“As celebrity does:” Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

August 25, 2010

I love this book.  Its very funny and packed with ridiculous situations and characters – midnight escapes in flying cars (both from Dursley muggle-dom and from hoards of spiders), singing valentines, Lockhart in general, dueling clubs, Myrtle.  Its delightful … but its also quite serious.

I think this is the book where Harry really establishes himself as the true Gryffindor hero type.  In Sorcerer’s Stone, he and the trio in general are mostly just nosing around into things not their business.  They’re curious about the mysterious Gringotts break in, they hate their Potions teacher and imagine all sorts of things about him, they wander the castle at night and find magical mirrors and then Harry basically trips over the Dark Lord while wandering the Forbidden Forest at night.  Although the book ends with Harry bravely striding off alone to a confrontation with Voldemort it is largely through happenstance (or fate) and not much by his own intention.  His actions in Chamber of Secrets seem somewhat different.

Celebrity is as Celebrity Does

This time around the stakes are much, much higher.  Instead of beginning with an apparently insignificant news clipping, the drama kicks off with an apparently dead cat and a threat against all muggle borns.  Harry’s interest is partly piqued by the fact that he needs to clear his name but he’s also playing for keeps here – some of his best friends are muggle borns and he wants to find this Heir and put a stop to it.  The trio do go haring off after the wrong guy again but this time they do it with a little more nuance and they actually do a little research with the Polyjuice Potion to see if Draco is really their man.  Harry (and Ron) prove themselves to be heroes to me when they take Lockhart and head off into the Chamber on their own.  They know its nearly hopeless.  They know the teachers can’t handle it.  They think Ginny may be dead and that the odds are crazy.  But they have done their homework.

Armed with Harry’s parceltongue, the name and basic characteristics of the monster, the location of the entrance and a lot of nerve they go tackle the Heir of Slytherin on their own.  And they make it!  As always, there’s a lot of luck involved but it also has to do with their skills.  And it pays off – not only does Harry save Ginny, he learns valuable information about Voldemort AND destroys the first horcrux.  So for me this is when Harry really begins to earn his reputation as the boy who lived and the chosen one.

(Fun fact: this is the only Horcrux that Harry destroys himself).

Fame’s a Fickle Friend, Harry

That whole clear his name thing, by the way …  This is the first time when public opinion turns on Harry but its not the last.  He’ll be rumored to be Slytherin’s Heir, an attention-seeking magical cheater, the disturbed “Boy who Lied” and finally Undesirable Number One before the end of the series.  Its just one more of the obstacles Harry has to overcome.  It does, however usually help him separate the wheat from the chaff in the friend department.

Most Charming Smile Award

Its unfair of me to keep quoting his maxims without attribution.  Lockhart is my second favorite Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher and not only because of the excellent (unsolicited) advice he gives Harry all the time. How can you not love a guy who signs a get well card to a 12-year-old with “Gilderoy Lockhart, Order of Merlin, Third Class, Honorary member of the Dark Force Defense League, and five time winner of Witch Weekly’s Most Charming Smile Award?”  Come to think of it … how can you not love a guy who tells you about his Order of Merlin in the same breath as his Most Charming Smile Award?  He’s delightful.  Its really hard to pick my favorite moment of his but I think it probably comes down to the singing valentine he sets up … delivered by surly dwarfs:  “Oi!  I’ve got a musical message for Mr. Harry Potter.  In person.”

His eyes are as green as a fresh pickled toad,
His hair is as dark as a blackboard.
I wish he was mine, he’s really divine,
The hero who conquered the Dark Lord.

I actually sing that to myself all the time.

Hindsighting: always easy

Hindsight is always 20/20 so its easy to see on re-reads that as Harry and the Weasleys leave the Burrow and Ginny “shrieked that she’d left her diary” she’s talking about Riddle’s book and she’s already grown unhealthily attached to it.  But … could we possibly have known?

Its true that Ginny’s concern about the Chamber is seeded through the whole book: she’s especially upset about the attack on Mrs. Norris; she’s pale and wan such that Percy makes her take cold medication; she hates Fred and George’s jokes about Harry being a “seriously evil wizard” and she freaks out when she sees that Harry has the diary on Valentines Day.  But what of any of that is actually predictive.  The books are all so chock full of detail that its really difficult to know what is vital foreshadowing and what is just great background color.

I maintain that you couldn’t really begin to guess until she tries to tell Harry and Ron that she knows something and Percy cuts her off.  A particularly clever ans suspicious person might have known then.  When she’s taken into the chamber … that might really set minds whirrring.  I can’t remember what I thought about it the first time through.  Anyone else remember when they figured it out?

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