As I said in my last article about Harry Potter, I read the books for the first time in the beginning of 2016. One thing that really disturbed me then and which still makes me uncomfortable is how the muggles are portrayed in the stories. Especially because the Dursleys are our stand-in characters for every human. That opinion doesn’t change much in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.

Granted, the Dursleys are the worst of the worst, no matter from what perspective. But why make them so despicable? I don’t know how I feel about this representation of muggles. There have to be some good ones out there — or are they all evil, untrustworthy bastards? It’s staggering because in just 29 pages J.K. Rowling shows us pure Dursley horror. They lock Harry up, starve and terrorize him. I am amazed at how exhausting it is to read those few pages. But on the other hand, you need those different levels within the story. The evil Dursleys on one side and the good, enjoyable wizard-world on the other. Otherwise, there would be no reason for Harry to leave the muggles. And conflict is always a good way to begin a story. Still, why make them such an evil, self-centred family?

If you look at the movie version of them, you get a completely different experience. Because in the book I read them as those serious, narrow-minded people. In the movie, on the other hand, they are more like a caricature. Very slapsticky. It’s nice because this way you don’t frighten the children who watch the movie. But as an adult, I would have liked a darker approach, where you are constantly wondering why the Youth Welfare Office doesn’t help this poor child.

Let’s move on and talk about Dobby the house-elf. I am very torn regarding this particular character. At first, I didn’t like him at all. His behavior in the house, the noises he makes, knowing Harry would be punished gruesomely — it just isn’t right. But later on his intentions are made clear and I understand him. Suddenly, especially in the end, when Harry frees him, I am happy for his newfound freedom. Very satisfactory.

Dobby is the main reason for Harry’s punishments. So, it is nice to see Ron care about Harry and that he and his brothers are freeing him of his oppressors. It is the first time we get to spend some time with an actual wizard family and witness how they do things. What are the differences between them and the muggles (besides the magic)? We finally get the answer. And to see that they have just the same problems as we do, is great.

One of my favorite Weasleys is definitely the father, Arthur. His curiosity and sometimes childish behavior perfectly contradict his wife, Molly. She holds the family together. It’s always good to read about her. I especially liked the moments when she snaps at the twins and a second later is completely nice and caring towards Harry. I also kind of like the movie version of them, although the scene in the house is way too short.

Another thing that bothers me about the movie, among other things, is the scene where Ron gets the howler. He and Harry had to steal the flying car and crashed into the Whomping Willow. In the book, the howler is described as this hellish thing that shouts like nothing you’ve heard before. In a volume that could destroy buildings and shatter mountains. I am exaggerating of course, but in the movie, it’s just Molly shouting. I was looking forward to this scene, but the execution was not so good.

We already talked about Dobby as a new character, let’s continue with some other unusual personalities. Gilderoy Lockhart for example. Who doesn’t hate this narcissistic, slick man with his fancy dresses and weird comments? It is interesting to see that the school supports him so much. I mean, he is just using his own books teach “defense against the dark arts”. Granted, they can use whatever they like to teach their classes, but Dumbledore could at least intervene. Give the students some useful books to read. The only way Gilderoy could be useful against the dark art is if you used him as a shield. But the headmaster didn’t really have another choice, as we will see in the upcoming books. This particular position is rather disliked – except maybe for one other character. It’s good to see Gilderoy perfectly portrayed in the movie, which was a welcomed surprise.

Another new character I wanted to talk about is Colin Creevy and his obsession with Harry. Taking pictures, shouting at him from the other side of the room, following him — it’s really cute. Being as famous as Harry has to have some consequences and it’s nice to see those aspects considered here. And it is a good addition to the way Lockhart treats him. Lockhart does it to become famous himself, Colin because he really likes him and is glad just to be around his hero.

Let’s talk about the finale. Myrtle is an interesting character and if you think about it, half of the book could have been rendered useless, if the kids had just talked to her. Really talked to her and listened what she had to say. The scene after she tells her story and they are underground is also a great payoff. We finally know why Ron had to break his wand – so Gilderoy could have his accident. It’s one of the best moments in the book.

As Harry than confronts Tom Riddle all by himself, he has to learn that Voldemort seems to have a plan for everything. Sorry, I meant He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named — You-Know-Who. Anyway, the mystery about the true heir of Slytherin is perfectly executed within the book. I love how Harry (and sometimes the readers themselves) is not that sure about his nature. Where does he really belong? As Dumbledore talks to Harry at the end of the story, I ask myself: is this really Dumbledore’s opinion? Or did he just say that to comfort a young man who is not so sure of his heritage? But then there is the sword of Gryffindor. Be that as it may, this and the fact that Harry can speak Parseltongue adds to a well-executed mystery and an interesting finale.

Within the book, the fight with the basilisk and the conversation with Riddle is another thing really well done. But in the movie, there are a few things bothering me. For one thing, why would anyone throw away any weapon during a fight — even if a loved one is in danger?! The most important rule, particularly when those weapons come from Dumbledore himself, is: KEEP IT! Be it a wand, a sword or just a fucking hat. Just keep it. And Harry does this two times. First his wand (!) and then the hat. Dumb kid.

Another thing is this: in the last article I mentioned that Harry is a cold blooded killer — at least, in the movie, he is. He doesn’t have any regrets or struggles with his decision. No, instead he continues his journey to be a serial killer. Well, at least in an oblique way. In the book, he stabs the diary one time. One well-aimed blow and the tooth of the basilisk destroys Tom Riddle. In the movie he does this three times, with blood spilling out of it — it’s a mess. A brutal, bloody mess. I like the idea that the movies are an alternate universe, where Harry becomes evil. In the end, he and Voldemort rule the galaxy — father and son, joining forces. Overthrowing the Emperor and… Oh, sorry, wrong franchise. But you know what I mean…

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets is a great continuation. Though the movie, again, lacks a lot of the good stuff (no potion classes with Snape, no protection for one of the most powerful books in the school library, the spiders are too small and the wrong teacher tells the legend of the chamber), it’s better than the last one. I am very curious how the third movie will be because at the moment The Prisoner of Azkaban is my favorite book in the series. Let’s hope for the best…

Christoph Staffl

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