In Honour of September 1st: New Year, Old Friends [Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, by J.K. Rowling]
The beginning of another school year at Hogwarts. Time to revisit those books yet again.
For me, books are often strongly connected to the time and place I first read them. For ‘Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets’, that was a New Year’s party.
I was not quite fifteen that year, still refusing to admit I’d liked the first Harry Potter book, and my parents were hosting the party. This meant that guest beds were crammed into my room, never mind if the snoring kept me awake, and family friends from all over the country were pouring into our little house, with the big garden so perfect for fireworks and campfires. It meant putting on puppet theatre shows and playing with my brothers and the other kids.
I don’t remember what I went downstairs for, but remembering that moment brings back clear memories of the hall, the rippled yellow glass of the front door, the terracotta tiles, the dark wood panelling of the walls, and in one corner, the rucksack and the book.
Both belonged to a friend, twelve at the time – let’s call him Bone-Hard, as he called himself as a little kid (or do you think he’d prefer The Sausage, as the Carpenter Brother called him?)
I probably dawdled in the hall for a bit, looking at the book, then picking it up, reading a few pages, putting it down again. Probably returned to the living room, then went back to the hall… until eventually I grabbed the book and disappeared into my room.
The next thing I remember clearly, after first noticing the book in the hall, is sitting in my room, on my thick, colourful carpet, my back against the radiator, my gigantic yucca to my left, the loft bed to the right, the extra-broad, plant-filled windowsill over my head, the book on my knees, and Bone-Hard and the Carpenter Brother (who was not yet a carpenter at the time, as he was only seven – can this really have been nearly ten years ago?!) standing in front of me, complaining because I wouldn’t come play with them.
No, I wouldn’t come. I was reading.
This was something I drove everyone crazy with as a child. I cared much more for my books than for playdates, and if a friend came over while I was reading, well, bad luck. My manners got a little better as I grew up, but still – faced with a new book, I had to read it. And when my time was limited – as it was then: I had to be finished before Bone-Hard went home again – manners became unimportant.
I think I read that book two or three times in about two days. I had to memorize it, after all, because once Bone-Hard had left, I wouldn’t be able to read it again or look anything up. And no, I still wouldn’t admit to liking Harry Potter, so buying my own book was out of the question.
I did eventually admit it, of course, and got my own copy, along with every other Harry Potter book that was published at the time. Chamber of Secrets remains an exception, though, because it was the only one I read in German first – I think part of the reason why I read it multiple times was so I’d remember what all the Quidditch balls and players and the school subjects were called in German, so I would be able to talk about it – after all, nobody I knew spoke a lot of English.
But Chamber of Secrets is also my least favourite Harry Potter book. I haven’t read it often, but re-reading it now only confirmed that feeling. I’m still not quite sure why – but I’ve got a lot of suspicions.
Suspicion 1: Too childish “tone”. I had the same problem with Philosopher’s Stone when I re-read it recently. Last year, I only said it doesn’t seem so amazingly well-written any more. But this year, it just irritated me, even though I couldn’t say exactly what irritated me.
Suspicion 2: Gilderoy Lockhart, Moaning Myrtle and Colin Creevey are pretty irritating characters, and not funny enough to make up for it (Lockhart only becomes bearable in the last chapter).
Suspicion 3: Not enough Quidditch – I like Quidditch. Just one match, and that ends pretty unpleasantly.
Suspicion 4: Not enough Weasley twins. I can’t remember seeing a lot of them in this book, and that means little to laugh at.
Suspicion 5: Not enough Hermione. I was very Hermione-like at that age, and with her constantly in the hospital wing, or on the train while Harry and Ron are not, we don’t see a lot of her.
Suspicion 6: Spiders. I hate spiders.
Suspicion 7: Not enough quotable lines. I only remember two off the top of my head (“It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.” and “When in doubt, go to the library.”) – a lot less than I can quote from the other books.
Not saying it’s not a good book. It probably is. It certainly was good enough to keep my interest in the series not just alive, but growing. Just not my favourite.
But it does bring good memories. Memories of a time when my life was still easy, when our family friends would still gather at every New Year’s Eve, all those as-good-as-uncles, aunts and cousins, when the Carpenter Brother, Bone-Hard and I would get up to silly stuff when we were together… Memories of making up our own Harry Potter card game with those two, a couple of months later, all the silly cards we came up with, and which I had to draw…
Now I really need to find someone who will play Wizards’ Duel with me!