I’ve always subconsciously broken the HP series up into two sections – the first three books and the last four books. The first three read like Children’s books with a mystery that is, more or less, wrapped up in the end. (There a few loose ends with Azkaban, but we’ll get there in two weeks.) The last four books read darker, more adult, and while some things are resolved, they’re really just building up to the climax.
Chamber of Secrets (henceforth called CoS) has always been my favorite of the first three books. I know most people like Azkaban the best, but there’s something about CoS that appeals to me more. (I even own the book in two different languages.)
Well, enough of that. On to the discussion.
CoS tells the story of Harry’s second year at Hogwarts. We’ve somewhat lost the dreamy view of the magical world that Harry had in the first book because he’s more familiar with how things work now. (Although, I noted that the Chamber of Secrets was not actually opened until about halfway through the book, so there’s still a lot of Hoorah Magic World going on.)
Perhaps most importantly, CoS tells us that there are purebloods, half-bloods, and “mudbloods,” and some people actually care about such things. (On that note, I’ve never quite understood why Harry is considered a half-blood when both his parents were wizards. Are you a half-blood if you have any muggle-blood in your lineage at all? Or is it because he’s only one generation removed from non-magic family? Also, randomly, you’ll note that between Harry, Ron, and Hermoine, they represent all three groups.) You learn that not only did Slytherin hate muggle-born wizards, but Voldemort as well, and there’s the barest hint of Voldemort’s backstory, of his muggle father whom he hated.
Things introduced here that are important later: Malfoy Manor, Mundungus Fletcher (mentioned in passing by Mr. Weasley), Borgin and Burkes AND the Vanishing Cabinet, Aragog, the Whomping Willow, Polyjuice Potion, Dumbledore’s Office, the Sword of Gryffindor (and the fact that only a true Gryffindor can pull it from the hat).
Also interesting is, while we do encounter the first horcrux here in the form of Tom Riddle’s diary, there are actually hints of their existence and the climax of the series in two quotes:
“Albus Dumbledore is the greatest headmaster Hogwarts has ever had. Dobby knows it, sir. Dobby has heard Dumbledore’s powers rival those of He-Who-must-not-Be-Named at the height of his strength. But, sir” – Dobby’s voice dropped to an urgent whisper – “there are powers that Dumbledore doesn’t…powers no decent wizard…” (American paperback version, page 17)
“You can speak Parseltongue, Harry,” said Dumbledore calmly, “because Lord Voldemort – who is the last remaining ancestor of Salazar Slytherin – can speak Parseltongue. Unless I’m much mistaken, he transferred some of his powers to you the night he gave you that scar. Not something he intended to do, I’m sure…”
“Voldemort put a bit of himself in me?” Harry said, thunderstruck. (American paperback version, page 333)
Brilliant, is it not?
One last random thing I’ll note before we get on to the questions: On page 228 (American paperback version), Harry notes that Snape has given them so much homework that he’ll be working on it until sixth year. Just a throwaway comment, if you just look at it, but if you think about Snape and sixth year…
1. While we meet ghosts in Sorcerer’s Stone, they’re much more prominent in CoS between Nearly-Headless Nick and Moaning Myrtle. Why do you think so few people choose to stay as ghosts after they die?
2. Do you think Dumbledore knew Harry and Ron were in Hagrid’s cottage when Cornelius Fudge and Lucius Malfoy were there? How?
3. Ginny and Neville become much more central characters later in the series. Why do you think their development is so slow at the beginning?
4. What on Earth was Dumbledore’s motivation for hiring Gilderoy Lockhart for the Defense Against the Dark Arts position (aside from, as Hagrid notes, that he was the only applicant)? It seems that he was aware of Lockhart’s tendency to obliviate people and take their accomplishments as his own.
5. JK Rowling has said that she was initially going to include some of the HBP storyline here in CoS. Would it have changed things, to know Snape’s backstory this early in the series? (As a side question, are you aware of the Mirror Theory, which states that mirror books echo each other: 3 and 5, 2 and 6, 1 and 7?)