“Oh, to be young and to feel love’s keen sting.”
– Albus Dumbledore
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With it being such an incredibly important time to come together with friends, today we have a guest post written by a dear friend of the blog: Frances Chiem. Guest posts are a wonderful opportunity to get a different perspective on the blog, and since our most recent guest post was the Zoolander post back in February, we felt it was a time to bring it back. Frances is perhaps the biggest Harry Potter fan we know, which made our film choice a no-brainer as we prepare for the next story in the wizarding world Harry Potter inhabited: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, which is arriving in theaters this week. Frances writes fiction and essays about the environment, video games and gender (sometimes all at the same time). You can follow her on Twitter: @f_e_chiem.
With the release of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, I am eager to revisit the wizarding world created by J.K. Rowling. Graciously, the Munch crew invited me to celebrate the occasion with them. And with the anxiety-inducing national and international news, it was nice to escape in a world where evil can be defeated and magic can help you do the laundry when you just can’t with life.
As a writer, I think I have always been attracted to the idea of magic because it is, when distilled to its most basic concept, the perfect word used to change the world.
I am also a member of the “Potter generation.” The first book came out when I was 7-years-old, the first movie when I was 11. I wanted the level of control magic words could impose on the world.
However, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince displays pretty much the exact opposite of that control fantasy. Hormones run rampant; Harry makes some bad decisions trying spells he doesn’t know the meaning of; students try to learn non-verbal magic until they’re blue in the face; Hermione sends magical finches to attack Ron instead of explaining her feelings, etc. In short, this installment in the series proved over the others that magic doesn’t make up for human shortcomings.
None of us received our Hogwarts letters (and don’t even get me started on Ilvermorny) and we’re still a little bitter about it. But we bravely faced our lifelong disappointment: the four of us squibs sat down to watch Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.
Perhaps because Harry spent his first 11 years of life living in a cupboard with minimal sustenance, food was a major image throughout all the Harry Potter books and movies. The most iconic food scenes took place in the Great Hall and the Weasley home.
For our meal, we wanted to honor the grandeur of the back to school feast while offering homage to a couple essential classes (magic, after all, requires quite a few ingredients) and closing with a cozy dessert in the Weasley kitchen.
Our appetizer took us to the Herbology greenhouse for some sautéed venomous tentacula leaves inspired by this kale rabe dish.
For the main course, we made our way to the great hall for a feast of parmesan encrusted rack of lamb, some incredibly divine mashed potatoes and rosemary rolls from Essential Baking. Somewhat expected? Perhaps, but entirely delicious and beyond decadent compared to our standard Saturday dinners.
For dessert, we went to the Weasley kitchen for Harry’s favorite sweet: treacle tart.
This was both the most traditionally British portion of the meal and the most disappointing. Cloyingly sweet and basic, this was essentially a sugar-filled shortbread. While it was nice with some English breakfast tea, we wished it had a more complex flavor. We even added twice as much lemon zest and juice as the recipe called for to give it a little something extra, but it still needed more, somehow. One recipe we read included putting creme fraiche on the tart when it was served. Perhaps that would have been enough. I imagine it also would have been nice with a blackberry compote. We were all left wondering why this would be Harry’s favorite dessert and came up with two theories.
- In the lore surrounding treacle, it has been used as an antivenom for snake bites. So perhaps it relates to Harry’s parseltongue abilities.
- Given that the Dursleys took pleasure in denying Harry simple treats, perhaps he had never had a proper sweet by the time he reached Hogwarts, so this buttery, sugary slice seemed like a taste of the divine.
Either way, kind of sad and disappointing. Next time we’ll stick with chocolate frogs and licorice wands for dessert.
Butterbeer was too obvious of a choice for a Harry Potter meal. Also, it is sugary trash for children. We’re adults. We needed something stronger that wouldn’t send our fragile-adult bodies into diabetic comas similar to Katy Bell’s catatonic state after touching the cursed necklace.
So, we chose the potion most important to the plot and made our own felix felicis, or lucky potion.
Though the potion in the film appears clear as water, it is described in the book as liquid gold. It is also toxic in large quantities and can cause excessive giddiness and overconfidence. An apt description of a potent cocktail if I ever heard one.
As our foundation, we started with the classic “Bees Knees” and then chose a variation on the recipe that was decidedly more herbal because it seemed more potion-y. The thyme offset the sweetness of the honey syrup and brought out the brightness of the lemon nicely. After a cup or two, we all felt as if we could conquer the world.
Potions play heavily into the plot of this story, so naturally we ended up drinking more than was advisable. The rules we agreed on included:
💅 Drink for teen-angst and sexual tension.
👀 Drink whenever you or Harry think Malfoy is acting shifty.
⚗ Finish your drink when a main character consumes a potion.
✨ Raise a shot for Dumbledore.
Optional: Drink whenever there is a significant deviation from the plot of the book.*
*Frances was the only one who abided by this rule because she is a huge nerd and a semi-professional “Harry Potter academic.”
Each of the Harry Potter movies did magic better than the ones before, which made sense as special effect technology was advancing rapidly. David Yates gives us the most believable-looking quidditch scenes of any of the films. We get a duel between Harry and Draco that genuinely feels tense. The magic feels lush and the world feels big.
Saying a piece of culture is a “product of its time” is one of the most obvious bits of criticism anyone can offer, but I think it warrants discussion here given the difference in the book and movie timelines for the Potter series.
In the timeline of the books, Half-Blood Prince begins in 1996. In the movie timeline, it begins in either 2007 or 2008. I think the difference in the culture and real-world events on these alternate timelines heavily impact the adaptation. In the book, we begin with the chapter “The Other Minister,” where we see the outgoing Minister for Magic, Cornelius Fudge, in conversation with a nameless English Prime Minister. The film begins with Death Eaters destroying the Millennium Bridge in London (which did not yet exist in the book timeline).
In the book timeline, it was still a pre-9/11 world, though not one without terrorism. There was a devastating IRA bombing in Manchester that year. 1996 was also the year Dolly the sheep, the first cloned mammal, was born. The Spice Girls released their first single. The Prince and Princess of Wales completed their divorce. The possession of handguns became illegal in the UK.
In the movie timeline (if we assume its events start in 2007, as production did), Tony Blair stepped down as British Prime Minister. A contentious presidential campaign was beginning in the US. People were concerned about the spread of avian flu. Thirty students were killed in a mass shooting at Virginia Tech. The Tesla Roadster debuted at car shows. The UK passed new protections from discrimination for members of the LGBT community.
Strange years, both. National and international tragedies mixed in with iconic pop cultural and scientific events, uncertain political climates building as daily life went on normally for many people. But what does this mean for Harry, who is still (mostly) sheltered at a boarding school cut off from the outside world? At 16, Harry, like many of us, was beginning to awaken to political consciousness, but then there was still the matter of homework, crushes on your best friend’s sister, and magic textbooks with mysterious marginalia. He was becoming aware of the larger world, but still had limited power to change your place in it, even with a magic wand.
Half-Blood Prince manages that balancing act reasonably well, showing a teenager moving through the world while larger threats loom just outside the classrooms and castle walls. I can only hope that Fantastic Beasts is able to do the same.
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Frances: E (Exceeds Expectations) in the Ordinary Wizarding Levels. Half-Blood Prince is probably my favorite book of the Potter series and while the movie is an imperfect adaptation, it does a great job of capturing the sillier moments that the other movies missed. We see Harry’s completely ham-handed attempts at persuading Slughorn and his inability to read social cues. We see Hermione struggling with being a highly logical but also a deeply emotional person. We get Ron’s… Ron-ness. The film also does a fairly adequate job of showing us how Harry began to see the humanness of his idols. We finally start to see how deeply flawed Dumbledore is as a person, how he is just one of many people manipulating Harry for the greater good. I will never forgive the scene where Death Eaters burn down the Weasley residence or the nonsense Room of Requirement scene with Ginny, but outside of those flaws, this movie balances teen melodrama with the whimsy of magic and the callousness of magically-induced suffering.
André: Smells Like Teen Spirit. The Harry Potter movies are always going to succeed at casting a nostalgic spell over me. Watching Dumbledore wave his wand and put Slughorn’s house back together was one of the most magical magic moments in cinema, and that scene has stuck with me for weeks. I haven’t seen the movie since I was a teen so I had forgotten how angsty it could be at times, but I was okay with it. You have to accept a movie on it’s terms, and this was a movie about teens aimed at teens. I can’t fault it for spending time dealing with crushes and rivalries. Overall, I enjoyed The Half Blood Prince and want to watch more Harry Potter movies now.
Leanna: A respectable 3.0 GPA. I tend to think of the books and the movies as separate entities. The books feel cohesive and synonymous in that the voices of the characters are consistent and evolve in a logical way and the style and aesthetic of the universe was left up to my own imagination. The movies with their wide range of directors and styles and characters sometimes played by different actors is kind of a hodgepodge, though its a whimsical and captivating hodgepodge that I love nonetheless. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, as one of the later movies, is one of the better installments in the film series. There’s better acting, CGI, and overall set and character development than in prior movies. The teen angst portrayed rings true and definitely activated my nostalgia as I was deep in that phase myself the first time I read the book and maybe even when I saw the movie. Angst was a long process for me. Watching this definitely made me more excited for Fantastic Beasts, and I am glad that Hollywood seems committed to keeping the magic alive on the big screen.
Ben: 75%. Something that I struggle with when it comes to the movie adaptation of the Harry Potter series is that it can be difficult for me to excise my interest, nostalgia, and experience with the books with my viewing experience. So it is particularly difficult to judge the movie on its own merit, not that it necessarily should be, but if I am looking at the movie as whole, I feel like it is decent, good, agreeable, but far from great. It hits on all of the major notes a Harry Potter film should, but I feel like it specifically doesn’t do the strongest job of building up the larger storyline and you find yourself careening into the third act out of nowhere. I am glad that it spent time diving into the love stories that these teens are going through but the larger narrative is left wanting. The advantage the book has is that it has the time to build both narratives, to see the angsty teen Harry is while also allowing the reader to learn more about Voldemort why he made the choices he made and what it all means. All of this is to say that while Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince does a good job of evoking the tone and feeling of the book, the larger story and plot is a little sparse and lacking, and you find yourself at the end with our really knowing how you got there.