A Plot Hole Big Enough to Drive a Ford Anglia Through

by ProfRJLupin

A few weeks ago, I was skimming through a book that was criticizing the Harry Potter phenomenon. Aside from the usual criticisms (which I am not here to discuss), the one that piqued my interest most was a criticism of the second movie, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, stating that the film was marred by several plot holes. I did not have time to read further to see what these “plot holes” were specifically, but I was intrigued and set to thinking. In the next day or so, I viewed my copy of the film at home and was indeed struck by a plot hole, mistake, error (or what have you), that I had never noticed before. Re-reading the book confirmed that the “error” was not isolated to the film alone. Having searched listed mistakes and other places on MuggleNet, I could find no other mentions of what caught my attention. Forgive me if I am mistaken in believing that I am the first to bring this to attention. If I am mistaken, then let me simply add my perspective to the matter.

The error that I’m talking about in Chamber of Secrets has to do with the Chamber itself. Instead of a plot hole or a mistake, perhaps the better term would be anachronism. Simply put, the question raised to my mind that I had never noticed before is, “Why is the entrance to the Chamber of Secrets, built and hidden by Salazar Slytherin, founder of Hogwarts, approximately one thousand years ago, accessed through indoor plumbing?”

The date of the founding of Hogwarts (and the subsequent building of the Chamber) is confirmed in Chamber as Professor Binns tells his class the legend of the Chamber of Secrets: “You all know, of course, that Hogwarts was founded over a thousand years ago, the precise date is uncertain . . .” (150). Please understand, by the way, the reference to the “precise date” being unknown does not contradict that we are talking about an event that took place a millennium ago, it merely means that the actual date of the founding (month, day, etc.) is unknown. Binns goes on to explain that Slytherin built the Chamber before his falling out with the other founders (Godric Gryffindor, Rowena Ravenclaw, and Helga Hufflepuff) and subsequent departure from the school (150-151). Therefore, we know that Salazar Slytherin built the Chamber of Secrets sometime in the late tenth century, circa 990 AD.

One hundred and fifty pages later we learn, along with Harry, Ron, and Professor Lockhart, that the entrance to the Chamber of Secrets is indeed found in Moaning Myrtle’s bathroom: “It looked like an ordinary sink. They examined every inch of it, inside and out, including the pipes below. And then Harry saw it: scratched on the side of one of the copper taps was a tiny snake” (300). Harry then reveals the entrance by speaking in Parseltongue, and we see “. . . at once the tap glowed with a brilliant white light and began to spin. Next second, the sink began to move; the sink, in fact, sank, right out of sight, leaving a large pipe exposed, a pipe wide enough for a man to slide into” (300). The description of the opening of the entrance clearly shows that the entrance is explicitly linked to the indoor sink and its plumbing–innovations that didn’t come into existence until almost nine hundred years after the building of the Chamber!

There are two possible explanations for this anachronistic connection. The first asks us to believe that the wizarding world, in fact, invented indoor plumbing at least nine hundred years before Muggles did. In fact, perhaps it was a careless witch or wizard that inadvertently supplied the non-magical world with the inspiration to install sinks, taps, and toilets in their own homes. This, of course, is highly unlikely. We know that the Romans, who conquered Britain circa 47 AD, (Emperor Claudius named his son, Brittanicus, in honor of the victory) had the means to bring water into and remove it from domiciles, but their methods were nothing so sophisticated as that of the porcelain and pipes of modern plumbing. If we suspend our disbelief and fully envelop ourselves in Rowling’s fictitious world, then we know that the wizarding world was also perfectly capable of contriving a system to bring water in and out of their homes long before Muggles even dreamed of doing so. But to do so using the exact same means that Muggles would master? In other words, the wizarding world could have created any means or methods of elaborate plumbing. Why settle for something so mundane as an “ordinary sink” (300)?

The second possible explanation is that sink-hidden entrance wasn’t developed until years later, when all buildings had indoor plumbing. While it is entirely plausible that Hogwarts would undergo renovations throughout its thousand-year existence, are we perhaps to believe that ordinary Muggle sinks were brought in to make the increasing number of Muggle-born students feel at home and less culture shocked? More importantly, if the sinks were put in during a renovation, why wasn’t the entrance to Chamber found? Binns tells the class, “Naturally, the school has been searched for evidence of such a chamber many times, by the most learned witches and wizards” (151). Are we expected to believe that while Dumbledore and his many illustrious predecessors were unable to find the Chamber, a plumber is able to?

One might argue that Binns himself provides the answer in his statement, “. . . according to legend . . .The heir alone would be able to unseal the Chamber of Secrets, unleash the horror within, and use it to purge the school of all who were unworthy to study magic” (151). In other words, since Tom Riddle alone is the heir of Slytherin, then he alone would be able to find the Chamber. This “fact” is, however, part of the fiction portion of the legend (as a legend, by definition, always contains some measure of fiction). We know that others besides the true heir of Slytherin could not only find but open the Chamber of Secrets: Harry did, as well as Ginny Weasley. The entrance to the Chamber has no sentient properties; it does not discern who is opening it other than the one wishing to enter must be able to speak Parseltongue. More likely, this “fact” is best attributed to the notion, as supported by the text, that anyone can enter the Chamber of Secrets, but only the heir of Slytherin can control what lies inside.

The logical conclusion is that the fact that the entrance to the Chamber of Secrets is accessed through the means of indoor plumbing is an anachronistic error. To avoid this conclusion, a reader would have to believe that at the very same time that Hogwarts is being ravaged by the beast from within the Chamber of Secrets the first time, plumbing renovations proceed as scheduled, and an unwitting plumber has his memory modified by Tom Marvolo Riddle (also known as Lord Voldemort) so that the installation of a certain sink in the girls’ bathroom will take place without too many questions. Far-fetched theories like this are best suited to guessing what will happen in books six and seven.