The Chamber of Secrets, Chapters 6-7: What’s Up with This Year?

First, I just want to say I feel honored to be part of such a fantastic collective of writers. I’m a little intimidated by the awesomeness of all the posts so far, but I solemnly swear to do my best.

I'm not worthy to be in the presence of such HP greatness!

I first met Harry Potter when I was 11, same as him. I was in the sixth grade, and a friend carpooled with me to and from school. One fateful day after my mom dropped her off at her house, I noticed she had left a book in the car, fallen between the seat and the door. Since it was a book of rather promising proportions, and I was just about the biggest nerd you can imagine—I wore glasses with lenses roughly the size of baseballs—I grabbed it and started reading. The rest is, as they say, history. Fast-forward through several midnight release parties, a Tonks costume, and movie madness… and here I am. I grew up with Harry, Ron, and Hermione, and I feel almost as close to them as my own family. The really cool thing is, I’m not the only one. There are multitudes of people who feel the same way, and by extension, we’re all family. D’aww…

Okay, that’s enough of that. Let’s get to the book.

CHAPTER 6: GILDEROY LOCKHART

Chapter 6 opens with yet another invention of the wizarding world and J.K. Rowling’s beautiful brain: the Howler. I remember being mortified for Ron when I first read about him receiving the Howler. That’s just about the most embarrassing thing I could think of as a kid, short of my mother actually walking into my school cafeteria herself and shouting in front of all my classmates. Ron’s dread keeps him from opening the Howler right away, but Neville says it’ll only get worse if he waits. It kind of makes me wonder what exactly happens if you ignore a Howler. Does it get louder? Do you get some kind of double Howler —a Howler for ignoring the Howler PLUS whatever the Howler was originally about? Am I making any sense whatsoever? Moving on…

This is what happens if you ignore a Howler. It turns into a Michael Bay movie.

This is what happens if you ignore a Howler. It turns into a Michael Bay movie.

Can I take a second to mention the food in these books? One thing I’ve always loved about this series is Rowling’s ability to add just the right touches of detail. Without going overboard, she places you in her world and surrounds you with a feast of imagination, so you can really look around and see everything in your head. She also quite literally describes the feasts the kids get to pig out on every single day in the Great Hall. Man, I would be such a lazy slob if I were a witch. I’d just sit around on the couch Accio-ing everything to me and eating.

The four long house tables were laden with tureens of porridge, plates of kippers, mountains of toast, and dishes of eggs and bacon, beneath the enchanted ceiling (today, a dull, cloudy gray).

Now I’m hungry.

As Matt discussed in the previous post, Rowling takes a rather large opportunity in this book to examine fame, and this chapter bolsters Harry’s frustration with not only his own fame but people like Lockhart who use their fame for selfish gain. Rowling makes it very clear that fame does not define a person, and that it can often lead to corruption. Lockhart is ecstatic that he’s been given the opportunity to teach and–in his own mind–mentor Harry, but not for any sincere reasons. Not because Harry was nearly killed and knocked unconscious at the end of the last book. Not because his reputation as The Boy Who Lived could get him into some serious Dark Arts-related trouble. Nope, he wants to “mentor” Harry as a fellow “celebrity” because it will further his own designs as a well-known know-it-all. Lockhart actually gives himself credit for some of Harry’s fame.

“Gave you a taste for publicity, didn’t I?” said Lockhart. “Gave you the bug. You got onto the front page of the paper with me and you couldn’t wait to do it again.”

He takes it upon himself to give Harry some advice (“It’s a start, Harry”), and then it’s off to double Herbology with the Hufflepuffs, where Lockhart has managed to ruffle even the usually cheerful Professor Sprout’s feathers. We’re introduced to Mandrakes, which seem very annoying, and Justin Finch-Fletchley, who talks almost as much as the Mandrakes scream.

What really fascinates me is Hermione’s blind devotion to Lockhart. Her feelings toward him are those of a typical schoolgirl crush, but are his good looks enough to compensate for his obviously lacking skills in the Dark Arts? Apparently so. Part of it might have something to do with Hermione’s similarly blind trust in books and the written word. Lockhart’s bibliography is impressive, so she would naturally admire him as an accomplished writer, and while she’s undoubtedly intelligent, her unfailing devotion to books can be a weakness at times. I’m getting ahead of myself but just look at Half-Blood Prince for an example, when Hermione trusts her schoolbook over the Half-Blood Prince’s margin notes.

Maybe it’s simpler than that, though. Hermione’s feelings for Lockhart are just what they are: a simple crush, and that’s okay. It’s another example of Rowling’s ability to write female characters who are strong yet flawed and human. Everyone has silly crushes when we have to admit we only like someone based on their looks, and we sometimes have feelings for people who are entirely wrong for us. Hermione is smart and resourceful, but she’s still human, with a pulse and a pair of eyes. Later on in the series, this is acknowledged when Hermione is talking about Viktor Krum and says she’s never liked someone just because they’re handsome, and Ron responds with a loud cough that sounds like, “Lockhart!”

Such a stud.

Such a stud.

Ron notices Hermione has scribbled little hearts all around Lockhart’s lessons, which sends her into a blushing fit. Then Harry meets his #1 fanboy: Colin Creevey. Lockhart comes striding in and pushes himself into Harry’s limelight, nabbing yet another photo op with his self-proclaimed protégé as Colin snaps a picture of the two. Malfoy accuses Harry of having an inflated head, and Ron plays his part in a little foreshadowing when he tells Malfoy to eat slugs. Then it’s time for the first Defense Against the Dark Arts class of the new school year! Exciting, right?

Lockhart starts his class off with a little pop quiz that looks like this:

1. What is Gilderoy Lockhart’s favorite color?

2. What is Gilderoy Lockhart’s secret ambition?

3. What, in your opinion, is Gilderoy Lockhart’s greatest achievement to date?

54. When is Gilderoy Lockhart’s birthday, and what would his ideal gift be?

Is this guy for real? I think Lockhart was the first character who really just frustrated the hell out of me. I pretty much wanted to smack him the entire time. Now, though, after re-reading and knowing what’s to come, he’s actually just hilarious. I mean, he wrote a 54-question quiz about himself while referring to himself in the third person. Then, when reviewing the answers, he says his ideal gift would be “harmony between all magic and non-magic peoples—though I wouldn’t say no to a large bottle of Ogden’s Old Firewhisky!” The first part sounds like an answer to a Miss America pageant question, and the second part–well, I honestly wouldn’t mind trying Ogden’s Old Firewhisky myself. Lockhart then has the bright idea of releasing a bunch of Cornish pixies upon his unsuspecting students, and it plays out exactly as you’d expect. Poor Neville gets lifted into the air by his ears and is left dangling from a chandelier, which crashes down and nearly squashes Lockhart (darn, so close!). The chapter ends with Hermione defending Lockhart, saying he just wanted to give them some “hands on” experience. Riiiight.

CHAPTER 7: MUDBLOODS AND MURMURS 

Harry spends the next few days being completely fed up with this whole fame nonsense and trying to avoid both Lockhart and Creevey until Oliver Wood (*swoon*) grabs him out of bed for an impromptu Quidditch practice at the break of dawn. Yay, Quidditch! Harry runs into Colin Creevey on the way to the field and explains Quidditch to him (nice way to recap there, Jo). When he reaches the pitch, the Gryffindor team are all there, struggling to stay awake while Oliver gets all serious business and goes over strategies for winning this year’s Quidditch Cup.

Eventually, Trouble a.k.a. the Slytherin team walks onto the pitch, and the Gryffindors are pissed because Slytherins are in the general vicinity and also because this was supposed to be the Gryffindors’ practice time. It turns out Snape gave the Slytherins permission in the form of a “specially signed note” to train their new Seeker, who’s revealed to be none other than… Draco Malfoy! Uh oh. Nothing indicates that this will end well. To add salt to the wound, Malfoy’s daddy has also bought the entire Slytherin team the latest Nimbus model broomsticks, the Nimbus Two Thousand and One. Ron and Hermione stride over to see what’s going on, and Hermione—god, I love her for this—says, “At least no one on the Gryffindor team had to buy their way in. They got in on pure talent.” We can always count on our Hermione to deliver the sharp wit in a neat little package.

Draco’s response? “No one asked your opinion, you filthy little Mudblood.”

This is a significant moment because it’s the first time we’re exposed to the term Mudblood and the prejudice that exists toward Muggle-born wizards and witches. Even though Draco has been a certifiable jerk up until now, this is the first time he’s shown real bigotry toward those he feels are inferior to him. Because of all the father talk, we have an inkling (which is confirmed later) that his behavior is an extension of his upbringing. We also get the idea that Draco isn’t happy with certain aspects of his own life. Hermione must have struck a chord for him to react in such a way, and even though his reaction isn’t justified in the slightest, it seems to come from a buried shame about his family’s need to buy recognition rather than earning it like most other people.

Harry, who has never heard the term before, immediately realizes it’s a very, very bad thing to say because of the way everyone reacts. Ron acts out of sheer instinct, not thinking about the consequences (no surprise there), and pulls out his broken wand and points it at Malfoy’s stupid face. Of course, it backfires, and Ron starts burping slugs. Holy. Shit. Ron has really not had a good year, guys. He started out in a fight with the Whomping Willow, which landed him in detention with a useless wand. Then he had to endure a Howler, and now he’s belching slugs in the middle of the Quidditch pitch while the Slytherin team cracks up. If he weren’t such great comic relief, I’d really feel for the poor kid. Harry and Hermione help Ron over to Hagrid’s hut, and Hagrid makes everything better with kind words, treacle fudge, and giant pumpkins. And a bucket, because that’s the most important thing when you’re upchucking slugs.

When they get back to the castle, McGonagall gives Harry and Ron their detention assignments, as though coughing up slugs wasn’t punishment enough for poor Ron. He has to polish all the trophies in the trophy room without magic, but it turns out he actually got the better end of the deal because Harry is stuck helping Lockhart answer his fan mail. You’d think that’d be bad enough, but then, in the middle of addressing an envelope to Veronica Smethley, he hears this:

Come . . . come to me . . . Let me rip you. . . . Let me tear you. . . . Let me kill you. . .

And, guys, I FREAKED when I first read this. It sent chills all along my spine. I always remembered this as the most lighthearted book, but this re-read has me second guessing myself. Some serious shit happened in Harry’s second year. I mean, can you imagine being twelve years old and just suddenly hearing a cold, ominous voice saying it wants to rip you apart and kill you?! I would be out of my mind with fear even now. At twelve, I probably would have run crying to the nearest adult for help. But then, I’m not Harry Effing Potter, am I?

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14 thoughts on “The Chamber of Secrets, Chapters 6-7: What’s Up with This Year?

  1. Kevin O'Shea says:

    I remember Aunt Petunia getting a Howler and not opening it, and it burst into flame while screaming its message, all biblical style. Definitely worse.

    When the movie was about to come out, and my youngest sister was still pretty little, I remember warning my mother (who wouldn’t actually read the books until they all came out so she could do it all at once) that it was thus far the scariest of all the books. Not to deter bringing the little sister along, but so she’d be prepared.

    • Alyssa says:

      I forgot about Petunia’s Howler! That is terrifying.

      I don’t know what I was thinking when I remembered this book as tame and lighthearted. It deals with prejudice and racism, and it has substantially more blood and gore than the first book.

  2. Gretchen Alice says:

    That Michael Bay picture is perfect.

    I’ve always liked that Hermione has a weakness for handsome men.

  3. Dan says:

    First: I’m amazed–and a little jealous–that you all discovered Harry Potter is such magical ways. A mysteriously forgotten book? Seriously?! That is so much cooler than “My sister was a reading teacher.”

    Second: So many writers can be ham-fisted when it comes to tackling “issues” like racism and prejudice. But then you have Rowling. Maybe it’s because the house-elf subplot seems so blatant, but the introduction of the Mudblood issue in wizard society just seems so subtle. It’s a nice undercurrent that runs through the middle section of the series.

    • Kevin O'Shea says:

      Heavily agreed. One of the best reactions I ever read recently was about how Rowling hits upon racism in such a realistic way that children are already aware of, and that’s not how the “evil” wizards treat house elves, but how the “good” ones do without even thinking that it’s bad, like Ron. It shows that racism and other bad habits are something that everyone does because of societal acceptance, and that recognizing that you -yourself- do it is an important step and is in no way shameful.

      And to do it without being heavy-handed about it is just stellar.

    • Jen says:

      The whole Mudblood thing is awesome, because it introduces this undercurrent that you didn’t really know was there, and you find out later that this prejudice is what formed the basis for the evil uprising.

      One thing that bugs me a little is that Ron, who is so angry about the term “Mudblood”, mocks Filch for being a Squib. I feel so bad for that guy.

  4. […] I’m participating in an awesome project called The Harry Potter Medicinal Re-Read, in which a bunch of really smart people are re-reading the Harry Potter series together and then writing about it. My first post went up today! Check it out here. […]

  5. Jennie says:

    Maybe I’ve been watching too much New Girl but Ron’s shenanigans (and doing-without-thinking tendencies) remind me a lot of Nick Miller.

  6. Jen says:

    Lockhart is so ridiculous! I love that he gets Snape’s coveted position. Can you imagine wanting something so bad and watching someone so inept do the job? Poor Snape.

  7. curryalley says:

    I think Hermione puts so much faith in Lockhart not only because of her crush but, as an extension of the book thing, because he’s a teacher. Hermione is determined to be the best student and she has absolute faith that anyone with the suthority of a teacher deserves it. Even after the Quirrell example.

  8. Ashley says:

    It’s interesting that you delve into Malfoy’s head a bit here. I hope someone tackles that boy’s headspace sometime in this project — he really is an interesting character. Jo could have made him a pure villain, but he’s not, and he and Harry actually end up making peace with one another, which I find really fascinating.

  9. Angelica says:

    You’re the fourth blogger I follow who’s currently re-reading the Harry Potter series, as I an doing as well, only this time in audio book format.

    The chamber of secrets is not one of my favourite books in the series. I like the later books more, because they’re darker and because Harry and his friends are older in those. I think it has to do with the fact that I didn’t grow up with the books. I was never the same age as the characters when I read the books so I very much liked them getting older, closer to the age I was. It’s still a good book, of course, just not my favourite.

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