and Voldemort’s followers, known as Death Eaters, plan their strategy to dominate both the muggle and the wizarding worlds, Harry and his best friends Ron and Hermione return to Hogwarts for their sixth year of study. The school is not the same place they left two months previously, when they went on summer vacation. Horace Slughorn, a name-dropping elitist, has been lured out of retirement to become the new Potions teacher, and slimy, snarling Severus Snape has finally secured his dream job as professor of Defense Against the Dark Arts.
Dumbledore, Hogwarts’s beloved headmaster, is often absent from the school on mysterious errands, one of which has resulted in his right hand being burned black. Because of Voldemort’s rise to power, security at the school has been tightened. Hogwarts’s ill-tempered caretaker, Argus Filch,...
(The entire section is 1834 words.)