Thursday, July 21, 2005

Initial thoughts on Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince

Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince came out in bookstores Friday night – on Saturday morning, we had our copy. This book shattered earning records all across the country. Within 24 hours, the complete text was downloadable online from fans who wanted it digitally accessible. Tammy was done with it by Sunday morning, I was done by Monday morning. I cant even tell you if it was a good book, for I am so enraptured with the story that my critical judgment is impaired.

I can tell you, however, why I like the book! This post will not really be a plot spoiler, so if you haven’t yet read the book, but plan to, you will not get any critical surprises.

One of the main reasons I like the book (and indeed the series) is the emphasis on friendship. Harry continually has to rely upon friends to escape peril, and Dumbledore, the wise and seemingly all knowing headmaster, encourages Harry's development of friends. In a scene quite early in the volume, Dumbleore advises Harry about the wisdom of keeping a certain discovery secret, but then qualifies his advice “ ‘I think you ought to relax [the secrecy] in favor of your friends, Mr. Ronald Weasley and Miss Hermione Granger. Yes.’ He continued, when Harry looked startled, ‘I think they ought to know. You do them a disservice by not confiding something this important to them.’” (78). Dumbledore’s advice indicates that friends have a deep claim upon one another – that Harry has certain obligations toward Ron and Hermione, even as they have proven their loyalty toward him. This scene helps me get my mind around the mutual commitment we have to one another in the church: “…so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.” (Romans 12:5). Our mutual commitment to one another in Christ implies that we have certain claims upon one another.

But the scene goes on with Harry blurting out “ ‘I didn’t want to –‘ ‘—to worry or frighten them?’ said Dumbledore, surveying Harry over the top of his half-moon spectacles. ‘Or perhaps, to confess that you yourself are worried and frightened? You need your friends, Harry.' ” (78) Again, Dumbledore’s words illustrate a powerful truth – our friends help us see our own weaknesses and frailties, but they also help us overcome our weakness “If one falls down, his friend can help him up, But pity the man who has no one to help him up!” (Ecclesiastes 4:10 – see the surrounding context too)

Later in the book Dumbledore reveals to Harry three of Voldemort’s (the arch-enemy and uber villain in the series) personal failings 1) contempt for that which ties him to “ordinary people” 2) a love of collecting trophies to commemorate his cruelties and 3) self-sufficiency to such a high degree that he is friendless. Dumbledore exposes one of the great falsehoods – the idea that we can be a self-sufficient power grabber, living without regard to those around us.

I like the whole series because we don't see single noble heroes battling it alone against the unconquerable foe. We see a collection of friends bound by affection and loyalty – this is what Dumbledore hopes to teach his students, and this is one of the endearing qualities of the books. When we miss out on the relationships, we miss a significant aspect of what makes this series delightful on multiple re-reads (and belive me, I’ve had many bleary eyed reads of Harry Potter stories). Indeed these are the friendships that many lonely dream of having -- and they give us a shadowy picture of the commitment we ought to enjoy as a part of Christ's Body.

Soli Deo Gloria