Harry Potter and The Chamber of Secrets

by J. K. Rowling, 1998

Sequels are never easy to write. As J. K. Rowlingís first Harry Potter book was so highly successful, the question remained: would she be able to pull it off again in the second Harry Potter book? The answer is yes. Even I have to admit that "Harry Potter and The Chamber of Secrets" is way better than the first Harry Potter book.

In "Harry Potter and The Chamber of Secrets" Rowling has started to get the hang of writing, making HP2 a much better read than HP1. She has learned her lesson from last time, minimising the dull intro of Harry living his bizarre life with the Dursley family to only two chapters, then leaping straight on to The Burrow, the magical home of the Weasley family, taking the readers into the enchanted wizard world.

Harry is now in his second year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, where he and his friends Ron and Hermione have to solve the mystery of The Chamber of Secrets. The chamber holds a monster that is freed, allowing it to roam the school, petrifying students from muggle-families (non-magic families), and the unlikely trio has to stop it before it starts killing the muggle-born.

The story as such is well written, but like in HP1 it takes too long to get to the plot. Youíre almost halfway through the book before it really emerges. Rowling also still has trouble in limiting her long descriptive passages and in "killing her darlings". She gets too distracted by her own imagination, or rather by her version of other peopleís imagination, as again most things in the book are "borrowed" from other authors. She digresses with long tales of giant spiders, flying Ford Anglias and Deathday parties, making the book unnecessarily long. She could easily lose 1/3 of the narrative, making the book an even better read.

Besides, "Harry Potter and The Chamber of Secrets" introduces a string of rather annoying characters. The self-destructive house elf Dobby, the pestering first year student Colin Creevey, the narcissistic Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher Professor Gilderoy Lockhart and the youngest of the Weasley-siblings, Ginny, the only girl of the bunch. Ginnyís character is so easily seen through that her part in the mystery is clear as crystal right from the beginning. I know that when reviewing HP1 I complained about clues not being clear enough for readers to have a go at figuring things out, but this time it is the other way around. Itís all TOO clear!

And itís not just Ginny who is easy to see through. Rowling is still having a hard time making her young protagonists believable as they seem too young for their ages, or too old. Besides, they are frightfully one-dimensional. Draco Malfoy is purely evil, Percy Weasley is purely pompous and Neville Longbottom is purely unlucky. Even the main protagonists seem to suffer from a serious case of one-sidedness. Ron is the loyal sidekick, Hermione the high-strung know-it-all and Harry Potter himself is such a bright, brave, goody two-shoes that even when he breaks the rules itís not out of rebellion, but because he wants to be good. Itís pretty nauseating. Only the identical Weasley twins seem to have more than one dimension. Probably because there are two of them and thereby able to show more sides; Fred being brazen and extrovert, George a bit more reflective and considerate, although matching his twin in mischief.

It also seems quite strange how the usual encounter with the dark sorcerer Lord Voldemort always happens at the end of a school year. Of course it has to happen at the end of the book, but it seems a bit odd that itís always at the same time of the year. And that it always involves some magic artefact that isnít there and then suddenly is. In HP1 it was the philosopherís stone that wasnít there and suddenly turned up in Harryís pocket, this time it is the Gryffindor sword that isnít there and suddenly turns up in the Chamber of Secrets. Not to mention Voldemort himself, who isnít there and then suddenly turns up in the shape of a memory. Surprise, surprise!! Pretty repetitious stuff.

Finally, Rowling needs to get her own time-line right. Harry & Co. attend Nearly Headless Nickís 500 Deathday Party, but in HP1 it says that Nick hadnít even been dead for 400 years. That doesnít make sense. In the book it also says that Ginny has wanted to go to Hogwarts ever since her oldest brother Bill went there. But Bill is 11 years older than Ginny and thus went to Hogwarts for the first time the year Ginny was born. Iíve never heard of any other kid wanting to go to boarding school straight from the womb!

Well, at least Rowling has her narrator in place this time, a totally implicit narrator that doesnít raise its ugly explicit head like in the first volume, where the nameless narrator made "funny" comments on the progress of the story.

To conclude: I like "Harry Potter and The Chamber of Secrets" a lot better than its predecessor. But there is still a long way to go before Iím going to hail Rowling as a wonder writer. The Potter universe is magic, yes, but itís mostly borrowed from other books, and the actual writing needs to be better still. But Rowling is getting there, so who knows. By the end of the series, I might join the gang of Rowling-worshippers??

Three out of five stars: ***

@ Lise Lyng Falkenberg, 2001