Study Guide

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince Themes

  • Love

    Love conquers all! Harry's greatest power is not his ability to excel at Defense Against the Dark Arts. His greatest attribute is not his courage. We learn in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince that Harry's greatest power lies in his ability to love. Even though he's had a rough childhood, even though he's known suffering, he is still able to love and empathize with those around him. He makes the choice to love and to act out of love at all costs. Love is the antidote to Voldemort's Dark Magic, for his magic does not know love's power.

    Questions About Love

    1. What kinds of love do we find in this story?
    2. Why does Dumbledore believe love to be powerful?
    3. What does Voldemort think of love?
    4. What kind of love has Harry known?
  • Good vs. Evil

    Sometimes it is easy and comforting to argue that there is a good side and an evil side in the world. It is easy to position Harry and Dumbledore as good, and to position Voldemort as evil. However, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince complicates this clear-cut, black-and-white perception, focusing on the gray area in between. Here we learn how Voldemort came to have a desire to inflict evil deeds upon the world, and we are left to wonder what he might have done had he experienced more goodness in his life at a young age. We also see Harry accidentally play around with some Dark Magic. In Book 6 the issue of good and evil is far more complex than meets the eye.

    Questions About Good vs. Evil

    1. Is there such a thing as "good" and such a thing as "evil" in this story?
    2. What is an example of something or someone "good" in this story? An example of something or someone "evil" in this story?
    3. Is Voldemort evil?
    4. What makes someone "good," and what makes them "evil"?
    5. How is evil defined in the world of this story?
    6. Did your opinion of Harry change when he started playing around with the Half-Blood Prince's darker spells?
  • Mortality

    Death is a huge focal point of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, for in it we lose the greatest wizard of the Wizarding community, Dumbledore. We are reminded that even magic is no match for death. Death, we come to find, is also the thing that Voldemort fears most, causing him to stop at nothing in the quest for immortality. He pushes the boundaries of magic in order to seek this ultimate power, but can he escape death?

    Questions About Mortality

    1. Who dies in this story?
    2. What does immortality mean to Voldemort?
    3. How does Voldemort plan to become immortal?
    4. Can magic prevent death?
    5. Did Dumbledore know he was going to die?
    6. Why do you think Rowling decided to have Dumbledore die?
    7. After Dumbledore dies and Harry chases Snape, why doesn't Snape kill Harry?
  • Lies and Deceit

    Magic has much to do with deception and with deceiving those around you. Consider Harry's invisibility cloak, the Marauder's Map, and his Muffliato spell. Magic allows for manipulation of people and events. However, in Book 6, we begin to see different kinds of deception and dishonesty. Harry and his friends learn that magic must be practiced with integrity, honesty, and compassion for any good to come about.

    Questions About Lies and Deceit

    1. Who lies to whom in this story?
    2. Is Harry being dishonest in not telling Slughorn that his Potions book is special?
    3. Is Hermione ever dishonest?
    4. What does truth mean in the world of this story?
    5. Magic seems to have a lot to do with deception. What does "deception" mean in the world of this story?
    6. In Book 6, does deception ever have positive results, or is it always a bad thing?
  • Friendship

    Friendship is the key factor that separates both Harry and Dumbledore from Voldemort. Where Harry cultivates two great friends, Voldemort prefers isolation. Voldemort has never had a friend in his life, thus making it easier for him to inflict the horror he does upon the world. Harry's friendships fuel his ability to love, to empathize, and, like Dumbledore, to see the best in those around him.

    Questions About Friendship

    1. What friendships are tested in this story, and how are they tested?
    2. What does it mean to be a good friend in the world of this story?
    3. Who would you consider to be Dumbledore's friends? What is his relationship with Harry like?
    4. Does Voldemort have any friends?
  • Education

    Education forms the backdrop for nearly every moment of the Harry Potter series. Even though war is at hand and the world is in turmoil, there is still learning taking place, there is still a sense of innocence. However, in this story, we learn that even Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry is not safe. In fact, a school is perhaps the most powerful and, therefore, the most dangerous place when war afflicts the Wizarding community. By virtue of being a place of knowledge and learning that has existed for hundreds of years, Hogwarts contains information and ancient magic so powerful and so complex that even Voldemort would do anything to get a piece of the pie.

    Questions About Education

    1. Does Harry use anything he learns in school in his fight against Voldemort? Does he value his education?
    2. What kind of teacher is Dumbledore?
    3. Has Hogwarts changed over the years? If so, how has it changed?
    4. What does education mean to Hermione?
    5. How is Hogwarts similar to or different from the schools you've attended?
  • Identity

    During his sixth year at Hogwarts, we watch Harry and his friends struggle with some big aspects of their identity. As they get closer to finishing up their time at Hogwarts, and as a war rages outside and inside of the castle walls, the students are forced to examine themselves carefully: what they believe, who they trust, who they love, and what they want to become after school. We get a privileged look into this very moment in Tom Riddle's career at Hogwarts, and we watch him, too, struggle with his identity and, ultimately, build an identity that will serve his Dark goals. Voldemort shows us to what lengths a person will go to build an identity.

    Questions About Identity

    1. Does Harry's self-identity change over the course of this novel? What about Hermione's? Ron's?
    2. Has Book 6 changed your understanding of Snape's identity? How would you characterize him?
    3. Why did Snape create the identity of the Half-Blood Prince for himself?
    4. What kind of identity has Voldemort made for himself?
    5. What does it mean to be the Chosen One? Is Harry special? If so, why is he special? What is the prophecy's purpose?
    6. What makes up a person's identity in the world of this story?
  • Choices

    In Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Dumbledore told Harry, "It is our choices, Harry, that show us who we truly are, far more than our abilities." It would be easy to only know Voldemort through his abilities and through the havoc he wreaks in the Wizarding community, but in Harry Potter 6, we become acquainted with the choices that define Voldemort – choices that he had no control over and choices that he does. The ultimate choice at the heart of this story is that between love and hate.

    Questions About Choices

    1. What big choices does Harry make? Dumbledore? Snape? Voldemort?
    2. Did your opinion of Malfoy change based on the decisions he makes?
    3. Does anyone in Book 6 regret any of their choices? Why?
    4. Why does Dumbledore choose to trust Snape?
  • The Supernatural

    We know magic is at the center of the Harry Potter series, and we know that magic is the thing that makes Harry Potter's world different from our own. Magic is a powerful thing. However, in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, we learn about the boundaries of magic and what happens when these boundaries are pushed. As a result, we realize that the Wizarding community is not as powerful as we imagined, for magic cannot protect against death, suffering, and loss. There are universal problems affecting humankind that even magic cannot fix.

    Questions About The Supernatural

    1. What different kinds of magic do we see in this story?
    2. What makes Dark Magic bad? Can any Dark Magic be used for good?
    3. Magic seems pretty powerful, but is it all-powerful?
    4. What is the different between a charm, a potion, and a spell? What about a curse and a hex?
    5. Is Dumbledore, considered to be the greatest wizard of all time, all-powerful? Does he allow himself to be killed, or was he actually defenseless?
  • Language and Communication

    Magic is at the center of the Wizarding community, and at the heart of magic is language and the ability to communicate in just the right way. In Harry Potter's sixth year at Hogwarts we see how language is manipulated and how communication is a means of deception. We are exposed to the many diverse languages and to the many different ways of communicating that one must know in order to survive. Communication can both save and destroy.

    Questions About Language and Communication

    1. What different kinds of language do we see in this story?
    2. How is communication important to magic?
    3. When does communication break down or malfunction in this story?