Podcast Question of the Week – Episode 132

Romance and Quidditch may share more than just a chapter when it comes to Half-Blood Prince.

Rowling’s style in Chapter 14 is notably different from other chapters, with a lot of major character developments relegated to narration, rather than in moments of dialogue. In a previous episode, it was suggested that, along with Rowling’s distaste for writing Quidditch, her writing of romance may have suffered a similar fate. Yet, Rowling has both in the past and in this book showed that she is no stranger to writing the humor and heartbreak of romantic relationships, and love itself is key to the Potter series as a whole. Is this approach in Chapter 14 uncharacteristic of Rowling? Could the romantic relationships have benefited from expanded chapters or a different approach? Or is Rowling’s style for these relationship subplots perfectly in keeping with the rest of Half-Blood Prince’s tone?

  • Snufflebeast

    I’ve always really enjoyed the romantic subplots in this book, but I agree the Harry and Ginny story is somewhat lacking. I don’t think it needed all that much, though. Maybe an extra scene or two in previous books to more firmly establish their pre-romance friendship would have helped, and yes – actually showing more of Harry and Ginny’s interactions in this book. We hear about the pair of them spending time together over the summer (playing Quidditch, et cetera) but unfortunately we never actually witness it. The worst of it is the hint near the end that “A long walk in the grounds seemed indicated…” but again, it’s left entirely to our imaginations! I don’t actually think this style is incongruous with Rowling’s other writing. She very frequently uses this technique to outline day-to-day events and indicate the passage of time, and very effectively too. The difference here is that it is something so important to our main character. I sometimes wonder whether it was a confidence issue on Rowling’s part. Maybe she didn’t feel she could write romantic scenes as good as she would like, and decided it best to let readers imagine it (we all know how terribly Yates and Kloves failed at the romance in the film). It’s the ‘Jaws’ effect, where hinting at the shark is far more effective than showing it could have ever been. JRR Tolkien is another storyteller absolutely brilliant at this. Throughout his Middle-earth stories, he constantly leaves hints and references to people, places and events you could never possibility know about – but its evokes such a wonderfully mythic atmosphere. Knowing that the ‘devices of Saruman’ helped drive Sauron from Dol Guldur is really intriguing and imagination-stimulating, but actually trying to visualise it could so easily fall flat (as we saw in Peter Jackson’s recent take on that particular event). Another example I suppose is the way the ‘Sherlock’ screenwriters handled the issue of how Sherlock survived his apparent death in the second series. They solved the problem by giving viewers a number of rather humorous explanations, and never really tried to give a solid explanation, knowing that nothing they could come up with would live up to the anticipation. So I suppose I’m happy enough with what we’ve got (despite the awkward monster metaphor). Better to have us wondering just how things happened, mixed in with a number of genuinely brilliant moments, than potentially leaving us disappointed.

    • SlytherinKnight

      Definitely agree that Harry/Ginny just needed one or two more ‘visible’ scenes to really make their relationship shine for me, like Ginny coming out and telling Harry that she believes him about the Goblet of Fire, and expanding on the scene at Grimmauld Place when she reminds Harry about being possessed by Voldemort. I needed more ‘in-your-face’ moments to truly get the Harry/Ginny relationship.

      And I can totally see that JK did let the romance happen more off-page/screen, much like the shark in Jaws, as a way to straddle the line in showing romance and leaving it up in the air to not overwhelm us. JK knew that romance wasn’t the main theme of the books and didn’t want to write something that she wasn’t super confident about writing about.

  • PuffNProud

    I think the narration does a few things. First, in the case of Harry’s musings about how to help Ron be better at quidditch, if he had bounced the idea off someone else then feigning using Felixis could be compromised. Second, it allows us to hear Harry’s interpretation of the events taking place. Given that people in this book are having a hard time believing Harry (e.g. Draco is a Death Eater), he doesn’t have many people who are willing to listen to a lot of what he wants to say. Surprising for a guy whose instincts are “good and nearly always right.” Third, he’s a guy. His thoughts about what would happen to his friendship with Ron and Hermione if they broke up would never come out of a guy’s mouth to anyone!

    • PuffNProud

      Oh, and forgot to mention I like it better than turning to the next chapter only to find about 4 months have gone by like in the first few books. :)

  • Reading this as a kid (and still even now) I never really cared about the romantic relationships. I was never a “shipper” of anybody because I just let the romance be what it would and didn’t really worry about it… Maybe I’m crazy but I just was more interested in other features of the books…
    Also in response to the question, I just wanted to mention that while you note that love is the key to the series, I think we need to nuance the understanding of love here … The bulk of your question is about romantic love while the type of love that is key to the series is not necessarily romantic love, perhaps familial love or general humanity/wizardity love. Lily and Harry don’t sacrifice themselves because of romantic love (maybe Harry a little bit) but for LOVE in caps beyond romantic interest … More like compassion (in the Buddhist sense – the dalai lama has several great books on this). Its also the kind of love that Christian doctrine (if you see Harry as a Jesus figure) teaches for all people … Again humanity love/compassion. So while the series is all about love, it is a distinct or more all encompassing type of love that is central, rather than romantic love. Perhaps this is why the romance is sort of stunted for people. The love that truly matters in Harry’s story and for the whole wizarding world is Harry’s ability to love everyone or even the idea of the world that doesn’t have to suffer. Again, I would clearly link this to the Dalai Lama’s thoughts on compassion as an anecdote to suffering.
    Just as a disclaimer, I am not proselytizing here. I’m just making connections (that really have already been made before) to other intellectual traditions. The Christian themes are strong in the book, even if you don’t subscribe to Christianity. I would also argue that (modern) Buddhist themes are also strong in the books. Don’t burn me at the stake, but perhaps this is a little insight into the commonality among religious ideologies that we as humans devise to explain the world and the supernatural. Jo wove her story using the idea of universal love (e.g. Harry saves Draco, his enemy) and John Granger can make the case that this is based on her Christian background or I can suggest that it has parallels from the Buddhist tradition. Both are valid and both lead the reader into the books on a deeper level, to understand perhaps why the story was written, above and beyond how and in what plots. I guess as an overarching wrap up response to the question, the romantic love is great at points and sticks a bit at others but it isn’t a standout in the books because a different kind of love is the central message. Romantic love can be folded in but only as one aspect of the more important sacrificial /universal love upon which the story turns.

    • ccmoundshroud

      I hate when people post pointless comments, but I feel like I’ll have to be guilty of this myself, I read your comment and could not say enough about how much I agree with the first half of it. Get out of my head! Lol.

      Just another off topic comment about the second half, the section where you discuss John granger’s views of a Christian basis and yours of a Buddhist basis. It reminded me of something I heard bill maher bring up about how the teachings of “Jesus” and the teachings of “Buddha” being so similar that perhaps the New Testament teachings of Jesus are based on the teachings of buddha (his way of putting it was a bit more cynical, I tried to paraphrase in a way that was a little less derogatory towards people who have faith)

      • Outspoken1

        ‘Love’ is not a product of religion – it is a product of consciousness.

        • ccmoundshroud

          when did i ever say love was a product of religion? i have no religion so i wouldn’t make that argument. all i did was tell someone that they made a great point when they said that the love mostly spoken of in the series is more of a compassion for humanity then love in the sense of spouses or partners.

          • Outspoken1

            No offense meant – just that so often love is closely linked to religion.

          • ccmoundshroud

            If I had said that I, in any way, thought that love and religion had even the slightest correlation, then I would understand why you would keep trying to make the point to me that your opinion is that these two concepts share no relationship. However, since I NEVER said anything even remotely similar to this, it baffles me that you not only posted your opinion in the first place, but continue to try to argue your point like I don’t share the same belief.

  • Silverdoe25

    The fact that the romance was brought to the forefront in the HBP movie is what spoiled it for me. I think the romance was a great subplot, and showed the characters getting older in an interesting way.

    • SlytherinKnight

      Totally agree, in the book the romance is a subplot and a way for JK not to overwhelm the readers with Dark and deep plots but in the movie they made it the main plot of the film rather than a subplot and that’s why the Half Blood Prince film is my least favorite of the series by far. To me, it is a teenage romantic comedy with about 15-20 minutes of dark action (the memories and final battle)

      • CentaurSeeker121

        I think I have to agree. The teenage romance was placed in the series to inject a little light and to possibly remind the reader that while there is darkness looming, these are still teens. I also think that it serves as a subtle reminder that Harry and the rest are growing up.

        I like that Rowling took enough time to mention the romance stuff, but kept it a subplot. I really hate it when I’ve been enjoying a great series and then.the characters get together romantically and then all of a sudden it completely overwhelms everything else, making the story weak. Kudos to Rowling for being able to pull that off.

    • QuibbleQuaffle

      Agreed. In the book, although I didn’t really find the romance that interesting personally, and I still don’t have any feelings at all about Harry and Ginny, to me it felt like it happened just because it was neat, I enjoyed it as a way of having a contrast against the dark Voldemort stuff. The film conpletely tipped the scale way off balance towards the romance so that there was nothing dark at all then suddenly whoops Dumbledore’s dead. It was little things like swapping Dumbledore confronting with the Dursleys for Harry flirting with some random muggle girl that just didn’t need to happen.

  • QuibbleQuaffle

    I really don’t think the romantic subplots in this book need ANY expanding, that’s what the film did and as Silverdoe25 pointed out it didn’t go well.
    I’m never convinced by Harry/Ginny so more dialogue between instead of Harry’s constant lusty brooding might have made me see it more, but I think the Ron/Hermione/Lavender/McLaggen thing is done well, so maybe the Harry/Ginny/Dean(/Seamus???) thing is just too much and never really had much of a chance given how much interaction we’ve already seen between Ron and Hermione in comparison.
    I’m biased, but I would have traded a good chunk of this annoying teenage romance for a bit more Lupin and Tonks. Partly their just two of my favourite characters anyway, but I also really believe that their relationship has a lot more starting material for Jo to work with, because it involves adults with more developed ways and experiences. But I know that’s just my poor Ronks heart wanting *smashes Thor cup* ANOTHER!
    I think out of the teenage relationships the one that comes closest to having any similar deeper questions of compatibility/insecurity etc. is Ron and Hermione and that’s why I found that the most interesting and convincing.

  • SpinnersEnd

    Using love as an overarching theme in a book series and writing a romance scene are two very different themes. This chapter almost comes off as an early attempt at a teenage romance scene. It doesn’t feel as well rounded and filled out as the rest of the chapters.

    At first, this chapter was a little jarring for me to read. It took me out of the flow of what was happening in the rest of the book and threw some teenage antics in my face.

    The romances were never forefront in my mind while reading any of these books. I like them because they make for well-rounded characters, but throwing them into the headlines like this seemed a little out-of-the-blue.

  • FizzTheWhizzbie

    As a Ginny and Harry shipper from the beginning I enjoyed her treatment of this chapter. If we were inundated by the deep thoughts of these adolescents it would have made us perhaps reticent of their eventual union. I can’t see a reason for JKR to want to get into the psyche of an adolescent girl versus that of an adolescent boy fighting to save the wizarding world. Then eventually the world in general because we know old Voldy wouldn’t have stopped there. Would we have been happier with more details? OF COURSE. We are the most loyal fandom after all but going too deep into the relationships could have been too distracting to all the foundations she needed to build in this book.

  • Florish&Blotts Shopgirl

    Nothing is more uncharacteristic of the JK Rowling voice I
    thought I knew, nothing shocked me more than this line from The Casual Vacancy: “Andrew returned to
    his contemplation of the dirty window with an ache in his heart and in his

    (And I loved it.)

    But back to the point of this question (which is a masterfully, beautifully worded Podcast question of the week btw!) …

    Rowling’s subtlety in pregnant detail is a favorite piece of her style for me. I believe she employs a variant of the iceberg theory, a writing style Hemingway is known for. “If a writer of prose knows enough of
    what he is writing about he may omit things that he knows and the reader, if the writer is writing truly enough, will have a feeling of those things as strongly as though the writer had stated them,” writes Hemingway in Death in the Afternoon.

    How often do we talk at length about details that some readers may glaze over, like names or brief scenes, character descriptions, and character appearances? Once we examine and talk through those details, suddenly a bigger, fuller perspective is exposed to us. Rowling’s style gives us so much
    power and freedom—freedom to explore and enjoy as we feel inclined to do so.

    When I first read HBP I ached for more scenes with Ginny and Harry. I wanted to read about them snogging by the lake. But I doubt that a solid majority of readers would have wanted that. That subplot would have taken us too far away from the main plot. I think there was just enough romance was
    included to keep with the steady flow of the narrative. We have always been served a regular meal of Hermione and Ron love-hate tension, so that was business as usual. One step forward, three steps back, with Ron being the prat he usually is. And the Harry/Ginny tension has been slowly building up since
    CoS. We (at least I) were (was) so ready for that. All of it worked.

    But if you weren’t ready, then JK Rowling didn’t spend time giving you too much. She told us what happened—the details that drove character development and plot—and saved the juicy bits for our imagination and fanfiction plots.

  • BadgermoleButterbeer

    The focus on love is one of my favorite bits about this series. Romance is an important part of that and I think that JKR is being very purposeful where she uses it. This book is vascilating between dark and light, love and hate. We get a chapter about the backstory of Voldemort and how he became as twisted as he is and then we get a chapter where Harry is gazing longingly after some long red hair and Ron and Hermione can’t quite make up their minds to just go for it with each other. I think what Rowling is trying to do is show us the difference between hero and villain in her world. The villain is by choice or circumstance (and possibly both) incapable of love, while the heroes have such beautifully complicated love lives. They love each other as friends, family (Ginny doesn’t hate Ron when she’s calling him a prat after all, though she is definitely and understandably angry with him. She’s her mother’s daughter after all!), and at some point in the future that we’re just starting to get an inkling of, lovers. (Well, Bill and Fleur are practically there already, and Molly and Arthur are obviously still in love with each other.)
    Yes, I would have loved to have more, but romance in and of itself is not the point of the books, but love, in all of it’s complex forms, might be.