Okay, let's get this over with...
I know a lot of you are probably sick of this by now, but as Barry notes, tonight is Potter night at your local bookstore. While I don't read much sci-fi or fantasy anymore, and I resisted the Potter craze until the fourth one came out, I'm solidly hooked. This probably should be a guilty pleasure, but there is so much depth and cleverness in these books that I don't even feel that guilty about how much I enjoy them.
I somehow get the feeling that the rampant speculation tonight is something with a deep literary past, from medieval readers waiting for the next installment from Cervantes, to Victorian readers debating how the next Dickens or Doyle would turn out. Tonight is the last night when the resolution won't be hanging in the air, hiding behind the resolute look of our friends who have already made it through. Up until now, none of us know what's coming, and frankly, that's wonderful. The commonality of the suspense is a rare thing, on the order of "who shot J.R.?" but this time, waiting in lines outside of bookstores.
So, those of you who are sick of the phenomenon can ignore the rest of this post. Because it's going to get a little thick, I fear...
(And I suppose I have to say that there are spoilers for the first six books below...)
Two years ago, I almost hurriedly set up a blog just to post my predictions for the sixth book. One of the things that has drawn me to Rowling's writing is her ability to get you looking one way and then surprising you the other with facts that were right under your nose. As I read the first book (which really SHOULD be titled the "Philosopher's Stone" everywhere, except that I guess the American publishers really wanted to make sure we knew it was about magic. Sorcerer's stone... ugh...), I thought it was following the Scooby Doo formula. In other words, the villain can be easily identified as the one acting dark and suspicious. Of course, the turn there is that Snape, whom you're lead to suspect all along, is innocent, and the innocuous-seeming Professor Quirrell (albeit posessed) ends up as the culprit.
Fine, ha ha, you got me, I thought. Throw that change-up again, and we'll see if you get me swinging out in front of it. Well, along comes the obnoxious Lockhart, the benign voice of Tom Riddle in the diary, and Snape acting creepy again. I thought I had her this time, reading book 2 on a plane out to San Diego, but even though I came close to guessing that it was a basilisk haunting the school, she completely had me thinking Riddle was an ally. "Come on," I thought to myself, "this is just a children's book, and she's stumping me at every turn!" So, a little flustered, I dove into the third one, coming back from San Diego, ready for anything. Well, I came up with conjectures and cross theories every which way, fully thinking the cat. Nope, tripped up again, and kicking myself for not seeing the "loup" in Lupin, but also increasingly impressed not only with her clever plots, but the gravity the series was starting to gather.
With the fourth book freshly on the shelves this time, I was mad. Having a great time, but mad. "No more. This time I got you." As the fourth book proceeds, it's clear someone's out to get Harry. Oh, I worked at it, reading simple bits of conversation twice, re-reading earlier parts, looking for anagrams in names, all that. I thought I had her -- discarding Karkarov as too obvious, I was again suspecting Snape, Bagman, Malfoy, the elder Crouch, sure I knew where the plot was coming from. When it became fully apparent I'd been duped again, I threw up my hands.
In a sense, while it was huge, the fifth book was a bit of a breather. Obviously Umbridge was no good, and there wasn't much of a mystery to what's going on. On the other hand, the lack of mystery was just one factor making the fifth book a bit of a drag to read (Harry's incomparably accurate but still irritating adolescence being another one).
So, obviously, I'd learned my lesson, right? Just enjoy the books, and don't try to second guess them, that's the way of wisdom. No way. She's had five books to build up plot arcs that she has to resolve, and only two books to resolve them in. Unless she was planning to bring everything down in the fifth, there were a lot of bills that had to come due in the sixth book. So, while I never got around to starting that blog just for my Half-Blood Prince predictions, my friend Susan promised to serve as my witness that I thought of these before the book came out:
Instead of hiring a new Defense Against the Dark Arts master, Dumbledore would find a new potions master, and Snape would get the job. My reasoning was that Snape would get it sooner or later, and Dumbledore would take the post in book 7. Snape would also be revealed both as a half-blood and as the Half-Blood Prince, which would ultimately be the reason for his turn away from Voldemort. At the end of book 6, he'd be forced into hiding and disappear. The obvious-from-book-2 romance between Ron and Hermione would emerge in full, Neville and Luna would eventually hook up, and but Cho would end up simply serving as the "first crush" for Harry. His romance would have to be a girl already introduced to the series, someone he could trust, and who was an accomplished witch of her own but whom he wouldn't feel threatened by. The only person to fit that label was Ginny, and hence I confidently predicted Harry and Ginny would get together.
Well, needless to say, even though I wasn't 100% accurate, I was pumped as I read book 6. Now the only problem is, I have to follow that up.