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HARRY POTTER AND THE CHAMBER OF SECRETS - 1998
by J. K. Rowling
Illustrated by Mary GrandPre
HARRY POTTER AND THE CHAMBER OF SECRETS is J.K. Rowling's second book in her Harry Potter series. If you haven't
heard of this series now, after five books, three movies, billions of
dollars, and millions of happy fans all over the world ... well, I think
you need to get out of that basement of yours a bit more often.
As can be
gleaned from the title, the focus of the tale is Harry Potter - the young
orphaned wizard raised by his callous non-magical aunt and uncle in the
normal non-magical world, but now learning about his own magical heritage
at the school called Hogwarts. This time around, Harry and his friends
must uncover the truth behind the mysterious Chamber of Secrets, while
at the same time pass all their classes and avoid the malicious Professor Snape.
Once again, we are shown the wonder of a world of magic, a world Harry himself is
not yet accustomed to. We share his wonder at flying cars, and magical
duels, at trees that whomp, and giant spiders that talk. There's even
a phoenix named Fawkes, who every so often burns up only to be reborn
of its own ashes.
Yet unlike typical fairytale settings, this magical world is not perfect - it is
a world filled with very human people, with very human flaws. In Rowling's
world, magic is never the simple solution to real human problems.
One example of the hidden problems in the wizarding world is the existence of house
elves. House elves like Dobby (whom we meet in the
very first chapter) are servants, magically bound to serve a certain
family for all their lives. The problem is, not all wizarding families
are good families, and not all house elves would willing serve these families
- if they had the choice. But house elves have no choice - they are bound
to serve, as their children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren
will be bound to serve, until they are either dismissed or they die. House
elves are considered so sub-human, they aren't even allowed to wear real
clothes - in fact, receiving clothes from the master sets a house elf
free from bondage.
Harry's world is not at all the happy-go-lucky picture most fairytales would have you
believe. The pawnshop of Knockturn Alley, the haughty arrogance of Lucius
Malfoy, the blatant prejudice of the old "purebloods" over others,
even the unbelievable over-excessive boasting of Gilderoy Lockhart - all
these points show that Harry's world is infinitely more complex than any
But in the course of the story, Harry isn't always as shocked and appalled by some
of these dark revelations as we'd perhaps like him to be. But then, he
is just a young boy. And he does have a lot of other things on his mind
- like the mysterious attacks on his schoolmates. Or the "riddle"
of Tom Riddle. Or the continuing malice of Professor Snape. Even the annoying
antics of Gilderoy Lockhart - an unmitigated ass who loves being in the
spotlight. What with all these things and more to contend with, it's understandable
that young Harry to miss the deeper implications of such things.
Like most youngsters, Harry isn't one for deep introspection - he's mostly concerned
with there here-and-now. Even so, during the course of his adventures,
Harry comes to question himself: he often feels confused about his identity,
about his destiny, and wonders if he's made the right choices. Dumbledore
at one point reminds Harry that it is the choices made thus far by Harry
himself which have forged him into who he today. At the same time, Rowling
is reminding the reader of that very same fact - it's our choices in life
that forge our identity.
That's the real magic. 3 BookWyrms
This review copyright 2004 E.C.McMullen Jr.
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a quick aside, I think we all know someone like Gilderoy Lockhart.
Even though he quite obviously knows nothing about anything, he
manages to somehow gain the approval and even admiration of many
- much to the annoyance of everyone else. Gilderoy's very name implies
something "gilt" or "gilded," as in covered
with a thin layer of gold to give it the appearance of being made
of gold. Gilderoy would like us all to think he's pure gold, but
we can all see he's not.