“Chamber of Secrets” Is Underrated: Five Reasons Why It’s the Best Book
Everyone has their favorite of the Harry Potter books, and things can get heated as we argue which one is the best and why. But for some reason, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets never seems to be part of the conversation. Here are some of the reasons why I think it’s the most underrated of the series, and why it deserves to be at the top of your list.
1. Harry begins displaying signs that he’s a Horcrux.
A major part of the series and an especially dramatic reveal in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is that Harry is one of Voldemort’s Horcruxes. It’s hinted throughout the series leading up to the final book – Harry can talk to snakes, Harry is connected to Voldemort’s thoughts and feelings, Harry is almost sorted into Slytherin – but our first inkling that something is not quite right with Harry is in Chamber of Secrets. We first see this when Harry accidentally speaks to a snake, causing everyone to suspect him to be Slytherin’s heir (more on that later). Then, when Harry is down in the Chamber with the unconscious Ginny and the memory Riddle, Riddle tells Harry that they are uncommonly similar, causing Harry – for the first time – to question his connection to Voldemort, a moment that in Deathly Hallows Dumbledore refers to as coming very close to discussing the Horcruxes.
2. Chamber of Secrets gives us our first introduction to Voldemort as a character.
Harry first learns about Voldemort and his role in Harry’s life in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, a year before Chamber of Secrets. He’s introduced as the evil wizard who murdered Harry’s parents, and Harry even meets Voldemort in his formless state on the back of Quirrell’s head. It’s not until Chamber of Secrets that Harry (and the reader) begins to learn about Voldemort as a character and as a human. Harry’s introduction to Tom Riddle through the Horcrux diary is interesting because it allows him to build some empathy for Riddle and his upbringing – both of them see Hogwarts as the first place they ever belonged. Of course, what Riddle showed him in the diary was a lie, but it’s the first spark of humanity that we see in Voldemort, something that doesn’t return again until Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince with Harry’s journeys into the Pensieve as he learns about how Voldemort became the monster he is.
3. Harry gets his first taste of the public’s flip-flopping opinion of him.
A theme that follows Harry around throughout the books is a difficult relationship with the public and their flip-flopping feelings about him. The first time Harry becomes an outcast is in Sorcerer’s Stone. He, Hermione, and Neville lose Gryffindor 150 points in one night, but the school doesn’t truly turn against him for the first time until Chamber of Secrets when, lead by Ernie Macmillan, they believe him to be the heir of Slytherin and the source of all the attacks on Muggle-borns throughout the school. Harry is forced to develop some serious coping skills, and he draws on the ones he forms here throughout the following books during the many ups and downs of the other students’ favor. The derision of the public is something he deals with here, and it gives him the tools to deal with it again in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire with Rita Skeeter’s horrible articles.
4. Gilderoy Lockhart – need I say more?
Ah, Lockhart. Quirrell was mysterious, Lupin was wonderful, Umbridge was horrible, and Snape was, well, Snape. Of all the Defense Against the Dark Arts teachers Harry had while attending Hogwarts, Lockhart was one of the most memorable, if only for his complete incompetence as a teacher and his laugh-out-loud moments of self-indulgence. Who can forget him saying “a few people have heard of you, haven’t they?” (CoS 43) to Harry? When else have dwarves dressed as cupids roamed the school, attacking students in the hallways? Even Snape couldn’t come up with a punishment more severe than having Harry help Lockhart answer his fan mail. I think Hermione would agree with me when I say he’s one of J.K. Rowling’s best characters.
5. Riddle’s diary – Harry takes the first step in the hunt for the Horcruxes.
Arguably Harry’s main goal in the series, though it’s not revealed until Half-Blood Prince, is to find and destroy Voldemort’s Horcruxes. We see in Deathly Hallows what a daunting task this is, but long before Harry, Ron, and Hermione crack out their tent, Harry discovers and destroys one of these pieces of Voldemort’s soul in Chamber of Secrets. He might not have known the implications of his actions at the time, but Dumbledore certainly did, and it’s Riddle’s diary that turns Dumbledore’s Horcrux theory into a tangible plan for Voldemort’s downfall.
All in all, while Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets flies under the radar for a lot of people when considering which books in the series are their favorites, it actually serves as the stepping off point for most of the major themes in the books.