Warning: Spoilers for all 7 books throughout! Long post! Much snark!
Chapters 1–5: Dobby and the return to Hogwart’s
So Harry’s had a predictably shit summer holidays because his extended family are awful and Dobby the house elf has been keeping his letters from him because he doesn’t want Harry to go back to Hogwart’s. Apparently the somewhat convoluted plan is to make Harry think he doesn’t have friends so he doesn’t want to go back.
Dobby also does some magic, which not only causes Harry to be punished significantly by the Dursleys, but also gets him a stern letter from the rather Big Brother-esque Ministry of Magic. I would ask “How are they possibly monitoring all the magic use in the world?” but it’s obviously magic, duh.
But if we assume they can monitor all the magic, how can they be so ineffective against dark magic? Unless, of course, they ARE the dark magic…
Oh yeah, I’ve just remembered that character that Imelda Staunton plays was from the MoM! And she was bad, right? Or was she just an annoying bureaucrat? Can’t remember.
No, she must have been evil.
So is Dobby meant to be incredibly annoying? Or is that just me? I dunno why, but I feel like house elves would probably be female. So far it seems like all the magical characters are default-male.
Now Ron and his brothers have appeared with his brothers to jailbreak Harry. Wooo action scene.
The moving photos and book covers in the wizard world are pretty cool and I think we’re moving towards this as a society with our love of animated gifs. It would be cool if eBooks had animated covers.
Even the nice wizards are really dismissive of the human world, talking about “Muggle rubbish”. I feel like Muggle is supposed to be a really derogative term, but it’s bandied about by everyone. Sounds like a massive racial slur to me.
“The new Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher must be a fan – bet it’s a witch”
What’s with the casual sexism?
So the Weasleys seem to be a really awesome family (it’s these kinds of literary families that make me want lots of kids) but concerned – quite rightly – about putting their 6 (?) kids through a massively expensive private school. Even a wealthy family would struggle with this, so why are the Weasleys painted as being so poor? Second-hand books aren’t exactly a sign of an impoverished life, especially in the wizarding world, where old books are commonplace, surely? [Edit: OK, they are probably poor because they have spent all their money on putting their kids through private school. Which leads me to wonder, are there other wizarding schools? Are they cheaper? Or free? You’d think if there were you would see some sort of inter-school Quidditch tournament.]
Ginny’s crush on Harry is adorkable.
So owls are used as the postal service. But if Ron has a rat how does he get letters delivered anywhere during term time? Surely then everyone should have their own owl PLUS a familiar? That’s like saying you may have an e-mail address OR a personal journal.
Harry has a bank vault filled with wizard gold. But he’s all like “oh, I don’t have any money in the Muggle world”. Like there wouldn’t be a money exchange somewhere. There seem to be way too many mixed families for this to make any sense. Also, where did his parents get all that money?
Floo powder seems like a horrible, horrible way to get around. Not only that but Harry is terrible at following basic instructions like “wait until you see Fred and George”.
We learn from Malfoy Sr that the Ministry are conducting raids. Raids? Seems like this Ministry of Magic are a rather authoritarian government. Were they even elected? Or did they all come of out Slytherin too? But Malfoy Sr does seem to have lots of potions for poisoning Muggles, so maybe they are trying to do good after all.
They refer to Hermione as “a girl of no wizard family” and lament that “wizard blood is counting for less everywhere”. So she has no wizard blood but is still a witch? I really hope this is explained.
Hermione’s Muggle parents are exchanging money! So that means Harry is rich in both worlds. Unless the exchange rate is really bad.
Gilderoy Lockhart sounds like the Lord Flashhart of the wizarding world.
Malfoy Sr is a nasty piece of work, which does make me feel bad for Draco. It’s not like he really had any better examples to follow. I’m kind of surprised that Mr Weasley and Mr Malfoy resorted to physical violence, but I supposed if there had been magic involved the MoM would have been round immediately.
Harry and Ron steal the magic car, leaving Ron’s parents presumably stranded on platform 9 ¾ indefinitely. How are they going to get the car back from Hogwarts? Can you just tell magic cars where to go? They say they need to worry about aeroplanes, but isn’t the train to Hogwarts in another dimension? I assumed Hogwarts was in the wizarding world, far removed from Muggles.
They’ve been heading North from London for several hours so can we assume that Hogwart’s is in Scotland?
Violent tree attacks them in their car, conveniently empties luggage and gives Harry, Ron, Hedwig and Scabbers the chance to get away first.
“Why didn’t you send us a letter by owl? I believe you have an owl?”
Because Ron and Harry aren’t exactly street smart, Professor McGonagall. Also, as much as everyone is dissing Muggles, you’d think they would have co-opted the telephone system by now.
Punishment feasts at Hogwart’s consist of sandwiches, pumpkin juice and silver goblets.
You can have your golden goblet back when you’ve learned to behave, Harry!
Jesus, these howlers. Is public shaming really an acceptable form of discipline in this world?
Aaaaand the messed up points system is back. Hermione gets 10 points for answering a question correctly in class. Does that mean that answering 6 questions correctly would have earned her as many points as Harry got for saving the school/world in the previous book? If so, how could anyone be so upset with them when they got 150 points docked for wandering around at night? Just answer 15 questions in class! And if Ravenclaw is supposed to be full of smart students, how are they not winning every term?
Lockhart is insufferable. I think he’s meant to be though. How did he even get this job?
“My name was down for Eton, you know, I can’t tell you how glad I am I came here instead”
Why has no teacher helped Ron fix his wand yet? Surely they wouldn’t be punishing him by denying him an important piece of equipment he needs for his studies? Maybe you can’t fix wands. Seems pretty dangerous having a clumsy second year roaming around with a broken wand, that’s all.
Quidditch practice at dawn and they make Harry feel guilty for the fact they lost the Quidditch Cup last year because Harry was UNCONSCOUS IN HOSPITAL. Aren’t Gryffindors supposed to be kind and understanding?
[Boring sports interlude with everyone getting really worked up about sharing pitches and comparing dicks brooms]
Oh, so it’s Mudblood that’s the awful racial slur and Muggle seems to be fine. The whole pure-blood thing is supposed to be a Nazi reference/metaphor, right?
But if there’s nothing wrong with being a Muggle, why is it such an offensive term? Offensive terms are normally offensive when a group of people has been historically repressed and dehumanised. Has something like this happened with Muggles? Did they have to fight for Muggle rights?
“Most wizards these days are half-blood anyway. If we hadn’t married Muggles we’d’ve died out”
How strange. Is the wizard birthrate abnormally low? OR were *they* the persecuted ones?
So someone born to a wizarding family with no powers is called a Squib. That’s nice. I’m really starting to think that wizards are just assholes.
“Have you got anything to tell me Harry?”
This is the point I lose all sympathy for Harry (and teenagers in general). Dumbledore is a kind, gentle man, who can help you with your problem, but he chooses to stay silent out of a kind of misplaced loyalty to his peers.
Chapters 11-15: Sleuthing around
The terrible trio have based their entire plan on successfully concocting this Polyjuice Potion based on the assumption that Draco is behind it all. They don’t seem to have stopped to think “hey, what if it’s not him?”
We find out during a wizard duel that Harry can talk to snakes – or rather, everyone else finds out. Of course, this looks super dodgy, and now everyone is kind of suspicious and terrified of Harry. Wizards seemed pretty scared in general, with all the “you-know-who” stuff, and being afraid of a young wizard because he has the same talents as another wizard who was a bad wizard. Some very superstitious people, it seems. But then again, as Hermione pointed out in the first book, wizards aren’t terribly logical.
People are being petrified left, right and centre. And even though Harry doesn’t have anything to do with it, he’s being all like “should I have been in Slytherin?”.
“Snap out of it Harry! In five years’ time no one will give a shit about your petty little life at school, especially what boarding house you were placed in!” is what everyone should be saying. The whole school seems to have a really insular, co-dependent vibe though.
Our trio spends Christmas day dicking about turning themselves into Crabbe, Goyle and an accidental cat. The Slytherin password is “pure blood” – gee, how original guys. You might as well have made the password “we are evil, tee hee hee”. But seriously, are we to assume that everyone in Slytherin is a pure blood? If so, then the school/sorting hat really bears some responsibility for putting all the pure bloods in one house together. I mean, what sort of segregation is this? If the hat is merely sorting people into Slytherin based on how cunning they are, then are pure blood wizards simply more cunning than half-blood/muggle-born wizards? Is the wizarding gene inherently evil?
Also, if Voldemort was a half-blood, why are all the Slytherins obsessed with purity of ancestry? Do they only make concessions for Voldemort because he’s the most formidable wizard of the last hundred years?
Wait a minute, Hermione turned herself into a cat. HOW CAN SHE NOT TELL THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN HUMAN AND CAT HAIR?
Speaking of weird, why did they cast a 37 year old in the role of Moaning Myrtle in the movie?
So Draco is not the heir of Slytherin, and he’s also really dumb about bragging about his dad’s underground vaults hidden with illegal Muggle items.
Harry finds Tom Riddle’s blank diary and starts writing in it, as you do. Tom Riddle is just like Harry! What a coincidink! He shows him a memory that is almost definitely fake, and Harry is all like “Hmm, ok, seems legit”. He goes as far as to ask “Do you really think Hagrid did it?”, showing just the slightest bit of doubt but not a morsel of scepticism. Even asking questions like “Who is this dude talking to me from a diary and what does he want with me?” is too much for Harry. HE KNOWS WHAT HE SAW!
Meanwhile, everyone is agonising over which subjects to choose for next year and Harry chooses the same subjects as Ron just in case he is rubbish at them and needs help. Great life choices, Harry.
Seriously, this school needs some sort of guidance counsellor. Especially as Harry keeps hearing voices telling him to kill/rip/tear.
Hermione has been petrified, but she still manages to be the only useful sleuth in the school. I’ve lost count of the number of petrified students, but it must be 6 or 7? Plus the cat/ghost? Either way, Hogwart’s is now starting to panic.
Harry and Ron go to see/confront Hagrid but have to hide when Dumbledore and Cornelius Fudge, the Minister of Magic, come to arrest Hagrid instead.
I really think one of Rowling’s absolute greatest strengths is in the naming of her characters. The names she chose for even the smaller characters just manage to describe them all so well. I wonder whether she has synaesthesia? The names seem to bring the whole Harry Potter universe to life.
Anyhoos, now Dumbledore has been suspended by Lucius Malfoy and the Board! I mean, I assume that Malfoy somehow forced them into this, but what exactly is their plan for running Hogwart’s without a headmaster and with basically no staff other than McGonagall and Snape?
Even in the face of being absolutely furious at Malfoy, Dumbledore remains calm:
“You will find that I will only truly have left this school when none here are loyal to me. You will also find that help will always be given at Hogwart’s to those who ask for it”
See, Harry, stop trying to solve everything by yourself and just ask for help once in a while.
Hagrid is taken to an excessively high-security prison but manages to tell Ron and Harry to follow the spiders.
Now there’s a massive interlude with lots of little spiders in the forest and then more giant spiders. They find Ron’s parents’ car (“the forest’s turned it wild…”) which then helps to save them from the spiders who are loyal to Hagrid, but less loyal to his friends.
It took that whole ordeal for them to realise Hagrid is in fact innocent, and yet they still don’t think “hey, maybe that Tom Riddle guy is dodgy after all”. Because after all, Tom is just like Harry, and you never suspect that people who are like you could do awful things.
Chapter 16–18: The Chamber of Secrets
They are finally able to de-petrify the students, but Harry still wants to go and talk to Moaning Myrtle. Despite the fact that teachers are now chaperoning students everywhere, when Harry and Ron sneak away from Lockhart, McGonagall is right there.
As usual, Hermione has all the answers. She figured out the entire thing, the basilisk, the reflections, the pipes. But since Harry and Ron were busy dicking about instead of checking Hermione’s hands for clues, it’s too late and now Ginny Weasley has been taken by the monster.
LOLS @ Lockhart being “volunteered” to go into the Chamber of Secrets. But why do Harry and Ron need to force him to come with them when he seems intent on running away?
Can wizards do any magic without wands?
Their plan for avoiding death against the basilisk is to close their eyes.
Sounds like they need the Sensory Deprivator 5000.
Ermahgerd Tom Riddle is the bad guy! Luckily he is a fictitious bad guy which means he only almost kills his victims. But Harry’s still pretty dense and doesn’t get that TOM RIDDLE IS THE BAD GUY.
This is like the “HE’S BEHIND YOU” of the book world.
“Harry stared at him. There was something very funny going on here.”
He has to literally spell out the entire thing before Harry even twigs that something isn’t right:
Riddle: I’ve been stealing bits of Ginny’s soul and replacing them with my evilness for like, 6 months.
Harry: Tom, stop kidding around here. We gotta go!
Riddle: Yeah, because of me Ginny committed all these atrocities and then blamed herself and thought she was going mad.
Harry: The basilisk is going to eat us if we don’t hurry! Wait… what?
So Riddle leaves himself behind in memory form to one day lead another person to open the Chamber of Secrets. This is an excessively complicated and involved plan.
And now since Harry still hasn’t got a clue what is going on, Riddle has to literally spell out his name in the air and rearrange the letters to read “I AM LORD VOLDEMORT”.
So Voldemort/Riddle had a Muggle father but descends from Salazar Slytherin on his mother’s side. That’s almost as bad as being an Aryan Jew. But his Muggle father abandoned him, so basically the reason he turned evil is because he has unresolved Daddy issues? But what about his Mother? Surely the love of a pure-blood is enough to… oh, I don’t know. Do something magical? Even if she died when he was young?
Conveniently, Dumbledore’s phoenix and the sorting hat come to Harry’s rescue just in time, because he’s going to get himself killed sass-talking Riddle/Voldemort the way he’s doing.
“But I know why you couldn’t kill me. Because my mother died to save me. My common, Muggle-born mother”
So he’s taunting him because his mother loved him enough to die for him. Classy move, Potter.
Is calling someone Muggle-born a bit like accusing someone of being nouveau riche?
Fawkes the Phoenix does most of the difficult work by stabbing the Basilisk in the eyes. Then the Basilisk sweeps the sorting hat into Harry’s arms and he pulls out the Sword of Convenient Plot Points. This silver sword has rubies “the size of eggs” but Harry can somehow lift it. He stabs the snake but gets bitten anyway, but don’t worry because the Phoenix is crying on him and that will heal him.
And then all that remains is to stabby stab the diary with the fang and the big fight is over. Ginny’s alive! Lockhart has lost his memory. Hooray!
And even Dobby gets set free!
Happy endings all round! The good guys win and the bad guys lose.
And – most importantly – Dumbledore awards some extra points right at the end so Gryffindor win the House Cup! Again!
Which is important because Harry is a True Gryffindor as it turns out it was Godric Gryffindor’s sword he pulled out of the Sorting Hat.
So Harry is a hero now, and probably going to get significantly more insufferable as the books go on.
By the end of this book I found myself actually looking forward to future books when good characters die and suffer and bad characters win (at least temporarily). To me, this read more like a kids book than the Philosopher’s Stone, and it was a bit less enjoyable, simply because Harry and Ron were so useless throughout, and the plot twists were so predictable.
And I missed Hermione’s character while she was in a wizard-coma. Without her, there was very little sense from any of the characters. It just seemed like most of this book was Ron and Harry bumbling around, trying not to get caught/expelled.
Still, it’s a rather addictive series and I’ve already made it a third of the way through Prisoner of Azkaban…