“Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince” is about Harry’s sixth year at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. He is sixteen. Like a typical teenager, Harry’s world is filled with flirtations, fantasies and homework. Unlike a typical teenager, Harry is a wizard who is consumed with destroying Voldemort, the most powerful dark wizard of all time. Towards this end, Harry begins lessons in psychological warfare under the tutelage of Dumbledore, headmaster of Hogwarts. With the Pensieve (an object that stores and reveals thoughts and memories), they travel back in time and witness captured memories of Voldemort’s childhood. By studying Voldemort’s past, they learn about his vulnerabilities.
Adults can learn about childhood psychopathology from this case study. Voldemort’s parents abandon him. He grows up alone in an orphanage. Mrs. Coles, the woman who cares for him, describes him as a bully. He is cruel to children and animals. For example, Voldemort “terrorized” two children from his orphanage. And, there were suspicions that he strangled a rabbit by hanging the rabbit from the rafters. These are the signs of a boy in trouble.
Harry Potter, on the other hand, is loyal, courageous, compassionate and loving. When Harry sets out on a dangerous journey to search for a Horcrux (an object in which a person conceals part of their soul), he gives Felix Felicis (a good luck potion) to his friends, Ron and Hermione, rather than keeping the potion for himself. It’s a gesture that shows his selfless concern for others. On the train ride to school in the beginning of the book, Harry turns down on invitation to sit with Romilda, a popular kid, in order to remain sitting next to Luna and Neville, the unpopular kids. This gesture shows loyalty and courage; it takes courage to be seen with the uncool kids.
Harry’s positive qualities can be distilled into a single truth: he has true friends. The ability to maintain friendships is an essential developmental task. Voldemort failed at this task; and, it’s hard not to wonder if Voldemort might’ve given up his quest for immortality and world domination if he had had a different childhood. What is the conclusion of this case study? True friends are more than playmates and secret- keepers. They are good for our mental health.
“Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince” is appropriate for older children because of the violence. There is a war, after all, being fought between good and evil. There is bloodshed. (“And he stamped, hard, on Harry’s face. Harry felt his nose break; blood spurted everywhere.” p.154) There is also the death of a significant character. Expressions of sadness from the reader should be validated and accepted. The grief is real even though the character is fictional.
Surprisingly, there is no sex in this book about adolescents who go to a boarding school, far, far, away from their parents. There is kissing, but no sex. The author, J.K. Rowling, gives this explanation: “because of the demands of the adventure that Harry is following, he has had less sexual experience than boys of his age might have had.” (Glamour Magazine, Oct. 2005, p. 56)
With “Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince”, book six in a series of seven, Rowling has written a book that is hard to resist. She has created a world rich in details and a hero that the reader can root for. The best thing to do is to read the book along with your child. Share the magical adventure. Encourage your child to read. Maybe enjoy “Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince” for yourself, like I did.
Review written by Susie Hou, M.D.
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The views expressed in the reviews are those of the member authors and do not reflect those of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.