Sunday, June 14, 2009

May Book Review - Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

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I did actually finish reading this book in May, but I haven't gotten around to posting it until now. There's no reason in particular for this, I've just been Internet lazy lately. :)

I have always considered Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets to be a little bit different from the rest of the Harry Potter series. It is perhaps the most self-contained of all the books. The story it tells seems to be separate from the main mythology of the series. Although it still deals with the same characters and Harry once again thwarts Voldemort in the end, it just feels different.

Perhaps this is because the plot of this novel deals with a Voldemort from the past - with a memory preserved in a diary, waiting to return to full power. Voldemort is Tom Riddle here. He is the student at Hogwarts that would eventually grow up to become the most feared dark wizard in the world. In effect, this is an entirely different Voldemort from the one we met in The Sorcerer's Stone. I wonder if the real, flesh and blood Voldemort was aware of the events going on at Hogwarts in Harry's second year. I also wonder what would have happened if Harry had failed to defeat him in the end of the book and the memory of Voldemort had come back to life. Would there have been two Voldemorts then, or would they have somehow combined to return the original Voldemort to full power?

I believe my feelings on this novel are based on this concept of the "memory" of Voldemort as the main villain. It doesn't feel like events are moving forward because Harry is busy fighting the past. Once this book is over it doesn't seem like anything has changed position from the first book. We don't get any updates on the current status of Voldemort and we don't learn to much more about most of the interesting characters such as Harry, Dumbledore and Snape. Of course, we do learn quite a bit about Voldemort's past, which is a good thing. We also learn a lot about Hagrid and establish the very beginnings of Harry and Ginny's relationship.

Rowling ties this book in with the rest of the series by eventually revealing that the old diary Voldemort's memory was hidden in is a Horcrux - a small piece of his soul that could be used one day to bring him back to life should he be defeated. These horcruxes play an integral part in the rest of the series, so it turns out that Harry's adventures in the Chamber of Secrets are of major importance. Even with this tie-in, I still feel that this novel doesn't quite fit with the rest of the series. In spite of that, I still feel that this is a tremendously good novel and I enjoyed reading it very much. It was just a bit different from its fellow books.

We get some real gems in the way of new characters in Chamber of Secrets. We get to meet Dobby, the interminably cute house elf and Gilderoy Lockheart, the criminally narcissistic Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher. We also get Colin Creevy, a somewhat overenthusiastic first-year Gryffindor. These three characters are written with brilliant comic flair, making them some of the most entertaining people in the series.

On the darker side of the novel, we meet Draco's father, Lucius Malfoy for the first time. He is tremendously evil and we begin to understand that he is most certainly still a faithful follower of Voldemort. From this, we can assume that Draco is as well. Lucius is one of my favorite characters in the books simply because he is so incredibly good at being bad. Slippery and suave, this guy manages to wiggle out of everything and start a lot of trouble. He's pretty good looking too, at least in the movies.

This novel is also good for introducing creatures. We get to meet an acromantula named Aragog (one of Hagrid's pets of course), Dumbledore's pet pheonix Fawkes, and the basilisk. There are some tremendous action and fighting scenes concerning these creatures. Perhaps that is why this book in particular translated to the big screen so well.

One feature of this book that I particularly enjoyed was learning a little bit more about Slytherin House. The storyline concerning the Heir of Slytherin and the Chamber of Secrets were quite interesting. Since Slytherin is too often portrayed as the generic "bad house," I enjoyed breaking away from that a little bit and learning about their mythology. As a reader I tend to gravitate toward the evil characters in books, so naturally I enjoy learning more about characters like Draco and Snape and Slytherin in general. I prefer my villains to have a bit of depth and if I could make one complaint about the Harry Potter series, it would be that the Slytherin characters are sometimes just a little too stock. People usually have more motivations for being evil beyond just "I'm in Slytherin, so I have to be a jerk." This is why I particularly like Snape. Now there's a complicated guy.

Well, this review has dragged on long enough, so I suppose I should finish it up. I loved this book the first time I read it, and I continue to love it today. It doesn't seem to fit into the series as well as the others do for me, and it isn't my favorite out of all the books, but it is still better than 90% of everything else I've read lately. I give it 4.5 slimy socks out of 5.


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