After the Storm
Hi everybody. Sorry to take so long to write this. I was working 24/7 in England and then I wanted to read the book twice. Now I have, so here we go. :-)
I must confess, to start out, that I was a bit disappointed in Book 6. At the same time, I want to reserve judgement on the book until Ive read Book 7, which I feel can either pull up Book 6 or really sink it.
The sad truth is, that when you read as many theories, fanfiction and discuss HP with so many people, youre bound to come across some things that are truly exceptional, and perhaps better (in your mind) than the writer will come up with herself. I feel this is the case for HBP in some ways.
Dont get me wrong, I liked the book, and I dont want to trash JKR in any way. Its her book, she has the right to do whatever she pleases with it. Im just telling you what I think, and what I think we can expect from now on. That said, lets get on with the analysis, shall we?
HBP - deceptively shallow?
I think the main thing about HBP is that it feels (note use of verb, feels, not is) very shallow. Whereas the earlier books have been characterised by elements of surprise, mystery and things not being what they seem, HBP seems very straight-forward. I dont know about you, but the only element of surprise in the entire book for me was when you found out that Slughorn was going to teach Potions (nice twist in my opinion). Dumbledores death was pretty much a given as soon as he started passing on his knowledge about Voldemort to Harry, simply because Dumbledores role in the entire series has been, chiefly, to be the one with all the knowledge, and once somebody else shares that knowledge, he becomes less important from a literary point of view. And then, of course, he did have the massive literary tradition against him. As JKR herself said it, The old man with the beard has to die. :-)
Then, there were the Evil guys. Snape and Malfoy a potential traitor (under suspicion since Book 1) and the guy that could have been voted most likely to become a Death Eater since we first met him. In every other book, the guy who turns out to be evil is not the one you suspect it to be (Quirrell, Tom Riddle, Pettigrew, Crouch Jr.), and the other way around, the one who seems evil actually isnt, not to the point of being a Death Eater at least (e.g. Dolores Umbridge, who is a nasty piece of work but not necessarily evil.)
Thirdly, there was the romance aspect (in my opinion the very weakest dimension of the book, youre very welcome to disagree). The relationships revealed in Book 6 are all very obvious relationships, which is illustrated by the enormous spread theyve had in fanfiction (people tend to write about couples they actually believe will get together, or that have shown themselves to be logical options in canon though there are of course people who also do the opposite and write about couples they would like to see in canon but that they know have about zero percent chance ever making it under JKRs pen, such as Giant Squid/Hagrid). Ron and Hermione have been on since PS/SS and the Ginny/Harry combination isnt exactly a shocker either. Bill and Fleur have been a done deal since GoF and I cant say that Lupin/Tonks was much of a surprise, except for the fact that they formed a relationship with anyone in the first place (they are about the only younger unmarried members of the Order after all, its not like they have a wide variety of potential partners to choose from). The only thing that really did surprise me when it came to romance was the amount of time JKR chose to devote to it. I know that loads of people probably loved every second of it, but I stand by what I said in the article I wrote on HP fanfiction JKRs talent lies in adventure and mystery writing and thats what I really like about the books.
I know youre going to kill me for saying this, but I thought that the romance aspect was fairly poorly written all along. It lacks chemistry and it lacks, above all, originality. The Ron/Hermione relationship is really only seen through the Harry filter, and since Harrys main concern is what their feelings will do to the Trios friendship, its logical that there should be no spark in it for the reader, but come across as confusing and mildly annoying (because this is what it is to Harry). This, I thought was very well done from a literary point of view. When it comes to Harry/Ginny however, its a completely different matter. This is a relationship seen through the eyes of the main character, a point of view very suitable for romance writing. And somehow, it comes across as very stale. Hollywood will no doubt be able to use what JKR wrote to create something which positively steams romance, but when you only have words, its harder to get feelings across to the reader and this, I think, is the difference between badly and well written romance, whether you can actually feel something when reading it. Its not what the characters do (you dont have to go beyond a PG or even G rating to write good romance), its how they do it, how they say what they say, and how their feelings are described.
Quite ironically, I think that if JKR had chosen to write the Ginny/Harry relationship in Book 5, she would have done a much better job of it. The main attraction of romance writing is how the characters get together. Once they are together and happy, the relationship becomes fairly uninteresting most of the time. Romance writing is, in a way, like adventure writing: you have a goal you need to reach and obstacles on the way there. OotP is generally very dark and focuses on Harrys darker sides as he reaches the peak of egocentric adolescence. Jealousy would have been a very fitting theme to explore there, I think (there already is quite a bit of it, towards Ron and Hermione for example). But then again, its JKRs books.
Between these three things, the main thing I felt when having finished Book 6 the first time was huh, followed by er...ok (was this it?). So, naturally, I had to read it again. :-) JKR is one of my absolute favourite writers after all and I really wanted to give HBP a second chance. So heres my theory:
HBP feels very obvious (I like that term better than shallow) for a reason: JKR is building up for Book 7, simple as that. I dont think HBP is supposed to be a separate entity, really, but part one of a triple work where everything goes together. After having read HBP, Im practically positive that John Grangers Alchemy theory, which Ive been pimping for some time, is dead on. HBP can definitely be seen as the alchemical white stage (the purifying stage), with Albus as a central character, Harry growing up and becoming less self-centred (ultimately illustrated by his Peter Parker impersonation at the end of the book), and the white fumes soaring towards the sky in the shape of a phoenix.
Which gives very strong indication that this theory will pan out and the last book will symbolise the red state, which, in turn, paints a pretty gloomy picture of (Rubeus) Hagrids future. Then again, Hagrid has been on my most likely to get the axe list since Book 4. It could also go pretty nicely with the Die-Ron-Die theory. :-)
I believe that there are some major twists to come in Book 7, which will pull Book 6 back into the tradition the other books follow that things arent always what they seem and that what people choose to do tells you a lot more about them than the abilities they have. I think Book 6 is ultimately about distracting the reader and throwing them off track for the grand finale. After all, JKR has said that its one of her favourites, and it seems to me that shes most happy with the smart and sneaky things in her books the big twists nobody saw coming (and frankly, who wouldnt be?). My guess is that there will be four major twists: Snapes true loyalties, Malfoys final choice, Hermiones punishment and the seventh horcrux. Ill devote an article to each of theses subjects, but I thought Id start with the first here.
Snape in HBP
In Book 6, JKR does everything she can to make us believe that everybody who thought Snape was on the good side was wrong and that hes really as evil as they come. Harry and the Order certainly believe so towards the end (or so it seems). The betrayal, which supposedly puts him among the black hats, mainly consists in killing Dumbledore.
This scene, and the ones following it, is extremely fishy if you think about it, for several reasons.
- Snape has no real choice when he arrives in the tower. Draco has already made his (not to kill Dumbledore) and if Snape doesnt, the unbreakable vow will activate and he will die. Moreover, his death would be for nothing since Dumbledore is helpless on the ground, dying from a bunch of different reasons (the curse that ate his arm and the potion he drank are two of them, I believe) and surrounded by Death Eaters who wouldnt think twice about killing him themselves. A Gryffindor, such as Harry, might have done the heroic/stupid (depending on your point of view) thing and died rather than killing the dying man on the ground. Snapes a Slytherin, and hes told us what he thinks about the Gryffindor attitude often enough that it would be extremely out of character for him to just give up his life to do the right thing. Because in the mind of a Slytherin, the right thing to do is the option which will give you the most in return, and this isnt necessarily evil.
- Harry (who is already extremely biased against Snape and a Gryffindor to boot) is the only one in the Order to witness Dumbledores death, and when he tells the Order about it, he conveniently forgets to tell them the circumstances only that Snape killed Dumbledore. The Order only knows that Dumbledore was weakened and unarmed, not that he, most likely, was already dying. Harry also tells the Order that the reason Dumbledore trusted Snape was that Snape pretended to be extremely sorry for the way Voldemort had interpreted the prophecy and for Lily and James dying because of his report. I think its very important to note that this is what Harry believes the reason to be, not what it actually was. We most likely wont know the actual reason behind Dumbledores trust until Snape and Harry have their final showdown in Book 7 which is also when well find out, once and for all, what side Snape has chosen.
Because there is simply no way that the reason Dumbledore trusted Snape was that he believed Snape to be sorry Lily and James were dead. Firstly, because Dumbledore employed Snape to be one of his teachers before James and Lily were killed. Snape claims in Spinners End that he spun a tale of deepest remorse when he joined Dumbledores staff, and Snape came to teach at Hogwarts on September 1st, two months before Voldemort fell (on Voldemorts orders according to what he told Bellatrix). Seeing how protective Dumbledore is of his students (e.g. "Voldemorts Request"), I severely doubt that he would have given Snape a job at Hogwarts if he didnt already trust him.
So the scenario Harry paints, of a young Snape winning over Dumbledore by pretending to be devastated because one of his worst enemies is dead, is simply laughable. Dumbledore might be trusting, but hes not THAT stupid, and Harrys version doesnt add up at all when you take a closer look at it. Some of the Order members, when not in so much shock, will most likely start to realise this, and Hermione might as well, unless shes decided to make up for being difficult inregards to Snape by agreeing with Harry and Ron from now on.
I think that if you are to make any sort of sense out of Snapes character in this book, you have to look closely upon the following things: a) what he says b) to whom he says it c) what kind of conversation it is d) what he does. Lets start with the first three.
Snape, Narcissa and Bellatrix
The conversation at Spinners End strikes me as extremely suspicious, and, after reading it, I was quite positive that Snape didnt have a clue about what the mission actually was about. Everything he says about it is completely non-committing and could fit any number of different scenarios. If, as it is presumed, everybody in the house (except for Pettigrew, who has been sent off) knows about the plan, then why not speak plainly? So that the reader wont know? (JKR didnt have a problem with that in GoF, for example.) In case somebody is listening? (who?) During the entire conversation, Snape reveals no information about the mission, and the way he words his sentences makes me think that hes fishing for information, trying to get Narcissa to crack and spill the proverbial beans, but without making Bellatrix too suspicious.
The conversation between Bellatrix and Snape (where Snape tells her about his motives behind everything thats happened between books One and Five) must also be looked on with a critical eye. Bellatrix is one of Voldemorts most fanatic supporters, one whose loyalty cant really be questioned. Shes different from the other Death Eaters because she is the only one who seems to actually worship Voldemort as some sort of idol/master that isnt to be questioned. The others might talk big about their loyalty and involvement, but at the end of the day, theyre in it because of how it might benefit them. The majority of the Death Eaters left Voldemorts service when they thought him gone and only returned when they knew for sure that he was back in power. As Sirius once put it to Wormtail, they wanted to make sure he was the biggest bully in the playground before declaring their allegiance to him openly. I believe Snape fits into this category, that hes walking the tightrope and deciding to keep his options open for as long as possible. I think this might have been what the hatred on Snapes face right before he killed Dumbledore was all about that Dumbledore, by putting himself in a situation where Snape had to kill him, closed one of the doors Snape had worked really hard to keep open for many years: the possibility to pick the winning side, whichever that might be at the end.
(And, as long as were on possible interpretations for the tower scene, the please might just as well have been a plea of death as one of life. Dumbledore has drunk the potion and seen God knows what, has already begged Harry to kill him, knows that hes dying and that he most likely wont survive the night, being surrounded by enemies. He also knows that Draco will be killed by Voldemort if he doesnt fulfil his mission, and, most likely, realises that Snape actually made an Unbreakable Vow to help Draco. I personally believe the please, Severus is a plea of death.)
What Snape tells Bellatrix is most likely not the whole truth at all, but the version of the truth that will win her over and stop her from being so very suspicious. I think some of it might be completely accurate, such as the fact that Snape stayed at Hogwarts to avoid going to Azkaban. Other things might not be as accurate. I still believe he did know about Vapourmort possessing Quirrell, for example. As for the graveyard... Bellatrix claims Snape wasnt there and Snape admits it, claiming to be the one whos left me forever in Voldemorts speech. Now, Im torn about this, and I might be very wrong, but I dont think this is true. Bellatrix wasnt there, and, from what I gather, shes not on the top of the information list in Voldemorts circle. She might very well have been misinformed. Further, Karkaroff was found dead. The Coward was supposed to pay, the Traitor was to be killed, and with the relatively small number of followers Voldemort has, he cant really afford to kill people left and right. I still find the symmetry between the Pensieve trials and the graveyard speech a more compelling argument than the conversation between Bellatrix and Snape. It suits Snape to tell Bellatrix that he was the one Voldemort thought had abandoned him, because the fact that Snapes still alive then becomes a very strong argument for the fact that Voldemort really does trust him. I still think, however, that Karkaroff was the one referred to as one whos left me forever, not Snape.
The flight of the Prince
The scene where Snape and Malfoy run from the castle also strikes me as very illogical if you look at it from the point of view of Harrys conclusions. If Snape is evil and firmly on Voldemorts side, then why does he cause so very little damage? He never attacks a member of the Order (save Flitwick, who he merely stuns, we assume), even though this would have been a very easy thing to do, seeing as they wouldnt have suspected it. His main concern is to protect Draco, which essentially is the same thing as protecting himself because of the vow he took, but still, he doesnt harm anyone (except Dumbledore).
He doesnt even attack Harry.
In fact, he protects Harry from the other Death Eaters.
For an evil murderer and Voldemorts faithful servant, whos just blown his cover and is hunted only by a sixteen-year-old boy, who, in turn, is the key to his masters final victory, this seems like rather odd behaviour. Snape and Harry duel and Snape never attacks. AND he acquits himself better than anyone (including Voldemort) have done before, simply stopping everything Harry throws his way.
Now, Snape knows that he cant kill Harry because of the prophecy (yes, I believe he does, see my next article), but he has the boy at his mercy, quite frankly. Its quite obvious that hes a lot stronger than Harry magically, so why not simply stun the kid and bring him along for the ride? Even if Voldemort has ordered that Harry is to be left alone (as Snape claims to get the other Death Eaters off him), he would surely appreciate to have his arch-enemy delivered to him in an unconscious state. Although Voldemort probably wouldnt kill the boy in his sleep (weve seen how he, also, is big on the grand gestures from GoF), I rather think hed like having Harry at his mercy. And still, Snape just leaves him, unharmed. Funny that...
I dont think Book 6 has put Snape more firmly on one side or the other than the other five books did. I think JKR is trying to distract us, trying extremely hard even, by banging loudly on the Snape is evil drum to stop us from seeing some things that lie deeper and that will probably throw the present situation (the way Harry sees it) off by a general margin in Book 7. Such as the fact that Snape very likely has been in Dumbledores employ ever since the day of Trelawneys prophecy, before Harry was even born and that hes known the full contents of that prophecy all along...
Ill develop this in my next article.
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