J.G. Keely's Reviews > Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling
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Jul 26, 2007

did not like it
bookshelves: fantasy, contemporary-fiction, novel, reviewed, contemporary-fantasy, uk-and-ireland
Read in January, 2003

In her second outing, Rowling builds up her confidence (and relationship with her publisher) enough to begin her signature page number crawl. Unfortunately, for this book, her chaotic plotting means that the further length just becomes more scattered moments.

Despite some interesting twists and concepts, this is the weakest entry in the series. It betrays a utilitarian sense of plot and worldbuilding, in that it expands the story little. Of course, Rowling never really gets the process of streamlining or simplification into her literary arsenal, but later books in the series come to use her meandering style more to her benefit.

The movie's probably your better bet.

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Comments (showing 1-32 of 32) (32 new)

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message 1: by Ahmed (last edited Aug 19, 2011 01:43PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ahmed Labib I liked what you said. But don't you think, 1/5 is a little bit harsh? Heh. Your choice of course. ;-)

J.G. Keely Well, I gave the first book 2/5 and this one was definitely worse; not really a lot of leeway in a five-star system.

message 3: by [deleted user] (new)

Utilitarian sense of plot??? Kind of a murky way to describe something lol. I think your a bit harsh on a children's novel. When I was a lad, I never thought gosh this Rowling has an oddly utilitarian sense of plot and a meandering style not streamlined... it was pretty streamlined compared to most young adult works at the time. I guess it was just entertaining. If you read it for fun (like it was intended), then you got to give it at least 3 or 4 stars. It was never intended for a intellectual dissection.

J.G. Keely I reject the idea that children's literature should be 'dumbed down' or have its errors excused because of the shelf it sits on in the bookstore. Good children's literature is just as enjoyable and interesting to an adult as it is to a child. More on that idea here.

When I say 'utilitarian', I mean that the writing plods along regularly, without art or precision. It is a style intended to 'get the job done' without much thought to elegance. There is no masterful, unique tone which pervades the book, as you might find in Lewis Carroll or Rouald Dahl.

". . . it was pretty streamlined compared to most young adult works at the time."

Show me another young adult work that takes three hundred and fifty pages to tell a rather straightforward story.

You say I was supposed to read the book for fun, but I didn't think it was very fun. It's not original, it's not well-plotted, the characters are not yet fully-developed, and it adds little to the series as a whole. I don't find it fun to read a book which is rough, simplistic, and long-winded.

I have no problem with rollicking pulp adventures, but I hardly found this book to be either vibrant or well-paced enough to constitute a 'fun read'.

message 5: by [deleted user] (new)

I think this one didn't hit you young enough man. Childern's literature shouldn't be dumped down (I don't think Harry is either), but it is different and you have to at least admit that. And not all literature is about think ideas explored in colorful text.

Either-way I think you we have a difference of opinion because, I personally think the language is quite nice (with some witty humor) and the characters very well developed, along with the setting. It is one of the reasons I think the movies transcend the image so well. I can't help but always get a clear image of Snape, Harry, or Dumbledoor... all this was prior to the films.

J.G. Keely ". . . it is different and you have to at least admit that."

Having read the works of English fantasy authors like Dunsany, Eddison, Kipling, Nesbit, Mervyn Peake, Gaiman, Rouald Dahl, Carroll, C.S. Lewis, Susanna Clarke, and Philip Pullman, no, I don't think Rowling is different. She is derivative of an old tradition of English fairy stories about children being swept off into a magic land which parallels our own. Combine that with a standard good vs. evil monomyth and I really don't see anything original about the series.

Many of those authors also wrote children's stories, and I found them just as delightful and magical coming to them for the first time in my twenties, so I don't think it's a case of 'reading it at the wrong age'.

I agree that she is capable of writing memorable characters, but I found this book to have the least personality of the series. As for setting, I do not find her to be a competent world-building author. She includes many details, such as the time-turner, which would be very powerful and have far-reaching implications. The fact that it is only occasionally used to fix a few plot problems does not indicate a thoroughly-considered setting to me.

Then, at the end, she suddenly changes a number of otherwise normal items into plot-important artifacts to base a fetch quest around. This does not indicate that her story is developing naturally from a well-built setting, but that the setting is a flimsy thing that the author changes as it suits her.

message 7: by [deleted user] (new)

Ahh... I agree Harry isn't the most original, I give up this argument to you. Some of her elements are hit and miss. I still think it is better than most twenty-first century young-adult works. Many I think it is because I grew up on it, and I did and probably still will enjoy it.

J.G. Keely It is better than most modern YA books I've read, certainly, and part of the series are fun. I just thought this specific book in the series was especially weak.

Josephine  (reading in twilight) You know, thinking of it that way, plods along is a way i remember it. But I think my great affection for the series as a child and even today lead me to give it a higher rating. Perhaps it's bad reviewing, but at least your here to keep us objective. I've often wondered what I'd think of jk Rowling if I wasn't such an admirer.

On that note, trivia for you: she originally for many events that occurred in half blood prince, major character betrayal, major character death, to occur in this volume but switched it for the first horcrux. As far as I understand. But that was revised...

Ive also held the opinion that the books increased in readability and maturity as Harry and the audience whom it was targeted at, aged, perhaps that was unintentional, but it let me overlook certain things which added to my intense enjoyment. I'm now going to read your philosophers stone review since apparently that didn't fare much better. ;P

Slyfox98 Either way, this book is important to the series because it is where Harry destroys his first horcrux, meets Dobby who saves his life in the last book and meets Tom Riddle for the first time, who is a very important character in the books.

J.G. Keely Except that there is no reason that any of those events necessarily had to happen in this book.

Ahmed Labib ^ But can that not be said for all the other books? That is, could there plot not be interwoven in any other book?

J.G. Keely I'm not sure if it could be said of all book events--I think that planning out when things occur is a vitally important part of writing. It's like the old Chekhov's Gun example: if there's a gun in the first act, someone should fire it in the third, and furthermore, if there isn't one in the first, don't pull one out of nowhere in the third. Things have to be established and built at certain times in the story.

But even so, we wouldn't say 'the first act is important because it introduces the gun, which shows up later', because the mere inclusion of a plot element does not make that act important--indeed, if that is all that happens in the first act, we might declare it to be rather trivial.

What I'm saying is that I don't think the inclusion of those specific elements make this book worth reading, and that there were many other structures and stories that could have contained those scenes and produced a better book.

message 14: by Akash (new)

Akash Makkar Did you mention the time-turner in a comment, yes you did. Yippie, one of my favorite discussions (maybe because I boss it), explaining the conundrum of time-turner. The inclusion of time-turner by Rowling and making it work the way it does in the novels is a blunder according to me, but not because no one uses it for anything substantial. Actually, it can't be used at all without the permission of god/author/or whoever the fuck controls the HP universe (a smart editor, no, a dumb editor, maybe, it's doubtful that he/she had any control because, dumb).

In HP universe there is just one history, which is unalterable. If some time travel is going to happen, the outcome of that has already been decided, even before the person who travels decides to travel. That is how Harry saves his own ass from the dementors. There is no free will in this universe, no one can pick up time-turner, go back to kill Voldemort and succeed. Why, because Voldemort still lives at the time when the person decided to go back. I wonder what would have happened if Harry decided to not go back in time, after all, Sirius and Buckbeak have already been saved by the same logic Harry was saved, he didn't need to go back.

Courtnie -.^ did you know that all events ( even if they seem irrelevant at the time) plays a role in the other books? You may argue that the whole chamber of secrets thing was a waste but it wasn't. It tells you why moaning Myrtle died so you understand her constant whining. It also shows why she stays in the bathroom. Why she comes out of a toilet and why she's telling Harry "long time no see" in the 4th book that brings Voldemort back to full power. It also introduces Ginny Weasley and shows off more of Ron's traits and shows the ONE time the hermoine does not give away all the details because although she had figured out the basilisk and that it uses the pipes, it was still up to Ron and Harry to figure out exactly where the chamber was. It was far from weak in my opinion. :)

J.G. Keely I guess I tend to think that seemingly irrelevant events are not good for a story. If the author wants to foreshadow things that are going to happen and set up future events, that's great, but it's important that they do so in a way that doesn't take away from the story you're currently reading (and I think the conflict in this one was pretty weak to begin with).

I mean, if the book was just Rowling making references to future events which make little sense to the reader at the time, I think that's a sign of aimless structure. A good author creates a story with sweep and meaning, showing scenes that are pertinent at the moment you read them, they don't break up their pacing with digressions that will only become important several books on.

Thanks for the comment.

Ahmed Labib ^ I think what you are trying to say, in a nutshell, is that this book, unlike the rest of the series, does not really develop the plot/characters/ her world etc in the pace the other books do (which you mentioned in your actual review). Meaning the pages are wasted here more than the rest of the series.

J.G. Keely Well, more than that, I just found the plot of this book to be lackluster, pointless, and overly convenient compared to the rest of the series, so even if it did contain some scenes that set up later events, that doesn't save it from its flaws.

Voldemort No no no, this is one of the best books ever. If you can complain about this book, then probably you'll complain about every book there is around here. No offense, really ...

J.G. Keely Actually, I've given four or five stars to hundreds of books--just not this one.

Margot I can barely get through these books now, Rowling's early writing is so rough. But I'd still say the first two movies are worse (at least, in terms of re-watching value). They're decent until the very end when it's supposed to be all exciting but instead becomes dead boring. When I watch, I always switch it off half an hour before the end.

J.G. Keely Yeah, I guess I think of it in terms of someone who wants to catch up with the story in order to get to the later books, in which case the movies would be a somewhat faster way to catch up.

Terry I think it's cute that you treated the book seriously as worthy of criticism. For most people it's just a fun read. To you it has critics to satisfy. Droll.

J.G. Keely Ah yes, I forgot: whenever a book is defined as 'fun', we're supposed to ignore any bad writing, plot holes, flat characters, cliches, or aimless structure it has. I guess I just don't find bland books to be that fun.

message 25: by Terry (last edited Jun 04, 2013 05:52AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Terry I also find bland books to be no fun. For the HP books I just slipped back into noncritical mode, time traveled back to sixth grade awareness, and proceeded to enjoy the story. If you don't have this mode available there is always shutting the book or throwing it against a wall.

Don't torture yourself. On the other hand, I really appreciate your sharing your experience and your honesty, particularly because your reading experience was different from mine.

J.G. Keely Eh, it's not like I loathed the book and wanted to destroy it, I just didn't think it was particularly good or entertaining. Some of the later books in the series are a bit better. I certainly like a good adventure story well enough, but this one didn't get there, for me.

Manta Rui agree with this review very much- one of the few that calls out Rowling's writing for the thin, unimaginative and unoriginal scribbling that it is. You've put down a lot of what I thought as I went through the (for want of a better word) novel. finally someone who (openly) agrees!

I was disappointed at how my childhood memories of this book are so much richer than the dismal, plodding script in my hands. it's a sad state we have come to when people so easily award such writing five stars when there are so many better "young adult" writers out there

TF2 PLAYER NO.1 amaaaasing!!!!!!!

arunima j.k. keely i know harry potter and chambdr og secerts will not be the best blok but they are nog so boring.....

Carly  Lenhardt You must be kidding

Orinoco Womble (tidy bag and all) I agree. It's only Vol 2 and she's already started to repeat motifs.

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