The Book Meme Challenge: Favorite Book of Your Favorite Series
Having declaimed the word “favorite” and dithered about series (how does one discuss more than one series? There should be a special plural for that. Serieses?), I find that the unhappy task of focusing on one book at a time lies before me. Supposing that there will be later opportunities to focus on the Narniad, I will turn my attention to one of the Harry Potter books I most love to revisit: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.
As I love each series differently from the next, so I love the respective books differently. While Goblet of Fire greatly expands Harry’s, and thus the reader’s, understanding of the wizarding world beyond Britain, and Half-Blood Prince contains several useful lessons in the nature of magic and the background of Lord Voldemort, the virtue of Chamber of Secrets is how encapsulated it is. It’s so neatly packaged, all its loose ends apparently tied – which I find agreeable for two reasons: one, they aren’t really tied until the last or penultimate book, and two, there is some satisfaction to be found in a story which answers most all the questions the reader had thought to ask.
It seems to me that most readers are of two minds about this quality of encapsulation: it’s torture to be left hanging on a cliff at the end of a story (thus they enjoy the tying up of loose ends), but it feels somewhat false to smooth out every last wrinkle of the plot. As my beloved professor Dr. Whalen put it, “The artistic flaw [of such endings] is inaccuracy, specifically a violation of the canons of reality. Things don’t happen that neatly. It’s an upward slope, finally plateauing into a straight line, which…when that happens on your heart monitor, it’s a bad thing.” Therefore, readers react negatively when that neatness feels overly contrived.
Enter Opinion, whose appearance looks different to each person. When does it go from just enough arrangement to overdone? In my mind, Chamber of Secrets lies just far enough from the line to please me with its symmetry. Rowling places her guns carefully, and (as instructed by Chekhov) does not fail to let them fire. Consider Dobby’s flight from the Malfoys to keep Harry from Hogwarts, such that he and Ron take the Ford Anglia, which hits the Whomping Willow and subsequently goes wild, saving them from the Acromantula when they learn the details of Hagrid’s spider husbandry; the fight in Flourish and Blott’s that gives Lucius Malfoy an opportunity to plant the diary on Ginny, who goes home to fetch it so she can continue sharing all her hopes and fears with it, thus possessing her and forcing her to order the basilisk to attack people; Harry’s first meeting with Fawkes when he is sent to Dumbledore so that he can call for help later on, be saved from basilisk poison, and pulled up out of the Chamber; or the snake that Malfoy conjures in Dueling Club, such that Harry shouts at it, revealing his fluency in Parseltongue, which causes the entire school to suspect Harry of Dark magic, gives Ron the opportunity to pass on some historical tidbits, enables Hermione to put the pieces together, and prepares Harry to open the Chamber when they’ve sussed out where the entryway is.
It is this intricacy which I love, and how squarely the pieces have been assembled. But the guns are not fired once and then thrown out; each piece remains part of a larger puzzle. The Ministry’s reaction to Dobby’s magic at the Dursleys sets up the initial chapters of Prisoner of Azkaban and Order of the Phoenix; Lockhart’s reappearance in Order of the Phoenix also introduces Ron and Hermione to Neville’s parents and their condition; Moaning Myrtle and Polyjuice potion show up several times in later books; Dobby is integral not only to the plot of Goblet of Fire, but to the Trio’s safe exit of Malfoy Manor in Deathly Hallows; Fawkes appears repeatedly, saving Dumbledore in Order of the Phoenix and mourning him in Half-Blood Prince; both the basilisk fangs and sword of Gryffindor prove important and useful later on; and the diary was not merely a diary, or even a mere weapon against Muggle-Borns but a key to Voldemort’s eventual defeat.
And in the meantime, there is the descent into the Chamber itself, which thrills me every time I reread it. The image of stabbing a book with a fang and it screaming before bleeding ink all over? Delightful. Simply delightful.
Contrived? The only thing I find contrived about Chamber of Secrets is how “Tom Marvolo Riddle” was rearranged into “I am Lord Voldemort.” There’s nothing more distressing than fighting against a super evil anagram nerd.