Books We Force on our Friends: Sophomore Slump? Edition

American version

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets - US version

As I’m typing this, I’m sitting on the beach in New Jersey, keeping an eye out for Snookie or The Situation (yes, I am actually at THAT Jersey Shore). My other job is to discuss the second Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (Bloomsbury 1998 and Scholastic, Arthur A. Levine Books 1999), for our series Books We Force On Our Friends.

Here’s the quick story of my intro to Harry & his world – I discovered the books after Prisoner of Azkaban was published. A friend’s little sister was reading them and lent me the first 3 books – I read them over a weekend & my obsession began. I’m now a crazy fangirl, who will be wearing her Gryffindor house sweater to the midnight release in July in Georgia.

I think for many HP fans, Chamber of Secrets is their least favorite of the series. While it isn’t in my personal top 2, I think CoS gets written off too easily – there is a lot of compelling stuff in here!

To start, I think this book is where JK really starts establishing the tone, tropes and themes that the rest of the series builds upon, starting with darkness. CoS deals with some serious subject matter from the get go. The first time I read the section when Harry hears the mysterious voice threatening to kill and stumbles upon the words written in blood on the walls, I got a chill. Giant snakes who can kill you just by looking at you? Creepy as crap. The various attacks where no one is safe (not even a ghost), dueling lessons, and the revelation of continuing class warfare reveal a much more complex and frightening wizarding world than we knew in Sorceror’s Stone.

I love this darkness and complexity – I think it’s what makes the HP books so compelling for people of all ages. JK has created a world so deep and thoroughly imagined that you can practically roll around in it and CoS is where she really starts digging in. And SO MUCH important stuff for later in the series gets established here! It’s kind of staggering when you look back after DH and realize just how much JK set up in this slim volume.

I felt very intensely for Harry in this book. I was a loner at that same age and often felt isolated in school, so his sadness & frustration rang really true for me, even as an adult. But what moved me even more is his desire to prove that his heritage (potential heir of Slytherin) will not determine his future. This is a point that JK pushes repeatedly throughout the series – that your actions, not your birth, are what defines you. I love that idea.

Speaking of destinies, our first look at teenage Voldiepants is a chilling one. It’s hard for me to imagine being that cold, calculating and bloodthirsty at 16 years old. His ability to shape events even as a shadow within a book is pretty incredible. When he brushes off Ginny’s fading life force and focuses that intensity on Harry, you can see how easily it must have been for him to become the monster of Lord Voldemort.

Final terrifying touch…GIANT TALKING SPIDERS. That scene when Aragog tells Harry and Ron that they are fresh meat for his children and hundreds of spiders come crawling out to try and eat them?? Ugh, nightmare fodder.

Ok! So beyond the serious (and horror) stuff, there is a lot of humor in this book! Oh, my dear pretty, stupid, obnoxious Gilderoy Lockhart – your dazzling smile and giant lies charmed the pants off of middle-aged housewitches and teen girls alike. I LOVE that Hermione had a giant crush on him. It shows her vulnerable and romantic side, plus, her doodling hearts with initials? Adorable! Whose Trapper Keeper didn’t feature some of those?

I also loved the Ford Anglia. The car becoming alive and living feral in the Dark Forest just tickled me – it also reminded me of a character in one of my other favorite series, the Young Wizards by Diane Duane. The first book has a living Lotus Espirit that I think would have been best friends with the Ford.

There are so many other things I could talk about here – the first time we hear the term Mudblood & its implications, house elves and THEIR implications, Justin Finch-Fletchly establishing himself as the pompous ass we know and love. Suffice it to say that Chamber of Secrets is a whole lot more important and worthy of respect than most HP fans give it credit for. So I’ll get my copy of Wandering with Werewolves and doodle Mrs. Gilderoy Lockhart on it with pride.
– Anastasia


3 responses to “Books We Force on our Friends: Sophomore Slump? Edition

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