As is my routine now, I reread Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince last night in preparation for the movie, which debuted at midnight, but which I’ll not be seeing until this weekend. It was either my third or fourth time reading it. I know I reread it two summers ago just before the final book’s release, but I can’t remember if I’d reread it another time between that and when the book itself released (HBP is the sixth book). I think Half-Blood Prince is probably my least favorite of the series. I’ve always felt that my opinion of Harry Potter started to sour a little after the fourth book, after which I felt that J.K. Rowling lost a lot of focus and inserted many unnecessary and pointlessly distracting things when she should have been focusing on more pressing matters — so I guess the sixth book would be an accumulation of those disappointments. I don’t think my impressions changed much during subsequent rereading(s) of HBP.
So I guess I’m kind of surprised that this time, I think I liked it much, much better.
(This post contains no spoilers for any Harry Potter book or movie.)
More often than not, revisiting titles leads to a greater appreciation rather than the realization that it wasn’t quite as awesome as you once thought. Things you used to like, you’ll generally like more with time. Nostalgia is a strong factor for everyone, but there’s also heightened understanding that comes with maturation and age. Things you didn’t realize before become clearer: politics you didn’t understand in a story or some reference that you couldn’t appreciate at the time. Repeated viewings also help you spot things you might have missed before. Occasionally, you might realize that something actually isn’t that amazing while still understanding why you used to like it so much, but that’s different from suddenly thinking it’s terrible. I think it’s pretty rare for you to hate something you used to be fond of.
For things you used to dislike or were indifferent to, it’s most common to continue disliking or being indifferent to them. When that doesn’t happen though, I think it’s more likely that you’ll appreciate it more — not like it, necessarily, but at least appreciate it more — than dislike it more. Many of the same reasons apply: things become clearer, you catch references you missed, themes you missed, depth you missed. Any vehemence to the dislike also dissipates with time, and chances are if you’re revisiting something at all, you really didn’t hate it that much.
And so admittedly, I never hated Half-Blood Prince. I like the series too much on the whole to hate any part of it, whatever disagreements I might have with Rowling’s specific story decisions. So maybe it isn’t so surprisingly that I seem to have come to terms with these disagreements; perhaps it was inevitable. I still dislike a lot of things (certain things, perhaps it’s even a vehement dislike still), but this third or fourth time through, I feel like I understand a lot better why they’re there and what place those specifics have in the grander scheme of things. The book felt more poignant for it, and it’s kind of strange.
Is this newfound acceptance a mark of maturity on my part, a new understanding because of such, a noted phenomenon, or all of above? Are the subjects and themes within Harry Potter, particularly those explored in the particular book in question, relevant to the phenomenon? It applies to the entire series certainly, but Half-Blood Prince is very much a coming of age book, especially at the end. In it, Harry is sixteen. The book came out in July 2005. Then, I was seventeen. I think it’s kind of funny then, that I should understand the book so much more now for those themes than I did then. The upped appreciation is not a surprise — as I said, nostalgia also adds more appreciation — but is it the teenager that best understands and sympathizes with the teenager, or is it the twenty-something? The thirty-something? The forty-something and beyond? What age group does a coming of age book most affect?
On the other hand, and I just realized this, maybe I liked Half-Blood Prince so much more this time around because I’ve now read the final book. In the last several chapters especially, HBP does so much to prepare both the characters and the readers for the last book, and Deathly Hallows does so much to make you realize just how far everything has come since both the previous installment and the very beginning of the series. Finishing the last book is finishing a series more than a decade in the making and closing the back cover on the last chapter about a character you had grown up with, no matter what age you started the series at (everyone spends their whole life “growing up,” even if the teenage years are the most tumultuous times). Spread out over so many years, the seven book series is a tremendous journey. Knowing all of that now and having the complete frame of reference, the coming of age theme in Half-Blood Prince is that much more powerful. And I can see where the things I disliked connect to that theme (and various others), so thus, my quiet forgiveness.
I guess it’s one of a great many reasons why Harry Potter continues to have such a high readability value for me, and when I reread them, I’m rereading every chapter and every word, not just skimming. I don’t really doubt that will change even when the last two movie comes out and I won’t be able to use them as an excuse to reread a particular volume.
Anyway, I’ll be seeing the HBP movie on Saturday. A review will undoubtedly follow. It’ll probably be pleasantly snarky in that “I’m totally a purist, but not really a hater” sort of way.