The ramblings of a freelance writer, novelist and avid reader.

Monday, August 31, 2009

HP Monday - The Chamber is Open

It’s time to start talking about Harry’s second year at Hogwarts!

What are your thoughts on the first few chapters of book #2? Back at the Dursley’s in the real world – do you take this as a beginning place – before the rabbit hole, wardrobe or tollbooth so to speak…I guess this would make platform 9 ¾ the portal into the wizarding world? It’s kind of a twist on the proverbial door into another place (sorry, I have a small obsession with liminal “in between” places) – both worlds co-exist; some people just choose not to notice.

Book 2 definitely has a message. I feel that if JK Rowling wrote this book further along in the series, many critics would call it self indulgent…sometimes I don’t really like critics. Book 2 is very much a book of classes and racism – muggles, pure blood wizards, “mud-bloods”, rich wizards, poor wizards, “squibs”, famous wizards, smart wizards, red wizards, blue wizards – oops I got carried away there at the end. Let’s not forget house elves as servants and the perceived – or real – differences between the school houses (and their founders)…oh, this class difference has been going on for a very long time in the magic world. Of course, there is the always present good vs. evil wizardry and magic.

I’ve got to be honest, book 2 is not my favorite (that’s book 3 actually), but re-reading it this time with my blog-eye perspective I think I’ve just been disgruntled. I mean shouldn’t wizards be smarter than us muggles? Their world is as messed up as ours! Yes, Ms. Rowling I get it; your books aren’t just an escape away from life, huh.

A little more on theme: The friendship thread is still prevalent. Harry seems to think his friends aren’t behind him at the beginning, but they Ron and the twins come to rescue him from the mundane muggle world – in a flying blue car. I do remember my friends rescuing me from groundings by pretending we were going to the library to study – but instead we went to a movie or out with more friends – pretty sure my mom always knew these were breakouts, but she let it happen anyway. There was never a flying car though, that would have been something.

After his breakout, Harry ends up at the Burrow – which is just about one of my favorite places in Rowling’s world! It’s a real home, no matter how small or pieced together it is. This has a lot to do with how much the Weasley’s embody good and true wizardry – yep, another theme: family togetherness. Wow, there’s a lot to talk about in this book.

I’d like to also touch on all of the misjudging or prejudging going on here – gosh there’s plenty of it – and it’s coming from every which way possible. For instance, right from the beginning the Ministry of Magic thinks the magic happening at the Dursley’s is caused by Harry – shouldn’t they know better? And just how powerful is Dobby’s magic? Why ARE the house elves servants to wizards? I see more foreshadowing here. If there are all of these different classes for wizards – imagine how they treat other magical creatures and beings that AREN’T wizards…


  1. I finished Chamber of Secrets a few weeks ago so I'll comment on the whole thing. I hope that doesn't ruin it for some of you.

    I do like that all the books so far (I'm reading Goblet of Fire now) start at the Dursley's. There is something zen about always starting at the same place. Plus, it puts me in the mindset to sympathize with Harry again. Yes he left Hogwarts a hero in June, but here he is again reduced to a mere muggle suffering under the weight of the Dursley's close-minded oppression. I feel it makes Harry's escape to Hogarts that much sweeter and uplifting. Ahhh, he can finally be himself again! It's also a reminder that Harry is maturing. Each year Harry puts up with less from the Dursley's and stands up for himself a little more.

    While the themes of class separation, racism and slavery are ugly subjects, I think they do help make this magical world more real. Real life has problems and people who create problems. Solving those problems requires hard work, knowledge, ingenuity and bravery. If there wasn't some sort of trouble or angst we'd be in Disney World. Not to rag on Disney – I'm a big fan – but Rowling is trying to create a believable realm just beyond our muggle perception. A place that will capture the interest and imagination of those who know pixie dust and a song won't fix everything.

    When I read this book I viewed it more as a historical background not only of the magical world but of Voldemort himself. Once I was finished, I was left with the feeling that many themes from this book will come into play further along in the series. We will see.

    It's interesting that Tom Riddle/Voldemort is himself a "mud-blood" but is deluded enough to consider himself worthy enough to try and carry out Salazar Slytherin's agenda. I suppose it takes that mindset to become an evil sorcerer. What else created Voldemort? Was Tom filled with rage because he was teased for being a mud-blood? Did he desperately desire loving parents? Did he feel all alone despite the friends he supposedly had?

    Sounds familiar doesn't it? Like Harry, I see several similarities between Voldemort and himself. Is nurture (another parental theme) the difference? Harry knows that his parents loved him. Tom's father abandoned him and his mom died (I think) leaving him in the dubious and apathetic care of the state. Harry has Dumbledore and Hagrid (and others as we get further into the series) looking after him. Did Tom have caring adults to influence his life? Harry has true friends who help him through thick and thin. Did Tom have friends like that or did he have friends because he intimidated them like Malfoy? Do the houses of Gryffindor or Slytherin have an impact on what a person becomes?

    I found myself growing more curious about Dubmledore. He was the suspicious teacher (like Snape?) while Tom was at Hogwarts, he's dropped some meaningful hints to Harry, and he seems to intervene on Harry's behalf often. I hope to extrapolate on that more later. What are your thoughts? Or can't this be commented on this early without giving plot lines away?

    One more thing until next time. I too escaped my house in my friend's classic blue (convertible) car that he snuck out from under his parent's noses in the wee hours of the night. While it didn't achieve altitude it definitely flew! Didn't even think about it until you made the correlation in this blog. Thanks for the happy memories!

  2. I absolutely agree with you.

    1) Harry and Tom Riddle are similar in a lot of ways. What's the difference that ultimately separates the good from the evil? Is it really as simple (or complex, depending on your take) as free will? I'm not sure - we'll discuss this in a blog post further on in the series though - I made a note.

    2) Riddle/Voldermort is very Hitleresque in this book especially - so much hate for humanity - so much hate for himself, for his weaknesses that he sees as the muggle side of him.

    3) Dumbledore IS interesting. At first he appears to just be the wise old man/mentor archtype - and I think he is; but there is a darker side...and apparently a more flamboyant side too. With this read of the series, I've definitely been paying a lot of attention to Dumbledore, I think this may be something we discuss more in depth later on in the series as well. If only because he confuses me, but I've only read the last three books once each.

    Wow, what a lot to think about!

  3. I'm finally on the computer! Here we go.

    I was fascinated in Chamber of Secrets with the dichotomy of the giant spiders, or acromantulae, who seem destined to do nothing but ill; and the phoenix, which is wholly good. We also have the enslavement of the basilisk by Riddle (and before him Salazar Slytherin?) versus the enslavement of the house elves. The juxtaposition is an interesting one, and I am sure intentional on Rowling's part. What conclusions can we draw from this? I have always been troubled by the fact that Hagrid is SO indiscriminate with his friendships, including Aragog. At some point, if one of your friends tries to eat another of your friends, don't you have to pick sides??

    The same problems exist with Peeves the Poltergeist. Dumbledore allows a creature that has no fealty to one side or the other. I appreciate pranks and chaos as much as the next person (okay, I don't, but I know I should); however, Peeves does dangerous things at times and gets good guys in trouble for sport. What was the message Rowling was sending there?

    I am glad to see the discussion of classism raging on this blog. Ron's feelings of inferiority wrapped up in how much money his father brings home would be interesting in and of itself. Furthermore, the fact that Arthur Weasley cannot make a decent wage because he does a job others do not value speaks volumes to the problems with capitalism. Who valorizes what jobs to what extent? In contrast with this, the Slytherins come across as in-bred buffoons who are so invested in keeping the lines pure that they are scraping the bottom of the gene barrel. Homogeneity leads to extinction, making this a great Marxist text!

    Opposingly, I have always struggled with these books from a feminist perspective. I approve of Hermione as a brilliant individual; her brainstorms often get the boys out of a jam. But why does Rowling take her out of the action so often? In Book I it was to stay behind and take care of Ron when he is hurt, and in Book II she's immobilized. Harry gets to save the day both times, and the second time he is saving Ginny as well. The strongest witch we ever meet is Bellatrix, and she's evil!

    Now, I know, I know--strength does not rest in combat alone. Conversely, Rowling does say that some times a person must fight. Why is it so rarely the women? Tonks is an auror mostly because she can change her appearance (sorry, I slipped out of the allowed books), and, well, I won't say more in case people are reading along for the first time.

    You've gotta love the motif of meritocracy, especially as it concerns Lockhart (beauy is as beauty does), but Hermione's merit seems subpar. Am I alone in my take?

  4. The Dursleys have always been one of my favorite parts of the books. The way that they are treated in the very first book is almost Roald Dahl-esque in its satire, and it doesn't let up in the second book. Though the Dursleys are gross caricatures, they as well have something to add to the discussion of classism. Is it not in the 2nd book where Uncle Vernon purchases a new car and deliberately discusses it loudly? Just as well, we are provided with visions of Vernon's careful rehearsal of the "Japanese golfer joke" complete with a dinner party with his boss straight out of a 1960s sitcom.

    Rowling seems to be attacking the idea of a caste system both in terms of wealth and in terms of bloodline---arguably the two most ancient and most arbitrary gauges of valor. So not only does Rowling attack these ideas in the intense characterizations and histories in the "wizard" part of the story, she also satirizes it with Harry's buffoonish "blood family."

    I consider "Chamber of Secrets" to be an exercise in archetypes as well. I mean, we have a snake, the belly of the beast, the fool, the wise man, the repetition of past events, the magic flight, the rescue from without... Not to mention Rowling's decision to have Harry save the virgin, actually name the virgin "Ginny" (though Ginny's full name is not Virginia but Ginevra---but this was not known at the time), but then makes the virgin a redhead.

    I'm not exactly sure why Rowling chose to use all of this. The theory I usually go with is that, just as in Melville's "Moby Dick," the author presents characters and events filled with such epic nature and ridiculous elements (all of these characters have deliberately non-normal names and ludicrous characterizations---most notably Ahab in "Moby Dick," Lockhart and Myrtle in "Chamber of Secrets) that the story becomes an epic thing itself. These elements together suggest that Rowling deliberately sets "Chamber of Secrets" in a deeply legendary (read: allegorical) mode, bolstering the classist arguments others have made before.