Monday, August 24, 2009

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (Rowling, 2005)

It was the summer of 2002 and I was staying with a college friend at her aunt's house in Leiden, a small town halfway between the Hague and Amsterdam. One morning everyone left early to go into town to run errands and I was left with nothing to do. Scanning the bookshelves I saw this book lying there that everyone had been talking about, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. It looked like something that would be an easy read, it was a kids book after all. By the time I was ready to leave to fly back home a few days later I was already two-thirds through and was so enthralled I bought my own copy at the airport so I could read the rest on my way home. Thus was born my love for the Harry Potter series.

Soon the film version of the book came out and I eagerly went to see it, only to be let down as the movie, while good, simply could not do the book justice. Sure it went through the major plot points and got the fantasy and whimsical elements down fairly well, but the film lacked the nuances of the various characters personalities, their motivations, Harry's inner thoughts, and the all-too-important "just one more page" feeling the book invoked. This became a personal tradition of mine, read the book soon before the film was to be released and then compare the two. Honestly it hasn't been much fun, because the films have always disappointed me. They lack the depth and imagination of the books, and because they are constrained by time they leave what I consider vital motivations behind (such as in Chamber of Secrets - the film completely discards Ginny's motivations).

I've yet to see the new film, but I did just finish reading Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, the penultimate book in the series, and I have to say, it was hands down the best book in the series yet, and is overall the best book I've read in quite some time. The book has a rather subtle plot - while there are several mysteries the characters are trying to figure out over the course of the book, none of them ever seemed to jump to the forefront. Instead the story was more of a character study, delving into the main characters' wants, desires, and even love lives. Without giving too much away, J.K. Rowling reels the reader in with segments that explore just who Lord Voldemort is and how he came to be. It was also fascinating how seamlessly she brought in events from the previous books and gave them startlingly new relevance. Before I knew it I was nearly done with book, and there hadn't been nary a fight or action segment.

Unfortunately the ending had already been spoiled for me, there is a rather now-famous death scene that had been spoiled by friends/the internet/TV - pretty much everybody. But that didn't matter because it was the scene before that which really grabbed me. I won't say too much, but the part with the cave and the lake and all that ensues in that scene was the most frightening thing I've possibly ever read. I mean, I literally had to put the book down because I was actually dreading having to read the next paragraph. I can't possibly imagine they'll be able to pull off this scene adequately in the film, but I'm intrigued to see if they can. From start to finish that was hands down the best chapter of the whole series.

Then there's the end, which, as I said before, I already knew about, and was also fantastic, but probably not as fantastic as I wanted it to be. The book certainly ends with a very somber tone, but I know it's all a setup for the final installment, which I'll read next year before the next film hits theaters, which I hear they've split into two separate parts. I'm excited to see them try to pull it off.


ninquelote said...

Zrbo. I am happy to say that your disappointment with the film versions of the Harry Potter series will continue. I haven't read any of the books, but I've seen all the movies and they get worse and worse as the series goes along, and this one doesn't disappoint... to disappoint.

I thought this one was mindblowingly dull. I went with a friend of mine who has also read all the books and he even complained about the cave scene and the scene in the tower where a certain someone meets his end.

Herr Zrbo said...

I didn't realize how important the cave scene was until I ran into a bunch of fan art and talk online depicting and discussing that scene. It was tremendously powerful and frightening, not because of the opponents they were facing, but because of the level of trust it showed between the two characters. I'd bet the movie focuses more on their opponents and less on the interaction between the heroes. But trust me when I say the books are much better than the films, I highly recommend reading them even if you've already seen the film.

Sarah said...

the cave scene in the film is devoid of any of the elements in the book that made it frightening or interesting. In the theatre during this scene a dad with small children started to laugh. This made me laugh, and the mood for the remaining 30 minutes of the film was outright restlessness - I was ready to go. I blame the quality of Dumbledore's dialouge and the slipshod editing. Huge waste of my 9$.

Herr Zrbo said...

Yikes. Ok, maybe I shouldn't even see the movie at all!

Little Earl said...

I have not read any of the Harry Potter books. I have seen the first four movies. I've liked them all. I'm sure they are not "as good as the books." I wish I cared. Basically, I don't consider myself dorky enough to read the books - just dorky enough to watch the movies.

Reasons why I like the movies: 1) I like the characters. 2) I like the movies' unapologetic...Englishness. Most producers of kids movies think that kids don't want to be confused, so they make children's movies that are extremely simple and dull. I think the Harry Potter movies are more uncompromising. Kids like things that they don't quite understand! What's a Hippogryf? What's polyjuice potion? Kids don't need to understand every freaking detail. I like the idea of a whole world that doesn't fully make sense to me but seems to make sense to the characters. Part of that is probably unintentional because, as you say, the movies leave a bunch of plot points out. I mean, I'm sure everybody's right, but as long as I'm watching the movies first I really don't give a Dumbledore's ass.

Herr Zrbo said...

Saw the movie last night. I honestly have no words for it, seeing how they butchered the story to pieces, cut out major and essential points of character development and background, and added several scenes that never actually occurred in the book. It should have read: 'Extremely limitedly based on the book' or maybe 'Inspired by'.

Best book in the series, worst film.