joi, 26 februarie 2015

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

In this book, Harry and his friends are almost grown-up while their fight against Voldermort intensifies. 

After receiving their results on the examinations following their 6th year at Hogwarts, they choose their own subjects according to the path that they want to pursue after graduation. Harry further take Potions, but on the directional instruction of Horace Slughorn, a professor obsessed with tutoring bright students and creating a web of connection with the most powerful wizards. During his first Potions lesson, Harry is given and old book to practice the day’s lesson and it turns out to be a highly commented book, which belonged to the Half Blood Prince. Following the directions in the book allowed Harry to create a wonderful potion and win a bottle of Felix Felicis- a potion designed to give luck to the one that consumes it. Too much of Hermione’s anger, Harry follows the comments on the book and outshines her in Potions, in the following lessons. Another development of the year is that finally Snape receives the post of Professor of the Dark Arts, alongside with Harry receiving regular lessons with Dumbledore.

Dumbledore gives Harry private lessons in the hope of finding out more about Voldermort’s past and understand how he became obsessed with power. They also find out that in Voldermort’s pursuit of eternal life he had split his soul in seven Horcruxes (objects designed to encapsulate one’s piece of soul). Two of the Horcruxes were destroyed – the Riddle Diary, which allowed the entrance to the Chamber of Secrets, and a ring, of the heirloom of Slythering House. The ring was destroyed by Dumbledore and left him with a slowly progressing dark spell that will ultimately kill him.
The quest to discover the past and understand how Voldermort can be destroyed progresses with the help of Dumbledore’s memories of young Riddle. Harry finds out more about the boy and young man that will become the greatest dark wizard of all time. He is both amazed and shock to find out some similarities between him and the Dark Lord, while also finding out the one important thing that distinguishes him from Voldermort: his power to love and maintain a true friendship with Ron and Hermione. Ron and Hermione help him make sense of all that Harry finds out during the private discussions with Dumbledore, though they don’t agree with Harry’s intensive use of the Half Blood Prince’s Potion Book. Furthermore, Ron and Hermione develop feelings for each other, but Ron is jealous of the friendship between Hermione and Krum and he ends up dating Lavander Brown, which totally impedes the friendship between him and Hermione. Luckily Harry maintains contact with both and somehow manages to go through the year and his own love life, mostly in one piece. Harry starts fancying Ginny, but fears Ron’s disapproval, so he keeps it a secret.

Upon following Draco Malfoy into the Dark Alley, Harry is convinced that Draco plans to kill Dumbledore, and after couple of attempts to smuggle dark art objects into the school, he starts using his Marauder’s Map and Invisibility Cloak to follow him through the school. Unfortunately this disturbs his ability to recollect a last piece of information vital to finding out how Voldermort can be destroyed. Pressed by time and Dumbledore, one night Harry drinks a portion of his Felix potion and manages to retrieve a vital memory from Slughorn. With this piece of information he and Dumbledore manage to deduce the number and the identity of the last Horcruxes.

In one night, almost at the end of term, Dumbledore asks Harry to accompany him in the journey to destroy one of the Horcruxes (the Slytherin locket). They go to one remote place where the young Riddle was on holiday and there they manage to pass all the charms, only to find out that the locket was a replica, the real one being in the possession of R.A.B.  When they return to Hogwarts, they find the school being attacked by Death Eaters, and in the feath of the Battle, they go up in the Astronomy Tower, where cornered by Draco, Bellatrix, and other Death Eathers, Dumbledore is being attacked. Harry cannot defend his mentor, being immobilized by a spell under his Invisibility Cloak. Then his worst fears come to life: Draco tries to kill Dumbledore, revealing a pact made with Voldermort, but is unable to kill and so Snape kills Dumbledore. Paralysed with pain, Harry tries to scream and fight back, but only when Dumbledore dies the spell is lifted and he can pursue the attackers. The whole school is fighting the Death Eaters, and after Snape and the others escape the premises the whole school turns to Dumbledore’s dead body and mourns the loss of one of the greatest wizards of their time.

In the aftermath of the fight, Ron and Hermione forget their dispute and rekindle their friendship and also Harry enters a relationship with Ginny, having Ron’s blessing. Without major events, the school-year ends. The friends decide to continue Dumbledore’s quest, to find and destroy the remaining Horcruxes.  

What I enjoyed the most in this book is finding the characters developing insights into their own personal life and personal development. You can feel that the characters are growing-up, as they become more aware of others and their feelings alongside with discovering a purpose for their own abilities, and how to use them in their fight against evil.

marți, 17 februarie 2015

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

The fifth book in the Harry Potter series begins with Harry being attacked by Dementors as Dudley and he return home one late summer evening. Forced to use magic in order to ward off the attack, Harry receives a letter from the Ministry of Magic and is accused of underage magic and expulsion from Hogwarts. He is even subjected to a hearing at the Ministry of Magic and only after a witness testifies in his favour he is free to attend to Hogwarts and continue his schooling. At the Hearing, Harry meets the under-secretary, Dolores Umbridge, which will play an important negative role in the new school year.

As a consequence of the dark activity and the Dementor attack, Harry goes to a safe hiding place, the house of his godfather - Sirius Black. There, he meets his friends and is introduced to members of the Order of the Phoenix, a group of witches and wizards led by Dumbledore in attempt to fight Voldermort. At the headquarter, Harry finds out about the extensive campaign to discredit his name and claim that Voldermort is back. His emotions intensify as he experiences more dreams and scar pains related to Dark Lord’s activity. He demands more information from Dumbledore, but is denied in an uncharacteristically cold fashion by the Headmaster. Feeling more and more misunderstood and left out from the Order, Harry’s emotions grow and he finds himself experiencing more and more scar pains, dreams and also Voldermort’s emotions. Sirius becomes his confident and friend and helps Harry to understand the importance of training his mind and restraining from acting impulsively. Sirius is also bound to remain into hiding after Malfoy recognizes him, when disguised as a black dog. On this note of secrecy, Hermione, Ron and Harry begin their fifth year at Hogwarts.

The magical world seems oblivious to Voldermort’s return, and the Ministry of Magic interferes with Hogwarts educational politics, by instating Umbridge as Defence against the Dark Arts teacher. Umbridge is an avid power seeker and doesn’t miss any opportunity to gain power in Hogwarts, by forcing stupid decrees and laws. She even bans the use of courses in her class and uses barbaric methods on students that receive detention. Needless to say, she hates Harry and tries to force him to remain silent by having him in a long detention period and ultimately banning him from Quidditch and locking away his broom. As a reaction to all the restrictions set by Umbridge, Hermione, Ron and Harry create a secret group, Dumbledore’s Army, in order to practice Defence against Dark Arts. The group has members from different houses, and they meet in secrecy.

After Harry experiences a dream in which he sees Voldermort attacking Mr. Weasley, Dumbledore urges him to start training Oclumency with Professor Snape in order to close his mind from Voldermort’s influence. Harry ignores the practice of closing his mind and is constantly haunted by nightmares in which he goes in the Department of Mysteries and searches for a weapon. In one of the meetings with Snape he breaks into one of Snape’s early memories, and sees the young professor being tormented by James Potter (Harry’s father) and his group of friends. Feeling the urge to better understand his father’s behaviour he contacts Sirius in order to hear the story from him. Slowly he realises that everyone makes mistakes and nobody is perfect, and he too must try to contain his anger, frustration and negative emotions.

Without the practice of controlling his mind and emotions, Harry believes one nightmare in which he sees Sirius being held captive in the Department of Mysteries. Unable to contact Sirius he decides to go and save him. He is accompanied by Hermione, Ron, Ginny Weasley, Luna Lovegood and Neville Longbottom in their attempt to break into the Ministry of Magic and rescue Sirius. Only after the group succeeds in retrieving a prophecy concerning Voldermort and Harry, did they realize that they have been lured into a trap. Death Eaters appear and try to steal the prophecy and in the fight Hermione, Ron, Ginny, Neville and Luna are injured, and the prophecy is destroyed. Coming to Harry’s help Sirius, Lupin and Mad Eye Moody alongside a group of Aurors appear. Unfortunately, by the time Dumbledore appears Sirius is killed, but he is successful in withholding Voldermort and catching the group of Death Eaters.  Following this battle in the Ministry of Magic, the officials, led by the Minister – Cornelius Fudge, are forced to recognize the return of the Dark Lord and take action.

Losing the closest person he had to a father is proving very painful to Harry and he feels like he needs to avenge him and also to punish Dumbledore for not helping him earlier. Dumbledore finally tells Harry the truth about why he was left in the custody of his aunt and why he wanted Harry to learn Occlumency. Apparently the great spell that enabled Harry to live after his parents were killed is due to the immense love that his mother had for him. This tie of blood must be renewed constantly, thus the need to return and live with his aunt and uncle every summer. Understanding this, but reluctant to the idea of a fun less summer, he goes on to spend his summer holiday in the company of the Dursleys.

In this book, we see the maturation process of emotions and also the need to contain impulses whilst listening to the advice of other. We are forced to trust our loved ones even when they don’t share the full information. Without this trust we are bound to make mistakes, possibly costing us more than just our pride. In Harry’s case his mistake of failing to listen to the advice of his mentor and friends led to Sirius’s death. This left him with a feeling of emptiness and the realisation that he contributed to his godfather’s demise.

A moral idea of the book is that we need to contain our impulses and also listen to the advice of others even if we think we are misunderstood or nobody feels the way we feel about a particular experience. We are not alone and the greatest power that we have in overcoming any challenge is to love, trust and listen wholeheartedly to our friends and mentors. I believe everyone (myself included) needs to remind her/himself that s/he is not alone and that we can ask for help or receive advice even if we think we don’t need it. Extra knowledge and advice from others are signs that people care about us and our well-being.