Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.
The second book in the JK Rowling series about a young, orphan wizard named Harry Potter begins shortly after his twelfth birthday at the end of July. Harry lives with his mother’s sister Petunia and her husband and son, Vernon and Dudley Dursely on a quiet street in Surrey.
However, Harry is not as normal as the rest of his family, and from September until June he lives in a huge hidden castle somewhere in England called Hogwarts. Hundreds of other boys and girls live at Hogwarts too, where together they are all learning magic. Some of them are from wizarding families, whilst others grow up knowing nothing of the magical world and receive letters on their eleventh birthday telling them that those strange abilities they’ve always had are in fact impotent magical powers.
It is Harry’s second year at Hogwarts and there he has two very close friends Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger, a full blood wizard and muggle born respectively. After the shocks of Harry’s first year at Hogwarts, where he discovered that the man who murdered his parents is living, albeit a kind of half life, draining the life from others, and seeking a way to return himself back to his full health and power. This man’s name is Lord Voldermort.
In the second book we begin to gain an insight into Voldermort, as Harry, without realising it, drifts into the memories of his nemesis through an enchanted diary. Harry is not the first person to possess Voldermorts memories however, in fact Ron’s younger sister Ginny, who is in her first year at Hogwarts, has been pouring her heart out into the pages of the diary for months and the diary, disguised as a caring ear to Ginny, has been using her life to become more and more powerful himself. As Voldermort’s power has grown he has used Ginny to unleash a deadly terror upon Hogwarts, an unknown killer that seems untraceable and leaves his victim’s paralyzed by fear.
Harry meanwhile, begins to hear menacing voices, voices only he can hear and strange messages begin appearing across the school proclaiming that any student not a full-blood wizard will die and that the “Chamber of Secrets” has been re-opened.
Together, Harry, Ron and Hermione begin to investigate, trying to discover what the Chamber of Secrets is, and what could possibly be attacking the students. Whilst in one of the memories locked in the diary Harry learns that his part giant teacher and friend, Rubius Hagrid, was expelled from Hogwarts as a child for keeping a dangerous animal on the grounds. To Ron’s horror the two boys discover that the monster was a giant, man-eating spider, but even worse that he is not the one who has been attacking the students.
Eventually Hermione is found paralyzed on her way back from the library and a student is dragged into the Chamber of Secrets as one final sacrifice to the monster before Voldermort can finally be returned to full strength.
Harry finds himself, separated from Ron and their brain-washed Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher who had accompanied him, in the caverns beneath the school and facing a huge, deadly snake, with nothing but his wand and a tattered old hat.
This book is more of a mystery than its predecessor; with a real air of intrigue and uncertainty about it. Yet it finds itself in a slightly awkward position, somewhere between childhood innocence and naivety and darker teenage horror. In many places it seems a bit obvious and ham-fisted, Rowling seems to have opted for stereotypes rather than originality in these monsters and it makes it all a little contrived.
Unfortunately this is inescapable and dulls the intrigue and interest of the book, in many ways this book came too soon, when the dark side of the magical world was still too undefined for readers for it to truly be explored to the extent that it needs to be for this story. Yet it is a necessary part of the series and must be read in order to understand the following five books.
In many ways the Chamber of Secrets opens doors to aspects of the Harry Potter series that will become hugely important later on, ideas about Voldermort’s past and his soul and even his choice to hunt Harry begin to take shape and future relationships are hinted at.
However, when it comes down to it The Chamber of Secrets is most definitely the weakest of all the Potter books, the story line is predictable and the newly introduced characters are pretty stereotypical and just add to the aforementioned predictability.
The books best asset is the stuff with Lord Voldermort and Tom Riddle, the finale in the Chamber of Secrets is far better than the rest of the book; which seems to exist largely of ridiculous filler moments, like an incident with a cat hair and some polyjuice potion, rather than slowly gathering information throughout the story to build to a climax. It is a shame that more time isn’t devoted to Tom Riddle and the mysteries of Voldermort’s past, but that is reserved for later on in the series. Without it however, this book sits more in the thriller/mystery section, despite its fantastical elements, and even seated there it’s not the best book on the shelf.
It does have its positive points, of course, as the characters develop and the mysterious and fascinating magical world is built upon, getting stronger with every word. Where in the first book everything is new the second book builds on the already established understanding and really sets up the rest of series.
And, as with all the Potter books, it has a fantastic main character base, which make the whole read bearable and even enjoyable, ridiculous over-the-top incidents with flying cars and falling pudding can even be forgiven thanks to the humour of Ron Weasley and the irate madness of Vernon Dursely; not to mention it being the first time we meet the wonderful house elf, Dobby.
All in all, not the best Potter book, particularly if you don’t like spiders and snakes, but it’s pretty easy to get through and will definitely whet your appetite for the rest of the series.