I thought on first reading it that this was one of the less successful of the Harry Potter books, and my prejudices were confirmed re-reading it now. It’s rather marking time between the scene-setting of volume 1 and the big reveals of volume 3. It’s also marred by the poor world-building of the politics of wizardry – the nature of the power relationships between the Minister for Magic, Lucius Malfoy, Dumbledore and the Weasleys’ father is never made very clear or credible. It seems extraordinary that no action beyond sidelining Dumbledore is taken after the outbreak of petrifactions, and even more extraordinary that the fraudulent Gilderoy Lockhart is allowed to remain in his job for a week, never mind three terms. Do the parents of Hogwarts pupils not care about their children being turned to stone, or set exam questions on their teachers’ autobiographies?
(One other niggle: given that Harry is so rich, why doesn’t he upgrade the Gryffindor Quidditch team’s broomsticks and get Ron a new wand?)
There are two saving graces to the book, though. The first is the diary – an artifact that seduces poor Ginny to do evil, that maintains Voldemort’s secret original identity. It’s a very creepy betrayal of intimacy. (Of course, if your diary is a Livejournal, it talks back to you in many voices…)
The other is the key moral message of the book that bigotry is wrong. It’s not only the nastiness of cheap insults like “Mudblood” and “Squib” and the consciousness of wizardly privilege; there’s also the moment when Harry inadvertently exposes himself as a Parseltongue, and his reputation plummets. It’s character-building for him, and hopefully thought-provoking for those readers who may not previously have had to think much about prejudice and privilege.
Anyway, Azkaban next, which is my favourite of the series.
< Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone | Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets | Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban | Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire | Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix | Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince | Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows | The Tales of Beedle the Bard >