Thursday, January 30, 2014

Leaving Hogwarts and the Chamber of Secrets

HARRY POTTER AND the chamber of secrets
book 1998     movie 2002      first read 2005?      first watch 2003?

A return to the school of wizardry and witchcraft, where I pay my accolades to Hermione's last truly geeky year, sleek-hair Malfoy, Ron's first wand and the old Dumbledore.


Once hooked by the magical world of Harry Potter, I never considered actually reading The Chamber of Secrets as preferred to just watching the movie. It was out there, so why not just slip it in the DVD player (easier said than done, but my birthday wasn't far away). I was young, I was stupid. So when I finally did go back and read the book, about two years after watching the film, I was surprised to find so many new aspects of the story in the book. Whether my surprise was caused by the bigger similarity between the first book and its film or whether I was just too inexperienced to know that things do get lost in translation, I'll never know. The scene that left its biggest impression on me then was definitely Sir Nick's ghost party, which I didn't see coming at all. Speaking of that, the ghosts were rather neglected in the Harry Potter films, am I right (Peeves, anyone)? Still, I do love them.

The unusual order in which I combined the reading and watching always made the second part a little special to me, at least for a couple of years. The second film was actually my favorite until part three came out and even now, I think that it's better than Philosopher's Stone.

One of the central traditions in the Harry Potter universe has always been the replacement of the previous Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher. It works as a source for curiosity at the beginning of each book and helps to distinguish one year from the other. Each Defense teacher has his/her very own trademarks and is always in some way connected to the plot of the individual book, most of them re-appearing in later ones. In Chamber of Secrets, we meet Gilderoy Lockhart, portrayed with brilliance by one Kenneth Branagh.

Professor Lockhart is the author of several best-selling travel books such as Gadding With GhoulsVoyages With Vampires and his recently published self-biography Magical Me (my favorite book title of all time, I wish Rowling would write this some time). Very much focused on his appearance and fame, Lockhart doesn't actually seem to be as fantastic a wizard as he depicts himself to be. Furthermore, he tries to establish himself as a sort of mentor figure in Harry's life, who himself is more concerned about strange things happening at the castle, where several people have been petrified and an anti-muggle-born agenda is luring.

Gilderoy Lockhart has always been a very fascinating character to me, perhaps because he's so different to most other figures of authority in Harry Potter; he's not actually very good at doing magic. Some of his funniest scenes are, sadly, in the book only, but Kenneth Branagh still manages to breathe a lot of life into his on-screen version. In contrary to the previous book's Prof. Quirrell, I think that Lockhart translated well to the screen, since we get all the important information on him and he is featured in many of the scenes. Less prominent in the film is, once again, Mr. Draco Malfoy. I know that it's hard to fit a huge amount of pages into a film of about 2h playtime, but then again, Chamber of Secrets is a tiny book compared to the sequels. Malfoy is just always around in the books and I feel that his presence falls somewhat short in the films. Of course, his character doesn't undergo much development in the second book, so I'm able to forgive the makers. This also applies to the lack of scenes with Neville Longbottom as well as Percy Weasley. Let's not talk about Charlie.

Three people that do get their fair share in this film are the Weasley twins and Ron. Fred and George are never quite as hilarious as in the books, but nevertheless they're bound to make me laugh out loud every time they appear on screen - more so here than in part one. Now, Ron has always been there in each of the Harry Potter films and books, but from part three and on, the films choose to focus more on Hermione than on him. Which is sort of sad because Ron is a very interesting character with a very interesting development over the course of the story. But Chamber of Secrets is still more of a classical children's film, where it makes sense to focus more on the friendship between the two boys than on the trio. That doesn't mean the three-pack doesn't evolve in this film, it does - especially at the ending where Rupert Grint's shy grunt says everything - but it's a little more in the background. Hermione is still the almost caricature-esque book geek who takes many things too seriously. However, she is the one that saves the two boys more than once and finds a way to break school rules once again.

Sometimes I do wish that Christopher Columbus had gone for a less politically correct 'child film' way of doing things here though. The film certainly lacks some of the darker elements of the book, such as the aforementioned ghost party, the Basilisk's very direct plans of breaking people's necks (that only Harry hears) and, well, the Lucius Malfoy vs. Arthur Weasley fist fight. Seriously, had that been in the film, I'd have no complaints whatsoever. There's also the all too brief sequence in Knockturn Alley, however, I think that it can be forgiven; the Malfoy family's immorality gets across even without it.

A piece on Chamber of Secrets isn't complete without the mention of Dobby the House-Elf, who was voted the No. 1 favourite magical creature in the series by - what a surprise. From the first time I saw Dobby, I was in love. Those water-filled eyes, the big ears and that manga nose never failed to make my heart melt. Toby Jones did a wonderful job at voicing him and his presence in the film has just the right effect. Surely, he was neglected in some of the sequels - most prominently in Goblet of Fire - but the character's emotional power was proven at last in part one of Deathly Hallows.

Something comes, another thing must go, and so we bid goodbye to the irreplaceable Richard Harris, who died shortly before this film was released. When I was younger, I didn't notice that another actor took over the role of headmaster Albus Dumbledore in Prisoner of Azkaban, probably I was too focused on Emma Watson being gorgeous. However, the difference between Harris' and Gambon's Dumbledore does strike me now. They're still the same character and the switch doesn't alternate the atmosphere of the films - the character alternates with the atmosphere. So in fact, both actors are perfect for the films they appear in. Harris is the more classical Dumbledore, the one whose beard is always white as a freshly bleached sheet and whom we never see utter any trace of doubt, hopelessness or other negative feeling. He is the Dumbledore of my childhood indeed, that flawless impersonation of Good, a sort of God in the world of Harry Potter. I don't prefer him over Gambon, nor the other way around. They're more like the different actors portraying the Doctor in Doctor Who, if there is any comparison at all.

You can choose to regard Chamber of Secrets as part of the two-film unity that it forms along with Philosopher's Stone. I prefer to see it as a bridge between (and we're talking both book and film here) the first part's innocence and the third film's dark, psychological approach. The title in itself is much more intriguing than the first film's/ book's and so is the story. It can be seen as symbolic even. In a way, the whole trio - Harry, Ron and Hermione - enter the chamber of secrets that is adolescence, as is indicated by the reunion scene at the end.


Make sure to chime in next month to read about the third entry in the Harry Potter franchise; The Prisoner of Azkaban


  1. Ooo nice post. Chamber of Secrets has always been my least favourite movie along with Goblet of Fire (since there was SO MUCH cut out from that one. Ludo Bagman? Winky?) but I still love it loads.

    Love Branagh's Lockhart. As a kid, he annoyed me, but I appreciate him more and more.

    CoS has always been the Ron film for me. Grint is just sooooo funny in this one. I wish Steve Kloves wasn't so in love with Hermione.

    That's a nice take on Gambon's Dumbledore. I've always liked Harris's Dumbledore more. He just goes with my idea of Dumbledore. I really feel Gambon finally became perfect in Half-Blood Prince but then he died :/

    And I do like the interpretation of "chamber of secrets" symbolising adolescence. Never saw it that way before.

    1. Yeah, I never really thought about Goblet of Fire much, but then I watched this clip from an interview with the director in the Harry Potter world, which makes me very excited to re-watch it. He said he tried to use a Hitchcock-esque approach kind of similar to North by Northwest, so I'll watch that before Goblet and see how it connects.

      I used to hate Lockhart too, especially because I never understood how Hermione could be fooled by him. Yeah, Grint is fantastic, he always is.

      Yes, I used to like Harris a little more too, he's not as 'flawed' and angry as Gambon. But I came to realize that they both worked well in the films they starred in. But I've decided to pay extra attention to the difference between them in this project.

      It was just something I thought of when writing the article and it kind of made sense to me. Maybe it's a bit far out, but it's a nice thing to think about.

    2. whaaaat... I can't any similarities between Goblet of Fire and North by Northwest. Except they both feature gorgeous men (and I'm not talking about Harry, he has such a terrible haircut in GoF).

    3. Both he and Ron do ;). Well, I'll see whether there are any similarities next month.

    4. Oh I know, Ron's even worse! I was talking about Cedric...!

  2. I love this project! As a huge Potterhead, after all this time, I really appreciate it. The next to last picture has me crackin'... ;)

    1. Glad to hear that! That scene was so much funnier than I remembered.

  3. ooh I'm loving this project of yours too, I'll read the books again this year, for sure!

    Lockhart has always been memorable to me, it's fantastic how so many people hate him! Because I think that's kind of the point, he's a pretty annoying character, so to me that's a natural reaction haha

    I'm glad you think both Harry and Gambon did a good job, because I think so too. It was a bit of a shock in Azkaban, but it's like you said -- his character changed, and so did he. If it were still Harry, he'd have to adjust himself too eventually.

    I've never given much thought to Chamber of Secrets. I liked it when I was little, but now (like with Philosopher's Stone) it seems a bit to childish for me to enjoy properly. But the books might still be great.

    1. Cool, I hope you'll write about it or something, otherwise we can talk about it before the podcasts.

      Yeah, I can believe that you'd hate Umbridge - I hate her - but Lockhart is just so ridiculous and funny!
      I guess you mean Harris, but yeah, he would have changed in the movies, I'm sure.

      Chamber of Secrets is definitely a very childish film but it's more mature than Philosopher's Stone still. I just enjoy watching it along with the others, but it's only with part three that things start to get really interesting.


Let the discussion begin!