Well, here it is, the second installment of my adventures in re-reading Harry Potter. Today, I wanted to talk about the second volume in the series, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. Again, I was pleasantly surprised at how well this book has aged, as well as how compulsively readable it is. It now occurs to me that it really shouldn’t have surprised anyone that this series became the phenomenon that it did; these books pull you in and they don’t let go until the very end.
What struck me anew as I read this second book was how very much of a mystery it was, in the sense of leading us inevitably toward the revelation of a deep history that was there right in front of us all along. I’ve often found that these books in particular operate on a number of textual levels; while you can certainly enjoy them as individuals and in the moment, it is only when you finish both the novel and the series that the true genius of the construction comes to light (I find this to be even more true for Prisoner of Azkaban, but I’ll get to that in my next post).
I also particularly enjoy how this novel does not shy away from the darker side of the wizarding world. Although we got a glimpse of it with Quirrel and Voldemort in the first novel, now we really get a sense of the great fissures that still exist in the magical realm, particularly concerning wizarding blood and bloodlines. Naturally, this is a commentary on the deep-rooted classism that still exists in much of British society, but it is also a potent wake-up call to any sort of eugenics movement that stresses the importance of blood. It also serves as an important reminder that even a world as seemingly halcyon as the wizarding one has its ugly parts as well.
Although Harry is ostensibly the hero and star of this book, I actually found Tom Riddle to be the most compelling part, partially because at this early stage he is still something of an enigma, both to Harry and to us as readers. We don’t yet know all of the things that led him down the dark road that he would eventually travel. What we do realize, however, is the uncomfortable similarities that exist between Harry and his nemesis. While of course, as Dumbledore reminds Harry (and us as readers), it is the choices one makes that determine one’s fate, it still is worth considering just how deeply runs the darkness in all of us, and how much we must continue to fight against our own baser natures to forge a more just and peaceful society (which seems, in the end, to be what Harry and his friends are seeking).
What really sticks with me, however, is just how much this book doesn’t answer. I am still uncertain just how much Lucius Malfoy knew about the diary that he snuck into Ginny’s possession. Certainly, he knew that it had great power, but just how much did he know of the charms that had been put upon it? After all, he was one of the most powerful of the Death Eaters and was part of Voldemort’s inner circle, so it’s entirely possible he knew that it had some greater purpose than merely being charmed. Of course, Lucius would never be so foolish as to reveal that knowledge to anyone, and it’s a testament to Rowling’s skill with he characters that she doesn’t reveal too much of his hand either. There are times, it appears, when it’s better not to know all of the information.