Potter-thon Mark II: Chamber of Secrets

Dark things are happening during Harry Potter’s second year at Hogwarts, as the fear that the Heir of Slytherin has opened the infamous Chamber of Secrets – letting loose a beast that threatens the lives of many young students at the school – plagues the minds of everyone present.

My feelings regarding the Chamber of Secrets novel are very similar to the feelings I hold for the film adaptation; summed up in one easy word, that is simply “filler”. It’s enjoyable filler, yes, but certainly filler nonetheless. But one of the things Chamber of Secrets gets right is that even though, when you stop to think about the story and what’s happening for a minute – just one brief minute – and you know perfectly well it’s 90% filler, it feels important. You become involved enough in what’s going on that the fact that ultimately a great deal of the story is pointless really means nothing at all. A bunch of attention on the Weasley family serving as filler? Yes please.

Speaking of those marvelous, red-haired fellows, the Weasley family gets bucket loads more attention in Chamber of Secrets than they did in Sorceror’s Stone. If you liked Fred and George in the films (or, more appropriately, Gred and Forge?…. Or is that reference old now?) then you will love the plentiful scenes we’re treated to with them in this novel. We also see more of another brother (I rhymed!), Percy, the most un-Weasley of all the Weasleys by far, who, while generally okay, can also be irritating with how much of a stuck up ass he is. Considering I’m pretty sure this is what Rowling was going for, however, I suppose she succeeded with his character at least. I have to wonder if we were ever supposed to actually care about the fact that his “mysterious twist” alluded to throughout the entire novel (and when I say entire novel, I mean ENTIRE NOVEL! Until the last page of the freakin’ book!) was that he has… a girlfriend. Um. Okay. Cool? It seems his girlfriend was someone who we were supposed to know by the time we found that out already, but obviously since I can’t even remember her prior relevance to the plot, she’s such a minor character that it doesn’t really matter.

Oh, we did get this wonderful highlight out of that entire plot, though:

Is it something about the Chamber of Secrets? Have you seen something? Someone acting oddly?” Harry asked.

Ginny drew a deep breath and, at that precise moment, Percy Weasley appeared, looking tired and wan.

If you’ve finished eating, I’ll take that seat, Ginny. I’m starving, I’ve only just come off patrol duty.”

Ginny jumped up as though her chair had just been electrified, gave Percy a fleeting, frightened look, and scampered away. Percy sat down and grabbed a mug from the center of the table.

Percy!” said Ron angrily. “She was just about to tell us something important!”

Halfway through a gulp of tea, Percy choked.

What sort of thing?” he said, coughing.

I just asked her if she’d seen anything odd, and she started to say -”

Oh – that – that’s nothing to do with the Chamber of Secrets,” said Percy at once.

How do you know?” said Ron, his eyebrows raised.

Well, er, if you must know, Ginny, er, walked in on me the other day when I was – well, never mind – the point is, she spotted me doing something and I, um, I asked her not to mention it to anybody. I must say, I did think she’d keep her word. It’s nothing, really, I’d just rather -”

Harry had never seen Percy look so uncomfortable.

What were you doing, Percy?” said Ron, grinning. “Go on, tell us, we won’t laugh.”

Percy didn’t smile back.

Pass me those rolls, Harry, I’m starving.”

I mean… come on. Look me in the eyes with a straight face and tell me your first thought upon reading that was not either sex or masturbation. You can’t.

As with the Weasleys, there’s a lot of attention devoted to other characters, as well, really making you realize just how much development many of the other characters lacked in the film when they had a considerate amount in the book. Or, well, maybe that’s not quite right. In the Chamber of Secrets novel, I suppose few characters outside of the main three and their friends/family are given any solid page time (okay, Dobby and Lockheart do too, but you’re going to have to wait until later for me to cover them.) it still felt as though there was a much larger cast than in the film adaptation. You witness plentiful dialogue from various students about what’s going on at the time in the novel, with loads of juicy gossip to be found (I guess even if the Harry Potter world is cooler than ours all around, there are still highschool cliches to be found) but in the movie, you see less of that. Things are simply much more smaller (but really, I’m not saying anything here that hasn’t already been said). As if things had been squished into a tiny little matchbox. But if that’s the case… Where are all the matches?! 0_O (if you actually get that reference/joke, I will love you forever. But I digress.)

Where was I? Wasn’t I originally going to talk about characters with that paragraph? Hmmm…. Maybe so. Or maybe I was going to talk about… pie. Yeah. I like pie.

Moving on.

Back onto the subject of characters, let’s discuss Dobby and Lockheart for a moment (or, well, many moments. Or maybe only one moment if you’re a robot and can read this whole review in a millisecond. Heh…. then it would be a milli-moment. Heh heh.). If you kept up with my previous Potter-thon, you’ll know that – at least in Chamber of Secrets – I found Dobby to usually be so annoying I would gladly strangle the life out of the little demon if I could have. Is he any different in book form?

Well… simply put, no. He’s not. At all.

Despite that, I actually find myself bearing him much better than I did in the movie version. This is probably because I was prepared for the annoyingness this time around having already seen the film, whereas when I watched the movie, I was caught off guard and painfully slapped across the face with a cold, hard dose of stupid. It would probably work the other way around, too – someone reading the book then seeing the films – though I’d certainly be interested to hear from someone who experienced the opposite of what I did whether or not that’s true.

Lockheart was… Well, he was Lockheart. What can I say about the wonderfully assinine magician that no one but his fan girls like? He’s the Chris Angel of Harry Potter (MIND FREAK!). He’s thoroughly unlikable, yes, but you can’t help but get some enjoyment out of his character simply because he’s just so cheesy and flamboyant.

One thing I did notice was that this time around, things were more complex with the villains of the book. Yes, we still had people like Snape who were pretty cut and dry in that they’re certainly not the protagonist of the story, but then we have people like Ginny. She certainly did some very villainy things; after all, she had a major part in all of the chaos. But she wasn’t able to control herself; this was Voldemort, AKA Tom Riddle’s, doing, plus everyone knows that at all other times Ginny is a very well behaved character (she usually doesn’t write ominous messages in blood on the walls). It’s things like this that, while not the deepest, most complex story twist ever featured in a fantasy series, make Chamber of Secrets just a bit more three dimensional than Sorceror’s Stone.

With Chamber of Secrets being the first sequel in the Harry Potter series, Rowling was faced with the challenge of having to recap the events of the first book in an unforced, smooth way. The reason I bring this up is because… Well, let me just put it bluntly. J.K. Rowling, if Chamber of Secrets is any indication, sucks at exposition. She really does. Let my pull another quote from the novel to emphasize my point.

Some rich builder and his wife were coming to dinner and Uncle Vernon was hoping to get a huge order from him (Uncle Vernon’s company made drills).

Right. Read that sentence a couple of times if you have to, just to really take in the forced exposition. Mmmm. The taste of bad writing. Now, let’s take a look at how that sentence could easily have been improved.

Some rich builder and his wife were coming to dinner and Uncle Vernon was hoping to get him to buy a huge order of drills made by his company.

See what I did there? I wrote a relatively smooth sentence without the choppiness that accompanied Rowling’s way of writing it. It wasn’t difficult. I’m not complaining endlessly about this one sentence either; you find this sort of writing countless times during the course of the novel, and it’s very choppy. Yes, Rowling has a very unique writing style that I will fully admit I enjoy the charmingness of, but there’s a point where you cross the line of your own style and just get into lazy writing territory, and it’s not just with the exposition – it’s also with how often she glazes over things so she doesn’t have to give detailed descriptions and can just mention things in a general, easy sense. Lazy, lazy lazy. *shakes scolding finger at J.K. Rowling* Tsk tsk.

And of course, there are still plenty of things that didn’t make sense. Like with Sorceror’s Stone, reading the novel version of Chamber of Secrets has not cleared up every single thing that made me go, “Hmmm. Really?” with the film. Take the spiders, for example. There were constantly spiders near where people were petrified, but it took two twelve year olds to see that? Not even a teacher could be reasonably observant? Shouldn’t they have official crime scene investigators come in and inspect the “crime scenes”? Where are the wizard FBI?!

While I did enjoy Sorceror’s Stone a bit more than this novel, I did really like Chamber of Secrets for a lot of reasons; there were a few new, entertaining characters added to the mix, things were less simple this time around in terms of story and villains, and while the novel is very much filler, it’s at least some very satisfying filler. The main things that bring it down below its predecessor is the plentiful amount of forced exposition, lazy writing and still numerous things that just don’t make sense (like the spiders). If you liked the first Harry Potter novel, however, there’s no reason you won’t like Chamber of Secrets as well.

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