You know, if nostalgia was going to cloud my judgment, you’d think I’d like Chamber of Secrets better than I do. It was the first of the Harry Potter books that I bought myself. I remember it really vividly – the Books-a-Million was still open then, and I was young enough that it was a bit of an adventure to buy an expensive hardback all by myself (sheesh, I was a weird fourteen-year-old), and I showed it off to everyone once I got it home, though since none of them had read Harry Potter yet, nobody cared. Except my mother, because she had been pushing for us to read these books for ages and we all said no because we didn’t like the covers, so she felt smug. This was also the only one of the Harry Potter books that I read out loud to my little sister. I used to read out loud to her all the time, and there was a bit of unpleasantness about the first Harry Potter book, which she bought and finished reading herself when I was still in the middle of reading it to her, and I was like OMG YOU HAVE BETRAYED ME….but we enjoyed reading the second one together. It’s her favorite of the books. The little freak.
In Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Harry gets a warning from a wee house-elf (Dobby, I grew to love you, and your heroism caused me to cry many tears later on, but you did not grow endearing until the fifth book or so) that he mustn’t go back to Hogwarts this year because terrible things are going to happen. Darling naïve Harry, little do you realize that any year you spend at Hogwarts is a year in which terrible things are going to happen. Bless your heart. Anyway, being Harry, he disregards this and goes off to school anyway – home is pretty terrible – and as predicted, terrible things do happen, to the tune of nearly-fatal attacks on students who are not of pure blood. There’s some kind of terrifying monster loose in the school! It’s killing Muggle-borns! It’s very terrifying! (Though these are still the innocent days before J.K. Rowling started in with the blood bath, so none of the good guys actually die.) It’s all mysterious and has something to do with a set of similar events that went down at Hogwarts fifty years ago, almost causing the school to close.
I love the expansion of the pure-blood half-blood theme that you see in this book. It’s something that runs throughout the entire series and peaks in the seventh book, and I think Rowling handles it quite well. “Blood traitors” hasn’t been introduced as a phrase yet, but I keep thinking of it, and I find it a pleasing epithet to look forward to. You see an unpleasant side to the Minister of Magic Cornelius Fudge, another of those things that will come into play in subsequent books. Quidditch is always fun, and Harry, the poor little sausage, has his first major incident of everybody at school really loathing and fearing him. He’s more victim-kid about it at this point, than furious-adolescent-on-the-angry-rampage like he is in the fifth book, but we all know what’s coming. I love the anagram with Tom Marvolo Riddle (yay for anagrams!), and the climactic confrontation in the Chamber is my favorite of Harry’s first three encounters with Voldemort.
Yet in spite of all these positive points, in spite of my extreme nostalgic fondness for the experience of this book, it remains my least favorite of all seven books, and I’m pretty sure the Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher is to blame. Wretched, wretched Gilderoy Lockhart! I’m willing to entertain the notion that this reaction is attributable to my tremendous love for Lockhart’s successor, Remus Lupin, next to whom everybody suffers by comparison. Just – just – Gilderoy Lockhart just ruins everything for me! I am never fond of him, he is always irritating, it is completely his fault that Ron and Harry have an awkward moment that embarrasses poor dear Neville in the fifth book, he’s aggravating and he never gets better and I just hate him! Even when they made this book into a movie, and it was Kenneth Branagh and he was hilarious, I was still way more annoyed than amused. Ugh. I’d almost rather have Umbridge.
(I almost published this post before realizing I couldn’t leave this alone. I wouldn’t really rather have Umbridge. Ever. She’s awful, and she’s mean to Lupin. Of course I do not prefer her to Lockhart. Just wanted to clear that up.)
I remember before the sixth book came out, J.K. Rowling kept doing interviews and saying that the second book was going to be very important to the plot of the sixth book, and I was expecting there to be some devilish twist on the events of the second book that would cause me to regard it in a whole new light. That so didn’t happen. The second book is important to the sixth, but not in a cool way. I also remember being very annoyed, upon finishing the second book, at the notion that Harry and Ginny were being set up to be together. After reading the sixth book, I revised my opinion on this, but now that I’m back to Chamber of Secrets, I can really see Past Jenny’s point. Dobby and Ginny: Acquired Tastes.