After the big success of the first book, Chamber of Secrets shows the common elements and gives you an idea of what the story structure is going to be going forward. Both books have a very long first act, full of exposition but also entertaining side stories which don’t play a big role later. In this book, we have about 40% of the book devoted to it before the story develops and we learn what obstacles Harry really faces. I liked how a few new characters were introduced, but not too many. In other fantasy novels, a massive amount of characters usually makes me lose track – but Rowling certainly didn’t want this to happen to the child readers.
The chapter structure is of positive noteworthiness as well: At my slow reading pace, each chapter takes about thirty minutes and in general it’s a story for itself each. The last half page teases the next chapter and makes it hard to stop, but it’s very considerate to the reader to offer this evenly spaced chapter structure.
When the second act started at around the halfway point of the book, it was still quite frustrating to witness how little agency Harry still has. He’s in his second year, after all, had somehow luckily defeated the main antagonist during the previous book, but still he doesn’t get to choose his actions and things just happen to him. People form their ill-informed opinions of him, there’s lots of distrust, and it makes you empathetic for how powerless he is. At points it reminds me of a screwball-comedy like story. He’s in the wrong place at the wrong time, there are unfortunate misunderstandings, Harry doesn’t want to give very relevant information to certain people which could have cleared things up quickly, moving himself and his circle further down towards the mess.
Also, his own character and his motivations are still very thinly defined: Rowling clearly aimed for maximum identification of the reader with Harry, leaving him an empty shell. The one big personality trait he has is courage. We’d all like a bit more of that for ourselves, I think, so that’s why we like to follow the story.
The book, like the first one, is still very easy to read. There’s nothing you really need to think about. All the information is presented to you matter of factly. Hints are dropped here and there, and it’s easy to see some story developments before they happen, but not too much. And what I’ve realized is that even if you’d receive some spoilers (like I did from my daughters), it doesn’t ruin the experience. It’s still interesting to see the characters develop and the interactions move towards the finale.
I wonder how much of the story structure was due to the editors pushing Rowling to write the same book once more. It is rather similar in structure and seems like a conventional safe bet on the part of the publishers. Looking forward to how this develops over the next five books which are supposed to get darker and are all quite a bit longer. Seems like Rowling enjoyed more creative freedom as the series went on.
As the book is now more than twenty years old, some things which seemed magical back then have by now become a technological advancement, I noticed. Especially the enchanted diary of Tom Riddle, which answers someone who writes into it in the style of the personality of Tom Riddle. I couldn’t help but think of ChatGPT, which could replicate this exact behavior by now. Also, the moving people within the paintings on the wall. We’re almost there, if you take a look at the development of AI-generated video. Give it a few more years and a video like that will be able to react to what happens in front of it, for example if you say a password to the artificial person in the picture and the person letting you through or denying passage depending on it while having a little chat with you.
Speaking of the Tom Riddle showdown in the end. As in many similar stories, the villain uses the chance to fully explain their plan in detail, certain of their victory, before the hero defeats them. I always think it’s cringy. Which villain would act like this?
And as another side note: Why are the adults in the story doing so little in order to solve the problems at the school? There are serious things happening. People getting injured and killed, and the powerful magics teachers don’t investigate themselves but just set new rules for the kids to not interfere? No one thinks to develop a sort of task force to get to the bottom of the problems in order to protect the children? Instead they just try to sweep everything under the rug. But maybe that’s quite realistic, after all. There are many people on Earth who would rather not deal with a problem but ignore it instead.
Anyways, in the end when our heroes succeed and are praised over the moon, it always creates these warm fuzzy feelings when reading. Finally all the doubts are gone and people realize how Harry and his friends were just trying to help and solve the problems themselves. A bunch of luck and help from Dumbledore was necessary, but they managed to save the people using a lot of courage. A very satisfying end.
Looking forward to seeing the story develop over the next books. Will the structure be the same? Will something significant change? Hundreds of millions of people who have read the books and seen the movies already know, but not me.
Chapter 18 – Dobby’s Reward
‘[..] It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.’ (Professor Dumbledore)