Harry Potter

JK Rowling is about to release the culmination of her life's work thus far, the seventh and final Harry Potter book. I figure now is as good a time as any to blog about her previous book, since most people will have read it by now.

Spoilers may (well, ok, they do) follow.

Book 6 was called "Harry Potter and the Half-blood Prince". The title refers to a mystery character whose identity is revealed at the end, who considers himself to be a "half-blood", that is, half-wizard, half-muggle. This lineage is apparently important to some wizards but not to others, given that muggles can have powerful wizard children and even pure-blood wizards can have weak offspring or offspring completely incapable of magic. However it would appear that the ability to use magic is somewhat genetic, giving lie to the books sometimes theme about how lineage is not important. On one hand, Rowling writes about how good Hermione is as a witch, while "evil" characters like Draco sneer at her "mudblood" status, but on the other hand wizards almost always beget wizards, while muggles practically never do, and even a squib has some magical ability, if only peripheral, such as the ability to see a Dementor. Given that genetics are seemingly important for magical ability, it would seem that Rowling's constant harping on the unimportance of lineage is contradictory. If magic defines power, and genetics define magic, then lineage is of the utmost importance. But I've only begun this post and already I digress.

My main concern with book 6 is the untenable situation Harry finds himself in. The problem is that book 6 changed all the rules for magic. In the first books we are shown how magic works; you have to have the proper incantation, you need the proper wand movement, and you need the proper willpower. Incantation and wand movement were demonstrated in the first book when the children are learning to levitate items. It's only when they emphasize the right syllables and swish the wands the right way that the items float. Willpower is demonstrated in the third book, when Harry learns the Patronus spell, and in the fourth book, when Moody (actually Crouch Jr) mentions that if the whole class tried to use the killing curse he'd receive not so much as a bloody nose. However in the 6th book magic changes, and we now learn that magic is customarily done silently, in order to prevent people from anticipating your spells and counteracting them.

This twist introduces some problems, not least of which is the battle between Harry and Voldemort in book 4. Voldemort has lots of willpower and personal strength but he speaks his killing curse aloud, despite having a good idea (we learn in book 5) that he desperately needs to kill Potter in order to fulfill some prophecy. Having tried three times now to kill Potter, you'd think he'd at least take a basic precaution such as sub-vocalizing the spell, but instead he speaks it aloud. The same can be said of the battle with the death eaters in book 5; on multiple occasions someone is rendered helpless simply by making them unable to talk in some fashion.

The other aspect of the magic that makes Harry's position untenable is shown in the trick Dumbledore performs when they are trying to find the Horcrux. Dumbledore is able to analyze a cave, that hasn't been visited in years, and determine what kind of spells protect it. Now, he is a powerful wizard, but Voldermort is his rival and you have to assume that Voldemort is basically equal to Dumbledore; given Dumbledore's abilities it would seem a half-trained child like Harry would be completely unable to defeat him. This notion is reinforced when Snape and Harry duel at the end of book 6; Snape mops up with Harry despite Harry having all the anger and willpower he needs to pull off the most dangerous curses. Harry's been training for years and he can barely take care of himself.

You might argue that Harry's done alright so far; I'd argue that he got by on a lot of luck. First, he didn't die as a baby not because of anything he did or because he was special, but because his mother protected him by giving up her life for him. This granted him a protection from the killing curse. Second, there's a convenient plot device which is that Harry, while an "under-aged wizard", can not be harmed (by Voldemort, anyway) while in the care of a relative. Handy, that. It means he gets the summers off, anyway.

Third, he defeated Quirrel in book 1 because of the same protection he had as a baby, so that hardly counts. He defeated the basilisk because Tom Riddle happened to mock Dumbledore, and somehow Dumbledore sent magical items to help Potter because Potter stood up for Dumbledore. Killing a basilisk: cool. Doing it because you were totally unprepared for your battle but someone happened to send help, that you only received because you happened to get indignant about your schoolmaster's reputation: lame. In the third book nothing major happens except Harry misreads the whole situation and manages to unravel the mystery and save the day only with the help of a time machine. Luckily even Rowling knows what a mess a time machine can do to a plot so she broke them all in book 5. Harry only narrowly escaped in book 4, and that only after he (unwillingly) aided in the recovery of Voldemort. In book 5 Harry totally screws up the whole situation, leading to the death of a friend and his own near defeat until Dumbledore saves the day. In book 6 Dumbledore is killed and Harry is shown to be totally unprepared to deal with a true adult wizard who is ready for battle. Not a great track record so far.

My only conclusion is that Harry can not possibly win. Harry has been a slacker all along, cheating on his homework, barely able to do potions unless he has help, and unable to perform spells without talking. He has yet to defeat a wizard in a duel, and while it's nice to emphasize non-violent solutions to problems, the only possible solution to a problem like Voldemort is to kill him (which raises another question, about whether killing Voldemort is grounds for an automatic life sentence in Azkaban). Yet Harry isn't up to the job.

I will read book 7, when it comes out, but there had better be a good explanation behind Harry's victory, or I will be sorely disappointed. Assuming, of course, that Harry isn't the 7th (or 8th?) Horcrux, and thus fated to die anyway.

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