Saturday, 29 September 2012

Review: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling

Before Harry Potter returns for his second year at Hogwarts he is warned that terrible things will happen at the school.  A wave of mysterious attacks sweep the castle, and Harry finds himself caught up in the efforts to discover the culprit.

Published: 1998
Pages: 251 (Bloomsbury, 1998)
Series: Harry Potter #2
First Read: Spring 1999
Times Read: At least 10
Part of: The Harry Potter Readalong

First line(s): "Not for the first time, an argument had broken out over breakfast at number four, Privet Drive.  Mr Vernon Dursley had been woken in the early hours of the morning by a loud, hooting noise from his nephew Harry's room."

Review: As with my review of Philosopher's Stone, I've split this into two parts - one for those who haven't read the books before, and one for those who have.

For those who haven't read the book(s) before
In many ways, Chamber of Secrets builds on Philosopher's Stone, expanding the world and introducing themes that will run throughout the series.  The main focus in this book is the anti-Muggle prejudice that exists in the wizarding world, and which is J.K. Rowling's means of exploring intolerance.  This may make the book sound heavy-handed and moralistic (and it is the latter) but it loses nothing of the whimsy and humour of the first book.  It may seem like a slight rehash of Philosopher's Stone, but it is a great book on its own and features the fabulous creation that is Gilderoy Lockhart.

I'm trying not to say too much as an in depth discussion would be spoilery, but know this: when you've read this (even if you dislike it, as much of the fandom seems to) you can go on to Prisoner of Azkaban which is oh my God amazing.

For those who have read the book(s) before
I know this is one of the least popular books in the fandom, but I've always rather liked it.  It isn't one of my favourites, but I don't dislike it.  It's funny, and servicable, and it doesn't leave me let down like Order of the Phoenix nor does it seem slight like Half-Blood Prince.  I see that it is a lot like Philosopher's Stone, and it still feels like an introduction, but I rather enjoy the ever-expanding element of the wizarding world and Rowling's way of moving the reader deeper into it as the books progress.

The main flaw with this book it that the mystery isn't completely solvable by the reader.  All the other books provide you with the required information, so that when you read the answer you say "oh, why didn't I see that, it was right there!".  While this is true of the Ginny element of the solution, it isn't so with the answer of the basilisk - it is revealed in a short paragraph that tells what has gone before rather than shows.  It would have been difficult to work the information in without it being bloody obvious, but it feels forced and sloppy when it is revealed.  This is the most disappointing element of the book, which is frustrating as the mystery is usually one of the best things in a Harry Potter.

However, much as I still notived the flaw on this reread, I was most struck by how much Chamber of Secrets foreshadows Half-Blood Prince and Deathly Hallows.  Quite apart from the items in Borgin and Burkes which Draco uses in HBP, and the two Vanishing Cabinets (oh my goodness she really had this planned), there is the diary!  A piece of Lord Voldemort's soul, right there, being flushed down toilets and thrown around by teenagers!  I almost wish there was some way he could learn exactly what happened to the diary after he'd left it with Lucius.  It could be seen as merely important to the plot of Chamber, but the word "soul" is thrown around a lot as Tom Riddle explains what happened, and even on the first read this element seems important enough to be noted though you don't know why.  And that is part of the genius of the series as a whole.

My favourite line from this book though, the one that leapt out at me this time, was "[l]et's match the powers of Lord Voldemort, heir of Salazar Slytherin, against famous Harry Potter, and the best weapons Dumbledore can give him" (233) because that is exactly happens at the end of Deathly Hallows and that says so much about Voldemort's weaknesses and ultimate defeat.

So, despite the fault with the mystery, I really like Chamber of Secrets.  It may seem a more important book now the series is complete, but I've always enjoyed reading it.  Still, I'm curious: what is it about Chamber of Secrets that fans dislike?

Rating: 9/10

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