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Amanda Marcotte

Voldemort is a MacGuffin. Harry is a old-fashioned hero, sure, but the real story is going to be around Snape.

Geoduck

One speculation I've come across on the web is that Riddle isn't "just" a serial killer, but a deliberately created one; that someone set out from earliest childhood to make him into exactly what he is. Dumbledore says at one point that Voldemort fears darkness and death. Death has often been depicted as a skeletal figure wearing a robe and hood. And who has gotten a major boost out of Riddle's current rise to power? All that said, Rowling probably didn't use this idea, which would be a shame.

Ellie

I'm with Amanda on this one, the real redemption story you're looking for is with Severus. He too came from "bad blood", was slotted into the "evil" category from the get go by pretty much the entirety of Hogwarts, did slide into the dark side for a time but then turned from the darkness back to the light. As far as I'm concerned both Harry and Tom are just bit players, the real story is about Snape, and what he's been willing to do to achieve redemption.

My only fear is she's going to chalk this up to his undying love for Lily Evans/Potter and I will be filled with an absolute chasm of disappointment.

merciless

Rowling, despite her theme that the wizarding world's troubles stem to a great degree from their elitist prejudices, still makes the peculiarly British case for blood being extremely important. It does sound funny to American ears, but Tolkien talked about it all the time too.

As for Voldemort, he is rather like Sauron, at least the Sauron in LoR. He's as one-dimensional as they come, craving only power, causing pain for his own pleasure, with never an explanation why.

At the beginning of HPB, Fudge says that Voldemort was attempting to blackmail the Ministry in order to seize it, but I honestly don't know what he'd do with it if he had it. Set his cronies to head the Floo Network? Seems silly. Voldy's just a gang leader, and a terrorist to boot, not a general or a dictator.

Darth Vader is a very different sort of villian, and his repentence was strictly an American Christian sort of thing, like the story of Paul on the Damascus road.

I agree that Rowling has got some major work cut out for her, if she really wants to tie up all these loose ends, but I'll cut her some slack because I've enjoyed the ride so much.

Linkmeister

(snark)

How much of this belief that Snape will turn out to be a force for good is due to his portrayal by Alan Rickman?

With every new Potter film there seems to be an enlargement of Rickman-love, particularly among the distaff members of the blogging community.

I'm just sayin'.
(/snark)

merciless

Well, maybe, Link, at least among the grownup distaffs. The kids all think he's utterly evil, Rickman or not.

I do think he's hot, but I think Jason Isaacs is all that and a big bag of chips too, and never liked Lucius Malfoy.

Linkmeister

merciless, maybe I'm just envious of Rickman (although there's no way I could live comfortably with hair as greasy as Snapes' appears to be). ;)

"Grownup distaffs." I love it.

julia

See, I only have one more book to be right in and (even though I actually know someone who works at Scholastic who's read it, I didn't ask) I don't know yet if I am, I think Neville is more important to all this than anyone is giving him credit for.

Neville's not flashy, he's not effortless, and no-one thinks he's heroic, but then he did get the house trophy for Gryffindor _because_ he did something heroic that everyone else thought was geeky and lame because, well, he was Neville.

And his parents sacrificed themselves for him, and Voldemort chose Harry because...

Voldemort is a delusional powertripping yuppie who couldn't stand to think that his nemesis was a runny-nosed geek and the son of two heroic but ordinary people.

I still hold out hope for Neville.

Ken Houghton

So did I, until someone pointed out that Rowling has declared that Neville was actually born on 30 July. (Was it you, Lance?) He'll contribute, but he isn't the Pauper to Harry's Prince.

What Amanda Said. Someone asked me recently, out of the blue, if Snape loved Lily Potter. The answer, obviously, was "Obviously." You can see that through the scenes in OOP and HBP. And that will be a key to his redemption, if and when it comes. (Btw Linkmeister, the Alan Rickman I remember most fondly is the one from this film, so I don't need him to be redeemed. It's just the way to bet, and has been since at least Book Two, when it became obvious that Dumbledore was not wholly A Force for Good.)

Remember, this is a novel/series begun by--and conceived to end by--a single mother writing for her child.

The Voldemort history, btw, isn't (likely to be just) about how Voldemort came to be; it's also the setup for the locations of the Horcruxes.

And, yes, Lance, Book Six is the best since Book Two, and while a lot of that flab turns out to be flab, the people who know who *** is know it from those books. (*** is a spoiler if you haven't gotten to the end of Book Six, which your son, it appears, has not.) There's turning out to be a lot more in OOP that landed by the end of HBP, or clearly can be landed in the Gogol-tribute finale.

Ken Houghton

Btw, I trust you saw Berube's piece. And I note for the record (and not for the first time) that I started readiong the books only after downloading Jim Dale's reading of the first chapter of Book One from Napster and realising that my wife was right that they would be worth the time.

Also, Greg Feeley did a really nice piece on Rowling's prose, available here (PDF).

Jennifer

"How much of this belief that Snape will turn out to be a force for good is due to his portrayal by Alan Rickman?"

Ha!

I'll watch Alan Rickman in anything, whether good or bad... and by that I mean his character or the film. I'll even listen to endless hours of bad Kevin Costner accents!

shayera

I just finished re-rereading Half Blood Prince this evening. And now I'm just on tenterhooks for the next two weeks. I just want to know what happens!

shayera

And oh yeah, I do think Alan Rickman is amazingly hot.
But Snape is a foul lousy evil git.

mamayaga

Lance, I gotta disagree with you about Harry being merely lucky. He's not brilliant or remarkably talented as a wizard, but he's doggedly brave and shows a lot of what the judges in the Triwizard Contest called, as I recall, "moral fiber."

Now, I guess you could say that his heroism is still a function of Harry's luck, since by all rights having been raised by the Dursleys he should be as amoral and pusillanimous as they are, or as evil as Tom Riddle. But gets to the mystery of identity and personality -- aren't we all lucky (or unlucky) to be who we are?

On the issue of Harry's "royal" parentage, it's really not clear why James and Lily should have been wizarding royalty. All we know about them is that they were popular high-spirited kids, sort of the Homecoming King and Queen of Hogwarts, and that their lives ended heroically. During the reign of Voldemort, however, a lot of wizards ended their lives heroically. We do know a lot about Lily's family, unfortunately, but we know pretty much nothing about James'. Even more peculiarly, Harry never even asks about his father's family. If you're right that this story has a lot to do with blood and heritage, that's a strange omission.

Gord Brown

The key to Harry's success is not who his parents were or his "bloodline" and you're not the first to suggest this, but to who his friends are and to teamwork and community. This isn't some hidden theme, its quite explicit. Sometimes, the villains are foiled because of the jealousy and refusal to work together. And often Harry is successful because of the help of Ron and Herminone (or the order of Phoenix and its many surrogate parents, including Sirius, Lupin, the Weasleys and Haggrad).

Look at Sirius. Unlike his biological brother who joins the dark side, he leaves his birth family to become James Potter's brother. The real strength are the communities you build (through adventures together at school) not the community you are born into. Harry immediately rejects Malfoy and old wizarding (although he was invited in) because he sees in Malfoy a bully like his cousin Dudly. Instead, Harry hangs with Ron (not the right sort) and Hermione (born of Muggles). And by growing together and learning from the 'good' wizards, they become expert wizards. Although they do have natural talents, these often prove to be insufficient without the compliment of the natural talents of others.

Teamwork, community, helping others. Democratic values. Selfishness, Republican values. That's why these books are so powerful.

Further, we know from the OOP that James was a bully too. Something made him grow up and become acceptable to Lilly. Harry's ability to beat Voldemort I'm sure will come in part from learning the rest of this story.

Phoenix Woman

What Amanda Said. The real story isn't Voldie/Harry. It's Snape/Harry.

And Rowling doesn't totally discount the effects of nurture -- while she doesn't see Voldemort as turning out to be anything other than a monster, whether or not he lived as a wizard or Muggle, she also has the example of Barty Crouch, Jr. (aka the fake Moody), who as Sirius points out in Book Four could have turned out better if only his dad had spent more time at home and less time ruling the Wizarding World with an iron fist.

Phoenix Woman

My predictions:

Those who live: Harry, Ron (all of the Weasleys, in fact), Hermione, Neville, McGonagall, Hagrid, Remus, Flitwick, Sprout -- and Snape and Draco.

Those who are almost certainly toast: Voldie, Bellatrix, Fenrir, pretty much all the DEs, and probably Lucius and Narcissa (who will die trying to save Draco, much as Harry's parents died to save him).

Those who are on the bubble: Luna, Tonks, Shacklebolt, Scrimgeour, Umbridge, Ollivander, Fortescue (who is likely dead, having allegedly been dragged off by DEs) and various other players to be named later.

And yes, Snape is a good guy, though a pissy one. And it will turn out that Dumbledore ordered him to do it.

latts

I've never really seen Harry as having a good bloodline so much as a basically good, if flawed, temperament, which could arguably be hereditary. But he was with adoring parents for the first fifteen months of his life, then actively abused by the Dursleys; Tom Riddle was the product of two indifferent & damaged parents whom he never knew even as an infant, and the orphanage in which he was raised was not really cruel so much as impersonal. The Voldemort irony is IMO that his temperament seems to be very much his Muggle father's, while only his powers are really from the Gaunts.

Regarding Snape/Rickman: I don't have a major crush on Alan Rickman, although I enjoy him as an actor (but think his voice is almost too heavy for film, abeit great for stage work). But Rowling makes it clear in all the books that her characters have complicated loyalties and motivations-- I'd say that almost everything Harry's having to learn involves these distinctions-- with Snape being the most ambiguous of all. He's a petty, resentful, mean-spirited man, but still IMO loyal to the side of good after early alliances with the dark side, which makes his ultimate demise ("don't you DARE call me a coward!" after he's forced to kill his sponsor/defender & make a public stand with the Death Eaters, effectively sealing his fate) more compelling. That's a helluva lot more interesting than a sociopath like Voldemort or any of Harry's early idealizations of his father.

Phoenix Woman

One of the reasons for the excessive length (and the unusually long gestation) of OoP and HBP is that from 2000 to 2005, Rowling was dealing with several distractions that hadn't existed up to that point: The whole issue of the movies (and making sure that guys like Steven Spielberg or Terry Gilliam didn't get their mitts on them -- Spielberg actually wanted to move the series to an American high school, so the story goes), plus the other pressures of fame, plus trying to be a mother, plus dealing with several other issues, the nastiest of which was a nuisance lawsuit alleging plagiarism by one Nancy Stouffer -- a suit that dragged on from 2000 to 2003 and finally went away when it was shown that Stouffer faked all of her "evidence". (Stouffer was fined $50,000 and ordered to pay court costs.)

The reason HBP's a much tighter book than OoP (which even JKR admits could have used a ton of editing) is very likely because the dismissal of the Stouffer suit enabled JKR to relax a bit and focus more on what she was writing.

Ken Muldrew

I'm with the Snape faction here. Rowling goes to great lengths in HBP to show us that Snape is 10 times the wizard of anyone alive (Dumbledore is essentially a medieval characterization, relying on "old magic" for the greatest power, whereas Snape has made the leap to using empirical experiment to develop new magic). Snape is the redemption story; "we recognize the lion by his claws". Harry seems destined to wind up like Lyra, no longer able to read the alethiometer once her luck is no longer needed. At some point Harry will have to realize that his learning thus far is woefully short of the leading edge. If he wants to continue running with the big boys he is going to have to buckle down and start really working.

merciless

Way late on the thread, but just got back to it.

Phoenix Woman, Terry Gilliam???!!! There's a good way to ruin a perfectly good movie. Don't get me wrong, I loved The Fisher King, but from what I hear, the man is a complete nutjob, can't work with anybody, and can't finish anything.

I hadn't heard that Speilberg wanted to Americanize the movie, either; all I'd heard is that he was determined to cast the kid from the Sixth Sense as Harry (I think he would have been good, too!), but if he wanted to make the whole thing American, it's no wonder Rowling had a heifer.

Excellent post, wonderful comments, all. I could do this all week. Or at least until July 21, when I'll be busy.

Thanks, Lance.

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