Now that we've finished Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Victoria and I are rather emotionally exhausted. Are we ready for the Deathly Hallows? I guess we are bound to find out, but for now our thoughts on the Prince...
M: I went into this book somewhat cold. I told myself that I wasn't going to be affected by the tragedies Harry faces by the novel's end. I got closer and closer steadfast and stone faced. And then I cracked. By the time I finished I was wrung out. I just sat thinking about grief and loss and life. I took quite a bit of time for myself with this one just to process. I know you were deeply affected by Harry's' grief as well. Do you think we were struck differently this time, or we've just forgotten the pain we originally experienced nine years ago?
V: I think it's a combination of both, honestly. The fact that we're reading the books much more closely combined with the fact that it's been a while for both of us since we've read these books probably came together to add to the emotion. This whole reading experience has been quite emotional for me. I've grown even more attached to the characters this time around, and the deaths in these last two books have absolutely drained me. It happened to me like it happened to you: I was reading along without feeling but, but next thing I knew, I was sobbing. I'm a bit nervous to start Deathly Hallows, because I remember acutely how much this book affected me when I read it the first time.At the same time, I'm excited for Book 7. I've been noticing and feeling the buildup and foreshadowing to this book for pretty much the whole series. Book 7 is my absolute favorite book of all time, and I am intimately familiar with it because of how many times I've read it. So I'm anticipating an exciting and emotional end to this read-through.To get back to Half-Blood Prince, there are two very interesting things that struck me about this book. One is the backstory development of Voldemort, and the other is the progression of Harry and Dumbledore's relationship. Seeing Voldemort as a kid and a young man was particularly creepy to me this time around, and it only made him scarier to see this manipulative and handsome young man with such evil intentions. What did you think of the development of Voldemort's backstory??
M: It's interesting that you mention close reading because when we set out that was definitely what I intended to do. I didn't want to just revel in a highly entertaining book series; I wanted to read it critically, dissect it, and in that way find out why these books are the phenomenon that they are. But that didn't happen - at all (especially as we've moved further on into the series). I'm not doing a close reading of the text because I am too busy engaging with it. I know that must sound counterintuitive, if you are engaging with the work it should be simple to really think through it, but apart from the overarching themes and the things like massive foreshadowing I've just been turning pages too quickly to read in a critical way. I'm to focused on finding out what is happening to these characters that I love (even though I know what is happening because I've read their story before) to stop for a close reading. And in saying all this I realize why the series is such a phenomenon - it engages the reader on whatever level they need/desire. The books definitely stand up to critical readings (Rowling's wordplay and literary allusions alone provide fodder for all the scholarly journals of the world) but they are also what they were meant to be: seriously entertaining, engrossing books that resonated within the hearts and minds of a generation of readers.
So (now that I've gotten that out of the way), Tom Riddle. I am very interested in young Tom Riddle and I really like how Rowling shaped book six around Harry learning more about him (from "he's so like me" to "oh my god what created this monster"). It forces the reader to think about the nature of good and evil - Harry and Tom have relatively similar loveless upbringings, so what is it that gives Harry the limitless capacity to love and Tom the inability to do so? Harry was created out of love whereas Tom's existence is owed wholly to magic; thus for Harry magic is merely an entrance into a world of love, family, and friendship while for Tom magic is everything.
I really like that Tom is handsome and charismatic. It does add to the creep factor as you say but it also makes his character more believable. Tom Riddle is basically a textbook psychopath but with more magic.
V: I completely agree. I'm not reading these books near as closely as I'd planned, but I'm certainly reading them more slowly and closely than I ever have before.
Dumbledore gets a bit of character development in this book as well, though not not in the same way as Voldemort/Tom Riddle. Present Dumbledore is developed in this novel in a way that present Voldemort never can be. We see his personality toward Harry as a child/pupil (albeit his favorite pupil), but there are also some moments that he treats Harry much more like the man he's becoming. I can clearly see Dumbledore shaping and influencing here, and I don't think he's even trying to be subtle, nor do I think he's trying to be harmful or too distant from Harry. I also am certain that Harry knows all this, even if it's not consciously all the time. Seeing how their relationship progresses in this book and knowing how Harry feels about Dumbledore, the insane amount of trust Harry places in him and everything, it's going to make the crumbling of Dumbledore's pedestal all the more moving and emotional in Book 7.