Friday, May 15, 2015

harry potter book club: the chamber of secrets

Welcome to the Harry Potter Book Club's discussion of The Chamber of Secrets! And a very happy birthday to the one and only Professor Pomona Sprout, who may very well be the unsung hero of this entire book.

(If you're new, make sure to jump back and take a look at our review and discussion of book 1, The Sorcerer's Stone.)

Let's get started!

A New Year...
a new debacle for Harry Potter. This debacle just happens to be a bizarre little orb-eyed elf named Dobby. Let's talk about Dobby for a second. I must confess that I can't help feeling incredibly frustrated with Dobby, as Harry does. While his intentions are pure and his little soul is desperately trying to help, he's quite exclusively a pain in the tuckus at this point. Blocking Harry's mail, smashing Petunia's pudding, sealing platform 9 3/4, trying to (not) kill Harry with a rogue bludger, giving him totally useless hints. What did you think of Dobby? Did you like him despite yourself?

(SIDE NOTE: So did no one else notice that insanely rogue bludger in the Quidditch match? I feel like maybe Quidditch should be a little more fail safe. Since every viewer is magic, how is it that Quidditch matches aren't constantly tampered with by the spectators in the stands? No one seemed to really notice, care about or put a stop to Harry's rogue broom in the last book, either. Considering what Harry has been through in only two seasons of playing, it's a mystery how the death toll is so low in the history of the sport.)

I think the biggest relief of Harry freeing Dobby in the end (awww) is that their conversations can be a bit more straightforward from now on; less head smashing.

are especially significant reading these books the second time around. There are a few key introductions that happen in this book that are pretty momentous throughout the series. As we've already discussed, there's Dobby, who has a great arc throughout the series and does (spoiler alert) return to save Harry's life once again.

Then there's the Burrow. Is there anyone in their right mind who wouldn't want to live there? When Ron is first showing Harry around, and he's all self-conscious about it, and Harry's just like, honestly, this is the best house I've ever been in, and Ron's ears turn pink. Gah. Best friendship.

While we had technically already met Ginny Weasley, this book is basically her I have arrived party. Sure, she spends most of it it strangling roosters and putting her heart and soul into a dark and dangerous diary, but she gets better later. She's only 11, after all. Kids be kids.

Then there's Tom Riddle. This book provides us with the first of many glimpses into the origins of Lord Voldemort. It's chilling to see Harry so easily trusting Tom, allowing us to see firsthand how Voldemort manipulated and betrayed so many people even in his youth.

There's also floo powder, which LOL, Harry is the worst at using.

Gryffindors Are Brave
but they're also kind of brash and thoughtless. They plunge on without taking stock of all of their options. Sometimes it suits them very well and even saves lives - but other times, like when they steal an enchanted Ford Anglia and fly it into the school's Whomping Willow, it does not. This is seriously a perfect example of foolhardiness a la Gryffindor. I adore McGonagall's first bemused question to the boys: Why didn't you just send us a letter with your owl? Oh. Right. Well...I suppose that would have been an efficient alternative. I'm a Hufflepuff, so maybe I'm biased, but there's a difference between bravery and showboating. Them Gryffindors be crazy.

(SIDE NOTE: This book shows how Ron and Harry have influenced Hermione - that Gryffindor-ness is spreading. It's the first time we see Hermione actively and willingly pursuing rule-breaking. That Polyjuice Potion idea was all hers, and even though she ended up turning herself into a cat, we all love her more for it.)

The Blue Ford Anglia
wins the award for best character, by the way. Hands down. I love Ron's assertion when they come across the car again in the Forbidden Forest: the forest has turned it wild. Major props to Arthur Weasley for a Grade A enchantment on this car-beast that drives in and owns Aragog's entire family and whisks the boys, and Fang, to safety. I love this plot twist more than I can possibly say. It certainly saved Hagrid a lot of grief, because can you imagine how terrible he would have felt if his buddy Aragog and his chillins devoured Ron and Harry? I certainly hope the boys took the time later on to tell Hagrid please don't send humans to hang out with Aragog ever again. That conversation isn't in the books, but I imagine it happened and it was fierce. I also imagine a lot of high-pitched incredulity from Ron. Follow the spiders? FOLLOW THE SPIDERS?

Ultimately I don't know how the Anglia managed to adopt these heroic traits, but its apparent sentience is my favorite thing.

freak me the heck out, guys. They're like regular babies, who grow up and get acne and throw parties in the greenhouses. You know they're mature when they start trying to fraternize and move into each other's pots! And then they're cut up and used for juice. Does this disturb no one else? Hm?

But okay. All of that aside, Professor Sprout has gotta win something, too. Maybe her and the Anglia are tied for best. Sprout is the one that single-handedly raises the freaky children of the soil and restores all of the petrified students to full health. She's a greenhouse boss.

Although it does strike me as incredibly fortuitous that Sprout happens to have a batch of mandrakes in progress at the beginning of a year when students are petrified and happen to be in need of mandrake juice (BLECH). Is it good fortune, or is it Dumbledore? That is the question.
Mmhmm. I SEE YOU, Dumbledore.

Oh, How the Tides Turn
as soon as you're a Parseltongue. It's amazing how quickly the student body decides to turn on Harry, despite his great deeds to the wizarding world (foiling Voldemort twice already in his young life) and the fact that he's only 12 and relatively new to wizardry as a whole. Rude. I do appreciate that the students that originally blamed Harry for the attacks came back and apologized later. I can respect that. Although Ernie Macmillan is still kind of a dummy.

Probably one of the biggest revelations at the end of this book is that Harry speaks Parseltongue because Voldemort does. Basically it's possible and very likely that Voldemort transferred some of his abilities and powers to Harry when he left him that lightning scar. It's a sliver of information that continues to chisel away at Harry (and the reader) as the books continue. What does this connection really mean? How far does it go?

Having Siblings Challenges You
to be a better person, but sometimes it's also just a challenge. This book contains a lot of sibling dynamics, most of them Weasley oriented of course because there are so many of them.

I cringed every time this book mentioned George and Fred teasing or purposefully scaring Ginny throughout her first year at school. She was having nightmares, and was increasingly distraught over the Chamber attacks (which, in hindsight, poor girl!). The Weasley twins weren't exactly helpful, even though they were ignorant of her real problems. I also cannot stand Percy. Where did he come from? How is he a Weasley? He's the worst.

A book clubber posted on our group page about how touching this particular passage was, when Ron helps Harry change into his pajamas in the hospital wing after Lockhart removes all of the bones from Harry's arm. I never would have thought of it this way, but she was right in saying that this is a very sweet scene. Growing up with Dudley as his single brother-like connection means that the support, kindness and closeness that Harry experiences with Ron, who grew up with a ton of brothers, means more to Harry than Ron would probably ever realize. Harry never had siblings or parents to help him change or care for him when he was injured (or rescue him from a barred window at the Dursleys). This demonstrates a degree of comfort with another person that he's never really known before. It's his first experience with brotherhood.

Lockhart the Grinning Villain
is one of the best examples of people that I love to hate. While his role is endlessly obnoxious, and I echo Harry's dread every time Lockhart shows up, I agree with another HP book clubber who said that he's a very weak, very frustrating person, but is also very funny and not totally unsympathetic. The revelation that he stole the heroic stories from other witches and wizards by wiping their memories isn't all that surprising. But the resulting twist with Ron's backfiring wand, which was broken at the very beginning of the book, is the best. I think Lockhart's end is rather fitting, and I giggle every time I think about him flying, witless, out of the Chamber on the tail of Fawkes the phoenix - Amazing! Amazing! This is just like magic!

Speaking of villains, this book has a lot of them. The obvious is Tom Riddle, an encapsulated 16-year-old Voldemort out to wreak havoc and attack muggle-borns. Then there's Gilderoy Lockhart, and the slimy Lucius Malfoy, who is arguably the real cause of the year's catastrophes. He's the one that owns the diary and sneaks it into poor Ginny's cauldron before school begins. SUPER satisfying to see him thrown back by his own unintentionally freed house elf at the end. His son Draco is equally terrible, rising to new heights of awfulness by targeting Hermione with cruel names and death threats.

(SIDE NOTE: how adorable/sad is it when Ron jumps to Hermione's aid when Draco calls her a mudblood? He ends up spewing slugs for the rest of the chapter for his trouble, but he still deserves a badge for kindness and courage. I lurv him.)

Draco is particularly nasty in this book. We also can't forget the eternally grumpy Argus Filch (how did he get a job there, though, really?) and the horrible Peeves the poltergeist.

For those of you who have only seen the movies, Peeves is new for you! I actually really like him, because he typically only shows up when something interesting is going on. He's not truly on anyone's side, which occasionally makes him an unexpected ally. I kind of secretly enjoy his antics.

BONUS: please tell me someone else noticed that Peeves happened to drop a very large black and gold vanishing cabinet over Filch's office? No spoilers for future books, but...that's how it was broken!!

Loyalty to Dumbledore
comes with some major props. For the most part Dumbledore is a grand mystery, and I always feel like he's just eternally winking because he knows everything but doesn't like to say so, but he always comes through when he's needed. I adore the relationship between Fawkes and Dumbledore. Who knows how they met or how long they've been together. I love the way that Harry meets Fawkes though -- the bird explodes into flame during Harry's very first moments in the headmaster's office. It's hilarious but was probably pretty terrifying for the poor boy. Sir, your bird exploded.

The appearance of Fawkes at Harry's time of need is incredibly important - so is the sword of Gryffindor, of course, because it finally answers the question that has been haunting Harry from the start: should he have been a Slytherin after all? But Dumbledore is king and always drops the wisdom. It is our choices that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.

First of all I want to thank you. You must have shown me great loyalty down in the Chamber. Nothing but that could have called Fawkes to you. 

Hagrid Deserves Better
than a broken wand and a shattered reputation. I saved this point for last because for me, it's the most egregious. What strikes me is that Hagrid never tells Harry (or anyone, it seems) about what happened in his second, and last, year as a student at Hogwarts. He was wrongfully expelled, and he knows he's innocent, but he accepts his position at Hogwarts and Dumbledore's faith in him to be an acceptable trade off. Hagrid is a good man, but this is very hard for me to believe.

If you are born a wizard, how is it possible that the only chance you have of ever using your magic (which is a part of your identity, it's inseparable from you) is graduating from a magic school? I feel like being expelled shouldn't really be an option. And if it is, you should definitely be able to finish your education somehow. Surely there are tons of silly 11-year-olds that have gotten into trouble and been expelled, but is that really fair to doom them to an entirely magic-less existence?

In this book, this is the second time in 50 years that the Chamber of Secrets has been opened. The Ministry somehow still thinks that Hagrid is to blame, so he's sent to Azkaban prison. Of course the Chamber has nothing to do with him, and eventually the basilisk is killed and the mystery is finally solved for good. My first order of business would be to clear Hagrid's name, not only fetching him (with bowing and scraping and apologies galore) from Azkaban but also granting him a full pardon and giving him his wand back to finish school. He should have hopped right back in as a third year. He could have been Harry's classmate! Why did this not happen. 

Extra Questions:

  1. What was your favorite twist? Moaning Myrtle, Ron's wand backfiring on Lockhart (and Dumbledore saying, Oh! Impaled on your own sword, Gilderoy!), Fawkes and the sword of Gryffindor, the Anglia saving them in the forest, Ginny Weasley opening the Chamber, Tom Riddle being Voldemort, slimy Lucius Malfoy owning the diary, Harry freeing Dobby...
  2. Who's your least favorite character in CoS, and why? Gilderoy Lockhart, Draco Malfoy, Lucius Malfoy, Moaning Myrtle, Argus Filch, Percy...
  3. Why is Draco the worst? Does he honestly want Hermione dead, or is his bark worse than his bite? Did you ever really think he was the Heir of Slytherin?
  4. How quickly did you connect the disembodied voice of the Chamber monster with Harry's ability to speak Parseltongue? No wonder no one else could hear it! Also, why couldn't Hermione have at least yelled BASILISK before running off to the library?
  5. Do you think Dumbledore purposefully hires Defense Against the Dark Arts teachers that are evil and/or terrible? Maybe he knows they'll somehow challenge Harry to grow as a wizard. He does have a great sense of humor. He totally knows everything that's going on, I'm convinced. He can see through Invisibility Cloaks. I SEE YOU, Mr. Dumbles.

Well, I think that wraps up this month's discussion of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets!
Thanks so much for joining us. Share your thoughts below, but be careful of spoilers if it's your first time reading through this series, because there are bound to be a few. If you have read them/seen them before, please try to only respond regarding plot points from this book and avoid series-wide spoilers. Thanks!

The new review will be here on the blog next month, on June 27th, to celebrate both Dobby and the glorious Matthew Lewis (Neville Longbottom), who share a birthday.

See you then!

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  1. One of my life goals is to marry one of the still-available Weasley brothers, any one of them, so that I can live at the burrow, or at least spend Christmas there every year. Yes, haters, I would marry Percy. Read the last book. ;)

  2. Your life goals are on track, Tess! I gotta say that Percy ends up being a favorite of mine as well - Rowling does such a great job of redeeming even the most unlikely of fellows. ;)

  3. THE VANISHING CABINENT!!!! Mind. Blown. How did I never notice that before!?

    Speaking of the Malfoy's, I absolutely love the end when Harry helps set Dobby free. It's so gratifying for Lucius to not only get caught but to unwillingly release Dobby from servitude. Jumping way ahead *spoiler alert* I find it so interesting how different Dobby and Kreacher are. Kreacher is older but they both served the same type of family. You never hear Dobby say anything bad or hateful about people and he certainly doesn't have an issue with wizards who aren't of pure blood.

    I wonder when Voldemort created the journal? They're the memories of his youth but I can't imagine he was creating horocruxes at Hogwarts. I don't know. Maybe he was and that was the first? It's so hard to not think ahead to how everything relates in later books!

    Also, I watched the movie recently and I don't think it really did justice to the chamber. Rowling's language was so vivid and I was disappointed by the way they designed it. It just wasn't how I envisioned it. I loved the entrance and how they finally put it together that Myrtle was the girl that was killed. And as annoying as Lockhart is, knowing how he ends up is sad. Rereading the book makes me just feel sad for him.

    The Burrow is my absolute favorite part. I love the Weasley's. They're the greatest.

  4. RIGHT!? I seriously gasped when I was reading and had to tell Dusty. The vanishing cabinet in BOOK 2. That blows my mind. She had so many tangled webs to weave, the genius.

    And that's a really great point - how in the world did Kreacher end up so polluted? Granted, it seems like he was relatively well treated by his creepy master, he was obsessed with her. Dobby had no reason to see the Malfoys in a positive/twisted light of gratitude or obsession. We don't have any background on either house elf to know how they ended up with their vastly different moral compasses.

    We know Voldy was asking about horcruxes during his time at Hogwarts...but I can't imagine he was already making them. The journal is his 16-year-old self though, so maybe he did - or at least was able to convert his actual journal from that time into a dark object, with his memories and thoughts. What I really want to know is how Lucius ended up with it, and how he decided to give it to Ginny. I wonder if Lucius wrote in the journal, and he and Tom came up with the plan together!? That'd be wild.

    I was thinking about that a lot while reading, about Myrtle's bathroom even and the entrance to the Chamber. It's much different than the movie. I think that's probably my favorite twist from this book - Harry finally remembering, in the middle of the night, that Aragog mentioned that the girl had died in a bathroom - and that maybe she had never left. MYRTLE!

  5. I had never noticed the Vanishing Cabinet either! But sometimes I wonder about things like that--had Rowling already worked out the full significance of the Vanishing Caninet when she was writing book 2, or did she just use the phrase because it sounded cool and then later think, "Ohhhh, that Vanishing Cabinet would be a great plot device"?

  6. I think about that all the time - she seems to suggest that when she was first inspired to write the series that she basically knew the entire plot outlines of all 7 books in that first sitting. It all kind of fell together. But the details like that, the importance of the vanishing cabinet later on and the casual mention of it in this's either coincidence or extreme cleverness.