Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince deeply explores several details that have persisted in the series so far but were never really treated accurately. Be it the mentor and apprentice relationship between Dumbledore and Harry which was not something that formed the basis of the plot in any of the previous books, or that between Snape and Dumbledore which was just taken for granted until now, but finally ended up being a very unlikely reality. Furthermore, the origins of Lord Voldemort are deeply visited and the reader is made aware, to an extent, what circumstances led to the creation of Lord Voldemort.
Several themes are explored in this book, and some of these themes are recurrent from previous books in the series.
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince Themes
One of the major themes that subtly engulfs the events of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is uncertainty. The uncertainty that comes along with the emergence of Voldemort and his Death Eaters, this creeping uncertainty is very illustrative of real-world events that have plagued human history. Be it the Holocaust, the World Wars, or the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, this feeling of uncertainty infused with fear and extreme vulnerability is what happens in London when the Death Eaters begin randomly kidnapping and killing people.
This uncertainty also gives rise to doubt and the question of who can be trusted at these testing times. Since Voldemort is extremely powerful, and this is the world of magic, even trustworthy people can be coerced to do the devil’s bidding which is why the sense of fear and doubt is heightened in this case.
Range in Identity
It is sometimes taken for granted that a person is a particular way and any action that is contrasting to these values that we believe that person holds, is seen in a very suspicious light. However, to be human is also to possess a range or spectrum of these values. Be it Draco Malfoy who hesitates to murder Albus Dumbledore or Severus Snape who eventually does murder Dumbledore, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince adds this layer of range in the characters’ identity making it clear to the reader that absolute good and evil are merely constructs conjured by the mind for convenience.
Despite Malfoy being portrayed in a negative light in the whole series, when it comes to an important juncture where his choice makes all the difference, he chooses to take the better side instead of just adhering to the values that have been laid down for him by his parents and peers. Draco chooses to make his own decisions, something that was never illustrated in the series so far. He becomes a character that is redeemable, giving room for the reader to see the good in him.
One of the most interesting developments in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is the nature of relationships between its characters. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is without a doubt the most significant book in the series where a lot changes in terms of relationships between the characters. Harry and Dumbledore end up switching frames as Harry is given the responsibility of guiding and caring for Dumbledore when he is in his most vulnerable state after he drinks the dangerous liquid that Voldemort has hidden the locket within. Similarly, Snape ends up killing Dumbledore, something that is very unlike him because Dumbledore trusted him despite protests from several members of the Order of the Phoenix and Harry himself.
Analysis of Key Moments in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
- The new Minister of Magic, Rufus Scrimgeour is introduced to the Muggle Prime Minister by the former Minister of Magic, Cornelius Fudge. They warn the Muggle Prime Minister of Voldemort’s return.
- Snape makes the Unbreakable Vow with Narcissa Malfoy and claims that he will protect Draco and complete his task assigned by Voldemort should he fail to do it.
- Harry goes with Dumbledore to convince Horace Slughorn to come back to Hogwarts as a professor.
- Harry, Hermione and Ron follow Malfoy into ‘Borgin and Burkes’, the antiquity shop. Harry posits that Malfoy must have been initiated as a Death Eater, something both Ron and Hermione disagree with.
- The students realize that Snape has finally become the Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher and that Horace Slughorn is a professor of Potions.
- In the penseive, Harry visits the memory of Bob Ogden and comes across the Gaunt family, and Merope Gaunt, Tom Riddle’s mother.
- Harry comes upon a tattered old Potions textbook, said to be the property of the Half-Blood Prince. He uses the instructions scribbled in the book to great success and goes on to win a vial of ‘Felix Felicis’, a luck potion.
- Harry and Dumbledore revisit the memory of Horace Slughorn through the penseive, of him talking to Tom Riddle and some of his friends. Since this memory has been tampered with, Dumbledore asks Harry to get the untampered memory from Slughorn.
- Harry and Dumbledore revisit another memory, this time, of a house elf called Hokey who witnessed the murder of Hepzibah Smith by Tom Riddle.
- Harry attends the funeral of Aragog near Hagrid’s Hut, there he eventually convinces Slughorn to give the untampered memory which he takes to Dumbledore immediately. They then realize, after revisiting the memory that Voldemort must have created several ‘Horcruxes’ to attain immortality.
- Harry realizes that it was Malfoy who was responsible for Katie Bell and Ron’s poisoning, he pursues Malfoy, engages in battle with him, and ends up using the ‘Sectumsempra’ spell on Malfoy, fatally wounding him.
- Harry and Dumbledore go to an abandoned cave in search of the Horcrux, Dumbledore is strangely hurt due to a mysterious liquid that he drinks to get the Horcrux.
- As Harry and Dumbledore return to Hogsmeade, there is a Dark Mark in the sky and Death Eaters inside Hogwarts, seeing which Dumbledore immediately rushes to Hogwarts.
- Dumbledore is killed by Severus Snape after Draco Malfoy refuses to do it. It is revealed that Snape is the Half-Blood Prince.
Writing Style and Tone
The writing style of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince has been lauded by many critics for being grittier than the previous books in the series. This book also delves much deeper into death and loss and is a crucial precursor to the tragedy that awaits in the final book. However, despite being filled with instances of sorrow and grief, it still holds its ground as a book emanating hope. It portrays death and loss very gracefully and makes acceptance of it very natural.
Key Symbol in the Novel: Horcruxes
Horcruxes are entities of dark magic created to conceal a part of one’s soul eternally. Voldemort splits his soul into seven parts and conceals them in different ancient artifacts of magical significance. This is one of the most important symbols in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.