There’s a lot I like about Harry Potter & the Chamber of Secrets; the introduction of Dobby and his faux-heroic intentions, the brief foray into a Harry vs. the World conflict, and the perfect use of young Tom Riddle all come to mind. What I appreciate most about it, though, is its underlying emphasis on character growth, something that’s sometimes overt, often subtle, and consistently effective throughout the series.
When we met Harry, he had some courage hidden away (which we see very clearly in the search for the Sorcerer’s Stone), but he was quite timid. Considering his upbringing and his age, that was completely understandable–as is his mini-transformation into a braver person, with more youthful wisdom than before. And that certainly works in his favor as he, Ron, and Hermione figure out what Slytherin’s monster, how to reach it, and, ultimately, how to defeat both the basilisk and its master.
That master, of course, is Tom Riddle. Harry’s connection to Tom is, to me, the most interesting aspect of this book. When he’s attempting to crack the code of Riddle’s diary, Harry feels somehow linked to the name, as though Riddle’s an old friend long since forgotten. It’s sad in retrospect and intriguing at the time–and Dumbledore’s brief explanation is just what it should be. He’s not telling Harry everything, which sets a precedent for the books ahead in a way that you don’t recognize as powerful at the time. But it is. It most definitely is.
Something else remarkable about this book is its nearly Hagrid- and Hermione-free third act. I really like Hagrid’s involvement in the story of the Chamber, and it’s for the best that he’s not around to convince Harry and Ron to stay away from the Chamber itself (although he does effectively prove his innocence by sending them to Aragog, one of the least interesting magical creatures in the series). The absence of Hermione is something I feel a lot more than I expect to on every read. I’m not particularly fond of her in the first book, but she’s much more likable now, with her know-it-all tendencies and unstoppable curiosity really working to Harry and Ron’s advantage as the book enters its climax. And the climax is where Harry truly shines–determining where the Chamber is and how to open it, using the delightfully smarmy Gilderoy Lockhart as a tool, and (unintentionally) utilizing his loyalty to Dumbledore to the extent that Fawkes the phoenix (one of the most interesting magical creatures in the series) and the Sorting Hat with the Sword of Gryffindor tucked inside show up.
As if the epic scope of the battle with the basilisk and the elimination of young Tom Riddle weren’t enough, we also have one of many memorable interactions between Harry and Lucius Malfoy, and Harry’s shockingly clever, surprisingly successful at freeing Dobby. As much as Harry annoys me in later books, I love him at age 12, a boy who understands the price of fame and does the right thing, even as nearly everyone around him seems to be shouting him down.
As a re-reader, it’s also fun to anticipate the brilliance that’s on its way with the next book. So come back next weekend and I’ll surely be gushing about Remus Lupin, the introduction of the Marauders’ Map, and that part when my dear sweet Draco gets slapped in the face.