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Kim's Book Reviews
| Home | Picture Books | Traditional Literature | Poetry | Nonfiction | Historical Fiction | Fantasy & Young Adult Fiction | Author Study: Lois Ehlert

by J. K. Rowling


Rowling, J. K. HARRY POTTER AND THE CHAMBER OF SECRETS. New York: Scholastic Press, 1998. ISBN 0439064864.


In his second year at Hogwarts School for Witchcraft and Wizardry, Harry Potter must solve the mystery of  the Chamber of Secrets in order to save the school from closure.


In this high fantasy novel, we find all of the motifs basic to modern fantasy. The use of magic is obviously prevalent in this book about young witches and wizards. A few examples are: students at Hogwarts School taking classes in potions and spells, the subjects in photos and paintings speaking and moving about,  cars flying, and dishes washing themselves. In addition, Rowling creates a secondary world that only witches and wizards have access to. Hogwarts School, as well as places like Diagon Alley in London,  remain unseen by non-magical humans, or muggles. These other worlds are sometimes accessed by special portals, such as Platform Nine and Three-Quarters at King’s Cross train station or traveling through a fireplace using floo powder. However, portals are not necessary. In this story, Harry and best friend Ron Weasley  cannot get through the barrier at Platform Nine and Three-Quarters, so they are forced to use Mr. Weasley’s flying car to get to school.


In this second installment of Harry Potter, Harry and his friends face an unknown evil force emanating from the Chamber of Secrets below the school. As the story progresses, students who come face to face with this force are literally petrified, and because he’s usually nearby at the time of the attacks, Harry becomes a suspect. At this point, Harry begins his quest to solve the mystery of the Chamber of Secrets, but his efforts are intensified when his friend, Hermione, becomes a victim of petrification and Ron’s sister, Ginny, is taken prisoner. Harry must enter the Chamber of Secrets and face a giant basilisk, a monster that kills all who look into its eyes. Harry discovers that the basilisk is under the control of his archenemy, Lord Voldemort. In his courageous battle with the basilisk, Harry is aided by Professor Dumbledore’s  magical phoenix, Fawkes. Harry is successful in his quest and once again, good triumphs over evil.


This book contains many special character types. The main characters, the students at  Hogwarts, are all witches and wizards. In addition, there are the ghosts which haunt the school, like Nearly Headless Nick and Moaning Myrtle; Dobby, the house elf who serves as an indentured servant to Lucius Malfoy; and Cornish pixies, used a teaching aid in the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom. There are also many fantastic objects in the book. Each student has a wand and spends much class time learning how to use it. Caldrons are also a standard school supply, and as I mentioned earlier, the Weasley family have an enchanted flying car that Ron and Harry borrowed to get to school when they missed the Hogwarts train. Harry uses some unique objects in the book. He has an invisibility cloak that he inherited from his father, and Professor Dumbledore sends him Godric Gryffindor’s sword to fight the basilisk.


In spite of all the fantastic elements in the book, Rowling has created strong, believable characters. Although Harry seems larger than life at times, readers can still identify with him. He wants to fit in and is uncomfortable when people single him out, like  Colin Creevey wanting to take his picture and then asking him to autograph it. Another example is when he fails to tell Professor Dumbledore about the voice he hears because he is afraid  of what others will think. All of the students at Hogwarts are believable, from bookish  Hermione to bullying Draco Malfoy. Of course, Rowling also includes characters who are exaggerations, like the self-absorbed Gilderoy Lockhart. These caricature-type characters add wonderful humor to the story.


Rowling has created an original, exciting plot that will appeal to both children and adults. It is plausible and internally consistent within the story’s fantastic setting. The chapters are full of action and there are enough clues to the solution of the mystery  to keep readers turning the pages until the end.


There are several themes lying beneath the surface of this wonderful fantasy that emerge naturally as the story unfolds. Rowling addresses the issue of racism when Malfoy calls Hermione a “Mudblood” or dirty blood, because her parents are mere Muggles. Even before Hagrid explains what the term means, we understand it is bad from the reaction of those who hear him say it. Other themes in the story are the power of self-sacrifice – when Harry’s mother died to save him, Voldemort was unable to kill him; and the power of loyalty – when Harry showed his loyalty to Dumbledore in the Chamber of Secrets, Fawkes the phoenix came to his rescue. One of the most important messages of this book is explicitly stated by Dumbledore, “It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.” (p. 333) 





Fantasy & Young Adult Fiction