Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, J. K. Rowling

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (Book 2)If you have visited recently, you may recall I’m rereading the Harry Potter series on e-book after receiving the wonderful digital gift of the entire series, British versions. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets does not have as many differences from the American version. Once again, upon reading it, I was struck with how much of the foundation for the rest of the series is laid in Chamber of Secrets.

First, the nasty prejudice against Muggle-borns is first brought to light when Malfoy calls Hermione a “mudblood,” and she and Harry learn what it means from Ron and Hagrid. I never liked the fact that the movies put too many other characters’ lines in Hermione’s mouth, but always thought one of the most egregious violations was when Hermione herself explains to Harry what a mudblood is rather than Ron. After all, as much as she reads, she was still brought up in the Muggle world, just as Harry was, whereas Ron has only grown up among wizards. The reader doesn’t learn how deeply this prejudice against Muggle-born wizards runs until Chamber of Secrets. The only inkling the reader has that it’s a problem in Philosopher’s Stone is an offhand remark Draco Malfoy makes in Madam Malkin’s while he and Harry are being fitted for robes, and he is the only character in the book (if memory serves) who exhibits the prejudice. In Chamber of Secrets, we learn Tom Riddle/Voldemort shared the prejudice to the point that he set a monster on Muggle-borns when he was at school, killing Moaning Myrtle, and we also learn that not only do quite a few modern Slytherins share this prejudice, but also that the founder of the house, Salazar Slytherin, left Hogwarts and destroyed his friendship with Godric Gryffindor over the issue. The pervasiveness of the prejudice is really uncovered for the first time in Chamber of Secrets.

Another important issue in the books, starting with Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, is the destruction of Voldemort’s horcruxes. We don’t find out what horcruxes are until Dumbledore explains them to Harry in Half-Blood Prince, but a reread of Chamber of Secrets reveals that Dumbledore definitely suspected Harry himself was a horcrux as early as Chamber of Secrets. Harry says, “Voldemort put a bit of himself in me?” Dumbledore replies, “It certainly seems so,” and explains that he didn’t think Voldemort meant to do it. Of course, Harry often hears a nasty little voice in his head, and he somehow intuits how to destroy the diary horcrux without knowing how he knows. His ability to speak Parseltongue probably stems from the horcrux inside him, and I have often wondered if he retained the ability after Voldemort destroyed that horcux, or if he lost it. It seems likely he lost it, but who knows?

We are also introduced to house elves and their peculiar enslavement and magic in Chamber of Secrets. House elves become a huge issue later on when Barty Crouch uses his to hide a horrible secret and winds up setting a Death Eater loose to help Voldemort rise again and subsequently loses his life. We also see how Kreacher’s mistreatment at the hands of Sirius Black costs Sirius his life, and how Harry is able to turn Kreacher’s feelings around through kindness. Hermione, of course, takes up the cause of house elves in Goblet of Fire.

We also learn for the first time about Polyjuice Potion, which allows witches or wizards to disguise themselves as other people. Rowling was so careful to insert the incident when Harry, Ron, and Hermione brew Polyjuice Potion so they can quiz Malfoy about his involvement with opening the Chamber of Secrets, and given that they don’t really learn much useful information, it seems a sort of throwaway plot line, but it does enable them to become acquainted with Moaning Myrtle, and later on, when Barty Crouch, Jr., uses it to disguise himself as Mad-Eye Moody, we don’t suspect it until the end-of-the-novel reveal, when we learn how Rowling has hoodwinked us yet again while laying the clues out for all to see. Of course, it’s also used in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows when Harry is transported to the Burrow. I suppose the only thing that prevents Polyjuice Potion from wreaking utter chaos in the Magical World is that 1) Polyjuice Potion is difficult to brew, and presumably not every witch and wizard is up to it; and 2) the ingredients are hard to come by—even Barty Crouch, Jr., is forced to pilfer them from Snape’s stores in order to get them.

This book also contains a character Rowling insists is based on a real person—Gilderoy Lockhart. The real person must have been truly awful for Rowling to exact such revenge upon him/her in the form of Gilderoy Lockhart.  What a truly amazing character. So much fun to read and so much fun to hate. I love how Ron is really the first person to have the true measure of Lockhart. When someone points out to Ron all the amazing things Lockhart has done, he mutters under his breath, “He says he’s done.” Ron is the first character to insinuate Lockhart lied about his accomplishments. Even smart Hermione doesn’t see through Lockhart. We also learn for the first time that the Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher job is hard to keep filled in this book as well. The DADA teachers seem to be the Red Shirts of the Harry Potter universe. Hagrid tells the trio that Lockhart was the only man willing to take the job and that people seemed to feel the job was cursed.

All of that said, this book is not necessarily my favorite in the series, but I always forget how much I like it until I reread it. It’s quite funny in some places, and it’s really important in terms of laying the cornerstone for the focus of the series. When I read the series first, only the first four books had been released, and rereading this time is bringing back a little of the memory of all the speculating and waiting to find out if I was right. I really wish I could tell J. K. Rowling how much these books mean to me.

Rating: ★★★★★

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Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, J. K. Rowling

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's StoneA friend of mine gave me the wonderful gift of all of the Harry Potter books in e-book format. I just reread the first on my Kindle, and I must say that visiting Harry Potter’s wizarding world feels as comfortable as curling up under a warm blanket, snug against the cold. I realized on this reading that I have much of the book memorized at this point, but this was the first time I read the British version, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. My friend managed to get the British versions of the books for me, and after reading just this one, I much prefer the British versions. I have always thought the American title for this book was foolish dumbing-down for Americans, as though Americans couldn’t be expected to be familiar with the Philosopher’s Stone. I remember being confused when I first read it, thinking that the Sorcerer’s Stone sounded a lot like the Philosopher’s Stone, and wondering why Rowling didn’t use that term, only to find out she did, but that her American editors changed it. Grrr.

Aside from the fact that the British version is better, it’s a joy to return to this world that Rowling crafts  so fully and so beautifully again and look around. Her books are always just as good as I remembered them. Harry, Ron, and Hermione are always as wonderful and winsome as they were the first time. I think Rowling has something of Dickens’s gift for crafting characters. The first time I read the books, I was struck by Rowling’s wordplay, too, and I still enjoy it when I reread.

There are not many books that I reread frequently, but the Harry Potter books certainly are, and I find something new to enjoy and marvel at each time. This time, for instance, I read Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone after having experienced that book on Pottermore. I had the extra information about wandlore, Quirrell’s house at Hogwarts, and McGonagall’s history in mind as I read. I won’t share that information, as it is spoilery, and if you didn’t manage to get into the Beta version of Pottermore, you might wish to explore it on your own and discover the information as you navigate the site. Besides, if you want the spoilers, you can find them elsewhere online. Reading the book made me want to hop on Pottermore and reread some of those sections on the site. I remember how unexpectedly moved I felt when I got my wand, and how happy I was to be sorted in Ravenclaw (I always knew I was a Ravenclaw).

I thoroughly enjoyed the experience of reading this book on my Kindle, too. I often highlight and annotate more in my Kindle books, as I don’t necessarily share them with other family members (and we certainly share Harry Potter books), and I also don’t feel like I’m defacing books. I have a peculiar aversion to writing in books. It does not bother me to write in textbooks or professional reading; in fact, I mark those books up quite a lot. I don’t like annotating fiction, though. What I should say is I don’t like annotating print fiction. I annotate e-books quite a lot. Reading this book on my Kindle gave me license to highlight all my favorite parts and take notes on connections I made. I enjoyed reading the book in this way. Perhaps if I didn’t have a hangup about writing in my print books, reading e-books wouldn’t feel that different to me, but I am finding that I actually prefer e-books lately because I feel I can write in them.

Of course, I finish this book as the book world is buzzing about J. K. Rowling’s new book, The Casual Vacancy, set for release in September. The readers will, of course, just be outraged that it’s not Harry Potter, but I think Rowling is right to go for something completely different. It will be expensive: nearly $35 for hardback and $20 for the e-book (Amazon has it for pre-order in hardback at $21.00). I’ve never paid so much for an e-book, and I can’t see myself rushing out to buy the book at those prices.

The Guardian also recently ran a lovely piece on rereading: “The Pleasures of Rereading” by Tom Lamont.

Rating: ★★★★★

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Harry Potter Reading Challenge 2012

Harry Potter Reading Challenge

I found another challenge I want to participate in this year. I haven’t re-read the Harry Potter series in a while. I always enjoy it when I do, and I always get something new out of it, too. I think I’d like to try it again. Penelope at The Reading Fever is hosting what looks like a fun Harry Potter Reading Challenge.

In order to participate, you just need to read or re-read the Harry Potter series between January 1, 2012 and December 31, 2012.

Anyone want to join me?

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