Amina Saddiq reviews Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
Those who haven’t read the last few Harry Potter books will probably laugh when I say that the latest instalment is not only the most interesting, but the most political of the series. I’ll try and explain.
Each book starts with a new academic year at Harry’s school, Hogwarts: when the series began Harry was ten but he is now almost seventeen, and Rowling has changed both the tone and subject matter accordingly.
There is still some of the earlier over-the-top jolliness, but the tone is now much darker. This is a book for older children. It’s scarier, grimmer and more violent — but the key change is that the main threat is no longer monsters who go away at the end, but an organised group of human beings (well, wizards) determined to do evil.
In The Philosopher’s Stone and The Chamber of Secrets, Harry was typical fantasy hero who,against the odds, saves the world at the end of the day; by the close of The Half-Blood Prince, he is an ordinary human being who finds that his struggle is exacting an increasingly grim toll on his attempt to live a normal life. In the early books Harry’s world was a cosy self-contained boarding school, not too dissimilar to any other boarding school book. Now the walls of Hogwarts can no longer keep the real world out.
The new tone allows Rowling to deal — okay, in a very limited way — with issues like adolescent sexuality, sexism, racism and political power. In her wizarding world the establishment increasingly uses the struggle against reaction to justify violation of the civilised and democratic norms which it claims to be defending. The story is recognisably a product of the post-9/11 world.
And whether or not she intended it (a quick trawl of Google reveals nothing about her politics beyond the fact that she used to work for Amnesty), her book contains the message that activists cannot rely on the powers that be in our fight for a better world.
Rowling is also a brave enough writer to kill off an extremely important character at the end — if you were shocked by the death of Sirius Black in the Order of the Phoenix, you ain’t seen nothing yet. Sadly the book came out too late for another sweepstake at AWL summer school, so you’ll have to buy it if you want to find out who dies.