Accio the usual suspects

Wednesday, 30 June 2004 — 11:19am | Harry Potter, Literature

So many questions, so few answers. How long will the Liberal minority government remain in power? Who killed Mr. Boddy? What have I got in my pocket?

But on a matter of greater urgency, who is the Half Blood Prince – and is there, or is there not a hyphen?

(I say this a lot, but if you have not read the books, stop making excuses and go play catch-up; spoilers follow.)

We can eliminate the following right off the bat: Harry and Voldemort, by J.K. Rowling’s own admission; the entirety of the Noble and Most Ancient House of Black (specifically, Draco Malfoy), Neville Longbottom, and the Weasley children on the basis of their being explicitly from the pure-blood wizarding families, not to mention how The Order of the Phoenix reveals that “Weasley Is Our King”, not a prince; and all of the lovely magical ladies, on the grounds that they are not eligible to be princely.

That leaves a heck of a roster still out in the open.

On literary grounds we can deduce that the Half Blood Prince is a character who has already been a presence to some extent in the five existing books, though one should not rule out a brand new introduction along the lines of what is done with the Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher every year. From the references to Sirius Black and Mrs. Figg in The Philosopher’s Stone and Mundungus Fletcher in both Chamber and Goblet, it initially seems that this need not be an ‘onstage’ character, let alone a major one. Now, before anyone wets their pants shouting “I knew it – Mark Evans!” (as many have already done in the pertinent thread at The Leaky Cauldron) – keep in mind one other thing we know: the significance of the Prince is somehow related to The Chamber of Secrets to the extent that The Half Blood Prince was its original title. What is at this point indeterminate is the extent to which the role of the Prince was excised from Chamber in preparation for future development. It is, in fact, quite possible that the context of the title had it been used in the second book would clearly refer to Tom Riddle, but is now in reference to someone completely different.

That said, summon the following before the Wizengamot.

Salazar Slytherin – I was half-joking when I mentioned him in the post preceding this one. As clever a parallel as it would be to make him, like his eventual heir, a hypocritical racialist with a loathing for his own lineage, this is logically unsound for a number of reasons, the first among them being that building the Chamber of Secrets as a mechanism by which to purge the impure would be nothing short of ritual suicide. Nevertheless, to quote the Sorting Hat song in Phoenix: “For instance, Slytherin / Took only pure-blood wizards / Of great cunning, just like him.” Rule him right out.

Godric Gryffindor – As the proponent of the magical education of those who were not necessarily of magical birth, he seems like a natural choice; also, there we are with another Potter-Gryffindor parallel. There are a number of flaws with this theory, though. One is that the clear implication in Chamber‘s history of the founding of Hogwarts is that at the time, the status quo was that all wizards were pure-blood, hence the perceived need for change. Gryffindor fighting for the right of those who were not of purely magical lineage to be magically educated would imply that he was himself uneducated. It would also negate his equal-access advocacy as an act of charity.

Rubeus Hagrid – The star candidate, as it were: a wizard for a father, and perceptibly a Prince on his mother’s side – we still know little about Fridwulfa’s significance in the world of the giants. He plays a role in The Chamber of Secrets, and this would make Tom’s astonishment that anybody could plausibly believe Hagrid to be the Heir of Slytherin even greater – though it does make the framing incident too implausible. Regardless, there is something about Hagrid that begs revelation – namely, why he is so firmly on the receiving end of Dumbledore’s trust and protection. This theory is hurt primarily by its being on the obvious side, and that symbolically, his story’s promotion of the theme of injustice by genetic prejudice is already comprehensive enough.

Dean Thomas – Of the Gryffindor boys, he is the one about whom we know the least directly from the books, aside from his fondness for West Ham football. He has a comprehensive backstory that as Rowling said, was written for Chamber but excised upon being determined as tangential. It involves him never knowing that he had a wizard for a biological father, growing up thinking he was a Muggle-born. Not in his favour, though, is that this story arc was entirely scrapped from any development over the course of five books, and that Rowling has revealed as much as she has without worrying about spoiling the plot, something she is so often cautious to avoid. To quote the author: “Now I don’t think his history will ever make it into the books.”

James Potter – This is an excellent theory, but one shot down by a technicality. All the grand storytelling implications of making Harry the son of a Prince should come naturally: we have yet another dimension to Voldemort’s motivations for the murders at Godric’s Hollow, in addition to Trelawney’s prophecy; we have a source of the arrogance James displays in “Snape’s Worst Memory”. However, all signs point to the elder Potter being of a wizarding family. Harry Potter is a half-blood, as established by what Voldemort does to him – “mark him as his equal.” Half, in most languages, is not the same as one quarter, three quarters, or even nine and three quarters. James and Lily are both wizards, yet Harry is not considered of pure magical birth; as Lily is a Muggle-born, it follows that James must comprise that half alone.

Severus Snape – We know too little about him at this stage, particularly what binds him to Dumbledore. This would also continue what we already saw developing in Phoenix: parallels of characterization and circumstances between Snape and Harry. He is a Slytherin, but so was Riddle, no? In any case, there is far, far more to him than what we know so far; making him the titular character of the sixth almost fails to do him justice. Finding out more about him is likely a separate voyage of discovery, and one that will not fully develop until the seventh and final volume. His portrayal as the Draco Malfoy of the older generation is no small minus, as is his calling Lily a Mudblood.

Mark Evans – No. I realize I may wind up eating my words with a side of satay sauce if Mark turns out to be a character at all, but even considering Rowling’s penchant for reintroducing minor name-drops as major players, a disconnected passing mention as late as Phoenix hardly qualifies. Remember that while it was well-known prior to Phoenix that Lily’s maiden name was Evans, in the canon of the five books themselves this is actually not revealed until well after we hear about this Mark kid in the first chapter.

Tom Riddle – That anybody would at this stage still consider him a separate character from a certain other one that Rowling has already eliminated as a possibility is baffling. Riddle is not in contention, barring the circumstance that he actually is different from birth than his alter-ego; perhaps he purged himself of the undesired side of his heritage, which relates to the murder of the Riddles in the first chapter of The Goblet of Fire. Given his experiments with death and resurrection like what he does at the end of that same book, this would not be beyond his abilities. Further information about his fall to evil would have been a natural fit in Chamber that just as naturally may have been saved for a later volume. Still, by his own admission (not to mention some awe-inspiring anagram skills), his transformation into Lord Voldemort was a gradual process involving dual identities at one point or another, with no clear dividing line; Dumbledore still calls him Tom in Phoenix. It follows that regarding the two identities as anything but one and the same is on the wrong track.

The jury, it appears, is still out on this one. The only certainty is that Book Six will retroactively and retrospectively make this whole post look pretty silly.

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