Welcome to Comfort Reads: where I talk about re-reads and what I’ve learned on second (or twelfth) encounters.
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling
some facts & opinions
- publication year: 1999
- movie release date: 2002
- age of my first encounter: 9
- favorite moment left out of the film series: The Deathday Party. In the book, Harry, Ron, and Hermione attend Nearly Headless Nick’s Deathday Party. Harry does it as a favor, since Nick got him out of serious trouble with Filch (which, incidentally, is the moment Harry discovers that Filch is a Squib, an important detail that makes people think Harry is Slytherin’s Heir). Not only is the whole party hilarious in a morbid way, it’s also the reason that Harry, Ron, and Hermione end up at the scene of the first attack on Halloween.
- favorite magical object creature introduced: Fawkes the phoenix. Can we just talk about how amazing Fawkes is for a moment? The fact that Harry’s loyalty to Dumbledore calls Fawkes down to rescue Harry, that Riddle/Young Voldemort doesn’t even take Fawkes seriously but he ultimately saves the day a million times over. If I were a magical creature, I’d be a phoenix: loyal to the end, constantly rebuilding myself out of the ashes of my own destruction, able to heal with my tears. Fawkes is the real hero of The Chamber of Secrets, folks.
- best supporting character: Dobby. It’s impossible to read Book 2 without thinking about Dobby’s part in Books 4-7. When he’s first introduced, he seems like such a nuisance, but he becomes not only pivotal to the plot but also a source of inspiration. Dobby shows just how strong small folks can be, no matter how downtrodden, no matter how manipulated and controlled by your society.
- best professor appearance: Gilderoy Lockhart. Oh how I loathed him as a 9-year-old. He was always just popping up, saying asinine things, and then not doing anything helpful or productive. Now, I just find him hilarious. I think we all know a version of Lockhart: that person who’s constantly boasting, who thinks he can do no wrong, that nothing can touch him. He’s the guy who thinks he controls everything, only to find out that he can’t remember his own name. I sincerely love that line at the end, when he’s lost his memory, and he’s all, “Am I a professor? Goodness, I expect I was hopeless, was I?” Even in his fuddled state, he finally admits that he sucks. Brilliant.
- best Dumbledore quote: “You will find that I will only truly have left the school when none here are loyal to me. You will also find that help will always be given at Hogwarts to those who ask for it.” (Ch 14, p.264).
I have to be honest: The Chamber of Secrets was never my favorite. I don’t remember reading it the first time, and each successive time I want to whack Harry and the gang over the head and yell, “Pay attention to Ginny, you guys!” It’s been several years since I’ve read Book 2 of the series, though, and I definitely have a better perspective.
“What have I always told you? Don’t trust anything that can think for itself if you can’t see where it keeps its brain?” (Mr. Weasley)
The Chamber of Secrets is nearly impossible to re-read without recognizing the hints that are dropped throughout of what’s happening to Ginny. In fact, as I read this book for what feels like the millionth time, I found myself wishing for an alternate version of the story from Ginny’s perspective. She becomes one of my favorite characters later on, but I sincerely related to her in a weird way throughout Book 2. She’s the youngest of the Weasley’s and the only girl—so while she’s surrounded by people, she’s also incredibly lonely. I remember being a young girl and feeling like I had nowhere to turn, no one to trust. As idiotic as it is that she trusts Riddle’s diary with her darkest secrets, I can understand her motivations completely.
There’s something that happens again and again throughout the Harry Potter series that I think deserves attention here: the theme of it’s never who you think it is. In Book 1, the gang thinks that Snape is trying to steal the Sorcerer’s Stone. In Book 2, they think Malfoy is Slytherin’s Heir. This is the suspense tactic that gets lost when it’s rushed, and Rowling does a great job of convincing you along with Harry and friends.
The Chamber of Secrets marks the beginning of Harry’s self-identification process, particularly as he relates to Lord Voldemort. Slowly, Voldemort morphs from the evil guy who killed Harry’s parents to this mortal enemy based on principle. This is the beginning of Harry’s insistence on setting himself up in opposition to Voldemort. At first, it’s just “well, I’m in Gryffindor,” but then in Book 2, Harry discovers that he’s a Parselmouth, and his worst fear at this point is that he is, somehow, related to Salazar Slytherin. Harry—a boy marked by love, filled with courage and bravery and self-sacrifice—has one great, but unstated fear: that he will succumb to the dark side of magic.
At this point, not knowing what the re-reader knows about Harry’s unique relationship with Voldemort, Harry doesn’t understand why he has some of Voldemort’s abilities—and he hates this about himself. I love the moment between Harry and Dumbledore at the end (as I love all of their end-of-book conversations, honestly). It’s the moment when Dumbledore first discloses part of Harry’s connection with Voldemort, and it’s the moment when Dumbledore points out the most important difference between the two:
“It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.”
This series is so important for kids/young adults and I think it will prove timeless. Yes, it’s an adventure/fantasy story, but even more than that, it’s a story about the struggles of growing up: learning who you are (and who you don’t want to be), grappling with a certain amount of self-loathing, dealing with other people’s perception of you, and, ultimately, deciding what’s worth fighting for in your life. Even after nearly two decades, it’s such a wonderful journey to read.
What are your favorite moments from The Chamber of Secrets? Let me know in the comments below. And in case you missed it, check out Part 1 of my Revisiting Harry Potter series.