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.
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.