REVIEW OF BOOK 2: "Harry Potter And The Chamber Of Secrets," by J.K. Rowling (Scholastic Press/Arthur A. Levine Books, 1999; 342 pages. Age: 9-12. Hardcover, ).
If you've ever been bored during summer vacation, it couldn't possibly compare to the doldrums our favorite wizard-in-training suffered through after his first year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Just imagine finding out you are a wizard, getting a taste of flying on a Nimbus Two Thousand broomstick, learning tons of neat magical stuff and, perhaps most importantly, making friends for the first time in your life, and then leaving all that behind for another unmagical summer with your insufferable aunt, uncle and overindulged cousin. Talk about boring!
Well, that's how the second Harry Potter book, "Harry Potter And The Chamber Of Secrets," begins. Harry's back with the Dursleys at Number 4, Privet Drive, just counting the days and hours until he can escape back to Hogwarts School. Let's just say that no one has probably ever looked forward to back-to-school time more than our young friend Harry.
When Aunt Petunia comes to visit and Harry is gladly banished to his room, though, things get a little more interesting. Waiting in his room is an odd little character with bat-like ears and bulging green eyes named Dobby. The house elf has come to deliver a warning: "Harry Potter must not go back to Hogwarts."
Well, if you've read the first Harry Potter book, you know our protagonist would never heed such a warning, and, when his Hogwarts friend Ron Weasley shows up at his bedroom window in his father's souped-up, flying car, Harry jumps in faster than you can say Expelliarmus.
After spending a short visit with Ron's family, he accompanies them on their annual back-to-school shopping trip. It's Harry's first trip by Floo powder. The Weasleys show him how to take a pinch of the glittering powder, throw it into the fire, step into the flames and shout out the destination you desire. Harry swallows so much ash that he gets a little sidetracked, but is set back on course by Hagrid, the Hogwarts gamekeeper. Soon he's picking up all the books and supplies he'll need for his second year of study and catching a ride with Ron in his flying car back to the wizarding school. A crash landing in the Whomping Willow is not exactly the cool entrance they'd planned, but at least they're back in one piece.
Harry's second year at Hogwarts features new challenges, terrors and characters. There's the new professor Gilderoy Lockhart, who’s not nearly as accomplished as he'd like you to think, and the new girl ghost, Moaning Myrtle, whose bathroom haunts prove crucial to figuring out the mysteries. Also, Ron's little sister Ginny, joins the gang at school and carries a silent crush on Harry. Another new character is young Colin Creevey, who follows Harry around like his own private fan club.
Things get really interesting when Harry starts hearing a voice no one else can hear: "Come … come to me… Let me rip you… Let me tear you…" And, to really work everyone up, someone is going around and petrifying people, leaving them as stiff as a board. The first to get turned into stone is Mrs. Norris, the caretaker's cat, and her attacker leaves foot-high words on the wall: "The Chamber of Secrets has been opened. Enemies of the heir, beware."
The rest of the book focuses on finding out who is petrifying everyone, who has opened the Chamber of Secrets, and just what is the Chamber of Secrets, anyway. Harry's enemies actually think he's the one going around turning people into stone. Others suspect Harry's arch rival, Draco Malfoy, or even Hagrid, Harry's friend the school gamekeeper.
While the mystery is being tackled, Harry has another Quidditch match to practice for and all the kids have classes to take and homework to do. It's hard to concentrate on these responsibilities, however, when even the teachers are fearful of what danger is lurking within the halls of the school.
One day in their very boring History of Magic class, brainy Hermione interrupts Professor Binns' extremely dull lecture with an unrelated question. She asks if he can tell the class anything about the Chamber of Secrets. After protesting that his history lessons deal with facts, not myths, he finally agrees to recount the early years of the Hogwarts school, which was founded by four great wizards and witches: Godric Gryffindor, Helga Hufflepuff, Rowena Ravenclaw and Salazar Slytherin. Over time, a rift was created between Slytherin and the others. Slytherin wanted to keep magic education within families of pure wizard lineage. He wanted the school to keep out children who had even one Muggle, or non-magical, parent. Finally, he had a fight with Gryffindor and left the school.
Binns says a legend describes how Slytherin supposedly built a Chamber of Secrets under the school to house his horrible monster and sealed the chamber until his own heir arrives to open it. The heir would unleash the monster to rid the school of Muggle-born students. That part of the story is particularly distressing to Hermoine, because her parents are both Muggles.
Besides Professor Binn's lecture, Harry also gets more information about the mystery from a magical diary he finds. The diary was left by Tom Riddle, a boy who attended school with Harry's father. The magical diary helps Harry discover that his friend Hagrid was kicked out of school in those days for keeping a monster in the building.
Now others are also suspecting Hagrid (wrongly, we later discover), and they send him to prison. To make matters worse, Hermoine herself is attacked and petrified, and the headmaster, Dumbledore, is removed from his position by the governors who feel he's not doing enough to protect the students.
Before Hagrid is dragged off, he tells Harry to "follow the spiders"… and when Harry and Ron do, they are grabbed and almost killed by the most humongous, hairy spiders they've ever seen. A beastly spider named Aragog clears Hagrid's name by saying the monster in the Chamber of Secrets was not a giant spider. Hagrid, though, had gotten in trouble for keeping the huge spider in the school and the spider had to vacate the premises.
Later, when Harry and Ron go to visit the petrified Hermoine, they find her clenching a page of a book. They read it and finally discover the truth about the chamber's monster: it's a Basilisk, the King of Serpents. That's why Harry's the only one who can hear and understand the monster's voice: Harry understands snake talk. They also discover that the monster has been living in the plumbing pipes, coming and going from Moaning Myrtle's bathroom.
When Ron's little sister Ginny is kidnapped by the monster, Ron and Harry know they must enter the pipes and confront their worst fears there to rescue her. Professor Gilderoy, who has boasted throughout the book about his great escapades and heroic acts, joins them on the rescue but soon shows his true colors: he's no hero, he's a lying coward.
As Harry Potter fans can expect, Harry goes in to find Ginny, who's been controlled by Tom Riddle (through his diary) to write the scary messages on the walls. And Tom Riddle is not who Harry thinks he is either, but is actually Lord Voldemort himself. Lord Voldemort is the heir of Salazar Slytherin, and is the most feared, evil wizard who killed Potter's parents and tries again to kill Potter, too.
When Lord Voldemort orders the Basilisk to attack Harry, Dumbledore's phoenix, Fawkes, arrives and gives Harry Gryffindor's sword to kill the monster and eliminate Tom Riddle by destroying his diary.
Harry saves Ginny and the rest is what you'd expect from another Harry Potter happy ending… and another dreadful summer with his unbearable aunt, uncle and portly cousin.
Harry Potter Timeline
Harry Potter Character Listing
Harry Potter Monster Listing
& THE CHAMBER OF SECRETS
Harry Potter And The Chamber Of Secrets book
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