Thursday, June 18, 2009

Harry Potter and Fame and Obsession

"It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities." –Albus Dumbledore

It must be said at the start that, much like the second of the Chronicles of Narnia (meaning Prince Caspian) this is a personal least favorite of the series. In comparison to the first book (which has novelty on its side) and what starts in the next book (which is the beginnings of a greater story arc) Chamber feels minor. When reading the series for the first time, one gets the feeling that we are settling into a typical (albeit better than average) children’s series of books.

There are two great things that emerge from this book: the character of Lockhart, and the idea that books and ideas can be powerful, even dangerous.

Part of the Rowling pattern set up to structure each book is the ever-changing Defense Against the Dark Arts teaching position. Every year sees a new teacher in this post, and they all tend to be interesting. Parallel to that is the antagonist in each book, and they are not always the same person. In the first book, Quirrell is the bumbling coward of a DADA professor and Snape is the main threat. At the end Quirrell is gone and Snape carries on for the rest of the series as an ambiguous figure. Here Lockhart is the DADA, and the antagonist is a mystery to all except Dumbledore who just wonders how it is being done.

Lockhart is a great character, but it is a good thing that he is gone in the end like all DADA professors. You could only take so much of him. He is a great caricature of our fame obsessed culture, and a good contrast to Harry. Harry is famous for something he did not do, but doesn’t care about fame and bravely seeks to do what is right. Lockhart is also famous for things he didn’t do, but really pursues fame as a vocation.

The other fascinating lesson from Chamber is the danger of ideas and obsessions. Some think there is a commentary about social networking technology, but it is really more about blindly following ideas however they are disseminated. As Mr. Weasley tells his daughter: “Never trust anything that can think for itself if you can't see where it keeps its brain!” That would include large groups of people and organizations in later books! Not much more can be said without spoiling the book.

It might be interesting for some to think about the chiastic structure of the series as well. Basically there is an ABCDCBA flow to the seven books. One relates closely to seven, and here in Chamber there is a lot that becomes important in book 6.

1 comment:

  1. Two is my least favorite, too, though Lockheart is great fuel for laughs. I love what Branagh says, that he reminds him of what his mother always said: "He's the kind of person that if you've been to the moon, he's been twice".
    Thanks for the link.


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