Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J. K. Rowling

J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets is the second book of the Harry Potter Series. My commentary on the first book,Harry Potter and the Philosopher's  Stone is here.  In this novel, Harry returns to Hogwarts and some other magical places for his second year of school. This time around, an ancient and secret chamber of Hogwarts has been opened and a mysterious creature that dwells inside it is menacing the students. Harry’s best friends Hermione and Ron are back along with the nasty Draco Malfoy, Headmaster Dumbledore and gamekeeper Hagrid, just to name a few. In the end, while flawed, and not as groundbreaking as the first book, this was still enjoyable for a lot of reasons

Like the first series entry, I found that this book was entertaining and fun. It is also full of Rowling’s creativeness. It is also very funny. 

I should also mention that I found  these first two books weak on characterization. Many of the characters, such as Hagrid, are fun to read about but are not even a little complex. There are hints that there is some depth to Harry’s persona as well as the persona of seemingly malevolent professor Severus Snape. However, these are only hints and I would have liked this second book a lot better had the characters been further developed. With all that, this lack of characterization is no worse then is exhibited by other "genre writers" that I have read and enjoyed  such as Issac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke or Larry Niven. Yet the works of all off these authors are often called classic. I think that when it comes to a certain type of fantasy and science fiction, this flaw is fairly widespread. In the end, it is not stopping me from enjoying and getting a lot out of books by Rowling or these other authors. 

Once again, I am not going to try to do a complete review or analyses of this novel; I am instead going to write a few words about one aspect of the book and the Harry Potter phenomenon that I find interesting. In my previous blog, I talked about how I thought that many readers related to The Harry Potter Series because it depicted a young person who was special but unrecognized and who eventually found recognition for his specialness. After reading this book, another reason that this series is so loved comes to mind. It is something exemplified in this second novel. Several people, all adults, have told me personally that they wanted to attend Hogwarts. In addition to the colorful characters that populate it, there is something about the physical description of the structure and surrounding areas that draws readers in. 

Hogwarts itself is described as an enormous castle. It is so large that students who have attended it for several years sometimes still get lost. It is filled with secret rooms, passages and multiple dungeons. There is an elaborate banquet hall where dozens of students and professors sit to eat lavish meals. There is a library filled with ancient and mysterious books on magic.  Adding to the appeal, Harry and Ron often sneak around at night exploring. This is a place that I, too, would love to explore. 

At one point, Harry enters a mysterious hidden room, the Chamber of Secrets of the title, 

“He pulled out his wand and moved forward between the serpentine columns. Every careful footstep echoed loudly off the shadowy walls…The hollow eye sockets of the stone snakes seemed to be following him. More than once, with a jolt of the stomach, he thought he saw one stir. 

Then, as he drew level with the last pair of pillars, a statue high as the Chamber itself loomed into view, standing against the back wall. 

Harry had to crane his neck to look up into the giant face above: it was ancient and monkey-like, with a long thin beard that fell almost to the bottom of the wizard’s sweeping stone robes, where two enormous grey feet stood on the smooth chamber floor”

As the above quotation illustrates, Rowling's description of rooms and passages tend to be interwoven with the characters' physical movements through these places. She also describes the character’s feelings and physical reactions, as Harry’s “jolt of the stomach” highlights. I find this technique to effectively put the reader into the scene itself. I credit this with much of the popularity that this series has garnered.  I would quibble just a bit, however. In the above passage as well as throughout the first two books, I find the description to be a little too sparse. I would prefer more detail. This lack of detail can be found throughout the first two books. 

The area around Hogwarts is just as appealing. Near Hogwarts is the Forbidden Forest. Students are warned away from the place as being extremely dangerous. It is indeed filled with both malevolent and benevolent creatures, including unicorns, centaurs, giant spiders and evil wizards. It was introduced in the first book and greatly elaborated on in this novel. Once again, it is a place that I would love to explore. 

Rowling has a special imagination. She creates places that touch many people. She combines descriptions of tunnels, old and mysterious rooms, trails, woodlands, mythical and fanciful creatures and objects, etc.  that creates a certain tone and atmosphere. The feel that she generates when describing these places is mysterious and even when she depicts seemingly frightful situations, that feeling is strangely welcoming. I think that these fictional places touch the psyche of many people. Thus, this seems to be another reason that these books appeal to so many people.  At the same time, all the pictures of all these fun places that the author builds are somewhat marred by thin descriptions. Nevertheless, Rowling has built a wonderful world here. 

Thus, I like this book a lot while not being unaware of its flaws. I still plan to keep reading the novels. It seems that continuing through the series will be well worth it. I still think that I may read them straight through if I do not become too fatigued with the series.  Thus far, despite some shortcomings, I have very much enjoyed the first two books. 


36 comments:

Sue Bursztynski said...

Do keep going! The books, I should warn you, become darker as they go. But hang on to your copy of Chamber Of Secrets, because a number of things mentioned in it are important later. Rowling is very much the kind of author who believes that a gun on the wall in Act 1 should be shot by the end of the play!

Lory said...

I agree the characterization and description are thin. I enjoyed the first few books, but the series started to pall on me after a while. The relentless evil was especially and increasingly boring to me. My favorite is The Prisoner of Azkaban, so I encourage you to read at least that far!

I do think there are fantasy books that are so much better - I encourage you to read Witch Week by Diana Wynne Jones, which has been called "The Anti-Harry Potter" (it's about a school you would definitely NOT want to attend -- but is also extremely funny)

mudpuddle said...

fascinating place: i think i'll move there! i note your references to thin descriptions: sometimes necessary to enhance the action? i think writers depend a lot on the reader's imagination to fill in the blanks: one of the hallmarks of a good pulp author is being able to suggest an environment in brief terms that that are then elaborated by the reader... i've been reading a lot of golden age mysteries, and E. Phillips Oppenheim was very good at this... some of his work sucks you in like a dry sponge... interesting thoughts, tx...

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Sue - I actually wrote this post a couple of weeks ago and I am now on Book 4. I do remember the films getting darker. Stay tuned.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Lory - I have actually just finished the The Prisoner of Azkaban. I will out up commentary on it in a bit. I can see hoe some of this stuff could start to read a little thin. Thanks for the recommendation. Witch Week sounds very good.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Muddpuddle. It is possible that thin descriptions help to move things along. I must pay more attention especially with science fiction and fantasy. Oppenheim sounds like a very interesting writer.

Stefanie said...

Oh I see you mention in a comment you are already up to book four. I take that to mean you are still enjoying the series. I think the characterization gets better as the books go along. Or maybe it stays the same but there is a kind of accumulation that gradually deepens the characters. I hope you had a wonderful Christmas!

Sharon Wilfong said...

Hi Brian. I'm not quite sure what the plot of this second one is, but maybe people don't like the series for the plot so much as they do for the imagination that it captures. I think people of all ages love to experience a fantasy world they would want to enter into.

My personal fantasy world includes, hobbits, elves, children and a certain Lion, and probably because Tolkien and Lewis have so much insight into human nature. No one could accuse them of creating thin personalities.

I agree with you about Sci Fi and Fantasy. I enjoyed their world building when I was younger, but now I find their characters too flat.

I'm interested to read what you will have to say about the next one.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Sharon - I may have gone a little light n the plot description as these books seem to focus on Harry running into malevolent forces that are more or less interchangeabl. I think both Tolkein and Lewis created richer worlds and they both had bigger things to say. With that, I think that Rowling had some interesting things to say about everyday things. She also created a world that has a different kind of appeal.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Stefanie - I am still happy with the series and I am in the early stages of book four. I do expect everything, including the characters to get more complex based on the films.

Kathy's Corner said...

Hi Brian, Interesting what you said about Harry Potter series being a bit weak on characterization and that this tends to happen with fantasy and science fiction novels. I wonder why that is? Tolkein's Lord of the Rings I really want to read. I worry though that it's going to be a difficult series and that for a fantasy novice like myself Harry Potter might be an easier introduction.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Kathy - The weakness in characterization is an issue with some genres. I think that Tolkien is a lot denser and his prose are more difficult then Rowling, so you may want to try this first.

I think Tolkien’s characters are more complex then Rowling’s are. But for very complex characters in science fiction Ursula Le Guin comes to mind. As does William Gibson. So does Robert Silverberg. His novel Dying Inside is a great character study.

Judy Krueger said...

I agree with your issues about character development and description. For adults, that is. Having guided 3 grandchildren into reading, with 2 successes, I learned that kids project their own imagination onto characters and they truly do not like long descriptions. I think she did that purposely for those reasons. But as the books progress at a rate of one a year, those readers are growing up and Rowling goes right with them. It was brilliant.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Judy - I guess that I sometimes forget that these books are written for young people. I am enjoying them so much and so many adults read them. I am also looking forward to the evolution of the series.

HKatz said...

I remember Gilderoy Lockhart being a highlight of this book; he's really funny. Also, his portrayal by Kenneth Branagh was one of the best things about the movie adaptation.

I like your observation of how Rowling weaves physical movements into descriptions of places. I hadn't noticed that, and it's an interesting technique.

Whispering Gums said...

I think I gave up just as the stories got more interesting - more dark as some of your commenters say here.

But, I must say that one of the appeals of the first two books was, for me, the quality of Rowling's imagination, rather than, as you say, the characterisation. By the third book when I gave up, I think I felt I had seen enough of the basic set up - the original imagination which I loved - and lost interest in how she was going to develop it. My kids told me she developed it well. I'll be interested to see what you think.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi WG - I am actually on the fourth book now. I find that while I am still enjoying the series it is getting a bit repetitive. Among other things there is just too much quidditch. Hopefully things will change a little soon.

Brona Joy said...

I think you’ve tapped into why the HP series has endured with so much love - it feeds a deep need that so many of us have - to feel special, to belong, to do something really important & purposeful with our lives.

I hope you continue to enjoy your journey 🧙🏾‍♂️🧙🏼‍♀️

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks Brona. I should have mentioned the desire to feel purposefu. I think that it is part of the equation.

Suko said...

Brian Joseph,

Thank you for your honest and insightful commentary. I've only read the first HP book, as mentioned before. I'm so impressed with the quality and quantity of this author's work! I think that her books are very creative and appealing, and I've enjoyed watching the movie versions (as also mentioned before). I look forward to reading your reviews of other books in the series.

Have a safe and happy New Year's!

James said...

Thanks for another installment in this series. I read this one while visiting my sister many years ago, but it left minimal impression on me. You note the weak characterization; that may be why I did not find it memorable.

Maria Behar said...

OUTSTANDING POST, BRIAN!!

I'm so glad you've started this series! YAAAAAY!!!!! Now you can see what all the HOOPLA is about!! LOL!!!

As for the flaws you mention, I guess I was just so much into the books, at the time I read them, I never really noticed these flaws. Lol. As you yourself mentioned in this post, Rowling has a way of immersing her readers in this WONDERFUL world that she has created!

In regards to characterizations, I would say that Rowling reveals aspects of her characters gradually, from book to book. So, the further along you go, the more you'll find out about these characters. The one exception is the Dursleys. What you see in the first novel is what you get. These characters are nasty, cruel, and very narrow-minded, and that's it. They have NO redeeming qualities, and no depth at all. As I stated in my comment to your post on "Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone" (this is the British title, btw, as you probably know), these characters might strike some readers as one-dimensional, but there ARE such characters in real life, as I can attest from my own experience.

As for Rowling's descriptions, yes, perhaps she could have been more detailed. However, as you have stated in this post, this in no way makes a reader enjoy the books in this series less.

I have only reviewed the first three books of this series, although I've read up to the middle of the sixth book, as I've stated in several replies to comments on my blog. When you get to that book, which is titled "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince", you will see why I was unable to finish it. Something tragic happens there, and I burst into tears when I came to that event. I couldn't stop crying, either.... I felt as if this were a REAL event, one personally connected to me, incredibly enough.....

I tried waiting a few days, and then returned to the book, to see if I could finish it. I was not able to. I just couldn't get past that part in the novel.... Of course, I've watched all the movies, but only up to movie number 5 -- "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix". So I have not been able to finish reading the series. I need to go back and do so, but it will be VERY hard.....

I still ADORE these books, though!! And yes, even though they do get darker as you go along. This is because of the combination of the wonderful characters, with the wonderful world created by Rowling. How many times have I wished I could be a student at Hogwarts!!! And oh, that magical library..... how I would LOVE to get my hands on those mysterious books of magic!!!

As you can see, I'm a TRUE Potterhead!! LOL. I have not only collected the books in their original hardcover versions, but also have the paperback edition in which the spines all come together to make a picture of Hogwarts itself. And I also have the first three books in Spanish. AND, as you know, I have a Gryffindor robe, plus the tie, scarf, and vest, PLUS an illuminating Harry Potter wand, PLUS an illuminating Hermione Granger wand.... You get the picture!! LOL. All I need now is to visit the Harry Potter world at Universal Studios, in Orlando, Florida. I've been trying to talk my husband into taking me there.

I'm SO glad you've entered this BEAUTIFUL, MAGICAL world, Brian!! Hope you continue to enjoy these books, and thanks for your WONDERFUL reviews of the first two!! <3 :)

HAPPY NEW YEAR TO YOU, YOUR WIFE, AND FAMILY!!!! <3 :)

Maria Behar said...

p.s. Wingardium leviosa!!!! :)

Brian Joseph said...

Hi James - There are a lot of books in the series. I find that with these types of books, it is easy for some to get lost in the haze of time.

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks Suko. I also think that Rowling is creative though I am not sure everyone agrees with that.

Have a Happy New Year’s!

So many books, so little time said...

I LOVE these books, the movies, the francise <3 ooft, I am a self confessed Potter head (as she types she drinks from her glittered Gryffindor wine glass). I plan to re read and rewatch these, loves them xxx

Lainy http://www.alwaysreading.net

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Lainy - The popularity of it all is astounding. While I may never reach the level of a Poterhead, I would not mind laying my hands on one of those Gryffindor glasses :)

The Bookworm said...

Hi Brian,
I enjoyed reading your thoughts on the second book in the series. I am guilty as well, I'd love to attend Hogwarts lol. I'd be sorted into Slytherin.
I think JK Rowling has a wonderful imagination also, the world building was so interesting in this series. She does make you want to visit Hogwarts and the places she makes up. I need to get to Universal Studios one day :)

Happy New Year!

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Naida - I actually would love to visit Hogwarts. I like the fact that you think you would go to Slytherin :)

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks Maria – Several folks have mentioned how Rowling builds her characters over the course of her books.

I agree about the Dursleys, there are those, who in real life, at least outwardly seem as bad.

I think that I kind of remember a traumatic event from the films. I think that when we get so attached to characters when bad things happen it can be traumatic. I have been disturbed by several books myself.

I would like to get to Hogwarts myself. I am really into looking at pictures of great libraries lately so the library would indeed be a highlight.

The harry potter paraphernalia that you have collected sounds so cool. Especially the wand.


I hope that you too are having a great New Year!

Paula Vince said...

I always love stumbling across reviews of the Harry Potter series (among other great books). The enigmatic castle aspect of Hogwarts does draw young readers in, and we remain hooked as we grow older. And JKR sure does have a knack of using those sensory details to keep us right in the picture. This just thickens as the books get thicker and darker. I hope you do persevere with the series.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Paula - Thanks for stopping by. A good way to put it is Rowling’s use of sensory details. I was not that young when I first discovered Hogwarts in the films. I am 51 now. But I still enjoy it all.

Caroline said...

I think I focused more on its flaws when I read it but you're right. It has many wonderful aspects. Sje really does world building parcticularly well. One would love to live in her books. I think thatt's true of most of the fantasy that I liked. I can't remmeber now but technology doesn't seem to play a role or does it? When is it actually set? It seems outside of time.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Caroline- Indeed, there are a lot of good aspects here despite the flaws. I thought that the films seemed outside of time. I am on the fourth book now and Rowling is writing a lot about how this wizarding world exists side by side with our own in the present day.

thecuecard said...

Yeah I think a lot of the appeal of the Potter series ... is the visual-ness of the stories such as the castle and the forest and passage ways etc. The detail is not too much but still picturing what she's describing is easy and alluring. I hope you enjoy the books.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Susan - So Far I am up to book 4 and I am really enjoying them.