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Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets: Introduction

14 Jan

We made it to Book Two, everyone!

I know a lot of readers have been looking forward to this one; it seems to be a favourite of the series for many. I can certainly see why – this book’s villain is easily the best by about a million miles, poses an actual threat, is actually scary and causes actual harm. There’s a genuine air of fear at the height of things. That’s all great, but for me personally I think this book still isn’t going to hold up. Before we even start I can think of two or three serious plot holes that make it impossible for all those lovely praiseworthy parts to ever happen in a coherent story, which is a shame.

[Mitchell adds: I’m also really curious to see how this one plays out. When I was young this was my least favourite book of the series, though some of the reasons I disliked it are strengths in retrospect: for instance, I think I didn’t like the tone, and the tension and fear that characters could come to actual harm. So looking back I think it has a lot to recommend it that I missed, and it could surprise me in a good way… but at the same time, there are also a lot of deeply problematic and stupid things that happen in this book, and most of the individual scenes I remember are infuriatingly bad.]

That said, it’s still almost certainly going to be the high point of the series [we decided in discussion we think either this book or Order of the Phoenix is the strongest, not that that’s necessarily saying much] and is probably the least awful of the seven, so let’s take a look at the two editions your writing team here are using for this, under the cut.

As with Philosopher’s Stone, they do somewhat seem to be different books…

US edition cover art:

cos-us

Image courtesy of Amazon.

This image would be pretty confusing for first-time readers with no prior knowledge of the series beyond the first book. There’s Harry, but what’s with the bird (we haven’t met phoenixes yet) and why is he molesting it? Loving the hairstyle though, Harry, it’s very ‘I just licked an electrical outlet’. Don’t think the red Superman cape is really you, though. And I never pictured the Sword of Gryffindor as a fencing blade – plus what’s it attached to?

[This isn’t anywhere near the first time I’ve seen a book do this, but it always rather irks me when the cover art “spoils” the climax of the story. It’s not strictly speaking a spoiler, in the sense that it lacks context and usually only after reading the scene can you work out what the cover was actually supposed to be, but at the same time it also leads to going through the entire story wondering wtf the cover is meant to be about. I understand the impulse, as climaxes can be iconic and have interesting imagery, but at the same time I think it’s a bad idea.]

From the back cover:

‘The Dursleys were so mean and hideous that summer that all Harry Potter wanted was to get back to the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardy. But just as he’s packing his bags, Harry receives a warning from a strange, impish creature named Dobby who says that if Harry Potter returns to Hogwarts, disaster will strike.

And strike it does. For in Harry’s second year at Hogwarts, fresh torments and horrors arise, including an outrageously stuck-up new professor, Gilderoy Lockhart, a spirit named Moaning Myrtle who haunts the girls’ bathroom, and the unwanted attentions of Ron Weasley’s younger sister, Ginny.

But each of these seem minor annoyances when the real trouble begins, and someone – or something – starts turning Hogwarts students to stone. Could it be Draco Malfoy, a more poisonous rival than ever? Could it possibly be Hagrid, whose mysterious past is finally told? Or could it be the one everyone at Hogwarts most suspects… Harry Potter himself?’

Well, that certainly sounds dramatic. I wonder if all American children’s books are hyped up this much? [I think many of them are; this doesn’t sound that unusual to me compared to what I grew up with. Of course, I also grew up with Harry Potter, so there is a hint of tautology here.]

I like the implication that Harry will bring disaster with him. That’s pretty close to the truth. The rest of this, not so much – Lockhart and Myrtle are hardly torments and horrors, and I don’t know what the line about Ginny means since she’s too shy to speak to Harry for the entire book and avoids him as much as possible. (Must be related to the way Harry assumed Hermione wasn’t speaking to him last book, when she clearly was.)

We could also argue about students not actually being turned to stone, but honestly the book never really defines what Petrifying means in this particular context, and there’s so little description that people are free to call it what they like.

I think if I’d read this summary of the story and then gone onto the main book I might have been a little disappointed. Hagrid’s mysterious past isn’t very mysterious, Draco is probably going to continue being more of an accidental love interest than a rival, and Harry being blamed would have more of an impact if it hadn’t already happened last book (and of course we know it will happen several more times). Besides, you can’t make that sound dramatic when we already know it isn’t Harry because we’re reading everything through Harry’s eyes and he’s clearly not attacking anyone.


UK edition cover art:

cos-uk

Image courtesy of Amazon.

Not much to say here, really. It’s Harry and Ron in a flying car. Awesome, cars can fly? But why are they in a flying car, the book says they’re going back to school as usual. Weird. And where’s Hermione?

[This is at least better than the Scholastic one, it’s a reasonably iconic and visually interesting scene but it comes from early in the book.]

The back cover of this edition is just a single sentence saying Harry’s a wizard in his second year at Hogwarts and he doesn’t know it’s going to be as crazy as the previous year, which is pretty unhelpful. So instead have the blurb from the UK ebook edition we’re using for this spork:

‘Harry can’t wait for his holidays with the dire Dursleys to end. But a small, self-punishing house-elf warns Harry of mortal danger awaiting him at Hogwarts School. Returning to the castle nevertheless, Harry hears a rumour about a chamber of secrets, holding unknown horrors for wizards of Muggle parentage. Now someone is casting spells that paralyse people, making them seem dead, and a terrible warning is found painted on the wall. The chief suspect – and always in the wrong place – is Harry. But something much darker has yet to be unleashed.’

I like this, mostly. ‘Self-punishing’ raises a few eyebrows, and I don’t think I like the use of ‘punishing’ over ‘harming’ because much as I loathe Dobby (and I do), the things he hurts himself over don’t deserve physical punishment. Even so, this description hints at the story without making it sound like the most exciting thing ever and it doesn’t talk down to the readers and pretend that they might think it’s Harry, and promises additional threats. Not bad.

Chapter One is being worked on and will be up at some point next week, so watch this space.

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7 Comments

Posted by on January 14, 2017 in loten, mitchell

 

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7 responses to “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets: Introduction

  1. All-I-need

    January 14, 2017 at 7:38 pm

    Ohhh the differences in cover art and your opinions on them are very interesting! Here’s a link to all the German covers, if you’re interested: http://i.imgur.com/1C3A1NP.jpg
    I love how Harry always seems to be raising an eyebrow at the audience as if to say “Who would’ve thought, eh?”

    I’m very excited for The Chamber of Secrets – it’s the one I’ve read the second most often (after Goblet of Fire, for some weird reason) and it’s been ages since I read it last, so I wonder what I may have missed. Also, I’m now wondering if I ever actually read it in English? Gosh, I wish I had my books here with me but I left them in Germany when I moved to London. Too heavy, sadly.

    I’m looking forward to your commentary, as always 🙂

     
    • Andrensath

      January 14, 2017 at 10:08 pm

      I think my favourite bit of the German covers is how big the bridge of Harry’s glasses is. I get that they’re making sure we can see his eyes, but still, making it the size of both lenses put together is a bit much.

       
  2. faktririjekt

    January 14, 2017 at 8:04 pm

    Ironically, this was my favorite movie and least-favorite book. I thought it was dull and never felt the desire to re-read it—so I’m interested to see whether I agree with you that it’s actually the best. O-O

    Never realized that was supposed to be the Sword of Gryffindor. Feeling kinda’ dumb now.

    Wondering why you hate Dobby; my impression was that he was rather annoying in this book, but became progressively less so as the series went on.

    Gilderoy I can almost see as a “torment”, but Moaning Myrtle, and especially Ginny? No. That’s just dumb.

     
  3. SR

    January 15, 2017 at 2:19 am

    I just finished listening to the audiobook for Chamber of Secrets a few days ago. The overall plot is much better than the first book. At the very least Harry performs at least one spell.

    I’ve been mostly exposed to the American covers, so I prefer the lettering and color tones over other versions. But the UK looks more interesting at the first glance.

     
    • faktririjekt

      January 15, 2017 at 2:22 am

      “But the UK looks more interesting at the first glance.”

      Agreed.

       
  4. liminal fruitbat

    January 16, 2017 at 6:16 pm

    I don’t remember re-reading this one much – even when I read it the first time I was sceptical about several basilisk-related plot points. It’ll be fun to see what someone with herpetological experience has to say.

    The blurb for the UK audiobooks is one of my favourite examples of “they didn’t read the book” – it tell us: ‘Harry is fast becoming one of Hogwarts’ star pupils – but is he perhaps so good that he is Salazar Slytherin’s heir and destined to become the next master of the Dark Arts? Harry worries that sinister events suggest he may be. And he remembers the Sorting Hat’s first terrible instinct…’

     
  5. Derived Absurdity

    January 19, 2017 at 7:33 pm

    Oh, I never said that this book was actually, objectively good! It just happens to the least terrible (and it does actually manage to have some genuinely good parts in it, which is more than can be said for any of the other books). I never expected it to hold up, and even now after several years of fully re-reading it, I can recall several terrible things about it. It has, like, a dozen scenes which were completely pointless. Most of the book is spent on dead-ends that go nowhere. Most of the plot is hinged on contrivances that don’t hold up to even the slightest scrutiny. In that sense it might even be worse than the first one. And most of all, it introduces three of the worst characters of all time – Gilderoy Lockhart, Moaning Myrtle, and Dobby. Those three people in one short book should be more than enough to damn it for all eternity – and yet, somehow, despite all that, it’s still my favorite book of the series.

    I don’t mind at all if you rip this book to shreds. It deserves it. Just make sure to give it some credit for the few things it does manage to get right. Because of the things it does get right, it gets REALLY right.

     

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