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In Honour of September 1st: New Year, Old Friends [Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, by J.K. Rowling]

September 1, 2011

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.

Unlike Philosopher’s Stone and all the butt-ugly German books, my copy has a nice-looking picture on the cover

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…

All the Chamber of Secrets-inspired “Wizards’ Duel” cards – containing one of the funniest pairs of cards: attack: giant spider – defence: the flying car! I also love how the one Basilisk looks like it’s laughing!

Now I really need to find someone who will play Wizards’ Duel with me!

9 Comments leave one →
  1. September 1, 2011 17:54

    I like moaning myrtle.. she’s really comedic.

    • September 1, 2011 23:21

      Maybe she just annoys me more than she usually does because I watched the movie right after reading the book – I don’t know how she talks in English, but in German, movie Myrtle has this really annoying voice! Argh! Nobody really talks like that!
      But I’ll save the movie rants for a separate post.

  2. September 6, 2011 14:50

    I started liking Harry Potter much later than you, when I was already 21, my host dad in the US introduced me to the books and I started reading the first 3 there and bought the first 4 books as a set just before I left the US. When I came back the following year the 5th book was out and I bought a huge hardcover version of it. I haven’t been back to the US after that, so the 6th and 7th book in my collection are a british ones. I do like the artwork for the American versions, though. I always thought they looked the most natural of what I knew from other covers through the internet and the few fanart pictures I drew show very similar looking characters.

    I have to admit, that I wasn’t quite satisfied with the last book and that probably comes because I got into fanfiction even before it was out. I tried to fill the time waiting for the next book that way. But I have not gone crazy with the fanfiction thing. I still like them as close as possible to the canon (original stories) and I tend to read stories that tell things that happened outside the original books or are close to the original story and share a few of the original books as background for the story. I like to explore different ways this story could have turned out, as that is what got me hooked to some fanfiction stories in the first place.

    Have you read fanfiction for the Harry Potter series? What is your opinion about them?

    • September 6, 2011 19:51

      Oh dear – I read such a lot of fanfic after DH came out – including some really terrible stuff. Before then, I had no idea such a thing existed (even though I wrote some quite dreadful fics myself, not knowing other people were doing the same… thank god I didn’t have internet back then!)
      I’m a lot more picky now – only “canon compliant” stuff. One of the links in my blogroll (The Phantom Librarian) is actually the one author I still read regularly.

  3. September 7, 2011 17:51

    Oh nice… I have to go check that out. At the moment I am still reading a fanfic about what could have happened after Voldemort has been defeated. But I try to read 3 books(1984, Angela’s Ashes, and said Fanfic) at the same time so it takes a while to get through this. I found it on (I think the title is “After the End”) but I am not sure , yet, on how good I think it is. I got hooked by the fanfic-books by Barb ( just google her “Barb HP fanfic” and you’ll find the texts) as she had a very interesting idea for a storyline. I kinda liked that she was a bit easier on the characters concerning their interest in the opposite sex. It felt more natural that way. But then again… maybe she took them a few steps too far. I dunno. The one I am reading now is the total opposite and very stiff in some ways and somehow annoying for it. But, I guess, it is always difficult to tell before reading how bad it will be and there are definitely things in the fanfiction world that go beyond what I want to imagine concerning the characters of the Harry Potter World. So maybe being a little bit stiff is not that bad after all…

    Well… I will go and see what the link brings up and see if I’d like to read some of it next.

  4. September 7, 2011 22:31

    Hahaha – guess what I just finished reading a couple of days ago?!

    I had two issues with After the End – 1. it was written after GoF, so there are some people still alive that didn’t survive in canon (and I miss them… 😦 ) and 2. it was a “little” too long for my tastes. I’m totally unable to leave a story half-read (unless it’s truly, truly terrible), and just went on and on, taking up time I’d have needed for a lot of other things.
    Thankfully, Fernwithy (The Phantom Librarian) just started another story, so I get my near-daily fanfic fix, and I know it’s going to be good.

  5. September 15, 2011 10:47

    Wow… well… I guess after the last movie we all needed our fix. That’s probably why I started reading “After the End”. You know, I haven’t noticed anyone missing in the story? Or maybe I am not as fit with the canon books. I have to admit I get things mixed up a lot and therefor it probably doesn’t bother me as much. But I know that Fred, Tonks and Lupin are not around anymore. So that sounds like it fits to the canon. Maybe there is a story with the same title out there? I can link the page where I got it, I guess, and you could see if this is what you’ve read. It is a story that is quite long and a bit uneventful sometimes. But then again I think Harry has been living a very stressful life so far and therefor a little daily routine life could be a nice change. BTW, the stories of Barb I told you about are set after GoF, too. And they have a truly alternative storyline from there on. And I like that Harry gets to spend time with Sirius that way. I thought that his character had a lot of potential and I was disappointed to see him leave the story so soon after he was introduced.

  6. September 15, 2011 10:52

    Oh… You know… I just checked the link I was reading from and the title isn’t “After the End” but “After the War”. That explains a lot! 🙂 Uhm…. my bad, I guess. Sorry… So… maybe you should see how you’d like that one. It is very long, too, but it seems to stick to the Canon so far. Maybe that makes it a good read after all. I must say I am enjoying it, although I think there could be a little more drama at times. 🙂

    • September 15, 2011 19:11

      I’ll have to check that out, then!

      For me it wasn’t actually the movie that brought me back to reading fanfic. It was Fernwithy posting that her first Teddy Lupin story was getting reviewed on the Potterfic Weekly podcast, so I listened to that, and then went back to the archives to see if they’d reviewed any other stories I knew (only Dumbledore’s Army and the Year of Darkness – which I remember as quite good), and then started reading other stories they’d reviewed. After the End was the first of them, and it dragged on forever, so when I was done with that, I had enough of fanfic for a while! 😉

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