Within 24 hours of its publication on July 16, 2005, nine million copies of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince had been sold in the United States and in Britain alone. It became the fastest selling book in history at that time (source). Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is the sixth in the series of seven books by author J.K. Rowling, and it tells the tale of young wizard Harry Potter's sixth year at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. The book furthers the story of Harry's fight against Lord Voldemort, and it also highlights the joys and pitfalls of growing up.
J.K. Rowling is perhaps the most famous writer in the world. Most likely, she's at the tippy top of most people's "If I Could Meet Anyone in the World" list. Born on July 31, 1965 outside of Bristol, England, Joanne ("Jo") Rowling started writing at the ripe old age of six and didn't ever stop (except maybe to pester her little sister, Di). In 1991, she dreamed up the idea for the Harry Potter series while riding a crowded train from Manchester to London. The only problem was that she didn't have a pen with which to write her ideas down. Rats. Instead, she spent her four-hour train ride dreaming, thinking, and planning. Brainstorm? More like brainmonsoon.
In 1998, the first book in the series, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, was published, and the world fell quickly and madly in love with Harry and his friends. By the year 2000, the next three books in the series had been published, and 35 million copies had been sold. Each of the three books had been translated into 35 different languages.
That's just the beginning. On June 21, 2003, the fifth book in the series (Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix) sold five million copies within the first hour of publication. By that time, the books had been translated into 55 different languages and were sold in over 200 different countries. Talk about an international best seller. Harry Potter quickly became a worldwide phenomenon, a household name, a popular Halloween costume idea, a friend, and, most importantly, the most famous adolescent known to humanity. Today, the books are published in 65 different languages, they've garnered more awards than we can count, and they have made Rowling richer than the Queen of England (source).
Things get pretty serious and heavy in Book 6, we're not going to lie. But these more sobering themes of death and evil are balanced by the fun of watching Harry and his friends grow up and struggle with all of the growing pains associated with being a teenager. As compared with her previous books, Rowling particularly loved writing Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince:
"Book six does what I wanted it to do and even if nobody else likes it (and some won't), I know it will remain one of my favourites of the series. Ultimately you have to please yourself before you please anyone else!" (source)
Get your book ready, strap on your thinking cap, and prepare to dive into one of the most complex, moving, and thought-provoking years at Hogwarts yet. You'll need a notepad, a pen, lots of Kleenex, snacks (because you won't want to put the book down), and, most of all, an imagination willing to travel far.
"Unlike any other creature on this planet, humans can learn and understand, without having experienced. They can think themselves into other people's minds, imagine themselves into other people's places."
– J.K. Rowling (source)
Most likely, you already care about Harry Potter bigtime. All around the world people have grown up reading the Harry Potter series and learning from the ways in which he struggles and confronts obstacles headlong. This global connection is enough to make us interested in this little wizard dude.
But let's dig a bit deeper. What about Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is different from the books that come before it? What one clue is tattooed onto the heart of this particular story? There are millions of answers to those questions, but we are going to throw one out there on the table for you to chew on: love. Before you disregard love, just as Voldemort does, give us a minute to explain.
Dumbledore tells Harry that he is special and more powerful than Voldemort because of his ability to love. But what exactly can love do? Why is love powerful? You can't hold it, you can't throw it at somebody, you can't make it send laser beams across the room, you can't use it to change the weather or make dinner. But love is Harry's greatest weapon because it allows him to understand those around him. Love is like x-ray vision, it gives people the power to see and to imagine what others might be feeling and experiencing. Why is that kind of understanding important? Well, we're going to let you take a stab at that one, but we think it has something to do with helping to make the world a better place.
Consider J.K. Rowling's words that sit at the top of this section. These words come from the graduation speech that Lady Rowling gave at Harvard University in 2008. In it, she talks about the power of the imagination to help us empathize with people who have endured life situations that seem very far away and foreign to us. She says,
Imagination is not only the uniquely human capacity to envision that which is not, and therefore the fount of all invention and innovation. In its arguably most transformative and revelatory capacity, it is the power that enables us to empathize with humans whose experiences we have never shared.
Harry's ability to love gives him the ability to imagine his way into Voldemort's life, his past, his fears. Harry's ability to love allows him to avoid the temptation of power and immortality that Voldemort promises. His ability to love allows him to remain "pure of heart" and to fight for peace. We don't know yet how this ability will play out, but there is something comforting in knowing that great power and great success come not from having lots of money, knowledge, or fame. After all, everyone has the capacity for love.