The Very Secret (and rather evil) Diary

August 20, 2010

Watch out for that thing, Harry.

I was struck while re-reading Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by how much the Diary Horcrux reminds me of J.R.R. Tolkien’s ring.  [The similarity is, of course, much stronger with both of the later horcruxes Harry comes in contact with – the Gaunt ring and the locket – but I’ll get to them later.] The Chamber of Secrets passage that describes how Harry keeps the diary with him even after they’ve tried and failed to get any information out of it is particularly eerie:

“… even though he knew the diary was blank, he kept absentmindedly picking it up and turning the pages, as though it were a story he wanted to finish.”

I’m strongly reminded of Bilbo describing his feelings about the ring to Gandalf in “A Long-Expected Party” as “growing on” his mind:

“I am always wanting to put it on and disappear, don’t you know; or wondering if it is safe and pulling it out to make sure.”

Its nice foreshadowing.  Even though Harry thinks of the diary as a “half-forgotten” friendly figure the third person description is enough to make us, the audience, feel creepy about it.

She was really holding out on us.

I stumbled across an old interview which reveals that Rowling had originally considered calling the second book “Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince” (how funny that in the 2002 that proposed title had no meaning to anyone and was therefor not a clue of any sort) and also planned for a lot of “crucial information” (what I assume to be horcrux exposition) to appear in Chamber of Secrets but ended up pushing it to book six instead.  I read recently that each of the Harry Potter books has a pair (how if there are seven?) and while I don’t know what any of the others might be and haven’t bothered to deduce them yet I think the links between Chamber of Secrets and Half Blood Prince are pretty evident:

  • both about Horcruxes;
  • both about secret books and mysteriously revealed identities;
  • both about Tom Riddle in his youth;
  • both about memories and the truth to be found in them;

Its a Pensive.

In fact I noticed this time through Chamber of Secrets what had never struck me before: how much Riddle’s diary acts like a pensive.

The pages of the diary began to blow as though caught in a high wind, stopping half way thought the month of June.  Mouth hanging open, Harry saw that the little square for June 13th seemed to have turned into a minuscule television screen.  His hands trembling slightly he raised the book to press his eye against the little window and before he knew what was happening he was tilting forward.  The window was widening.  He felt his body leave his bed and he was pitched head first through the opening in the page, into a whirl of color and shadow.  He felt his feet hit solid ground and stood, shaking as the blurred shapes around him came suddenly into focus.

And later the process is very similar when Harry first encounters a pensive in Dumbledore’s office in Goblet of Fire.

Harry bent closer his head right inside the cabinet. The silvery substance had become transparent; it looked like glass.  […]  He leaned even closer, tilting his head, trying to see. The tip of his nose touched the strange substance into which he was staring.  Dumbledore’s office gave an almighty lurch.  Harry was thrown forwards and pitched headfirst into the substance inside the basin but his head did not hit the stone bottom.  He was falling through something icy cold and black.  It was like being sucked into a dark whirlpool.  And suddenly Harry found himself sitting on a bench at the end of the room inside the basin, a bench raised high above the others.  He looked up at the high stone ceiling, expecting to see the circular window through which he had just been staring, but there was nothing there but dark solid stone.

Harry even recognizes the similarity (something I must have skated right over):

Once before, he had found himself somewhere that nobody could see or hear him.  That time he had fallen through a page in an enchanted diary right into somebody else’s memory and unless he was very much mistaken, something of the sort had happened again.

Its interesting to me that although Slughorn’s attempt shows that memories can be modified (however clumsily), Riddle doesn’t seem to have changed his for Harry; he just edits and and lies about the contest.  He seems to show Harry his real memory of framing Hagrid.  I wonder why.   He certainly lies while writing to Harry as anyone might suspect after that disingenuous, “You don’t have to take my word for it.  I can take you inside my memory of the night when I caught him.”  A likely story!

If, as I’m speculating, Riddle’s diary is a sort of pensive,  does it work in the same way that Snape used it to store memories he wanted completely removed from his own head, however temporarily.  That is, does Voldemort still have access to the memories he placed in the book or did he put them into it and then walk away.  I wonder if Riddle happened on the idea when looking for a way to rid himself of his childhood memories of life in an orphanage and the connection of his muggle past that he hated.

What does it all mean?

I’m finding my self very interested in the early information we have on horcruxes this time around.  I’d been familiar with the concept of Riddle Diary = Bad since I was first introduced to the series and so somehow even when we learned about Voldemort’s multiple horcruxes in the later books, I dint’ really mentally class this one with those.  Now I’m finding it fascinating. What does it all mean?  No idea.

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2 Responses to “The Very Secret (and rather evil) Diary”

  1. denisedthornton Says:

    Memory is such a fascinating concept. What I am reading about memory is that it is much more fluid than we like to believe. Our brains are constantly filling in the blanks for us so smoothly that we really don’t know what is real and what is Memorex.


  2. […] The Very Secret (and rather evil) Diary « Lost Between the Letters both about Horcruxes; both about secret books and mysteriously revealed identities; both about Tom Riddle in his youth; both about memories and the truth to be found in them; Its a Pensive. In fact I noticed this time through . […]


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