Saturday, 26 November 2016

harry potter and the chamber of secrets

On Friday 4th November I finished Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J K Rowling, which was not bad.

I read Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone many years ago, somewhere in the middle of the publication years, to see what all the fuss was about. (I remember the first time I had a conversation about them was with someone in the Interserve office kitchen - I'd heard of the Harry Potter books, but wasn't actually sure if that was the author or the character.) I thought it was fine, but clearly a children's book - which of course is absolutely fine, but I didn't see why adults were reading it, and I didn't read any more of them.

In the years since then, I've come into possession of a daughter who has now read all the books except the last (and for some reason currently shows no particular inclination to read that), and I've seen all the films with her. I read The Philosopher's Stone again a few years ago; it was still a perfectly fine children's book.

But as I've been reading some of the books she's been reading in recent years - some at her suggestion, some pre-vetting, some just out of interest, particularly as we've reached secondary school - I thought I should pick up the Harry Potter series again.

The cover of my edition is one of the adult edition covers, which they brought out surely to both encourage adults to pick them up and also to let adults feel less embarrassed about being seen reading them. Interestingly, this adult edition was published when only these first two books had come out (its 'also available' list only has Philosopher's Stone; Chamber of Secrets was published in 1998, and this is a 1999 edition); I hadn't realised it had taken off so soon. Spot varnish around the title and author, matt on the cover image (a rather unsophisticated montage of an empty car plonked among clouds, though one can't deny that that certainly represents an incident in the story). It's a black and white cover image, and just one colour otherwise, but on my copy the car has been coloured in (presumably by a child rather than an adult), in orange, appropriately (as it belongs to the Weasleys) - sufficiently well-coloured-in that it was some time before I released that it wasn't meant to look like that. (There's no cover design credit, just photo source credits.) The cover quote being from Ian Hislop is also clearly adult-directed (the quotes on the back are from TLS, Anne Johnstone in the Herald, Scotland on Sunday, and Ian Hislop in the Sunday Telegraph).

Again, I enjoyed the book perfectly well; more than I remember enjoying the first. It felt less childish than I remember the first one being; that may be my imagination, or may be JK Rowling writing (as I seem to remember reading) older through the books, imagining her readers growing up as her characters do (which I guess works well while you're publishing them but could be more problematic when later children are gobbling them up at a faster rate beyond their age, though I haven't been aware of that being an issue (perhaps more so with increasing scariness of films)).

I think probably what I enjoyed most - and what certainly enhanced my enjoyment most of all - was seeing things being put in place for the future, seeds of things which would unfold in the future volumes, seeing the significance of things which would not have been seen in 1998 (and I'm sure there's plenty going on I'm not noticing, not being a hardcore fan; I'd see them on a reread once I've read them all, but I don't expect I'll be rereading them). It's pretty clear that the JKR had a pretty clear plan for the shape of the whole story, and details within it, from the outset.

Interestingly, Maisie has written in the front (as well as some page numbers, the significance of which is unknown to me) 'skipped Dobby chapter cause boring'. It's a bold/confident novel that starts off with such unpleasant/annoying characters as the Dursleys and Dobby in the opening chapters. Necessary, I suppose, and makes you appreciate being freed from them, but it's a tough opening.

I don't think it's just because I've got a daughter (and am a bookish boy) that I think Hermione is actually the hero (and strongest character) of these books and films. She's certainly the character I identify with most. It's very well-constructed. Harry is the central, pivotal character, but Hermione is there as a hero both for girls and bookish boys. I'm not saying this is the reason, but I'd hypothesise that generally speaking girls might be happier to buy Harry Potter and the... than boys might be to buy Hermione Granger and the..., which if true is interesting and doesn't reflect well on us boys.

I thought it seemed that the film was very close to the book. I guess that a big advantage JKR had was that the books were so successful before the films began that she was able to keep a lot of control and power over them when she did get into the film rights.

I'll certainly be happy to read on in the series without feeling like it's a chore.

First line: Not for the first time, an argument had broken out over breakfast at number four, Privet Drive.
Last line: And together they walked back through the gateway to the Muggle world.
Dedication: For Sean P F Harris, getaway driver and foulweather friend.

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