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Sex, drugs, thrills: Half-Blood Prince has it all
Sumit Bhattacharya |
July 18, 2005
In film and fiction, there's nothing as boring as Armageddon. Even at times when evil seems on the verge of victory, you know good will eventually triumph. But the mark of a great creator is when you still dive in, eager to get to the last frame, or last page, as fast as you can.
By now, millions of Harry Potter addicts are filled with the same kind of restlessness that marked their reading of the rather disappointing climax of Order Of The Phoenix. Nah, make that much more restlessness: because Half-Blood Prince is the best, by far, of the six Potter installments.
The penultimate book in the story of Harry Potter -- the boy wizard up against the most evil wand-brandisher of all time, Lord Voldemort -- is darker, tighter and more filled with twists than the five books that have already made publishing history.
The backgrounder -- often the most skippable portions in the previous books -- is dealt with by the Muggle world (of non-magic mortals) colliding with the wizard world, and a new British prime minister being apprised of the situation by the now displaced minister of magic, Cornelius Fudge. But the reference to the real world end does not end here. There are echoes of a misguided war on terror, detentions of innocent people: Guantanamo Bay, anyone?
The characters have grown -- Harry by a foot -- as they near coming of age. There are crushes, there's love, and there are subtle references to sex -- Harry's girlfriend (yes, he finds love, almost) boasts to her rivals he has a Hungarian Horntail tattooed on his chest. And the word 'slut' finds a place in a saga that, mistakenly, seems for kids.
Rowling deals with the world of teenage love as superbly as she delivers her plot twists. You get into the skin of the characters. That, to me, is the author's real achievement from Book One. Hogwarts could be any school in the world, really, with great teachers, vindictive ones, bullies and love-rivals. The magic world is not so different from the Muggle one, with rampant politicking and ambitions turning to greed.
And for all those who think Harry Potter stories are about kids with wands, there's even what could be interpreted as a reference to drugs -- in the form of a potion: Take two spoonfuls with breakfast and watch an ordinary day turn extraordinary (nudge, nudge, wink, wink!).
Half-Blood Prince has Harry taking lessons from his headmaster Albus Dumbledore; it has Snape getting the post he has coveted all his tenure at Hogwarts; it has Harry walking farther along the winding and painful road to adulthood; and it tells you exactly how and why Voldemort has achieved near-immortality. All I will tell you is that Harry knows what he has to do before he takes on he-who-must-not-be-named in a do-or-die battle.
By now, almost everyone knows who is the character close to Harry who dies, but I will not play plot-spoiler, simply because I love my Potter books too much to give away even the littlest twist.
Yes, the real twist to the plot comes after the death. And it's a twist that will have Pottermaniacs waiting hungrily for the seventh book.
I used the word penultimate because Rowling has said there are seven books -- corresponding with Harry's seven years at Hogwarts -- but the future of Hogwarts itself is in doubt, and Harry seems determined not to go back there.
Rowling has become increasingly visual, and you might be forgiven for suspecting that she is writing with the movies in mind. Scenes where Dumbledore and Harry go Voldemort-hunting and a corpse army stands in the way can make any good director salivate. Repeat: good director -- because the three films so far have fallen woefully short of the brilliant books.
Superman was referred to as the Depression's wet dream. Half-Blood Prince holds the promise that Harry will be remembered as the War on Terror's superhero.
J K Rowling, I doff my Muggle hat to you.
PS: If you need a typist for the next Harry Potter book, I can be contacted at email@example.com.
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