Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (Harry Potter 2)
by J.K. Rowling
In Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, Harry was challenged with defining himself in a world that thinks it already knows him. This same theme continues in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, but is more generalized. How is one defined? What makes someone who they are? The magical world labels a person based on their abilities and lineage, but what defines who someone really is?
The derogatory term "mudblood" literally means dirty blood, or blood that has been tainted. The label implies that those with pure-wizard-blood are superior to those without. Yet Hermione Granger, one of Harry's best friends, is not only a muggle-born, but also the most brilliant student at Hogwarts. In contrast, Draco Malfoy is a pureblood and neither bright nor kind.
Harry's quest to discover his own identity is complicated when he discovers that one of his gifts, the ability to speak to snakes, is a talent usually reserved for the darkest wizards. In fact, Salazaar Slytherin was himself able to converse with the serpents. Suspicion follows Harry throughout the books as his peers begin to wonder if Harry Potter is Slytherin's heir. Even Harry begins to wonder if his peers are right.
The identity problems that Harry must face lead him to make some bad choices. When he first hears voices that no one else can hear, he is afraid to tell anyone for fear of being labeled crazy. He even holds himself back from telling Albus Dumbledore, Hogwart's headmaster and Harry's mentor. Dumbledore continues to give Harry chances to come forward, but Harry does not. Instead, Harry tries to solve everything with only Ron and Hermione's help.
While The Chamber of Secrets is an enjoyable book for both children and adults, it is the most disturbing in the series so far. In attempting to solve the mystery, Harry, Ron, and Hermione fail to tell an adult what they know. Instead, they try to brew a dangerous potion from the restricted section of the library. Why they choose the latter instead of the former is never made clear and the reader is left wondering why the heroes would try something so close to the dark arts.
While not as contrived as the first book, The Chamber of Secrets does have its contrived moments. For example, Ron happens to find a note in a petrified person's hand. While it is unlikely that someone in the hospital wing would not have spotted it before, the scene is necessary to help Harry solve the mystery.
The book is enjoyable, however. Most of the characters are like good friends and the story itself is as enjoyable as the first. Rowling does a masterful job balancing humor with some of the dark undertones and Harry is a believable twelve-year-old that faces all of his struggles on a relatively human level. The story is well told and well worth the read.