Wall Street Journal JONATHAN V. LAST
Tonight, when “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” descends upon bookstores, millions of children will flutter in delight. But the sixth entry in the franchise may well please discerning adults, too.
The series began as a collection of detective stories cloaked in sorcery. The first introduced us to the young Mr. Potter, who was packed off to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry after being orphaned when the evil Lord Voldemort–a warlock who had started a great war–killed his parents. But the early Potter tales were essentially Hardy Boys stories–each book confronted Harry and his friends with a series of small puzzles, the solving of which led to the resolution of a big case.
In the fifth book, “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix,” something interesting happened. The author, J.K. Rowling, abandoned the mystery genre and gave her readers something more challenging: a historical allegory. Through sleight-of-hand, Ms. Rowling took a children’s book and transformed it into a parable about 1930s England. We’ve heard a lot recently about London and the Blitz. Ms. Rowling’s unfolding saga may illuminate that dark historical moment, not only the ordeals that led up to it but also–who knows?–the triumphs that followed.
The parallels between this volume and Britain’s prewar dithering are so great that the book is perhaps best read as a light companion to “Alone,” the second volume of William Manchester’s biography of Winston Churchill.