Monday, February 20, 2012

Short Take: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets [Book 2], J. K. Rowling

This review was originally published on Pol Culture.

Taken strictly as an adventure story, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, the second book in J. K. Rowling’s phenomenally successful series, doesn’t always compare well to its predecessor, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.. The plotting is more reliant on deus ex machina elements, and the structure, particularly in the climactic sections, is too similar to the first book. But this book cuts deeper, and many may enjoy it more. Rowling builds on her satire of boarding schools and their cliques by extending it into an examination of aristocratic prejudice towards commoners. It was present in the first book, with the full-blooded witches and wizards the aristocracy and the mixed-blood and human-born the commoners, but there Rowling only touched on it. She explores it thoroughly here, with particular emphasis on aristocratic resentments in an egalitarian/meritocratic structure. The bigotry largely defines the snobbish Draco Malfoy, Harry Potter’s nemesis among the other students, and it finds expression in all sorts of repugnant ways. These include assertions of status based on lineage, contempt for the inclusive-minded, and epithets like “mudblood” (a witch or wizard whose parents are both human). It’s also at the center of the adventure story: the “Chamber of Secrets” is home to a monster whose purpose is to kill all “halfbloods” and “mudbloods” in the school. There’s more at stake in this second book for the characters, and despite the plotting weaknesses, it is generally more suspenseful than the first. The book may also be more for “young adults” than children. The climactic battle with the chamber monster is quite gruesome, and an earlier scene with giant spiders may make readers of any age squirm. There’s also a bit that older readers will likely take as a masturbation reference. (It’s ultimately revealed not to be one, but the suggestion is certainly there.)

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