21 December 2007

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

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets Harry Potter can’t wait to begin his second year at Hogwarts. Dobby the House Elf has other plans, insisting that Harry needs to be rescued (‘rescued’ here meaning ‘kept away from school’). It’s only thanks to the Weasley brothers and a flying Ford Anglia that he manages to return at all. When he does there’s more adventure waiting, starting with a pugilistic willow tree and followed by murmurs in the walls, writing on the walls, a mysterious diary, hordes of spiders, and students being literally petrified. All Harry, Ron, and Hermione know is that these things have something to do with the Chamber of Secrets; on the one hand supposed to be mere legend, but on the other said to have been opened once before. Naturally they try to solve the mystery - when they’re not busy dealing with homework, Howlers, house elves with misguided good intentions, and the new Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher: the vain and chronically inept Gilderoy Lockhart. Along the way they discover more about Harry’s nemesis, Lord Voldemort, and learn why Hagrid hides his wand in his umbrella. Then a stroke of bad luck leaves Harry and Ron to face the Chamber and its contents without Hermione’s brain to help them.

I read this in a single day (the last book before starting to study for my exams, which means I read it nearly seven weeks ago. But better late than never, right?). In hindsight this was unfortunate timing; it meant that by the time I reached the end of the series I’d forgotten a few things that left me dishing out mental head slaps at the plot turns I really should have seen coming. (And just in case there’s anyone yet to read The Deathly Hallows, that’s all I’m going to reveal about that.) Back to book two: just as much fun as its predecessor, although I, like Ron, could happily have done without the close encounter with hordes of giant spiders. *shudder* There’s more of the darker side of magic here, including an inadvertent detour to the creepy Knockturn Alley and Harry’s discovery of the significance of his ability to communicate with snakes. I can’t help wondering about the name of the Dark Arts shop Harry accidentally finds himself in, Borgin and Burkes; is the resemblance between Borgin and Borgia intentional? And is Burke a reference to the infamous Burke and Hare? Given Rowling’s habit of having fun with names, perhaps. I also wondered how they managed to unpetrify Nearly Headless Nick; how to you give a ghost an antidote? Not, I’m guessing, with any assistance from Gilderoy Lockhart; his magical talents lay elsewhere. He was one of my favourite characters; shallower than most puddles and stumbling from one magical disaster to the next.

The only thing that really detracted from the book was the presence of a couple of errors. At one point, Tom Riddle was described as Salazar Slytherin’s only remaining ancestor. Unless Tom has managed to outdo even Nicolas Flamel in longevity, that should be descendant. The other slip may well have been Lockhart’s and intended as a subtle clue, but to me it was still distracting: referring to the city of Wagga Wagga as a village.

Rating: A-

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I've read the book some 10-15 times and I still managed to miss that "ancestor" mistake. I wonder if that was intentional.

Btw, Wagga Wagga must be the name of the werewolf, not the city. Maybe the werewolf was from Wagga Wagga, but chose to trouble only a little village. ;-)

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Header image shows detail of A Young Girl Reading by Jean-Honoré Fragonard, c. 1776