I’m on a roll! Two books in two days! I finished Chamber of Secrets this evening (and will maybe, possibly start Prisoner of Azkaban tonight?) after a lovely day of more cats, more tea, and some rain. I’m moving quickly through the earlier novels partly because they’re smaller, partly because these are the ones I’m most familiar with, and partly because I haven’t started work yet. But work begins this weekend and I have an interview for a second job on Wednesday, so I imagine that I move up in the series, I’m going to start losing time to read. So let’s revel in this while we can!
The Chamber of Secrets has always been my least favorite of the novels, mostly I think because I dislike spiders and slithery snakes in slimy dungeons. J. K. Rowling adds a lot of darkness as the stories progress, and I think this is the first indication of how deep she’s going to take us into the darkness of the Wizarding World. We didn’t know it then, but this was the first Horcrux we see, and she makes a lot of the similarities between Voldemort/Riddle and Harry, which sets us up for a lot of heartache (and a wonderful triumph) later on. Again, Rowling’s command of her world and her stories is really staggering and makes me respect her and her craft so much more each time I read these wonderful novels. I want to point out a few things again, like last time, that stuck out to me:
- Rowling gets the ball rolling with a lot of grown up material. Of course, since he’s twelve, Harry doesn’t place much consideration on the system of enslavement that Dobby and his fellow house-elves are trapped in. It’s really interesting to see how much more interested Harry is in getting Dobby away from the Malfoys, whom he hates and loves to torment, rather than on the system as a whole which binds the house-elves to their masters. Would Harry have staged an escape act if Dobby had been owned by a familiar family like the Weasleys or Longbottoms or if he was enslaved by some other unknown Wizarding family? Ron mentions that Mrs. Weasley would rather like to have a house-elf of her own, and frequently despairs of the feelings of other non-human creatures, like the gnomes. Rowling is imbedding this story with real world issues and goings-on, but since Harry is so tied up in his magical mysteries and adventures, he doesn’t spend much time considering civil rights violations — which, okay, he’s twelve and busy with school and sports — but Rowling is making us, as readers, aware of systems that operate in the Wizarding world (and our own) that the gang will have to face sooner or later, and since she early on signals us to these situations, Hermione’s attempt to act on behalf of the elves later on bears more weight and causes us to consider our own ideas on the matter in much more effective way.
- Speaking of systems, we also start to become aware of serious and familiar issues within the Wizarding community that, again, become important later on. We see a lot of prejudice in this novel, between Malfoy’s slinging of hurtful slurs, the attacks on a certain group of people, and various other forms of discrimination against others — even so small as one house discriminating against another, or the whole of the group rising up against Slytherins. There are pureblood families that seem to accept Muggle-born witches and wizards, and clearly, there are those that would rather die (or kill) than be in the same room with someone born from non-magical parents. It’s easy to stay away from those who are prejudiced sometimes, to not associate with those who hold evil values; but what happens when someone, who believed so thoroughly in the superiority of the Wizarding race that he created a secret chamber with a nasty monster inside to purge those who came from Muggle families, helped build an institution that you prize and believe is the best in the world? Salazar Slytherin was a terrible person who did a terrible thing, but he also helped to build the greatest Wizarding school of all time, run by one of the most liberal and kindhearted wizards of the age. Rowling is showing us the complexity of this systematic prejudice. The hatred of Muggle-born wizards is literally built into the school, and is so deeply ingrained into the mythology and the literal architecture of the school that no one can seem to put their finger on it. What do we do with that information? How do we keep loving Hogwarts, knowing that it was built by someone who would like to see some of our favorite characters (in fact, over half the school) murdered? It changes things. In the same way that Harry feels empowered by Dumbledore and Godric Gryffindor’s noble virtue, and can claim it as legitimate because both of those people are in authority at Hogwarts, Tom Riddle is equally legitimized in his goal to kill Muggle-born students because Salazar Slytherin was in a place of power too. Slytherin, despite it’s messy past, is just as much a part of the school as Gryffindor. Of course, we know the difference between right and wrong, and we know that it is evil to want any group of people dead because of their ancestry, but its important to recognize that this darkness that Voldemort later uses and espouses come from somewhere in history that is of some consequence.
- On a lighter note, I forgot just how annoying Gilderoy Lockhart is. I forgive him in the films because I adore Kenneth Branagh, but without Branagh’s face, Lockhart is downright obnoxious. Rowling can write an insufferable character just as well as an endearing one!
- I want to end with the beginning the novel. It is so charming how Harry falls in love with the Weasley family and their home. It really is warming to see Harry light up for those few days before Hogwarts, especially after his horrible summer with the Dursleys. Rowling sure likes to make her characters suffer, but more often than not she makes it worth something, and this time, all of the horrid treatment Harry takes at the hands of those wicked Dursley’s pays off in a big way as he gets to experience life in a wizarding home. Probably one of the most touching moments comes when Ron, showing Harry around, sheepishly admits that it isn’t much, and Harry exclaims that its the best place he’s ever been. I love this scene because so far we’d only seen Ron be ashamed of his home and his family, mercilessly mocked by Malfoy for his poverty, and generally resentful of his family’s situation, and in this moment, Ron, who thinks he has absolutely nothing of value, is told by Harry Potter, who in Ron’s eyes has almost everything worth having, that he in fact is jealous of Ron. I imagine no one has ever been jealous of Ron, and certainly not someone like Harry Potter. I really root for Ron because the older I get the more I find myself able to commiserate with him on many points, and I love this warm moment between friends.
I enjoyed this novel way more than I thought I would. I could still do without the spiders, but I liked, again, tugging on those threads that would come to play such an important role in the future. I also liked watching the friendship in the Golden Trio grow, as Ron and Hermione grew closer and Harry reflected on his feelings for the both of them. I’m excited to keep going and next up is my favorite — the Prisoner of Azkaban!
How do you feel about The Chamber of Secrets? What does Rowling get you thinking about in the second installment?