The North Tower #33: On Blood and Princes
A while back, I actually wrote a piece on the identity of the Half-Blood Prince. I planned to publish it in my column as soon as my other pieces (which were on hold at that time) had been published. Fortunately for me, this took a lot longer than I expected and the information that Tom Riddle couldn’t be the HBP reached my ears before the article had a chance to go online. Yes, I admit, I was persuaded that the HBP was none other than Tom Marvolo Riddle, and though I still think that my arguments are quite good, they were based on two main faulty assumptions: 1) that the HBP storyline was connected to CoS (i.e. that it remained inexplicitly in that book and hadn’t been removed altogether) and 2) that the duality of the character Tom/Voldemort was such (in JKR’s mind) that Tom and Voldemort could be considered separate characters of sorts (which would tally with Dobby’s use of “He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named” in CoS and the Changeling Hypothesis). Clearly I was wrong. It happens.
Today, I’ll look deeper into the mysteries of blood and princes, try to create some sort of base for future analysis, and maybe reach some new conclusions on who the prince might be. Oh, and those of you who feel like reading my botched article on why Tom is the HBP, it’s available on my homepage. Laughs on me 🙂
1) A Bloody Mystery
There’s blood everywhere in the HP-series. Blood magic, blood sacrifice, dragon blood, unicorn blood, mudblood, half-blood, pure-blood… the list could go on. Someday, I’m going to do an in-depth thematic study on just blood, but with everything else I’ve got going, it’s likely to take a while. So today, I’ll limit my analysis to the three terms which apply to wizards and witches: Mudblood, Half-blood and Pure-blood.
JKR has failed to give us a proper definition of these terms (except for “mudblood” which means that both your parents are Muggles), avoiding the question when asked by answering that the names were defined by pure-bloods such as Lucius Malfoy. This, frankly, doesn’t tell us much of use. We know (through JKR) that grandparents count, but how far up does it go? She also made a reference to the Nazi equivalent of the pure-blood system during WWII—in which you needed eight generations of Aryan blood to qualify as the Nazi equivalent of a pure-blood. So just where does the line go between pure-bloods and half-bloods in the wizarding world? Three generations? Five? Eight? What if you have nine on one side but only five on the other? What if there’s a squib in one line? As you see, there is no way we can answer this question, and since JKR is refusing to give us a straight answer, I would assume that she either A) hasn’t figured it all out for herself yet, B) considers that telling us would give too much away on the subject of the HBP or similar (though I don’t believe that, we still wouldn’t have enough information to figure that out), or C) That she simply doesn’t want us to think too much along the lines of wizard racism (more on that further down).
The Squibs are certainly a problem. Is a Squib an impotent wizard or a magically aware muggle? Neville uses both terms to define himself (“my family thought I was all-muggle”, PS, and “everybody knows I’m almost a Squib”, CoS), which seems to indicate that a Squib and a Muggle are on about the same “status level”. But say that Draco Malfoy would get a son who turned out to be a Squib, and that that son in turn married a pure-blood witch and had a wizard son. Would little Draco Malfoy III then be a half-blood or a pure-blood? Or would Draco Malfoy Jr. simply be thrown out on the street or put in a Muggle orphanage and obliviated from both the Malfoy line and the wizarding world? Questions, questions…
Then there’s the problem of “mixed” wizards and witches, such as half-giants (Hagrid), werewolves (Lupin) and ¼- veelas (Fleur). Are these counted as half-bloods or half-breeds? Umbridge certainly goes with the second definition, but JKR, on the other hand, called Remus Lupin a half-blood in the World Book Day chat… Then again, the werewolf case is a little different since werewolves are made, not born, so the wizard who receives the bite might be of any “category”. (One would assume that if Draco Malfoy were to be bitten, he’d still technically be a pure-blood wizard, but also a half-breed from the Umbridge point of view.)
Frankly, the whole business is a mess, and I doubt that we’ll ever get a precise answer as to just how the system works, simply because it seems like JKR doesn’t want us to have it. It seems to me that were not supposed to do calculations to find out exactly how “pure” each and every character is. JKR has emphasized in every book the importance of choice and the wrongness of “playing the family card”. The people who believe that muggleborns are less worthy than pure-bloods are portrayed as “bad” people (e.g. the Malfoys, Sirius’s mother, Fudge and so on). The ones who believe in meritocracy (that you should be judged by your actions and achievements) are the good guys (e.g. Dumbledore and Arthur Weasley). The books carry a moral message and though JKR doesn’t paint everything in black or white, we’ve seen little of what one of my friends calls “relativistic crap”— i.e. the “oh-look-what-a-horrible-childhood-this-little-evil-guy-had-my-god-we-must-give-him-a-big-hug-and-realise-that-it’s-not-his-fault-he-killed-all-those-people”-attitude. In the HP-series, good people rise above their childhood traumas and prejudices of their families (best example: Harry, another good one: Cedric). Sure, there are still some indications of how upbringing shapes characters (e.g. Draco Malfoy and Ron) but for the most part, JKR doesn’t dwell in childhood memories.
I know you’re all screaming “Well, what about Snape and Tom Riddle?!” right about now. 🙂 Well, let’s start with Tom Riddle – the poor, brave, orphan. I think it’s important to remember that the scene in which we got a glimpse of the “tragic hero”-story (the diary) was a deliberate setup. Diary-Tom showed that scene to Harry to trick him into believing that Hagrid was the Heir of Slytherin. We’ve already seen some people play the “family card” (the Malfoys do it all the time). The scene in the diary was the exact same thing, only Tom was playing the “no family card” to fish for information in Professor Dippets office. Think about it: Tom even makes fun of this little hero-act himself, when he’s out of the diary and talking to Harry in the CoS. It’s inevitable that we’ll get to know more about Voldemort’s past, but I doubt that we’ll find out in a way that paints the Dark Lord as a poor victim of circumstance. That would just a) go against the spirit of the books and b) be quite contrary to JKR’s little ironic comment on how some people in chat forums seem convinced that Voldemort would be a “right little darling” if he only had some therapy (jkrowling.com) 🙂
Snape’s case is a little more delicate. I must confess that Snape is one of my absolute favourite characters (and not just because I’m totally hooked on SS/HG fanfiction ;-)), and the main thing that makes him so intriguing is that nobody knows what side he is on, or if he even has chosen a side. JKR shows us some glimpses of his childhood, all painting a very glum picture. What I find most interesting is that Snape finds a way to use his sad past as a weapon, not unlike Tom Riddle himself did in CoS, which is most unsettling if you want to believe that hes actually on the side of the Order. I also believe that the Pensieve scene was a setup. If Snape didn’t want Harry to look into the Pensieve, he wouldn’t have put his thoughts into it right in front of his eyes and then leave it out somewhere where Harry could easily access it. Snape has known Harry for nearly five years at that point. He knows the boy is extremely curious and virtually incapable of backing away from mysteries. He knows Harry doesn’t trust him and would do anything to get inside his head and see what side he’s really on. The assumption that Snape put the memories he didn’t want Harry to see in case Harry broke into his mind was made by Harry. Harry, who’s notoriously unreliable when it comes to analysing Snape (take the entire PS/SS for example) and who’s about as unbiased when it comes to Snape as Snape is when it comes to Harry (i.e. not at all). No, I think Snape wanted Harry to see James and Sirius torment him. One can only wonder how this fit his agenda… (Something I’ll try to answer in maybe the next article.). But I digress… sorry about that. Back to the HBP.
The word “prince” in the title “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” should alert us just as much as the word “half-blood”, for it’s just as ambiguous. There are several definitions of “prince” and depending on which one JKR’s using, the implications will be very different.
First there’s the fairy tale prince, the one that all of us who grew up watching “Cinderella” and “Snow White” are familiar with. This prince is the son of a king, wears a crown and has virtually no power. The day his father, the king, dies, on the other hand, he’ll become the ruler of the kingdom and live happily ever after. He will only have power once he ceases being a prince, the title itself only an indicator of what is to come.
Then there is the historical prince, ruler of his own little land (or usually city-state). “Prince” in the Machiavellian sense. This kind of prince is different from the “son of a king”-version in that he has a lot of power and isn’t going to get any more if his father dies (father is not a king).
Then, of course, there’s the modern version of the fairy tale prince, still son of a king (and queen) and with no power. Difference is that he won’t ever get any because his status is just symbolic and he therefore has to content himself with driving fancy cars, riding expensive horses and getting photographed in the shower by paparazzi hiding in the ventilation system.
I am very torn when it comes to the status of the HBP. There are some references to royalty in the symbolism surrounding Gryffindor House, and the Basilisk—King of Serpents also comes to mind. It wouldn’t exactly shock me if JKR were to reveal that Godric Gryffindor was some sort of king. Heck, all the four founders might have been kings and queens for all we know, they lived about a thousand years ago after all, smack in the Dark Ages. Some of the names also point at more traditional royalty, the most obvious example being the Weasley family, where everybody except Molly has a “royal” name.
On the other hand, the Machiavellian prince-storyline is so much more attractive to me. Check out Red Hen’s article on the importance of 1945 and I think you’ll see why I wanted to hand the crown to Tom Riddle. With the MoM under constant power struggle, Voldemort on the march doing his second take on world domination (or at least British domination).
3) A different take on it all
These are the more down-to-earth arguments. Following the ideas above, the themes surrounding the HBP would be mainly political, historical and social. I have no doubt that there will be themes like that in Book 6, but I think we might be a tiny bit off-target when concentrating on biology and making lists of characters that might have some royal connection (like saying it’s Seamus, because “Seamus” is a different version of the name “James” and so on) and getting ourselves locked up in the wizard genealogy. I think there’s another perspective which ought to be examined, a more symbolic and spiritual one.
The third option for “Prince” that jumped into my head while writing this is connected to the religious motifs and symbolism in the books: the Prince of Peace. Everybody who’s been in a Christian church at Christmas is probably at least vaguely familiar with Isaiah 9: 1-6, starting: “The people who have walked in darkness have seen a great light” and continuing, down to it’s most famous part, “For a child is born to us, a son is given us; upon his shoulders dominion rests. They name him Wonder-Counsellor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace.” (New American Bible (Catholic)), the more conventional translation usually puts it “Wonderful Counsellor, Almighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace” or similar. I don’t know which translation is closer to the Hebrew original and if you think about it, it’s all the same ideas really, so Im not going to fret about nuances just here.
Christian people usually see this passage (which is in the Old Testament) as a sort of prophecy that is fulfilled through Jesus (both Matthew and Luke make references to this passage in their gospels). Having written the piece on Christian symbolism (“Who is You-Know-Who?”), read the massive feedback regarding a possible Dumbledore-Harry-Fawkes Trinity parallel and gone through the book Looking for God in Harry Potter (by John Granger, a very interesting read) some three times, this symbolical option for the identity and function (which I think is way more interesting than the identity) of the HBP is just screaming for me to notice it, what can I say. 🙂
If you look at it this way, you can see how this would connect not only to CoS, but to the entire series and play a vital role in the final fight between Voldemort and Harry. We’re told in OotP that Harry needs to “vanquish” (note: it doesn’t say “kill”!) Voldemort and we’re lead to believe that the means to do that is the “mysterious power” the Dark Lord knows not. To me, it’s pretty clear that that power is Love, very possibly sacrificial love, judging from the way his mother died to save him and how he stopped Voldemort’s possession in OotP (embracing death).
I was quite sure, in the beginning of this article, that I wasn’t going to make a guess as to who the HBP might be. I still won’t, not along the lines of the first two sections. If the HBP turns out to be a Machiavellian, or some sort of family history storyline, then I have no clue who the HBP might be or what his purpose is in the sixth book. IF the HBP turns out to follow the lines of this third part, however, it’s quite a different story. If “Prince” is symbolic and plays on the Isaiah verses, then “blood” might very well follow the same symbolism. If you see the HBP as a possible symbolic figure, you can draw on the other symbolic interpretations of the books to back up your theories. It might not be correct, but it could be interesting…
I’d like to go back to the Trinity-parallel theory as a starting point. Its basic idea is to make the parallel Father, Son, Holy ghost—Dumbledore, Harry, Fawkes. Daniel 7 talks about God as the Ancient One, with snow bright clothing and white hair sitting on a throne of fire, being presented with the Son of Man, to whom he gives dominion, glory and kingship. Just as many people draw parallels between Harry and Jesus, Dumbledore (to me) seems to fit the traditional God the Father image a little too well for it to be a complete coincidence. He is very old, has a long white beard, seems to know everything, including peoples’ hearts and minds (Harry has the impression of Dumbledore seeing right through him several times, and we now know that he’s a very gifted Legillimens.), he can make himself invisible without a cloak, his name is “Albus” (which means “white”) and he’s a master of Alchemy, where the goal is to create the Philosopher’s Stone—a sacred and religious process. He (and Flamel) managed to create the Philosopher’s Stone and make the elixir that leads to immortality. He also discovered the twelve (a very symbolic religious number) uses of dragon blood.
One thing that really fascinated me in Looking for God in Harry Potter was the chapter on Alchemy, where Mr Granger shows how the books follow the same alchemical cycles and symbolism. He explains that Alchemy has three stages, the black, the white and the red, which changes the original material (lead or other base metal) to gold through spiritual development and perfection. Three characters are directly connected to these stages through their names: Sirius Black, Albus Dumbledore and Rubeus Hagrid. According to his interpretation, OotP represents the black stage, ending in the necessary destruction of the black matter, symbolised by Sirius’s death. Since GoF marks a definite turning point with the “resurrection” of Voldemort, I think that his idea that the last three books might more directly represent each of the alchemical stages is a very interesting and logical one. If OotP was the “black” book—the destructive stage—(Sirius Black, House of Black, Umbridge [“umbra” means “shadow”], the DoM etc.) then HBP should logically be the “white” book—the purifying stage—where white stage symbols such as the moon (Luna) and the lily should play important parts, as well as the most obvious character: Albus Dumbledore.
Dumbledore has a strong connection to blood in that he is an Alchemist, discovered the twelve uses of dragon blood, and is very knowledgeable on the subject of ancient blood magic. We know nothing of his ancestry or his “blood status”. He has a very special connection to Harry and, if you want to read it like that, the biblical parallels pop into place without much problem. The words of Isaiah can be used to label Harry and Dumbledore as follows: “Wonder-Counsellor” -> Wonder-boy (Harry) / Counsellor (Dumbledore), “God-Hero” -> God image (Dumbledore) / Hero (Harry), “Father-Forever” -> Father-figure (Dumbledore), Elixir of Life (immortality, Dumbledore). It all goes with the paradox of the Father and the Son as separate but together (NOT saying that Dumbledore is actually Harry Potter on Polyjuice with a Time-Turner involved!). IF the sixth book follows the alchemical pattern, and IF “Half-Blood Prince” plays on a spiritual and symbolic plane as well as a more mundane one, then I think that the HBP is Albus Dumbledore. If either of these conditions doesn’t hold, I don’t have a clue as to the Prince’s identity.
Alternative one: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince keeps up the alchemical and symbolic themes. HBP is likely to be Albus Dumbledore, helping Harry through the white stage of purification and setting the scene for a very symbolic last fight between Harry and Voldemort in Book 7.
Alternative two: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince doesn’t take up these themes but focuses on political, historical and/or social issues in a less symbolic adventure setting. No bleeding clue as to who the HBP would be and none of the theories I’ve read so far have made a case I can actually believe. There simply isn’t enough information.
See you all next time!