Alright, so the great HP re-read is two books down. This is easily my least favourite of the series. Even though it is aimed at a slightly older audience than the first book, it reads more juvenile. I blame it on flying cars, vomiting slugs, and a forest full of spiders. There’s more expositional set up in the first story that allows an older audience to connect. There’s something about this bookI cannot connect with. It also feels more like a boy’s story than any of the other books. However, I will admit that it is better than I remember it being and it is considerably better than the movie version.
One of the juvenile things that I eventually ended up loving was Dobby. I remember reading about the house elf the first time and thinking ‘this is kind of stupid’, but man that little guy eventually works his way into your heart. He’s kind of annoying in this book, but he’s got Harry’s best interest at heart. His involvement in the mishaps is made much clearer in the book than it was in the movie. When Dobby is finally freed from the Malfoys – it warms the damn heart.
This book introduces us to a new Weasley sibling. Okay, yes, Ginny appeared in the first book for a few short sentences, but she’s actually a character in this book. I love later Ginny, but young Ginny with her debilitating crush on Harry is positively adorable. There are even hints of future romances starting already – at this point they’re obviously not romantically involve, but there’s a bit of a spark. Rowling buried stuff that you would never notice on your first read through. A tiny bit between Harry and Ginny. His concern for her in the chamber is more intense than you might expect from a twelve year old boy would have for his friend’s little sister. It’s very subtle, but the tendrils of Ron and Hermione’s feelings for each other are definitely starting there. They begin to spend more time together throughout the story and his concern for her while she’s petrified foreshadows her place at his bedside later in the series. There are little hints throughout the book about the future of their relationship. Take that Harry/Hermione cannonbuilders. I will always love the Ron/Hermione relationship.
The best peripheral character in the book is also the most annoying – Gilderoy Lockhart. What an endlessly aggravating/entertaining twit. His self-obsession is nothing short of mind boggling. He doesn’t even see that having Harry help him with autographs is worse than a regular detention. He actually thinks that this is a fun chore. The dueling scene between Snape and Lockhart – excellent. Snape’s an absolute jerk in these first books, but the direct comparison allows you to see how stronger a wizard her actually is.
Having someone that obsessed with image teaching something as important as Defence against the Dark Arts allows the book to focus on the darker aspects of the story without getting too scary for young readers. Lockhart’s inability to actually teach the students anything provides humour (the pixies, the teachers’ reactions, etc) and strengthens the investigative skills of our main three. More so for Harry and Ron. Hermione is caught up in her schoolgirl crush on Lockhart and is distracted from a solution she may have found earlier. She doesn’t see his flaws as much as the boys do. They spend most of the book trying to sort out the mysteries– Why is Harry hearing voices? Was Hagrid guilty? Is he now? What is petrifying people? If they’d had a teacher like Lupin (introduced in the next book), they would have had support and the story would have gone very differently. Lockhart proves to the kids that you can’t always trust the people you are supposed to be able to and sometimes, you have to take care of your own.
The use of Tom Riddle as the vehicle for Voldemort was a good choice and the use of the diary was extremely clever. To have the actual man return that quickly after the first book would have felt disingenuous. Getting a glimpse into the life a young Voldemort, Hagrid, and Dumbeldore provides insight into the characters they are going to become. Hagrid will always be the one that takes the punishment in order to protect the people and creatures that are important to him. Voldemort was always self-involved – when compared to Lockhart, you see how this path can diverge into two very, very different outcomes. Both of which end with other people getting hurt for the benefit of a single person. Dumbledore… okay, my re-visit of the stories is confirming something that picked at the back of my brain the first time I finished the series but I wasn’t totally sure. I’m going to hold this until I’ve read further, but for now, I’m just going to say that Dumbledore appears to have always played favourites. Like with the house points. The points are typically 5 points a shot, occasionally 10. But he’s always throwing around 50 points here and 50 points there when the trio is involved. Come on, Dumbledore, at least try to make it less obvious.
A thing I learned by re-reading this book – the creepy face in the chamber is Slytherin’s face. I do not remember that detail from my first reading. I love the way the chamber is depicted in the movie.
A question I have now – how on earth did Ginny – tiny, eleven year old Ginny – get a ladder or something and paint and climb up and pain that giant message without anyone noticing? No one? Not even one of the ghosts? Suspend disbelief. Must suspend.
So, while I didn’t love this book, it does what second books often do, sets up stuff to come in the future. And I like the future.