Thursday, July 6, 2006

CHAMBER OF SECRETS, Chapters 4 through 9

Chapter Four: At Flourish and Blotts

With this chapter, we see the interaction and acceptance that Harry finds with the Weasleys, the early indication that there will be something between Harry and Ginny, Percy’s self-imposed isolation from his family, Lockhart, Lucius and Draco, Borgin and Burke’s and all the things that are there that we see later, as well as the diary, of course.

I’d not thought of it before, and just assumed that Hagrid was after something illegal in Knockturn Alley and that was why he seemed flustered, giving such a lame excuse for being there. But it makes more sense that Dumbledore did know where Harry was and once again sent Hagrid to rescue him. Of course, Hagrid wouldn’t want to tell Harry because that would tip Dumbledore’s hand of always knowing what is going on with Harry—which Harry (and we, the readers) learn later, when he tells Harry that he watched him more closely than he knew.

We already know that he does know when Harry is roaming around the castle from the conversation they had in front of the Mirror of Erised; Dumbledore knows that Harry has been there before, as well as knowing what Harry saw and what Ron saw, so it’s not just that Dumbledore has some sort of connection with just Harry. It all makes me wonder why Dumbledore didn’t know about Harry sneaking out of the castle via the map—but that’s Prisoner of Azkaban and way off topic.

Aside from Harry getting a good look at some of the things in Borgin and Burke’s, he gets to see Lucius and Draco together, when neither thinks anyone else is around. Borgin is in the back room and the shop seems empty. As someone mentioned, Draco is still whining about Harry seeming to get preferential treatment at school, which Lucius cautions him about the prudence of his attitude towards Harry. It is also the first time that we get a big clue that Lucius is a supporter of Voldemort, as he refers to him as “the Dark Lord”. Borgin thinks that Lucius has come to buy, but Lucius says “I’m not buying today, Mr. Borgin, I’m selling.” I have to wonder just how often Lucius goes into Borgin and Burke’s to buy something, and what sort of thing would interest him. So here we have another indication that Lucius is drawn to Dark Arts if he has purchased other things from this particular shop where the Weasleys wouldn’t ever think of going.

We also have the set up for why Lucius would want to discredit Arthur when he talks of the Ministry growing more “meddlesome”, and rumors of a new Muggle Protection Act—“no doubt that flea-bitten, Muggle-loving fool Arthur Weasley is behind it—“

I do think that that is the reason Lucius puts the diary inside Ginny’s book that he takes from her cauldron. (In Chapter 18, Ginny tells her parents that she found the diary inside one of her books that her mum got for her, and thought it had just been forgotten by someone, which answers the question of Lucius slipping the diary into the cauldron separately. However, the description of the diary is that it is a small thin book—not entirely unreasonable to see how she or anyone else could have missed seeing it.

From there, Lucius mentions that what he is getting rid of is poisons, which I completely missed the first time I read the book. So is Lucius still brewing things at home? I do think that might be a reason that Draco is good at potions or at lease an indication of why he is so interested in them. It might also be the reason that Snape smarms up to Draco so much—perhaps he is hoping to find out just what poisons Lucius has or is capable of making.

I love the language things that JKR does in the books, and this chapter is full of them, from Diagon Alley and Knockturn Alley to the alliteration of the names of Lockhart’s books. I don’t think it’s a far stretch to see Diagon Alley as the word diagonally, or Knockturn Alley as nocturnally. I’d go a bit further and say that there’s even more to it than the sound of the words. If we look at the world “diagonally” then isn’t that a clever way of saying that there is more to our world than there seems to be—there is more than one way to see things, and if we look in a different way, we might see something unexpected. And the “nocturnally” reference seems to give us a clue that it is a dark place, a place where secretive things happen, as we often think of dark or evil things being done out of the more revealing bright daylight. When Hagrid steers Harry back to Diagon Alley, the first thing Harry sees is the bright white of Gringott’s Bank where Harry has his money legally stored—in stark contrast to the darkness of Knockturn Alley where Lucius was doing his own money changing.

The other thing that strikes me about the confrontation between Lucius and Arthur is that these two wizards could very easily start hexing one another, and it almost would seem more reasonable. Instead they both go for the physical muggle-style brawl. So while wizards do have a lot of things that distinguish them from Muggles, they aren’t as separate from the Muggle way of life after all.

* * * * *
An aside her, about Dumbledore watching Harry and whether or not this would take away his choices. I don't think that it does. Dumbledore has good reason to keep a close eye on Harry. We know from canon that Mrs. Figg has been watching him for a long time; Mundungus was sent to Privet Drive to watch him; and other Order members were watching him as well. But mostly we have it from Dumbledore himself (in OotP) that he has been watching Harry "more closely than you can have imagined". So it's just not a stretch to say that Dumbledore found out somehow that Harry had landed in the wrong grate and needed rescuing. Nor is it surprising that Dumbledore would send Hagrid, as he has sent him as Harry's rescuer several times already.

If Dumbledore wanted to take away Harry's ability to make choices (which sometimes get Harry into trouble), he wouldn't have let him see the Mirror of Erised, or go back two more times. Instead, Dumbledore takes the opportunity to guide Harry in understanding what the Mirror is. That is the role of the hero's mentor. He wouldn't have let Harry in Chamber of Secrets roam around the castle at all—and Dumbledore must have known that is exactly what Harry would do with the Invisibility Cloak, yet he is the one who gave it to him. As part of the hero story, Harry, who is quite young at the beginning, has lessons to learn. A traditional hero is not all-knowing, all-powerful from birth. In this case, we, and Harry, learn from Dumbledore that what makes Harry special is his pure heart, the protection of love that his mother sealed into him by her sacrificial death.

And now that Harry has learned a lot more about what he is to do, how things work with his quest, it is time for the hero to go on alone, without his mentor. (Not necessarily without his friends, just without Dumbledore.) But it was Dumbledore's careful nurturing that has given Harry, our hero, the necessary information and training to forge ahead in his quest to vanquish Voldemort. I don't see that as tarnishing Harry as a hero at all, as someone at the Corner CafĂ© suggested—it is just all part of the process. Part of what makes someone a hero is that he is ordinary but acts in an extraordinary way in the face of danger, be it a physical or moral peril.

Chapter Five: The Whomping Willow
I love this chapter. Once again we get a clear contrast between life at the Burrow and life at Privet Drive. The Dursleys would never have left in such disorder. We also get that sense that, while Arthur's job is to prevent the misuse of Muggle artifacts, he is very willing to bend the rules when he deems that no harm will come of it. He very readily admits to Harry that he has enchanted the trunk of the car to accommodate all their luggage. And he has passed that attitude along to Ron, who very easily justifies flying the car when they can't get through the barrier.

One thing though--why didn't the Ministry swoop down on them when Ron started up the car in a Muggle street? There was no warning from the MoM there. My thought is that they are more concerned about Harry's activities than they are about any other student his age, and while Ron's actions were illegal, they just didn't pay much attention.

It's funny to me, too, that Molly and Arthur know that Fred and George are taking fireworks to school, and they don't find that at all alarming. Most schools (certainly summer camps, anyway) would not allow that and would likely confiscate them.

They go back for Ginny's diary—given that the Weasley children don't ever have much money, didn't either of the parents think to ask her where she got the diary in the first place? Apparently not.

For all the people who complain about the rule breaking that the trio does in HP, this chapter is a good example of what happens to them when they do break the rules. There are the natural consequences of having a rather boring trip, though it seems exciting at the beginning, crashing into the tree rather than making an impressive landing, Ron's wand being broken which results in all kinds of further ramifications for him, missing the feast and the Sorting, and then being caught by the one teacher they like the least.

My favorite scene in this chapter is to do with Snape finding Ron and Harry, while they are discussing him. How perfect is that. So in this one we also get a first glimpse of Snape's office—in the dungeon, no fire, slimy things everywhere. There's also the reference that Harry thinks Snape can read minds, but then he realizes that he read all that in the newspaper. Really? Maybe a little of both going on. But the best is Snape's reaction when he finds out that Harry and Ron aren't going to be expelled after all.

"Snape looked as though Christmas had been canceled." LOL--after I watched "Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves" where the Sheriff, who happens to be Alan Rickman, says nearly the same thing—“ ...and call off Christmas”—I was sure that JKR was giving a nod to the kind of character that she wants us to see in Snape, and to Alan Rickman in particular. Too bad they didn't leave that scene alone in the movie—it would have been a much better set-up for later interactions between Harry and Snape, than having Filch find them.

I like it also that Snape is always proper in addressing Dumbledore—referring to him as Professor Dumbledore or Headmaster, even though he's very frustrated with him, but Dumbledore is very friendly towards both McGonagall and Snape, calling them by their first names and lightly talking about returning to the feast for dessert.

We also get a hint that Ron might be more insightful than even he realizes, when he says that McGonagall didn't want them showing off by going up to the feast.

Again, we see Percy disapproving of Ron and Harry because of their stepping outside the bounds—something that puts a bad light on Percy, by his connection with Ron as his brother.

* * * * *

In the discussion, someone brought up the rule followers and rule breakers. I liked that contrast that we see between Percy and Hermione. Percy takes his rule-following too far, in following a rule just to follow a rule, not thinking for himself whether it makes sense or is reasonable and just. His reasons are political—if he follows the rules set by his bosses, then he can move up the ladder at work, and that’s his main goal.

Hermione follows rules, but learns from Harry and Ron that one has to use some judgment with rule-following. She does think for herself, and that is the reason she turns Harry in for the mysterious broomstick later—she sees the danger in it—it doesn’t actually break a rule for Harry to receive it as a gift, I don’t think. But flying the car was rule breaking, and Hermione realizes how dangerous it was, not only to Harry and Ron, but to all the wizarding world that they were seen—not to mention that they could have been seriously injured or killed. So her rule following there is out of concern with a healthy dose of common sense, not just because it’s a rule.

McGonagall is much the same way—she makes and enforces rules, but she does bend them. Otherwise, Harry would not have been on the Quidditch team his first year, nor would he have got his own broomstick, which was apparently McGonagall’s doing.

We end up with something of the pirate’s code for this—rules are there as guidelines more than anything else. We do have to pay attention to them, but we should never check our brains and common sense at the door just to blindly follow a rule.

Chapter 6: Gilderoy Lockhart
Ron gets a howler, for his part in the flying car debacle and Hermione seems to accept that he's now had enough and appropriate punishment.

It's off to Herbology for the trio. Lockhart stops Harry for a chat and admonishes him about wanting fame--of course, nothing could be farther from the truth. Interesting that both Lockhart and Snape assume that fame is Harry's goal, but their reaction towards him is the opposite.

Mandrakes--mandragora--are an essential part of most antidotes. They repot them, wearing earmuffs to protect against hearing the cry, which can be fatal. Also, we see the Venemous Tentaculs--it's teething. (It's mentioned again in Half-Blood Prince in an off-hand way, so perhaps we should pay more attention to it.) Justin talks to Harry, Hermione and Ron, saying that he was down for Eton, thus telling them that he is a Muggle.

Now to Transfiguration, where they practice turning a beetle into a button, which Hermione manages quite well, though the rest of the class doesn't. Ron's wand just causes problems. It's a hint that anything he tries to do this year with his wand is going to be ineffective or disastrous.

Defense Against the Dark Arts: Colin Creevy wants to take Harry's picture. Draco overhears and taunts Harry. And then Lockhart shows up--again--and "covers" for Harry by posing with him. In DADA class, Lockhart begins with a quiz, to see how well they've read his books. Hermione is the only one to get full marks, while the boys in class have decided that Lockhart is full of himself. Lockhart releases Cornish Pixies which he tries to control with a spell that proves worthless. Harry, Ron and Hermione get the job of getting the Pixies back in their cage. Hermione is still amazed by Lockhart--"look at all the amazing things he's done--"

"He says he's done," Ron muttered. [COS-p. 103]

Chapter Seven: Mudbloods and Murmurs
Colin is tracking Harry for photos and finally has one developed, which shows him trying to get out of the picture with Lockhart. Quidditch practice finds Colin trailing along as Harry explains the rules--a creative way for Rowling to review for the reader as well. Gryffindor team consists of Harry (seeker), Fred and George (beaters), Oliver Wood (captain and keeper), Alicia Spinnet, Katie Bell, and Angelina Johnson (chasers, who all have names that are church related). Ron and Hermione come to watch, but the Slytherin team show up for new seeker training, authorized by Prof. Snape. Lucius has given the Slytherin team new Nimbus 2001 brooms. We can see that Draco's earlier whining paid off in a big way. After Draco makes a snide remark to Ron about his family, Hermione says, "At least no one on the Gryffindor team had to buy their way in. They got in on pure talent." [COS-p. 112]

Draco calls her a filthy little Mudblood and everyone is outraged. Ron, as he often does, comes to Hermione's defense and tries to curse Draco. His damaged wand backfires, hitting him instead, and Ron burps slugs (disgusting) for the rest of the chapter.

Colin wants a picture, but Harry impatiently pushes him away as they take Ron to Hagrid's after dodging Lockhart. Hagrid takes it in stride (what are a few slugs to Hagrid as long as they aren't near his rather large pumpkins), giving Ron a bucket while he makes tea. Hagrid is not impressed with Lockhart, who was earlier giving him advice.

"Like I don't know how to get kelpies out of a well. An' bangin' on about some banshee he banished. If one word of it was true, I'll eat my kettle." [COS-p. 115]

As for why Lockhart was hired if he really isn't as good as he seems to be, Hagrid tells them that:

"An' I mean the on'y one. Gettin' very difficult ter find anyone fer the Dark Arts job. People aren't too keen ter take it on, see. They're startin' ter think it's jinxed. No one's lasted long fer a while now. . ." [COS-p. 115]

(There's our first hint that the DADA job really is jinxed--and it comes straight from Hagrid, who tends to give us fairly truthful information, just as Hermione does.)

Harry and Ron know that what Malfoy said was rude and horrid, but they don't know why. Ron is the one who explains it, between his slug burping.

"It's about the most insulting thing he could think of. Mudblood's a really foul name for someone who's Muggle-born--you know, non-magic parents. There are some wizards--like Malfoy's family--who think they're better than everyone else because they're what people call pure-blood."

Ron says that it doesn't matter to most--look at Neville, who is pure-blood but not very good. [COS-p. 116] Mudblood is a disgusting word, meaning dirty blood, common blood.
"Most wizards these days are half-blood anyway. If we hadn't married Muggles we'd've died out." [Ron in COS-p. 116]

Hagrid reassures Hermione that she shouldn't pay attention to Malfoy and then goes on to tease Harry about the signed photos. He shows them his rather large pumpkins and there is an allusion to his pink umbrella and the magic he's not supposed to do, with a further reminder that Hagrid was expelled. Ginny's been to visit Hagrid, he thinks she was hoping to run into Harry.

Later McGonagall sees them and assigns their detention for the flying car fiasco. Ron will be polishing the silver in the trophy room with Filch, while Harry will help Lockhart answer his mail--a request from Lockhart. They work from 8 pm to midnight, when Harry hears a voice: "Come. . . come to me. . . Let me rip you. . . Let me tear you. . . Let me kill you. . ." [COS-p. 120]

Lockhart doesn't hear it, however, and lets Harry go for the evening. Ron polished the Quidditch Cup fourteen times and a Special Award for Service to the School because he kept burping slugs all over it. Harry tells Ron about the voice, but neither can figure out what it was.

Chapter Eight: The Deathday Party
It's October and the days are rainy. Nick invites the trio to his 500th deathday party on Halloween after he arranges a diversion to save Harry from Filch's wrath over the muddy floors. Nick got Peeves to crash a large black and gold cabinet over Filch's office. When Filch returns, he realizes that Harry has seen his Kwikspell letter and let him off.

The party in the dungeons is dark and gloomy with disgusting inedible food. "Sir Nicholas de Mimsy-Porpington Died 31st October, 1492" (This is the clue that the year is 1992--the first one that we have to tell us the time frame for the Harry Potter stories.)

They meet Moaning Myrtle, Peeves, Sir Patrick Delaney-Podmore, see part of the Headless Hunt and then slip out of the cold dungeon, hoping to join the last of the Halloween Feast in the Great Hall. But Harry hears the voice again and follows it to the second floor. There is writing on the wall--"The Chamber of Secrets Has Been Opened. Enemies of the Heir, Beware." Filch's cat, Mrs. Norris, is hanging from a torch bracket below the writing. Before they can leave, the whole school, finished with the Feast, arrives. Draco says, "You'll be next, Mudbloods." His eyes are cold and alive, his "usually bloodless face flushed, as he grinned at the sight of the hanging, immobile cat." [COS-p. 139]

Chapter Nine: The Writing on the Wall
Filch is certain that Mrs. Norris is dead, accuses Harry and wants to see punishment. Dumbledore takes Mrs. Norris, Filch and the trio to Lockhart's office (Lockhart volunteers it as it's nearest). Snape and McGonagall followed. While Lockhart babbles about what killed the cat, Dumbledore checks her and states that she is not dead, just petrified.

"It would take Dark Magic of the most advanced. . ." says Dumbledore. Filch accuses Harry again because Harry knows he's a squib. Harry denies it and doesn't know what a squib is.

Snape speaks up for Harry, sort of.
"Potter and his friends may have simply been in the wrong place at the wrong time," he said, a slight sneer curling his mouth as though he doubted it. "But we do have a set of suspicious circumstances here. Why were they in the upstairs corridor at all? Why weren't they at the Halloween feast?" [COS-p. 143]

They explain, but stop short of admitting that Harry was hearing a voice that no one else could hear. Snape catches the lie and tries to use it to stop Harry playing Quidditch. McGonagall, who is strictly by the rules, but nonetheless competitive when it comes to Quidditch scoffs that the cat wasn't hit over the head with a broomstick. Dumbledore gave Harry a searching look (Legilimency?)which made Harry feel like he was being X-rayed, and pronounces Harry "Innocent until proven guilty, Severus." [COS-p. 144]

We, along with the trio, learn that the Mandrake restorative draught, which Lockhart says he'll make, will instead be done by Snape who reminds Lockhart that he is the Potions master.

Ron explain later what a squib is--magical family, but no magical ability. Hermione, meanwhile searches the Library, regretting that she doesn't have her copy of Hogwarts, A History. She finally asks Professor Binns about the Chamber of Secrets, which he tells them:

There were four founders, over 1000 years ago.
They built the castle together, hidden from Muggles.
At first they worked together, but then disagreements arose between Slytherin and the other three.
He felt that "magical learning should be kept within all-magic families" and thought that Muggle-borns were untrustworthy.
After a serious argument with Gryffindor, Slytherin left the school.
The legend is that he built a Chamber of Secrets and sealed it so only his heir could open it to release the "horror within"--a monster.
The school has been thoroughly searched but no chamber has ever been found.

The rest of the school avoids Harry, assuming that he is the heir of Slytherin. The trio go back to the 2nd floor, see the spiders fleeing and go into Moaning Myrtle's bathroom. She hadn't seen anything, but Percy catches them coming out. He brings up Ginny saying that she thinks Ron will be expelled and she's upset and crying. Ron rightly points out that Percy is not concerned about Ginny, but about how it reflects on him and his chances for being Head Boy.

Hermione comes up with a plan to find out what Draco knows by making Polyjuice Potion, which Snape had mentioned in class a few weeks earlier. Ron and Harry are skeptical but as they have no other ideas, they follow her lead.