Today I’m going to talk a little bit about book two, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.
For me in the US, this book came out in 1999. Reading it firmly convinced me that I was going to fall in love with the Harry Potter series. I started taking notes about the books at this point and also started talking with other adult Harry Potter fans in what was then a whole new way of communicating: an internet group.
It’s worth taking a moment to talk about the whole internet group thing. Harry Potter fandom was born about the same time as the Internet became a normal part of people’s lives. Potter fans essentially invented online fandom. We discovered ways to carry on discussions and share fanfiction. The platform we used for discussing the books was called eGroups. The group where I spent most of my time was called Harry Potter for Grown Ups. It still exists today, since eGroups was bought by Yahoo in 2000 and became Yahoo Groups.
When our discussions required some form of reference for spells and creatures and other facts, I put my notes online on a website I called The Harry Potter Lexicon. That was in 1999, and the members of the Harry Potter for Grown Ups group not only used it as a resource but also contributed to it in many ways.
It’s hard to imagine now how small the internet was back then. A week or two after I went live with my little website, it was written up as a Hot Site of the Day in USA Today. I can’t imagine nowadays some little site created by a random guy in Michigan being nationally noticed a week after going live. But that’s the world we lived in back then. We all created and wrote and discussed and theorized, and it seemed like everyone knew everyone, at least by their online names.
But I’m getting off track here. I was talking about book two.
I think the moment that captured my imagination more than any other was the description of the Burrow and particularly Mrs. Weasley’s kitchen. Rowling’s writing in that chapter reminded me strongly of the delicious description of the Tuck home in the book Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt, and the contrast between that house and the home of Winnie, the protagonist in the book, is striking.
In Tuck Everlasting, Winnie’s house is described as being “always squeaking clean, mopped and swept and scoured into limp submission” while the Tucks’ home is described as a “homely little house” where you’ll find “gentle eddies of dust (and) silver cobwebs.” Unlike Winnie’s home and unlike Petunia’s surgically clean kitchen, the Tuck kitchen features stacks of dishes “in perilous towers without the least regard for their varying dimensions.” The whole house is filled with things piled and strewn and hung up. Everything is “set about helter-skelter.” Winnie, who has chafed under the strictness of her own home situation, finds the Tuck home charmingly comfortable. I can easily imagine her saying, like Harry, that it’s the best house she’s ever been in.
Book two, like book one, is written with a good deal of whimsy. Even the scary parts – and there are a few leading up to the confrontation in the Chamber of Secrets under the school – are mild compared to some of the jarring scenes coming up in later books. Rowling is still writing for children here and it shows. When the big showdown does occur, the mystery of who this Tom Riddle person is and how he can come out of an old diary almost overshadows the terror of the moment. We are meeting Voldemort again, and once again he’s something of a shadow, a wraith. He’s only partially present. In the last book we were introduced to this underlying tension in the series and now in book two we’re given another glimpse. But even with the ongoing mystery leading up to that finale, we’re just as engaged with school life: with Quidditch and problem teachers and ghostly parties. We discover cool things like Polyjuice potion and magically weird Valentine’s day celebrations. Yes, people are being attacked, and yes, Harry is suspected because he can talk to snakes, but we really don’t worry too much. There’s plenty of other magical delights to divert our attention.
The tone of the series so far is light and fun and just a tiny bit dangerous. Book three promises to bring us more of the same. And oh, are we in for a surprise.
In the Harry Potter Lexicon Minute podcast you’ll hear the voices of our editors sharing some of the many little things which delight us about the Wizarding World. In each podcast, just a couple of minutes in length, we’ll talk about anything from cool trivia and interesting canon passages to the latest Wizarding World news. We hope you’ll join us! And we’d love to hear from you as well. Feel free to use the comment section on the blogpost for each podcast to post your thoughts.
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Music: "Winter Chimes" Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
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