Please join me in welcoming Savanna New to the Reflections of a Book Addict family! Savanna is the co-producer of The Hunger Games Fireside Chat and is also an associate editor at Picktainment.
As is the case with most people, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets has always been my “least favorite” of the Harry Potter books. It’s not that it’s a bad book; J.K. Rowling is obviously incapable of writing anything less than brilliant. It’s that Chamber of Secrets doesn’t quite pack the punch of the other six novels in the series and, as a result, seems to be easily forgotten and usually relegated to last place in any kind of Harry Potter books ranking (the same can be said of the film, which I’ll discuss tomorrow). While it’s true that Chamber of Secrets may be slightly formulaic and lack a bit of the depth and literary magic of, say, Goblet of Fire or Deathly Hallows, I actually think it’s one of the smartest books in the series, in terms of its overall role.
At the beginning of Chamber of Secrets, we’re reunited with Harry just before the start of his second year at Hogwarts. As in the opening of Sorcerer’s Stone, we find Harry once again trapped, chez Dursley, longing to escape. Fortunately for Harry, though, a few things have changed. In addition to having received a room upgrade (no more cupboard under the stairs!), our bespectacled protagonist is a year older, a year wiser, and – perhaps most importantly – has tasted freedom. Harry now has something to live for, which – while doing wonders for his self-esteem and morale – has also made his life with Uncle Vernon, Aunt Petunia, and Dudley even more of a nightmare. He knows now that he isn’t “one of them,” and that there’s a place where he belongs and people who genuinely care about him. He misses Hogwarts, so much so that it’s “like having a constant stomachache.”
Luckily, Harry doesn’t have to endure the torturous confines of number four, Privet Drive, much longer. After finding a house-elf in his bedroom (Dobby!) who warns him that he’ll be in mortal danger if he shows up at school (this won’t be the first warning Harry ignores), Ron, Fred, and George Weasley show up in a flying car and whisk the Boy Who Lived away to their home, the Burrow. Chamber of Secrets is “Riddled” (pun intended) with funny, clever, lighthearted moments like that (e.g. basically every scene involving Gilderoy Lockhart), but doesn’t shy away from the darker stuff either. The main storyline of Chamber of Secrets is incredibly creepy, in fact, and the book as a whole is definitely heavier than its predecessor, touching on more complex issues like racism.
Like Sorcerer’s Stone, Chamber of Secrets revolves around a mystery that eventually leads Harry, Ron, and Hermione into the subterranean bowels of Hogwarts. After a series of petrification incidents and threats against Muggle-born students – and thanks to the help of a bathroom-dwelling ghost, Voldemort’s old diary, and little Ginny Weasley, whose kidnapping spurs everyone into action – the trio uncovers the Chamber and the horrors it hides within.
Many have critiqued Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets for being too similar to Sorcerer’s Stone. The plot structures are similar, yes, but I think it’s important for the second book in a series to never stray too far from the spirit and basic anatomy of the first – after all, that’s what people are coming back for. The first must capture and captivate, but it’s the second book whose job it is to really hook the reader and convince him or her that the author is more than just a one-hit wonder. It’s unfair to compare Chamber of Secrets to the later Harry Potter books because, in many ways, Chamber of Secrets can be viewed as an extension of Sorcerer’s Stone. There’s still a lot of world-building happening, and I like the fact that Rowling doesn’t bombard us with too many details at once or try to rush the introduction of new characters and new information.
I’ve never been adept at conclusions, so I’ll instead leave you with the following words of wisdom:
“Never trust anything that can think for itself if you can’t see where it keeps its brain.”
– Arthur Weasley, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
4 out of 5 Stars