Please note that this review may contain spoilers for Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. You can read my review of this novel [here].
It’s my 250th review. Hooray for me! To celebrate, I think it’s about time to continue my look at the Harry Potter series. As I said in the 200th anniversary post, please note that this is more of retrospective than a true review and so there are likely to be spoilers. You might want to stop reading here if you’ve never read the book.
Anyway, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets was written by J.K. Rowling and first published in 1998. It is preceded by Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (1997) and followed by Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (1999), Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2000), Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2003), Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince (2005) and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (2007). Since then, the series has been further expanded by a sequel play titled Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (2016) and several companion books which provide further details about the magical world.
After his thrilling first year at Hogwarts, Harry finds it difficult to return to the Dursleys. Although his family are afraid of his new powers, they still find many ways to make his stay utterly miserable. As Harry’s best friends haven’t even bothered to write to him, he feels all the more isolated. Yet when Harry is visited in the night by a house elf named Dobby, he learns why. Dobby has been keeping Harry’s mail from him to make him believe that he is unwanted. The elf claims that this is because there are new dangers at the school, ones that will threaten Harry’s life if he’s to return.
Yet this isn’t enough to keep Harry from his studies. Ignoring Dobby’s warnings, he returns to school and is happy to resume to his classes. Everything seems as safe and normal as one would usually expect from a magical school until Harry starts to hear a sinister voice that no one else does. Shortly afterwards Mrs Norris is attacked and a threatening message appears on the wall, warning any muggle-borns that the Heir of Slytherin is out to get them.
As more people are attacked, it soon becomes up to Harry, Ron and Hermione to discover who is guilty. Yet things become more complicated when Harry unearths evidence that implicates one of his closest friends…
As I mentioned in my previous review, I am actually a huge fan of the Harry Potter series. I’ve read all of the books many times and would recommend them to anyone. Yet, I consider myself a serious reviewer and so I’m going to be looking at this book as critically as possible. With this in mind, I must admit that Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets is not as strong a novel as its precursor. This came as a bit of a surprise to me, as when I first read the series I actually considered it to be my favourite. While I still don’t think that it’s the worst book, I can see now why people are often so critical of this novel.
The story this time is very slow burning. While Dobby gives his ominous warning in chapter 2, the Chamber of Secrets doesn’t actually get mentioned until over a hundred pages into the novel. Between these events, the novel is largely spent retreading old ground. Harry attends the same lessons that he did in the first book and we don’t learn much more about the wizarding world. Sure, there are some new concepts thrown in here and there. We learn about the existence of the Ministry of Magic and Knockturn Alley, both of which will have future significance, but there’s no real detail to be found in this novel. The brief asides mainly just help to fill the time before the mystery plot kicks in.
That said, some of the scenes in the first third of the novel are by far the most memorable. During this lull, Harry learns how to de-gnome a garden, travels across the United Kingdom in a flying Ford Anglia and attends Nearly Headless Nick’s 500th Deathday Party. While unimportant in the greater scheme of things, this events are a whole lot of fun. Despite the lack of structure, the novel really is a joy to read and so never feels as though it’s dragging.
The mystery, when it finally begins, is once again surprisingly complex for a middle grade novel. It doesn’t take as long to build as that of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, but Rowling does make more of an effort this time around to plant clues to the true culprit throughout the story. The voice that only Harry can hear and Hagrid’s dead roosters point towards the nature of the monster, while Tom Riddle’s motivation in framing Hagrid makes perfect sense in hindsight (even though the anagram is still really stupid. Seriously, he was so determined to call himself “Voldemort” that he had to add “I am” to the anagram of his name. Seriously trying too hard).
There is still something just wholly enjoyable about the way that Rowling writes. Although her prose may feel a little unpolished in places, you really can’t fault its message. The story is steeped in wit and whimsy, filled with humorous dialogue. It’s the small moments that really help to make the world feel so warm and inviting. Like Professor Sprout equipping mandrake plants with socks and scarves to keep out the winter chill or Professor Lockheart’s office filled with portraits of himself (who appear wearing their hair in curlers at night). The primary focus of the novels is on the importance of friendship, honesty and teamwork. Really, there is no way that you can fault this.
Yet for all Rowling’s innovation, there were still elements of the plot that frustrated me. As with the first book, there were a number of points in the plot that just felt flimsy when held up to the light of scrutiny. Like why doesn’t Harry try to talk down the Basilisk, when he knows that he has previously proven that snakes obey his commands? Or why didn’t Harry offer to buy Ron a new wand? Or why hasn’t Hermione, who has been obsessively studying wizard history, never heard the term “mudblood”? In fact, the whole wizard attitude towards muggles really doesn’t sit well with me. It’s not just the Slytherins, even the Weasley family talk about none wizarding folks as though they’re all simpletons. Elitist much?
Unfortunately, the characters in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets aren’t really given any room to develop. While there is a bit more agonised soul searching for Harry (one of the big themes of the novel is Harry’s worry that he should have been a Slytherin), Ron and Hermione don’t really get fleshed out beyond how they were in the previous book. Yet every character is still vibrant and memorable. I’m particularly fond of new addition Gilderoy Lockheart. While he’s horrifyingly arrogant, his selfish desire to hog the limelight is surprisingly endearing and the chaos he constantly caused while trying to prove that he was best at everything was just hilarious. I especially loved the way that he played off Professor Snape, who clearly had no time for him whatsoever.
Wow, this review is getting long. To conclude, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets isn’t as strong as the first book but it’s still a lot of fun to read. It’s the last really light-hearted book in the series before the plot takes a darker turn and it’s loved worldwide for good reason. I’d certainly recommend it to any pre-teen fantasy fan.
Thanks again for reading, liking and commenting on my reviews. Here’s hoping that I find some gems within the next fifty books!
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets can be purchased as a Paperback, eBook and Audio Book from Amazon.co.uk