I loved Chamber of Secrets. For a very long time, I told people it was my favourite of all the Potter books. This is for many reasons, one of which is that it gives me a thoroughly enjoyable scare every time I read it. I found some sections of the book terrifying; it’s amazing how Rowling manages to evoke that sense of fear with the merest whisper of a suggestion. What is most amazing is that, despite the fact that I know what’s coming, I get frightened anew every time I read the book. Rowling is just that good at what she does.
We met a host of new characters in the book, some of whom will later turn out to be very important. For instance, readers make the acquaintance of Ginny Weasley, youngest member of the Weasleys, and on the side of the spectrum, Lucius Malfoy – Draco Malfoy’s sinister, smooth-talking father.
Besides the chance to explore a little more of the “Potterverse” as fans dub it, Chamber of Secrets offers a slightly darker take on the wizarding world. For the first time, issues of race and equality, which will come to be central themes in the books, are explicitly introduced. Through the categories of “Squib”, “Halfblood”, and “Pureblood”. Rowling highlights the very real differences of treatment and opportunity meted out to people in the “real world”.
Rowling rather simplifies the notions of blood-purity and racial tension by splitting combatants along house lines, which leads to vilification of a quarter of the school later in the series. I understand that this this is done in order to present a stark good versus evil picture to supposedly less nuanced childish understanding, but as an adult reader, it troubles me.
Whatever her weaknesses be as a moralist, though, there is no denying Rowling’s superb ability to accomplish entertaining things with her characters. Chamber of Secrets harbour one of the most colourful professors to ever grace Hogwarts’ halls in the form of Gilderoy Lockhart, the charmingly inept Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher. Lockhart’s absurd vanity, his blinding smile and his paparazzi-prone hi-jinks are a welcome respite after the stuttering non-entity that formed the bulked of his predecessor Quirrel’s screen time. Lockhart not only provides much of the humour of the book, but he also illustrates an interesting moral dilemma near its climax.
To sum it up, Chamber of Secrets is a darker book than its predecessor. The halls of Hogwarts seem more dangerous, the characters are considerably more devious and even Harry goes through much more soul-searing trials. At one point, most of the school turns its back on him, a glaring contrast to the instant fame and approval he had enjoyed for much of Sorcerer’s Stone. For the first time, we see Harry dealing with this kind of widespread societal disapproval, and something tells us that it’s going to be the last time he’ll face it. It’s clear that Harry’s time in Hogwarts is not going to get any easier as he ages, and we can only hope that he grows emotionally enough, magically to cope with it.