This is the second in the Harry Potter series of books by J.K. Rowling. It tells the story of the young wizard, Harry Potter as he attends his second year at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Potter is expected to spend seven years at Hogwarts, each year the subject of a single book. Harry's nemesis and supreme baddie in Rowling's fictional world is Lord Voldemort, who, for reasons as yet undisclosed, wants to kill Harry. In the first book Harry and Voldemort met and did battle twice, with Harry coming off the better both times.
Harry's parents are dead, killed by Voldemort when Harry was still a baby.
Harry has two main friends at Hogwarts, Hermione Granger, a girl born to muggle (non-wizard) parents, and Ron Weasley, a boy born to Wizarding parents. All three are in the same year group and all three are in the Gryffindor House, which emphasises courage above all other qualities
His main rival at Hogwarts is Draco Malfoy, who is in the Slytherin House. Slytherins are renowned for their ambition, and also for using any meansfair or foulto achieve their goals.
Rowling said she had the whole seven-book series in mind when she started writing the first book. In this instalment, she reveals a bad side to the wizarding world. We discover that certain classes of wizarding people are deeply prejudiced against muggle-born wizards, and get hints that non-magical people born into wizarding families (squib) are despised most of all.
With this imagery, Rowling is setting the scene for the titanic battle of good against evil that permeates the whole series. She sets up an entirely believable world, in which prejudice against muggle parentage stands as an obvious metaphor for prejudice against minorities in the non-fictional world. For 'muggle-born', read 'homosexual', or 'black'. For 'mudblood', read 'cocksucker' or 'nigger'.
Later in the series, we discover that this prejudice extends to all non-wizarding folk. Rowling describes a large subclass of wizarding people who regard themselves as intrinsically superior to other creatures, notably the muggles and their offspring, but also other magical creatures, such as certain types of elf. These wizards rather enjoy torturing muggles for the fun of it, and appear to regard even their magical elvish servants as little more than non-sentient animals. Rather like white supremacists, or Nazis, I guess. Rowling makes the parallel even more clear by her choice of ultimate insult. Compare mudblood (Rowling) with Mud race (White supremacist)
My own view is that Rowling makes her world a bit too clear-cut, with no room for ambiguity, or shades of grey about peoples' beliefs. Part of the explanation for this has to be that Rowling is writing for children, who tend to see such issues in such black-and-white terms, and partly, I guess, that such prejudice is quite simply, evil, with no room for shades of grey. Nevertheless, I feel none of the characters really explores their own reactions to the rampant and overt prejudice shown by Malfoy and his friends. Perhaps this will come later, I certainly hope so.
Because of this, I think this the weakest Harry Potter book so far. Nevertheless, I can see that it sets the basic ground rules for the whole seven-book series. Rowling uses the book to introduce much of the most important history of Harry Potter's world, with the theme of uninformed prejudice clearly destined to be the major leit-motiv of the whole series. In later books, for example, we find that the wizarding world has strong prejudices against werewolves, giants and other creatures. Rowling consistently introduces us first to the person, makes us like them but only later reveals that the likeable character is an outcast from society due to the prejudices of other wizarding folk. Hogwarts, under Dumbledore, has become a haven for all manner of such outcasts. How the white supremacists must hate him!
In addition, we learn about the four founders of Hogwarts. It looks as though they will have a major role to play in the future of the books. It turns out, for example, that Voldemort is the only living descendant of Salazar Slytherin. Speculation on various Potter websites and fan fics has it that Harry Potter is the last remaining descendant of Godric Gryffindor. Thus, we can glimpse a climax in which Potter and Voldemort fight for the soul of Hogwarts and, by extension, the entire wizarding world.
If you have a short attention span, stop now. There's no point in reading beyond here if you have read the book, except to remind youself what happened.
Summary: (lots of spoilers here)
Rowling opens the book at the home of Harry's foster parents, the Dursleys on the day before Mr Dursley is due to hold a dinner party for an important client. Harry is banished to his room for the duration of the visit, and told to be quiet on pain of death. Unfortunately, a magical creature called Dobby, a house-elf, tries to dissuade Harry from returning to Hogwarts. Dobby makes a lot of noise and causes other mischief, which leads to a disastrous dinner party and Harry being caged in his room. After a spectacular escape, Harry ends up at Ron's house, The Burrow. Rowling uses the opportunity to describe the fine details of a wizarding home to great comic effect. We also meet Ron's talkative younger sister, Ginevra* (Ginny) Weasley, who blushes and goes silent whenever she sees Harry.
* Yep, that is her real name. Check out JKRowling.com.
Harry and the Weasleys travel to Diagon Alley to buy supplies for the coming year, but Harry gets lost and ends up in the near-by Knockturn Alley, where he meets all manner of nasty people, including Draco Malfoy and his father, Lucius. He watches as they trade some illegal magical artefacts. With this scene, and others, Rowling clearly establishes that the wizarding world co-exists with the muggle world, but that many parts of the world are accessible only to those with a magical nature.
We also meet another teacher, the gloriously camp and self-important Gilderoy Lockhart, who will be Harry's Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher in the coming year. He is a wonderful character for an author to invent: attention-seeking, incompetent, vain, and much less honourable than he should be.
After all the supplies are bought, Harry and Ron travel to King's Cross station, but when they attempt to enter the magical world at platform 9 3/4, they find it impossible. The train leaves without them. Fortunately, Ron's dad brought them to London in a magical flying car, so without a further thought, they load their trunks into it and drive off, following the train all the way to Hogwarts.
Things do not work out too well. The car's cloaking device is defective, making it visible to muggles. And it is harder than they imagined to follow the train. Finally, just as they arrive at Hogwarts, the car decides to stop, and they crash into the Whomping Willow, a near-sentient tree, which objects to people invading its personal space.
From there on, we start to follow a typical Hogwarts year with its lessons, feasts, Quidditch andnew this yearteenage crushes.
From early on, however, there are signs that the year will not finish as other years have done. Harry starts to hear voices in the walls. And then Filch's cat, Mrs Norris gets petrified. Eventually, some students suffer the same fate. Writing starts to appear on the walls, saying the Chamber of Secrets has been opened.
The myth is that Salazar Slytherin was strongly prejudiced against muggle-born wizards, and built a secret chamber deep under the castle, containing a monster which only he, or his descendants, could control. The monster would, according to myth, kill all the muggle-born students at the school in a kind of Aryan ethnic cleansing ritual.
It turns out that the Chamber was opened once before, about 50 years previously. On that occasion a student was killed. As the year progresses, more students get petrified, and each time, Harry is first on the scene, having followed the voices in the walls. The other students become suspicious that Harry is always found alone at the scene of the crime.
In a separate scene, Lockhart sets up a duelling club, where students can learn how to fight wizarding duels. Harry is matched against Malfoy. With Professor Snape's help, Malfoy conjures a poisonous snake at Harry. Harry panics a bit, but talks to the snake (as he spoke to the python at the beginning of book 1), and all is well. At least, until a few minutes later, when Harry learns that speaking snake language is a very rare skill, usually associated only with Salazar Slytherin and his descendants. Rumours start to fly that Harry is the heir of Slytherin, and has been attacking his fellow students.
Meanwhile, Harry, Ron and Hermione make a drink called the Polyjuice Potion, which allows one person to take the appearance of another. Harry and Ron transform themselves to look like Malfoy's goons, Crabbe and Goyle, but learn nothing of value. However, Polyjuice potion acquires much greater significance later in the series.
One day, Harry finds a book thrown away down a toilet. He starts writing in it, and it replies. The book turns out to be the diary of a former Hogwarts student, Tom Riddle. It offers to take him into a memory of the previous occasion when the Chamber was opened. Upon accepting, Harry is drawn into a scene where Riddle reveals that Hagrid, when he was at school, was rearing a very large spider (later we discover it is a 10-foot tall spider, called Aragog). The implication is that the monster within the Chamber is Aragog, and that Hagrid controls it.
Harry already knows that Hagrid was expelled from Hogwarts, but does not know the reason.
Harry, Hermione and Ron rush down to see Hagrid, under the protection of Harry's invisibility cloak, but while there, they see Hagrid taken away and sent to the Wizard prison at Azkaban, on suspicion of making the attacks. As a parting shot, Hagrid calls out to his apparently empty hut, "If anyone wants to know what is going on, they should follow the spiders"
In yet another strand, Lucius Malfoy, one of the school governors has been putting the frighteners on his colleagues and they, the other governors, have forced Dumbledore to leave the school.
Things go from bad to worse when Harry's room is raided by an unknown person and the book is stolen. Then Hermione is also attacked and petrified.
Harry and Ron decide to follow Hagrid's advice, and they find a trail of small spiders leading into the dark forest. There they meet Aragog and talk with him about Hagrid and the monster in the Chamber of Secrets. Just as they realise that Aragog will not release them, and they are soon to become fresh meat for Aragog's flesh-eating family, the flying car comes to rescue them, and they make a stunning escape.
The final straw comes when, with Dumbledore gone, Ginny Weasley is taken into the chamber, where her skeleton will rest forever, according to the writing on the wall.
At this point, when all seems bleakest, Harry and Ron find a piece of paper hidden in Hermione's petrified hand, referring to a large snake, called a Basilisk, and the word "pipes" written in her handwriting. They work out that the monster is a Basilisk, and that it travels around the school in the plumbing. A Basilisk is deadly both because of its poisonous bite, and its eyes. Anyone who looks directly into the eye will be killed, while those who see the eyes indirectly are merely petrified. Interestingly, in other texts, a Basilisk is often used as a metaphor for syphilis.
They hear that Lockhart intends to deal with the monster and go to tell him what they know, only to find him packing, preparing to do a runner. Lockhart eventually admits he is a fraud, and a coward. So they force him up to the Girls' toilet where a ghost called Moaning Myrtle lives. It turns out she was the student killed the last time the chamber was opened, and she tells them how she died and where the Basilisk emerged.
Harry opens the entrance by speaking parseltongue, and he, Ron and Lockhart enter the pipes, sliding down to a sandy floor covered in rat skeletons. There, Lockhart manages to lose his memory, while a rockfall separates Ron from Harry. Harry, on the far side of the rockfall, walks on in the darkness until he comes to a large pair of stone doors. Some more parseltongue opens these doors, and Harry sees Ginny lying apparently dead on the floor of a large underground chamber.
Next he recognises Riddle. Believing Riddle to be a friend, Harry asks for help. It does not come. Instead, using Harry's wand, Riddle traces out his name: Tom Marvolo Riddle, and magically causes the letters to move to the anagram: I am Lord Voldemort.
Riddle delights in telling Harry how he created the diary 50 years earlier, and how Ginny has been pouring out her soul to the diary. Enough of her soul for Riddle to capture it, and take it over. It turns out that all the foul deeds of the last year were carried out by Ginny under the control of Riddle/Voldemort, and that Riddle is getting stronger as he saps more and more of Ginny's life energy.
Eventually, Riddle summons the Basilisk, while Harry calls on the spirit of Dumbledore. As the Basilisk emerges, Dumbledore's pet phoenix, Fawkes, flies down, carrying the school sorting hat. Fawkes manages to peck out the deadly eyes of the Basilisk, while Harry pulls a jewelled sword out of the hatlater discovered to carry the name of Godric Gryffindor. After an epic battle, the Basilisk bites Harry, just as he thrusts the sword into its brain. As the dying monster falls to the floor, one of its fangs breaks off. The poison from the bite seeps into Harry's arm, and he appears to be dying while Riddle laughs. But again Fawkes comes to the rescue and heals the wound. Fawkes helps for a third time, by dropping the diary at Harry's feet, just as Voldemort is about to use Harry's wand to kill him.
Harry repeatedly thrusts the broken, poisonous Basilisk fang into the diary, and Riddle/Voldemort disappears amid screams of pain. Ginny starts to recover.
All that remains is for Fawkes to carry Ron, Lockhart, Ginny and Harry back up the pipes and into the main school.
Later, we learn a great deal about the relationship between Harry and Voldemort during Dumbledore's de-briefing. Meanwhile, Lucius Malfoy arrives and is greatly disappointed to find that Dumbledore is once more in charge at Hogwarts, with the Chamber closed and the culprit identified. In a final twist, Harry manages to trick Malfoy into releasing Dobby, who, we realize, is the Malfoy house-elf. This allows Dobby to become a bit more than a minor character in future books.
All ends happily, with Hagrid released, the petrified students revived and the merry throng returning to their respective homes with hardly a care in the world.
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