So begins my disjointed look at Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling, the second book in the series. The one that I read that J.K. had some of the most stress over, worried it would not work another time. It does, but with some catches.
J.K. takes a big risk here by bringing the terror of racial lynching to our characters lives. For most books, just bringing up the topic by having a vile person spout slurs would be considered daring, with a dash of after school special morals thrown in to make it all better by the end. This does not happen here. The viciousness of the topic is brought up and permeates the entire book, and it’s stench sticks around right to the bitter end of the series. No pat resolution is offered. And combined with the uncertain terror of these racial attacks, which are designed to kill, J.K. is telling her audience the awful truth. Hatred exists, no matter what special abilities you possess, nor how rich you are, this virulent strain of nastiness can infect anyone.
To push the issue further, J.K. subtly slides into the story the concept of slavery. Dobby’s antics as an enslaved house elf are sometimes played with light comedic outcomes, but his self-torture because of perceived disobedience is heartbreaking. The hows and whys of the house elf’s history is never explained but only partially referred to, but their power to topple their unjust wizard owners is obvious. But they stay subjugated. Of the uncounted multitudes of house elf’s shown throughout the series, only one, our friend Dobby, is happy with being liberated. Despite Hermione’s efforts later in the series, this reality does not change. No easy answer for this problem.
The final good part that really stuck to me was not revealed till the end. The alienation of Ginny from all those around her, unnoticed by everyone, becomes a major point at the conclusion. A first year student, with plenty of older siblings, all in her house, but she is still so alone. A magical diary talking back to her, giving her a much needed soothing, is very much the equivalent of caring strangers on the internet. Ginny seeks solace where she can find it. And that is sad.
As for the bitter medicine of criticism I must now dispense, it relates to how J.K. has to shape the plot. With every book she has to find ways to extend the story to fit over the course of a year. Results here are mixed, but the majority of the time her ideas work and work very well. In this instance, she concocts a ridiculous plan to trick information out of Draco by using Polyjuice potion. The plan is over the top in bad Ocean’s 12 style, and when Hermione states the potion takes a month to ferment, my eyes rolled. A convenient way to allow time to pass by. My one sore spot in an otherwise glorious series.
Now that Harry, Hermione, and Ron have saved the day again, the stage is all set for a more mature tale to inhabit the series. With age comes more danger and intrigue and family history to explore. And Hagrid getting a well deserved promotion.
P.S. Harry Potter is copyright 2012 to J.K. Rowling. Her newest book, The Casual Vacancy, is due out on Thursday, September 27th, 2012.