Motifs in Jim Kay’s Illustrations for “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets”
Last week, we revealed over 30 Easter eggs hidden in Jim Kay’s illustrations for Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. Since Kay puts so much passion and effort into his work, I believe that every detail deserves recognition. This time around, I’ll be breaking down some of the motifs that appear in this book’s art.
A motif is an artistic device found in both literary and visual works. It is an element that appears repeatedly and draws the attention of the audience toward a particular idea or theme. We often accept the presence of a motif as an intentional choice by the author or artist, pointing towards something he or she wishes to emphasize. A motif might also simply be a part of their personal style.
For example, some of the motifs included by J.K. Rowling in the Harry Potter books are concrete objects like Harry’s green eyes and untidy hair; others are more abstract ideas like genealogy and discrimination, authority and government, or death and resurrection. An easily recognizable visual motif in the Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban film would be the frequent use of clocks and time, which is fitting considering the climax of the story.
Some of the motifs I will discuss here also appeared in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and were initially identified by John Jennette. While some images are also present in all three of the published illustrated editions, we can’t yet know for certain which ones will continue to appear in Kay’s work. Fortunately, his illustrated edition of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire will be available in just a few weeks. Until then, let’s dive into Chamber of Secrets to unfog the frequent figures together.
The illustrated edition of Chamber is not unique in showing off Kay’s affinity for natural beauty. He frequently cites his experience working at the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew as having a large impact on his work. Insects, birds, and other fauna appear regularly in these illustrations, and even the architecture of Hogwarts is intended to mimic the structure of living plants. A few notable examples showcasing Kay’s passion for nature include the following:
- The endpaper greenhouses lean similarly to a plant seeking sunlight.
- On pages 48–51, the illustrations of Diagon Alley are teeming with rats, bats, birds, and other creatures.
- Page 74 goes into gorgeous detail about the Mandrake’s stages of life, resembling natural illustrations from the Middle Ages and Renaissance with which Kay has experience.
- On page 215, not only do vines and other plants cling to Hogwarts but the castle is even supported by trees.
- Also on page 215, you can see the dragon-shaped astronomy tower; the wings open so students can observe the skies.
Kay welcomes spiders in his studio while he works. With the famous scene in which Harry and Ron discover Aragog and the rest of the Forbidden Forest’s Acromantulas, it is no surprise that these eight-legged creatures pervade throughout Chamber. While the previous book had about 18 spiders, I found at least 80 here, many with fascinating skull patterns:
- One on the title page
- Ten in the contents
- Page 12, lower right corner
- Page 27, beside a gnome
- Page 45, top right corner
- Page 48, atop “Quills”
- Page 50, atop “Toothmonger”
- Page 96, on the tower
- Page 119, lower left corner
- Page 124, lower left corner
- Pages 142, 144, 147, 149, and 153
- Ten on pages 154–155
- Page 163, on the carpet
- At least 38 in chapter 15
- Six in the acknowledgments and end pages
Rowling has said that she gave Hagrid an oak wand because the wood is known in Britain as “‘King of the Forest’ and symbolises strength, protection and fecundity.” As noted in Sorcerer’s Stone, oak and acorns continue their presence:
- Page 45, doorframe
- Pages 119–121, engravings
- Page 198, Hagrid’s portrait
Cephalopods appear often. While perplexing at first, several sources online say that the octopus may represent intuition, intelligence, and mystery. This creature is, therefore, an unexpectedly fitting symbol for Harry’s character.
- Three on page 48, at “Krakens”
- Pages 96–97, the bell tower
- Page 103, in the bowl
- Page 121, engravings
Kay has said that his illustrations will get darker in keeping with the books, but Chamber maintains its childlike humor. Kay jokes that his early concepts for the astronomy tower were a bit too, er, phallic. That said, here are all the pictures of butts in this book:
- Page 15, Dobby
- Pages 29–31, gnomes
- Page 74, mandrakes
- Page 120, engravings
Finally, eyes are significant in all the books but especially so in Chamber since the Basilisk’s eyes petrify and kill. Readers are faced with many eyes and eye-like shapes in this book:
- Chapter openers, i.e. pages 35, 95, 108, and 232
- Pages 6–7, Dobby
- Page 45, the window frame
- Page 46, a sign in Knockturn Alley
Did you spot any other recurring images in Kay’s work? Let us know in the comments, and keep an eye out for our breakdown of Easter eggs in the illustrated edition of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban coming soon!