Retrospective! Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets [SERIES SPOILERS]

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I’m not going to mince words: I was flabbergasted at how much of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets had seeped from my memory. Whole passages—gone! Forgotten! Let me assure you, dear reader: this is no reflection on the redoubtable Ms. Rowling’s talent as an author; it is a testament to the fact that I have read and slept quite a bit since 1999, when I first read the second installment in the Potter series.

Revisiting Chamber was a lot of fun—and illuminating. Fairly early in the novel, Rowling gets us—and Harry—out of the Dursleys’ house at Number 4, Privet Drive—thanks in no small part to Dobby the House-Elf’s efforts to protect our titular hero and Arthur Weasley’s predilection for Muggle objects and artifacts. After all, we have to experience life in the Burrow with the Weasleys, who aren’t well off, but whose home is full of love—unlike the Dursleys’. It’s important that Harry—the Chosen One, the Boy Who Lived, etc., etc.—have a real home outside of Hogwarts, and it’s clear that the Weasleys are meant to provide a place that grounds him, despite their inherent wackiness. Honestly, Harry’s time at the Burrow is likely my favorite part of Chamber because of what the place comes to mean to him.

HARRY POTTER AND THE CHAMBER OF SECRETS, the second volume in the Harry Potter epic, features a considerably raising of the stakes in the life of the Boy Who Lived and expands the world of Rowling's invention considerably.

HARRY POTTER AND THE CHAMBER OF SECRETS, the second volume in the Harry Potter epic, features a considerably raising of the stakes in the life of the Boy Who Lived and expands the world of Rowling’s invention considerably.

Here are some other bits that struck me as I made my second journey through the novel:

  • The self-aggrandizing Gilderoy Lockhart, the latest Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, is a terrific one-off character who represents the ugly side of fame. He’s absolutely what Harry doesn’t want to be. Harry is uncomfortable with his renown, and Lockhart becomes the engine for illustrating where fame can go horribly and hilariously wrong.
  • Lucius Malfoy makes his first appearance in Chamber, though much was said about him by his son Draco in Sorcerer’s Stone. He is truly evil, instigating everything that comes to pass by planting Tom Riddle’s diary among Ginny Weasley’s in order to get back at her dad and the Ministry of Magic. Sure, it’s fiction, but his vile nature is completely overwhelming. It’s fun to detest him.
  • Draco Malfoy laments more than once that it’s a shame Hermione didn’t die as a result of one of the mysterious attacks on Hogwarts students, and he speaks out against “Mudbloods” quite a lot. Sure, he’s likely aping his father, but, still, wishing someone had died…? That’s stone cold.
  • Tom Riddle’s transforming the diary into a Horcrux—and something of a living memory that will give him a shot at killing Harry Potter is a fantastic idea. The once and future Lord Voldemort is one smart cookie—as is J.K. Rowling.
  • We finally get “The Secret Origin of Rubeus Hagrid!” Awesome!
  • Scary, talking giant spiders! Wouldn’t J.R.R. Tolkien be proud? Aragog and his “children” are absolutely frightening, even though they are loyal to Hagrid. Thank goodness for Arthur Weasley’s enchanted car—sort a ghost-in-the-machine with a ghost in the machine. (Confession: I read this chapter with the lights on, not just, you know, a single lamp.)
  • Poor Ginny Weasley.
  • TWELVE-YEAR-OLD HARRY POTTER KILLED A GIANT SNAKE WITH A SWORD!!! HOW THE HECK AWESOME IS THAT?!? (And not just any sword, but the sword of Godric Gryffindor! Just so we know and he knows he’s not supposed to be in Slytherin House.)
  • So far, we’ve seen a parasitic, half-living Voldemort and Voldemort as a living memory. The build to a full-on confrontation is truly compelling. Rowling knows how to build an overarching narrative.

Now, it’s on to Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.

BACKLOG RATING: If you’ve never read it, 10/10—what have you been waiting for? Of course, now I’ve spoiled lots of things for you. If you’ve read it, 8/10: there are likely things you’ve not read you’d like to get to.

– Mou

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Retrospective! Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone [Spoiler-free]

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Note: To mark the occasion of the opening of Diagon Alley at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, we submit to you this series of retrospective looks at J.K. Rowling’s more-than-masterpiece fantasy series.

I first discovered J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series in late 1998, perhaps early 1999—a few months after Chamber of Secrets had been published and Prisoner of Azkaban had been listed for pre-order on Amazon.com. At that point, I didn’t know there was any sort of Pottermania; I was just intrigued by the descriptions of the first two novels and thought, “What the heck? Let’s give ’em a try, and I’ll pre-order the third one if the first two are good.”

They were.

So, I did.

Some eight years later, the series wrapped up with the Deathly Hallows, and, like a good fanboy, I closed the book after reading the last page, satisfied, but sad that this particular literary journey had come to an end. In my early 40s, I hadn’t grown up with Harry, Ron, and Hermione, but I had certainly grown to care about them and their story.

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HARRY POTTER AND THE SORCERER’S STONE, first published in 1997, has well withstood the test of time, to no one’s surprise.

Recently, after purchasing the e-book versions of the novels, I got the bug to re-read the Potter series from the beginning, wondering what knowing the outcome would do for my enjoyment of the story. Turns out, that foreknowledge enhances the reading because, as I read of, for example, the pain in Harry’s lightning bolt-shaped scar, I knew what that meant to the larger scope of the story. (It’s Harry’s version of Spidey-sense, but that’s neither here nor there.) There’s also the joy of rediscovery: for example, I’d forgotten that Hagrid had borrowed the flying motorcycle from Sirius Black. Black is one of my favorite figures in the entire saga, and getting back that little tidbit of information was quite enjoyable.

All of that said as a matter of introduction, does Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone hold up? Yes, it does. Rowling provides us with plenty of details of Harry’s lamentable living situation with the Dursleys to make his discovery of the many shops of Diagon Alley and the hallowed halls of Hogwarts a true wonder, not unlike the children’s journey from the empty, lonely manor house in rural England to the crisp, wintry—and magical—world of Narnia in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Who hasn’t dreamed of an enchanted world just beyond their own humdrum life?

The build-up is very nearly perfect. Harry gets a taste of the wizarding world with Hagrid—and learns the truth about his parents and his hero-status, but he doesn’t actually leave the Dursleys ’til nearly a third of the way into the novel. Then, along with Harry, we discover the majesty and mystery of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Here, as she introduces more characters and establishes the novel’s essential conflict (Who’s trying to get the Sorcerer’s Stone—and why?), Rowling truly soars. The core team—Harry, Ron, and Hermione—coalesces, and Harry steps up and becomes the hero he is celebrated as in the wizarding world. And, hey, Quidditch! And bawling mandrake roots! And Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans! (“Alas, earwax.”) And Platform 9-3/4! It’s a wonderful world—free of smartphones and laptops and other distractions; after all, there are bigger fish to fry.

Re-reading the novel after fifteen years and having seen the film version a couple of times in the intervening time allowed me to see the seeds of Ron and Hermione’s future relationship more clearly and to appreciate Voldemort’s relatively meager efforts at resurrection here—because, of course, he returns rather spectacularly later on.

…the Sorcerer’s Stone is truly the opening salvo in a grand battle that will be waged over the course of six more novels.

Backlog Rating: 8/10. There are likely other things you haven’t read, and, chances are, you’ve read these. Still, get back to them when you’re ready to revisit some old friends.

– Mou