The Half-Blood Prince, Chapters 1-2: Chekhov’s Talking Portrait

Welcome to Book Six everyone! Harry Potter and The Half-Blood Prince! It’s probably my least favorite title of any of the books, but you know what they say about judging a book by its title! That’s a saying, right? I think Moon Unit Zappa coined it.

I love, love, love this book. It’s the psychological thriller of the series, a book about the past and how the past can be as illuminating as it is toxic.


The opening of The Half-Blood Prince is probably my favorite cold open of all the books. For me, one of the best parts of these books is discovering new and hilarious aspects of wizarding world and culture. By this point, we’ve seen the schools, the government, homesteads and sporting events. Here we get to see the one instance where the world of wizards openly collides with its muggle counterpart. Rowling does a good job here of cloaking a whole lot of exposition into a fun reveal about the Minister of Magic introducing himself to the Prime Minister.

It feels a little weird calling it fun, given the tone of The Order of the Phoenix. I think it’s very smart to open Half-Blood Prince with a little levity and I think Rowling nails the balance between the gravity of the war and the absurdity of Fudge speaking with the Muggle Prime Minister.

At one point Fudge mentions that they can arrange for the President of the United States to forget to call. Do you think a British wizard took care of that or did they have to have an American wizard do it? I wonder if the American wizard government mirrors the muggle government the way Britain’s does. Is there a wizard Supreme Court? A wizard Congress? Wizard states rights? I think about this a lot.

Does the wizard President introduce himself to POTUS in the same fashion? Just imagine Barack Obama sitting in the Oval Office on his first night in office. Maybe he’s thinking about how great it was to get Beyonce to sing at the inauguration party. Maybe he’s feeling jealous that Michelle’s arms are getting so much attention. He has very good arms too, you know. His advisors just won’t let him wear tank tops. Apparently it’s “not Presidential.” Barack Obama is thinking about how to fancy up a tank top when he notices a portrait of George Washington move in its frame. He is pretty sure he’s imagining it. It’s probably a trick of the light from the curved walls, he thinks, but then the portrait is talking to him. It’s telling him the President of Magic, Ernest T. Krakkenhaur, will arrive shortly.

Suddenly a strange man in silken robes (red, white and blue of course) appears in front of him with a faint pop. Krakkenhaur explains that there is another government, a secret government (“Duh,” Obama thinks), a secret wizard government (“Oh,” he thinks). Then, after an exhaustive explanation, the President of Magic asks Barack Obama if he has any questions. Barack Obama thinks about how the world he’s known his entire life is only a fraction of the world that exists. He thinks about all the things he’s seen that he could never explain. He thinks of all this and asks, “Is the magical President allowed to wear tank tops?”

Martin Van Buren, the country’s only crossover President


In this chapter Narcissa Malfoy and Bellatrix Lestrange visit Snape. Narcissa to ask Snape’s help and Bellatrix to question his true allegiance. This chapter is a huge moment, not only in the book (hanging quite the proverbial gun on the wall, Ms. Rowling), but also our culture. In the two years between the release of Half-Blood Prince and The Deathly Hallows, arguing about Snape’s true loyalties became something of a national pastime, especially in the months leading up to Book Seven’s release. Everyone fell into two camps, represented here by Narcissa and Bellatrix (just sub in Dumbledore for Voldemort).

The cynics (Bellatrix) thought Snape was just a very good liar. They thought his treachery knew no bounds and that somehow he had managed to fool one of the greatest wizards in history into believing him an ally.

The optimists (Narcissa) thought Dumbledore (Voldemort) had a plan and had always had a plan. They trusted Snape, because Dumbledore trusted Snape. To them, that was enough, just as it was enough for Narcissa that Voldemort trusted him.


Personally, I was a Narcissa, but it wasn’t a position I ever held very firmly. Mostly, I just loved the act of passionately arguing about these books. I enjoyed watching people defend one of the least likable characters in the history of literature, because they so trusted in the wisdom of Albus Dumbledore. It was a particularly special time in the history of being a Harry Potter fan and it was fun to read this chapter and think about how closely it mirrored our dialog as fans.

Unbreakable unshmakable, amirite!

Two chapters in and we haven’t even seen Harry. I hope he’s OK!

Other Thoughts

  • I used to have a homemade Hogsmeade Is For Lovers shirt. I miss it.

  • How do wizards travel internationally? In the books we hear about flying carriages and underwater boats, so I assume there must be a variety of ways. There has to be a limit on how far you can apparate, right?

  • Are there wizard hotels or does everyone just bring their fancy wizard tents everywhere? This isn’t related to these chapters at all, the travel thing just opened up lots of other questions for me.
  • I normally like Helena Bonham-Carter, but her portrayal of Bellatrix makes her sort of feel like Harley Quinn to Voldemort’s joker.

  • The Unbreakable Vow is sinister in its inelegance. It doesn’t have a fancy Latin name, it just is what it is.

  • I love this book. I’ve been waiting to keep reading until I finished this post and now I GOTTA GO.


9 thoughts on “The Half-Blood Prince, Chapters 1-2: Chekhov’s Talking Portrait

  1. Ashley says:

    This is the funniest fucking thing I’ve read in weeks. I was crying from laughter when you started in about Obama wearing tank tops.

  2. NTE says:

    What they said: re: Obama & Tank Tops. Plus – IS the magical president allowed to wear tank tops? And I was a Narcissa too ~ I remember very serious debates (via myspace flair even) with other fans about whether or not we could really trust Dumbledore’s judgment on anything, particularly when it came to Harry & Snape, considering how many times he’d chosen unwisely in the series already.

  3. Jennie says:

    “There has to be a limit on how far you can apparate, right?”

    This brought up a thought I’ve never had before…if there ISN’T a limit (or if it depends on how powerful the wizard is), could you do a bubble-head charm and apparate to the moon? Because, if so, now I’m jealous of wizards for a whole NEW reason.

  4. […] explain what I mean, we’ll go back a bit… all the way to the beginning of the previous book. Roughly one year ago from the “present” moment in the […]


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