Harry Potter Book Club: Chamber of Secrets, Chapters 2-3

All right, magical friends! Who wants to help me de-gnome my garden?*


We have to be careful, de-gnoming in town.
The neighbors will hate me if this lands
in their yard.
Make sure and bring your leather gloves; the gnomes bite.

Before we get up to our elbows in peony bushes, however—well, any more than I already have—we've got to cover last week's book club entries. Masha commented on Harry's lack of confidence in love:
Harry is home again, hating his family, longing for escape, and anticipating another school year with friends..but uncertain again - he never really knows where he stands in the magical world, or the hearts of his friends. He wants certainty that can’t be given in this world, he lacks trust - a faith in the goodness and consistency of those he loves. It’s sort of a common thread for Harry throughout the books - like most of Rowling’s characters, he doesn’t love confidently or consistently..there are too many doubts and resting demons he can’t overcome.
To which Christie responded, among other commentary:
I remember writing early on about the horror of Harry's upbringing and my subdued surprise that it hadn't affected him more severely.  Children raised in such a home, outside of the fictional world, would almost certainly have deep emotional wounds and problems with delinquency.  Here we start to cast light into the deeps of Harry's woundedness, of which, so far, we have not much left the shallows.
I'll be interested to see further thoughts on this as the series progresses. Harry isn't wholly child either of realism or fantasy; he's neither paragon of virtue, nor profound and pathetic victim of abuse, and yet, in some ways, he's both. The story itself sits in a weird place, really; it combines myth and humanity into a light tragicomedy that is simplistic at one moment and startlingly thoughtful the next.

It might be interesting to compare Harry to Dudley in, say, book five. And there'll be lots to talk about in book seven, of course. :)

On to this week's reading!

P.S. It's really hard to take pictures of yourself de-gnoming. I think this girl did a better job than I did.

* * *

This Week in Reading Harry

Read: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, chapters 2-3

You guys. Muggle problems!

Referring to a different clock than the one we meet in Ch. 2.

Or better yet, the ability to Apparate.

So it's not just me?!

Potential Discussion Points

1. Dobby.

I'm afraid that if I say anything about Dobby, there will be SPOILERS. Masha tells me that his existence, and that of his race, are problematic (see combox at the link)... and I can't argue yet, because I don't know what she means. ;) So far, however, we've got what is really a beautiful scene in retrospect—the way Harry treats Dobby, and the way Dobby responds, are quite powerful in context, but I can't describe it properly, because it would spoil half the plot of the book. Ugh. Frustrating. There's more to come when we get to socks.

Art by mneomosyne.

2. Uncle Vernon's racist joke (page 18; we're not told either buildup or punchline, just that it's about a Japanese golfer.) Is Uncle Vernon a racist because he's a jerk? Or because he's uneducated, or ignorant in that arena at least? Or because Rowling, like too many people from left of the political center, believes that everyone right of center is a racist? Or is it just a throwaway sign of Uncle Vernon's overall nastiness and distrust of anyone different from himself?

Art by LMRourke.
This artist's character sketches are sublime.
3. Molly Weasley. Now and again a Potter fan doesn't, but I love Molly just as she is—domestic, poor and thrifty, busy to the point of being harried, open-hearted, and so driven by old-fashioned, faithful love that she shouts at her sons for breaking rules to rescue Harry and then welcomes Harry warmly, though she barely knows him, in the same scene. I'm not a fan of yelling in a household, but there's a difference between yelling fueled by grudges and contempt, and yelling fueled by warm temperaments inside the security of a solid, tested-and-true commitment. As an extremely conflict-averse introvert, I can't quite comprehend it myself, but some families seem to thrive on bickering and raised voices at levels that would drive the rest of us into insanity.

And the other half of the pair... Art by LMRourke.
4. Arthur Weasley. Here's one of Rowling's most delightful contradictory personalities; a poor government employee with seven children and a ramshackle country house (hard to comprehend in America, or at least in this part of America, where government employees may get paid three times what private laborers do for the same jobs), a man who heads the Misuse of Muggle Artifacts office at the Ministry of Magic and tinkers magically with said artifacts in his own shed. He's a good complement to his wife: worn, often a little stressed, but eternally cheerful and never tempestuous. The Potter series isn't exactly laden with good father figures, but Arthur Weasley, despite his handful of flaws, is one of the greats.

5. De-gnoming the garden. All right, this is a funny scene, but I always feel sorry for the gnomes when they walk away with their shoulders hunched. Even though they're stupid and vicious.** Ron presumes they don't feel pain, which I might be more inclined to believe if Ron weren't so desperately prone to believing just what he wants to believe on such subjects. More on that later, too.

Art by Rawenna.

Update: 6. The Burrow! How did I forget the Burrow? And now I don't have any time to talk about it, except to say that this first visit to it is one of the beautifully magical parts of Rowling's worldbuilding, and I understand why Harry thinks it's the best house he's ever been in.

Also, I really want clocks like Molly's.

Anything I overlooked? Got thoughts on chapters 2-3? Put them up for discussion!

* Muggle moment: I'd as soon have gnomes as slugs.
** I've never figured out a good way to kill slugs, either.


  1. I'd rather have slugs..chickens choke if you give them gnomes...it's a sad sight ;)

    O, the Weasleys..they are some of the best parents in the series..which is kind of sad..but there is a lot of good there..and I sort of relate to poor country families, so I'm not feeling the frustration I usually do with them..I may manage to get something up about the Weasley clan this week..honestly, there is a lot of good there..except they're the sort people I Don't Like: hen-pecked husbands and loud, domineering wives make me run for the liquor cabinet right away..;)

    The Dobby post'll be up tomorrow!!! All I need is one more picture from Seth..I'll try to get him to do the Weasley's too..

    But you're right..Harry's reaction to Dobby is lovely! It does a really good job sort of balancing out the bitterness of the chapter before..and I wonder if Harry needs to have people to relate to in order to develop his better self..left alone, he reverts to the lonely-abused child, but with someone else, he has a subject to relate to, apart from himself and his needs, and his internal monologue of rejection..That doesn't excuse Rowling for creating a race of natural slaves..but it's a wonderful indication of character!

    1. Can we blame Tolkien for creating a race of twisted, broken creatures who have no hope of redemption, i.e. the Orcs?

    2. The Orcs were not created broken, they're a distorted and utterly 'fallen' form of elves. In a sense they're like the wraiths, but with more self-will. It's a real difference, and there is a sorrow in the books at the degradation of a race.

    3. True, but we also don't know the history of the House-Elves per se. They might not have always been natural slaves. And besides, creating such a race doesn't mean Rowling approves of such a thing. I'm not sure you're being very charitable to her, but perhaps I'm misunderstanding exactly what your beef with her is on this.

    4. Okay, so I've read your post on Dobby, and I still think you're being super overly critical. Especially about this reflecting somehow on Rowling's views & character.

      Maybe after I get through a funeral tomorrow & a day trip on Friday, I might take some more time to comment on your post. But to be honest, I think I'll just leave well enough alone.

    5. fair enough..my prayers for your funeral tomorrow and safe travels.

  2. Maia would probably have no trouble ridding your garden of gnomes. I mean, all you have to do is dig up & shred all those plants, & gnome problem eliminated! ;)

    Regarding the Weasleys, I'm not sure I ever disliked them. I simply took them as they were with all their warts. And despite all their issues, and what family doesn't have issues, the Weasleys come through where it counts, and that is in love, familial bonds, and hospitality.

  3. Hold on, wait. After M. used her passionate conviction to passionately convince me not to like Molly Weasley anymore, that picture just made me like her again. And Arthur, too. Suddenly, they are adorably flawed and beloved again. SO CONFUSED.

    Hi, George: as an obsessive Tolkien nerd married to an EVEN MORE obsessive Tolkien nerd, I have no trouble saying that the Orcs are super problematic. That doesn't mean I think Tolkien was necessarily a bad guy or that The Lord of the Rings is a failure; it means I think that particular element of one of my favorite books is a problem. I think it's ok to like things that are problematic.

    In fact, Tolkien thought the Orcs' apparent irredeemablilty was super problematic from a theological standpoint but never managed to fix the problem to his own satisfaction. I can dig you out a quote once I am able to move into my new apartment and find books again.

    I call throwaway nastiness on Uncle Vernon's racist joke. I'm not sure if I completely like it being there, either, but I'd have to think about it a little more.

    I'm wondering if I'd like the Dursleys a little better as characters if they were less ogreish, and their attitude toward Harry less abusive, and if they were a little more Rowlingish maybe, who balked at the thought of being prejudiced in any way that their parents might have been prejudiced -- but wizards, well, that's completely different, isn't it? Of course, those would be different Dursleys and a different story. But it's a little too easy, I feel, to just make them Objectively The Worst all the time.

    Safe travels, if it's not too late to say safe travels.

    1. It's not too late!

      I would love to hear that Tolkien comment!! I have a feeling I would be able to sympathize with the authorial plight.

      Throwaway nastiness is probably right. And yeah, the Dursleys could've been more interesting. In book 1, it was one thing, but the story thoroughly outgrew its caricature/simple-myth status somewhere between books three and five. Then Rowling was still stuck working with her old archetypes, which might've been a little like the Orcs in the long run. At least... well, SPOILERS. ;)

  4. Yeah, it's the same sort of thing in Tolkien. It's one thing to have a lot of Objectively Awful goblins running around being splendidly nasty and getting their heads lopped off by golf clubs in a children's fantasy story, but trying to integrate them wholesale into the Big Serious Megamythos is bound to run you into some trouble. :-/ I'll try to find youall some quotes when I can!

    1. I know the exact quote you're talking about.

  5. I heard the "Japanese Golfer joke" once (apparently it's an old stand-by in some circles) and surprisingly, it's actually not a racist joke; it's a dirty joke.


All comments are currently moderated. Friendly comments are welcomed with fairy music, magic wishes, and possible unicorn sightings. Troll comments will be Transfigured into decent-looking rocks or Vanished. Spam comments will be shot down with blasters.