Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, the sixth novel in the Potter series, came out 10 years ago today. Jesus, we’re dirt-old. At the time, the book caught flack for the impolitic bit of killing our childhoods at the end, but as it ages, it’s clearly deserving of a more storied reputation. Here’s why.
1. All the teenage shenanigans and awkwardness. While it got a little angsty at times, it was true to life, embodying why the series was so great — it kept things real with relatable characters and situations, even in a universe where your homework was to turn hedgehogs into pincushions. Plus, their normal worries were a welcome break from Harry’s saving-the-world anxieties. And to generalize wildly, most fans were teens around the same time, so we could relate even more. Behold the excellent awkwardness:
2. The humor. Although shit got kind of real at the end, for a while in the middle, it’s actually one of the funnier entries in the series, full of banter and lines like this, from Luna:
“Nobody’s ever asked me to a party before, as a friend. Is that why you dyed your eyebrow, for the party? Should I do mine too?”
3. Dumbledore’s wisdom. Although he always had wisdom, since he got the most screen-time in this book, it contained some of his best nuggets.
“Voldemort himself created his worst enemy, just as tyrants everywhere do! Have you any idea how much tyrants fear the people they oppress? All of them realize that, one day, amongst their many victims, there is sure to be one who rises against them and strikes back!”
“Ah, Harry, how often this happens, even between the best of friends! Each of us believes that what he has to say is much more important than anything the other might have to contribute!”
“Age is foolish and forgetful when it underestimates youth.”
4. This scene at the end when Bill has been mangled and Mrs. Weasley thinks Fleur will leave him because he’s not hot anymore. Fleur has this mic drop:
“What do I care how ‘e looks? I am good-looking enough for both of us, I theenk! All these scars show is zat my husband is brave!”
5. Government corruption and untrustworthy adults. The Potter books excelled at diving into politics in a manner that was neither overly convoluted and boring nor oversimplified for a young audience. In scenes like this confrontation between Harry and Prime Minister Scrimgeour, Rowling captured the layers and complexities of feeling like both sides are corrupt:
“You never get it right, you people, do you? Either we’ve got Fudge, pretending everything’s lovely while people get murdered right under his nose, or we’ve got you, chucking the wrong people into jail and trying to pretend you’ve got ‘The Chosen One’ working for you!”
6. The end that strands Harry.
And Harry saw very clearly as he sat there under the hot sun how people who cared about him had stood in front of him one by one, his mother, his father, his godfather, and finally Dumbledore, all determined to protect him; but now that was over. He could not let anybody else stand between him and Voldemort; he must abandon forever the illusion he ought to have lost at the age of one, that the shelter of a parent’s arms meant that nothing could hurt him. There was no waking from this nightmare, no comforting whisper in the dark that he was safe really, that it was all in his imagination; the last and greatest of his protectors had died, and he was more alone than he had ever been
Yes, it’s depressing. But it wouldn’t have been satisfying if Harry had help all the way through. He needed to be alone and lost and, yes, to spend 200 pages of the seventh book wandering around aimlessly. Unpopular opinion, but that was necessary. These books had such an impact on our generation not only because we grew up with the characters, but also because the books themselves matured with us. No other series shifted tone so much, beginning as children’s books and ending firmly in adult territory, with the possible exception of J.R.R. Tolkien’s run. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince marks the bridge into the adult, where shit gets real and nobody’s there to hold your hand. The books are fantastical and imaginative, but ultimately, the reason they had a lasting impact was that they managed to be grounded.
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