Book Review – Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by JK Rowling

Title: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
Author: JK Rowling
Format: Hardcover
Written/Published: 1999

The re-reading of Harry Potter finally continues with book two of the seven part set.

After spending most of summer at the Dursleys’ with none of the owls from his friends getting to him, the Weasleys finally liberate him in a flying car that their father had charmed.  He spends a couple blissful weeks before the obligatory Diagon Alley stop – where Harry uses floo powder for the first time solo and ends up one street over in the bad part of wizard town, where he of course sees Lucius Malfoy being sneaky and evil – and then off to Hogwarts (Hoggy, Warty Hogwarts).  Except that Harry and Ron can’t get on platform 9 ¾, and actually smash head first into the wall when they try.  With no other options, they do the only logical thing that 12-year-old boys can come up with, and steal the flying car, which they crash most spectacularly a bit before the school, and have to walk the rest of it, heavy trunks in tow. They’ve missed the sorting ceremonies, lost the car, and, of course, are in trouble even before the school year begins.

Okay, so I’m going to stop right there.  Mrs. Weasley doesn’t get on the train with Ginny.  The boys missed it by about five seconds.  So shouldn’t she have been right back out there looking for them?  Why is such an obvious plot hole missed?  Also, back to the floo thing, why, exactly, is Harry flooing on his own to somewhere like Diagon Alley?  Couldn’t they have done a test run somewhere?  And why, for somebody so into muggle studies and everything about them, doesn’t Mr. Weasley ever remember that they have to explain everything to Harry?  I’m likening the scene to telling a country boy that you’re taking the subway through New York and telling him to get off at lower Broadway without pointing out which of the many Broadway subway exits you really need.  Just guess, you’ll be fine.  *obligatory condescending pat on the head*

So back to the summary.  At Hogwarts, the new Defense against the Dark Arts teacher, Gilderoy Lockhart, is a celebrity – you know, flashy smile, perfect hair, girls swoon – and utterly annoying.  A first form, Colin, thinks Harry’s a celebrity and follows him around taking pictures and making sure to speak to him every time he sees him.

The only thing they learn in DADA is that Lockhart is an idiot, and he can’t even control the pixies that he unleashes on the class early on.  So of course, the dark arts once again attack Hogwarts, and of course, being totally unprepared, the kids have to figure it out on their own.

The attack is bizarre.  A note painted a wall of the school tells that the chamber has been open.  And the cat has been petrified, right there next to it.  Taking refuge in Moaning Myrtle’s bathroom, Harry, Ron and Hermione all set out to figure out what’s going on.

Until Hermione gets petrified, too.  And Colin, and a couple others and…

Also somewhere in there is Tom Riddle’s diary, which Harry uses to write back and forth to Tom until it’s stolen from their room.  Of course Harry doesn’t mention the theft, so the relatively simple answer doesn’t ever get explained until the very end of the book when the villain reveals way too much.

We also, at several points in there, meet Dobby the house elf, who does very little but try to repeatedly save Harry’s life, in several wonderful manners that make Harry want to just chance things.  (It’s Dobby, for instance, that stops all the letters from Harry’s friends, and stops platform 9 ¾ from letting them in.)  And Harry, of course, tricks Dobby’s owner, Lucius Malfoy, into freeing him in the end.

There’s also a ridiculous scene where the boys end up in the forbidden forest (they seem to think the word forbidden means please, come in), talking to a bajillion spiders, the two large ones, of course, trying to decide if they should eat them, even though they’re friends of Hagrid’s.  I mean, surely Hagrid wouldn’t have suggested they go into the forest if his really-creepy creature friends were going to eat them, right?  *sigh* Hey, at least we find the car that’s been missing since this point, has now gone a bit feral (is it a cat?!), but saves them, because apparently we need an action scene now, so Rowling gives us one.

And even though the book is over a decade old already, I’ll ease up on the spoilers. By the time the book is over, we’ve learned great big secrets from Hagrid, Lockhart and Ginny Weasley.  We’ve also been introduced to Mandrake, which looks remarkably like little potato people with plants coming out of their heads, and we learn that the plant takes a maturing course much like humans (when you plant the saplings, the babies cry, and when they try to move into each other’s pots, you know they’re mature).

We also get to learn a few more plot holes.  For instance, why don’t Ron and Harry visit Hermione in the sick wing any time sooner than they do?  Whenever Harry or Ron need the sick bay, their friends are always at their side as soon as they come to.  But when Hermione went, it was quite a while before they went to see her.  Why?  Besides the fact that Rowling wouldn’t have had a book otherwise, of course.

Also, why was there nowhere else anywhere in the wizarding world that they could get mandrake without growing it in the greenhouse?  Besides the fact that Rowling wouldn’t have had a book otherwise, of course.

Another question that bothers me – why don’t muggle-born Hermione’s letters ever come via post office?

In the end, of course, Harry (with the help of Dumbledore’s Phoenix), saves the day, everyone gets unpetrified, Hagrid gets his name cleared, and Harry returns back to Privet Drive, where he can be a miserable, abused child again until the next book.

So, here’s the thing.  Because the boys are doing everything they shouldn’t be doing, they miss the sorting/welcome feast, Quiddich gets canceled halfway through the book, etc.  The problem I’ve ever had is that the stories themselves are a lot of hype for an okay story, and it’s only because of the world she built that they’re so big and popular.  So in this book, we get none of the world, several plot holes, and not a lot else.

I’m only giving this a three out of five.  Don’t bother if you’re not reading the whole series.


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