Back before the Harry Potter series was finished, in the long gap I spent between Order of the Phoenix and Half Blood Prince, I had deemed Chamber of Secrets to be one of my least favorite of the series. On this re-read I did my best to keep an open mind.
While it's not going to move anywhere near my favorites, it was a bit more enjoyable. The problem is this book is a set up for lots of things coming in the series, themes and facts which do not show up again for a very long time. But for the moment, let's focus on how it works standing all by itself. The story sort of winds along and takes a long time to get going. Since everything has to happen over the course of a school year for Harry, the events get sort of drawn out and we end up with a couple diversions. As such an already short book actually feels like it could be a bit shorter if it wasn't forced to cover a certain time period.
Once again the mystery element is well executed, with us being led in other directions while the real answer is also being slyly hinted at in front of us. The problem is that there's really no way you would have possibly guessed the real answer ahead of time, because it requires additional knowledge of things in the wizard world that we have not yet been exposed to. One of the things I love about reading Sherlock Holmes stories is how you can usually figure it all out before Watson does, and you get an ultra sense of satisfaction as Holmes explains and proves you right. There's absolutely no chance of that happening here.
Spoilers for this book begin here.
I think one of the flaws is the way it's suggested that Hagrid was the one unleashing the monster. While on one hand plausible thanks to his love of large creatures, the fact is Hagrid is simply too kindhearted for such a thing. And would anyone really be OK with letting someone they believed kill a girl stay on the grounds? Honestly, re-reading it this time, I felt like she was also trying to make us think it might be Percy, and given the set up (ignoring what I knew as the truth) that actually seemed more plausible than Ginny or Hagrid with the clues that were being provided. While everything does wrap up into a nice neat package at the end, this certainly isn't her strongest work.
We get to meet four new characters of varying importance - Arthur Weasley, Lucius Malfoy, Dobby, and Moaning Myrtle. Arthur is immensely lovable, as pretty much every Weasley who isn't named Percy is. Lucius is one of those characters who you love to hate, and explains so much about who Draco is as a person. Moaning Myrtle is actually much more enjoyable in the movies than in the books. Shirley Henderson brings an extra amount of cheekiness to the role.
On my first reading, I found Dobby to be incredibly annoying. His actions simply don't make much sense. Why does he think Harry specifically is in danger? Sure, his mother was a muggle, but there's so many other students to worry about too. I also don't really see the logic in making someone's life miserable as an excuse to save their life. I suppose it's all supposed to seem cute and endearing, but I just don't care for him. Perhaps if they had made his design a little cuter in the movies, they might have been able to sway me.
On top of all this, I can't help but feel that both Harry and Dumbledore behave quite foolishly. Dumbledore knew that Voldemort was behind the original opening of the chamber, knew Tom Riddle was Voldemort, but he doesn't seem to share this fact with anyone. Harry had the opportunity to tell Dumbledore everything he knew, and he chickens out instead. After what happened at the end of Sorcerer's Stone, Harry should be able to trust Dumbledore at this point and not be afraid of him.
In terms of the movie adaptation, once again we have a fairly straight forward one. Things are once again compressed for time, and Nearly Headless Nick's death day party is dropped all together. The scene really doesn't have much to do with anything, and I can understand from a budget stand point why they would want to cut it too. They also stretch out and change some of the more action oriented scenes, which makes for better movie making. The voyage in the flying car is a bit more perilous and exciting, and Harry is left poisoned by the basilisk for a little bit longer, until after Riddle has already been defeated in order to increase the tension. They also switched the basilisk following his smell to listening for him, which allows for a good tense moment where Harry has to throw the rock and distract him.
While Daniel Radcliffe shows a natural talent for acting, I felt Emma Watson and Rupert Grint were somehow weaker in this one than they were in Sorcerer's Stone. Their lines seem more wooden, and Rupert Grint's facial expressions are over the top. Kenneth Branagh brings Lockhart's narcissism to life brilliantly. Jason Isaacs is absolutely fantastic as Lucius Malfoy. He seems almost like a snake turned into a man, he's so slimy. Yet also a bit sexy. I swear the casting directors were Slytherin fans, or maybe there was just some decision somewhere down the line that (ignoring Crabbe and Goyle) any male member of Slytherin must also be handsome.
One detail I noticed on this viewing is that Tom's memory is actually tinted slightly green, perhaps to give us a hint of his true intentions.
Once again the movie feels a bit long, though the CGI and special effects are greatly improved. The mandrakes look good though their screams put both my cats in a panic. I fell in love with the Cornish pixies the very first time I saw the film. I want one! I'll keep it in its cage, I promise. The basilisk and Dobby are both realistic enough looking that you believe Harry is actually interacting with both of them. I'm fairly certain that Fawkes was normally a puppet rather than CGI, which is probably why I loved him so much. While he's not what I think of when I imagine a phoenix, he's still a very beautiful bird.
The worst of the movie is the ending. As if the movie hadn't run on long enough already, we have to endure a very long scene for Hagrid's return, which turns into a big mushy love fest as the whole school claps for him. I like Hagrid, I just didn't need all of that.
Now on to spoilers for the rest of the series!
Like I said, it seems like a lot of this book is set up. We meet Dobby so we can learn about house elves, hinting at Hermione's forming of SPEW later on. We learn about polyjuice potion so that when Barty Crouch will pretend to be Mad-eye later, we'll understand how. And what we really don't know and what's absolutely most important, is that the diary is actually a horcrux and so is Harry. Dumbledore tells Harry that Voldemort put a piece of himself within Harry, even though he didn't mean to. At the time we think, ok, he knows how to speak parseltongue and he's probably a little better at spell casting now because of it. I think Rowling was counting on us to forget this, and I think really most of us had. I like this because it proves that she was fully aware of exactly where the overarching story of this series was going from this early on. The detriment is that this one seems a bit disjointed from all the other books until it's explained in book 6.
Also: "Dobby, do me a favor and never try to save my life again." Dobby's not a very good listener, is he?
Next up is Prisoner of Azkaban!! Can you tell it's one of my favorites? I'm really looking forward to reading and watching it again.