July 22, 2005


Young Potter readers need to talk, grieve: (Barbara F. Meltz, July 21, 2005, Boston Globe)

As she was leaving for summer school Monday morning, the day after she had finished ''Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince," 14-year-old Chelsey Bowman of Newton asked her mother, ''Will you be here when I get home at 1 o'clock? I don't want to be alone."

The neediness took June Bowman by surprise. Not only is it unlike her daughter to be frightened, it's also unlike ''Harry Potter" to cause that degree of intensity.

Less than 24 hours after the book was released last weekend, readers who had already finished it were seeking solace in a chat thread on livejournal.com:

''Is anyone else in complete and utter shock about who just died and how, or am I the only one?"

''I am in shock. OMG, I can't believe what I just read. I spent like the last three chapters bawling my eyes out. I'm just in shock, pure utter shock."

We won't be the spoiler here, but it's no secret that a much-beloved character dies in this sixth book in the series by J.K. Rowling. What do you say when your child has been up all night reading, and her eyes are red and swollen from crying?

If you're reading it with children, odds are you'll spend the final chapters asking them to pass the Kleenex. Posted by Matt Murphy at July 22, 2005 10:00 PM



Posted by: oj at July 22, 2005 11:06 PM

My eight year old finished the book and didn't seem to have a big problem with "the death". As much as she loves the Harry Potter books, she has a good grasp of where reality ends and fantasy begins and she doesn't get too wound up about the latter. I'm now reading it out loud to her (she likes to hear them a second time with me doing "voices" for the characters), so will see how much it bothers her.

Posted by: Bret at July 23, 2005 12:49 AM

I believe that the first time that I cried over a fictional character was while watching Of Mice and Men, at age twelve.

Of course, I also teared up over the death (or catatonia) of Mike in The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, so perhaps I'm only representative of nerds.

There's only one character in Potter that I would have any feelings for, if s/he died.

Posted by: Michael Herdegen at July 23, 2005 1:22 AM

OK so who died?

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at July 23, 2005 2:15 AM

Can we wimpify our kids more?

Posted by: bart at July 23, 2005 4:17 AM


I imagine plenty of people cried when Little Nell died, too. When senators start crying on national TV (ahem), that's when I get worried.

Posted by: Matt Murphy at July 23, 2005 4:41 AM

Robert Schwartz:

I'll email you the answer if you really want it.

Posted by: Matt Murphy at July 23, 2005 4:55 AM

If they think the 6th book is sad, wait till the 7th, when Harry dies.

Good for J K Rowling, I say, who is creating a work of art.

Posted by: pj at July 23, 2005 7:32 AM

PJ: Harry does not die in vol 7. He will however be greivously injured. See Lord Raglan's The Hero.

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at July 23, 2005 9:35 AM

Thanks to OJ's post a few weeks ago and the internet I knew this before I read the book this week.

The wife read the book before me and was upset although not as upset as when a significanct character died in #5.

Bart - saying our kids are wimpified because a favorite character dies is a bit much.

PJ - The wife and I spent a good hour or so coming up with how #7 ends. Given that there is magic, good vs evil, and many storylines that have been developed there are quite a few possibilities. Harry dying or being severely injured seems a bit too straightforward for this writer. We expect a significant twist to occur in #7.

Posted by: AWW at July 23, 2005 11:28 AM


Crying about a fictional character is a tad over the top. Didn't we at one time try to teach our kids to be stoic? To deal with things rather than act out all the damn time. I remember reading in Livy about Quintus Mucius Scaevola who stuck his hand in a fire and watched it burn to a cinder without flinching to prove the point to an invading monarch that Romans were pretty tough.

Posted by: bart at July 23, 2005 12:20 PM


My wife and I concluded that the character that died KNEW he was going to and that the character that killed him knew he would have to kill AND is STILL on our side (Harry's side I mean).

Posted by: Bartman at July 23, 2005 1:12 PM


That briefly occurred to me but then it seemed too over-the-top. Note that he glared in hatred at the dying character as he killed him. Maybe it's just too easy to dislike said character and I have a hard time imagining much good coming from him.

One blogger wondered whether the film career of the actor who portrays him in the movies will survive the movie installment of this book. He'll be the most hated film villain of modern times!

Posted by: Matt Murphy at July 23, 2005 1:54 PM

I should note that this was one of the most depressing ends to a novel that I've ever read -- and I'm not just speaking about children's books. There was almost nothing about the ending that was even slightly cheery, like there have been in previous H.P. books. The books have been getting progressively darker as the series goes on and as Ms. Rowling's readers grow older, and presumably she's setting up a terrific battle in book seven.

My younger brother believes that Harry may himself be one of the horcruxes mentioned in the sixth book, which would explain his strange connections with Voldemort. So that in book seven he may have to sacrifice himself in order to finally triumph over evil. It's going to kill me having to wait so long to find out how it all ends. Whatever happens, I have a feeling that this series will go out with a terrific bang.

Posted by: Matt Murphy at July 23, 2005 3:00 PM

Bart - I'm not saying crying over a fictional character is ok, just that a) I expect the MSM to exaggerate everything and b) it shows that these books are really being accepted by the audience. It's the Old Yeller test - either you cry or you don't.

Bartman - that is our highest probability theory so far.

Matt - at the present rate book 7 will be out before movie 6 is out - so the audience may or may not know if he is the really bad villian as everyone thinks currently.

Posted by: AWW at July 23, 2005 3:05 PM

Note also the Christian overtones if Harry winds up sacrificing himself to defeat the figure of evil.

Posted by: Matt Murphy at July 23, 2005 3:11 PM


Except the way Rowling writes the final volume could be something like 1,000 pages and we might have to wait three or four years to see it. I hope I'm wrong, believe me. Obviously, she has to hurry at least a little bit because the movies are on a schedule and the way the actors age they have to make one about every year to keep up.

It might not end up costing poor Alan Rickman his career because by the time they make the movie most everyone will have read the book and will know what's coming.

Posted by: Matt Murphy at July 23, 2005 3:47 PM

Matt - the movie for book 4 is due out this November and according to imbd.com the movie for book 5 is due out in 2007. So you have to think that Book 7 will be out before movie 6 is out. Then again she could time it so that book 7 and movie 7 come out the same time.

Also, I can think of many TV actors who were typecast into 1 role but not too many movie actors.

Posted by: AWW at July 23, 2005 8:44 PM

Given Alan Rickman's role as director of the 'Rachel Corrie' play in London's West End, I would not be unhappy if he were reduced to playing dinner theatre in Moose Jaw.

Posted by: bart at July 23, 2005 9:53 PM


Wow, I didn't know that. No wonder he fits the villain role so perfectly.

Posted by: Matt Murphy at July 23, 2005 11:21 PM


Gee, I really hope we don't have to wait to 2008 to find out how this story ends.

Posted by: Matt Murphy at July 23, 2005 11:27 PM

One other thing worth noting is that a number of people here seem to think that the character's death was not as malevolent as it appears and that his killer may still be on the side of good despite appearances to the contrary. This is the sort of misdirection play J.K. Rowling specializes in and perhaps she's pulled it so many times that people are getting wise to it.

Posted by: Matt Murphy at July 23, 2005 11:48 PM

Regarding stoicism: I believe that there are times to be stoic, and times to allow your weeping to be seen. I didn't cry when I read about Thorin Oakenshield's death in The Hobbit, but I cried when I read it to my children.

Posted by: Roy Jacobsen at July 25, 2005 9:25 AM

Stoicism is overrated. My mother cried every time she read us "Ballad of the Harp-Weaver", and we (all girls as a matter of fact) came away with a firm notion of what kind of bravery she would expect us to show, as mothers.

Posted by: Paula R. Robinson MD at July 25, 2005 9:43 AM

Stocisim is pagan. It went out of style about the same time worshiping Jupiter did.

I would like to complain a bit about "the death," though. It seemed too contrived--as if it were inserted into the narrative solely because it was necessary for the next book (which, naturally, it was). But I'm hoping/expecting there to be some revelations in book 7 that make it more believable.

There's no way Rowling will let the movie & book come out at the same time. She's second only to the Bush White House in keeping big secrets, and you just can't do that with a movie.

Posted by: Timothy at July 25, 2005 1:23 PM


Indeed, there were some parts of the book that seemed contrived to me (although not that part), and I might even say that of the six novels this one was the least impressive. Which is hardly saying anything, since even the worst H.P. novel is better than about 99% of the other stuff out there.

Posted by: Matt Murphy at July 25, 2005 5:26 PM

Stoicism stopped being expected of boys in the Anglosphere right about the time of Dr. Spock. That has hardly changed things for the better.

So what if it was originally pagan? Republican government was originally pagan. Do we scratch that too?

A little more Cato the Censor, or Xeno and a lot less Oprah Winfrey and Jerry Springer would serve our nation and the world quite well.

Posted by: bart at July 26, 2005 8:45 AM