Let’s get straight back into the world of Potter with the Chamber of Secrets. I love the start to this one- specifically because it is so horrible. Okay, that sounds wrong, but the dreadful Dursleys and Dobby’s cruel-to-be-kind schtick always make me feel so sorry for Harry. And while there is a recap, which I’ve never been crazy on, this was such a strong start.
In fact, book 2 takes everything that was awesome about book 1 and builds on it. The details are *amazing*- especially since we get to go to the Burrows and see what a wizarding household is like. I adore the immediate contrast between the rigid order of the Dursleys with the healthy bit of chaos at the Weasleys. Most notably, I love that moment when degnoming the garden is described as “boring work”- which expresses a gulf between what’s normal for wizards and what’s normal for muggles. Plus we get so much more in the way of world building thanks to this visit to the burrows, such as the use of Floo Powder, which ends up contributing to the Harry’s-suspicious-of-Malfoy subplot (I love how he’s both right and wrong on that score).
Everything about this plot is watertight and well thought out. With the introduction of Lockhart, there’s an expansion on the theme of celebrity, which really sets things up nicely for later books. Even more importantly, Chamber of Secrets adds to the topic of discrimination in a chilling way. I know that a lot of people view the later books as much darker, yet for me personally, this one is twisted in a way that makes me somewhat queasy. And normally that would make me dislike a book, but here it only enhances how I feel about it. There’s just something phenomenally on point about a narrative that focuses on the beast in the belly of the school rising up to create chaos (again, thanks Dr Peterson for that). It can be exceptionally fun to do a psychoanalytical reading of the basilisk and the clever messaging of “see no evil” (or at least don’t look directly at it), which it carries.
And as you might have guessed from my last review, I enjoyed psychoanalysing the characters too. A lot of the characters are expanded so well here. One thing that leapt out at me this time was how resentful Filch was because he’s a squib. I did make a note that Ron laughed at him for that- which definitely gives an insight into wizarding attitudes. On the flip side, he does stand up for muggleborns for the whole “mudblood” thing, even though he doesn’t get anything out of it (in fact he gets to eat slugs for his trouble), showing a more noble side. Still, I couldn’t help but love Hermione more for her principled stance in this one, coming up with sophisticated and brilliant plans to take on the heir of Slytherin.
Harry Potter, on the other hand… man, he can be a bit of an idiot. I know it was Ron’s idea to fly in the car, but on one level he certainly likes the idea of getting attention and is a very show-off move. Even if it does look great on the cover of the book, there were far better solutions other than, you know, casually breaking the law for no good reason. This may sound like an odd thing to say if you haven’t read/don’t remember the book, but it’s almost like he’s not smart enough to be the villain. The reason I mention it is because one of the best parts of this one is where Harry spends a huge amount of time worrying if he’s the heir of Slytherin. What I love about that is not just the friction it creates in the story where everyone (including Harry) is wondering whether he’s evil, but how it resolves with him proving his Gryffindor credentials once and for all. Even better, it undermines Voldy’s view of the importance of lineage (in fact, people who’ve read the rest of the series know exactly how it came about), because he has the capabilities to be the heir of Slytherin. And yet he chooses not to- in the wise words of Dumbledore: “It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities”. As far as I’m concerned, this is exactly right and is the perfect message– if only it had stuck with that *sigh*.
But rather than getting bogged down with what is to come, I have to say that this is quite possibly my favourite of all the books (though it’s pretty hard to choose). Yes, it may be spine-tinglingly scary at times, but there’s something to be said for a story that has me on the edge of my seat from beginning to end. Frankly, as grim as it gets, it reminds me why nothing makes me happier than books.
Rating: 5/5 bananas
So what do you think of Chamber of Secrets? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this one!