Do You Think Or Do You Know?
An original editorial by Robbie Fischer
Just for an example, try this Christmas quiz that my father, a Lutheran pastor, wrote. It has stumped everyone from his 8th grade catechism class to the women's auxiliary for over 20 years. It's a multiple choice quiz about the facts we know about the first Christmas, when Jesus was born. Choose the most accurate answer.
- How did the Mary and Joseph travel to Bethlehem? A. on a donkey; B. on a camel; C. on foot; D. The Bible doesn't tell us
- What did the innkeeper say to Mary and Joseph? A. "Come right in! I have a nice room for you." B. "Bring a torch, Jeanette, Isabella!" C. "There is no room in the inn." D. The Bible doesn't tell us
- What kind of building was Jesus born in? A. a stable or barn; B. an inn; C. a cave or grotto; D. We don't know, the Bible doesn't say
- Which of these animals was present when Jesus was born? A. Cows, sheep, and goats; B. Cows, donkey, and sheep; C. Gorillas, lions, tigers, and elephants; D. The Bible doesn't tell us
- What time of day was Jesus born? A. Afternoon; B. Evening; C. Late at night; D. The Bible doesn't tell us
- How many wise men visited Jesus? A. 2; B. 3; C. 4; D. The Bible doesn't tell us
- When did the wise men visit Jesus? A. Christmas night; B. Within a week of Christmas; C. Within a year of Christmas; D. The Bible doesn't tell us
- The wise men were: A. named Melchior, Balthasar, and Caspar; B. kings from Ethiopia, Persia, and Armenia; C. members of the Psychic Friends' Hotline; D. The Bible doesn't tell us
- The manger Jesus lay in was: A. full of hay; B. empty; C. full of dog chow; D. The Bible doesn't tell us
- At what time of year was Jesus born? A. In the bleak midwinter: December 25; B. Tax time: April 15; C. Valentine's Day: February 14; D. The Bible doesn't tell us
Now some of you will have picked up, just because you have suspicious minds, that the answer to all 10 questions is "D." Others will be outraged by this statement, because you're sure that the stuff sung by carolers and painted on greeting cards is what really happened, and denying it is tantamount to denying that Jesus was born. But go and look some time. Try and find where the Bible says how Mary and Joseph traveled to Bethlehem, etc. You may be looking for a long time, because the Bible never directly says. The trickiest question is #3, because the Bible does say Mary laid the baby in a manger, and it seems obvious that the manger would be in a barn or stable. Some of the sharper readers will have learned that the stable was probably a cave. But the Bible doesn't SAY it was in a stable or a cave. It probably was, but that's not the point!
What is the point, then? Why have I just dragged you all through a 10 point quiz on the Bible? What does this have to do in Harry Potter? To borrow a phrase from St. Paul, "much in every way." When we speculate about things like who the Half-Blood Prince is, are we really separating what we really know from what we only suspect or assume?
For instance, do we really know that the Half-Blood Prince is actually going to be a character who appears in the narrative? We assume it will be the case. So naturally we concentrate our energies on debating whether the HBP will be a known character or someone new, whether the HBP will be a half-wizard, half-Muggle (like Seamus) or a half-wizard, half something else (like Hagrid), whether the HBP will be a member of a real royal family, whether he will be a good guy or a bad guy, etc. But we're all assuming that we know something that actually, we only think. We're assuming that the HBP is even going to appear as a live, speaking character at all.
Why wouldn't he? Well, there could be various reasons. There have been precedents in the earlier HP books, too. For instance, in PS/SS, a terribly important person is Nicolas Flamel...but he never actually crosses the stage or speaks a single line. He is talked about, read about, and something belonging to him turns out to be the thing Voldemort is after, but he remains in the background. Again, in CoS, the four Founders of Hogwarts come into the story-especially Salazar Slytherin-but only as historical figures whose followers continue their agendas in the time of the story. In GoF, the character of Bertha Jorkins only appears, thanks to the pensieve, as a talking-aloud memory of Dumbledore's, and is otherwise only mentioned by other characters after her death. In all three cases, a "character" exerts a strong influence on the story without actually entering the narrative as such. Until the end of GoF, Harry's parents put out the same kind of gravitational pull without actually orbiting into the daylight side.
There are other cases of course, such as Olive Hornby, that are not as significant but who make a vivid impression on your imagination without ever turning up in the direct narrative. But for someone like the Half-Blood Prince to be NO ONE who appears in the story, yet still be the title character, implies that he's going to be a lot more important than Olive Hornby. But he may not be absolutely central. Remember that the Goblet of Fire actually makes only a brief appearance in the book named after it, and apart from the question of how Harry's name came out of it, it isn't really central to the story. And while I'm on that line, the Philosopher's/Sorcerer's Stone doesn't come into the first book until quite late-by name, anyway. So not only could the HBP be a person who doesn't actually cross the stage, he could also be someone who makes a dramatic impression but is only briefly involved in the story. It might not be "all about the HBP" after all.
Of course, it probably will be. But when I say that, I am speaking from assumptions. Be aware of your assumptions so that you aren't so shaken up when it turns out that you were tricked. We can almost safely assume that the HBP will be a major character whose appearance in the sixth book influences a major stretch of the story-line...but don't forget that "J. K. Rowling doesn't tell us" this.