Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets Study Guide

British author J.K. Rowling said that the idea for the Harry Potter series “fell into her head” in 1990 while she was riding a train from Manchester to London without a pen to write it down. While she started to write it that evening, her progress was delayed for five years. After her mother died of complications from multiple sclerosis, Rowling moved to Portugal where she married and gave birth to her daughter. She then moved to Edinburgh, Scotland as a single mother, where she completed the first Harry Potter book. According to Rowling, she was at that time as “poor as it is possible to be in modern Britain, without being homeless." In 1995, she completed a manuscript for Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (later titled Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in American editions). After the manuscript was rejected by many other publishers, Bloomsbury Books agreed to publish it in 1996.

Rowling was in the middle of writing the sequel, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, when Bloomsbury published the first book in 1997. As a result of its success in Britain, American publishers started a bidding war for the rights to the series in the United States. Scholastic bought the U.S. publication rights for $105,000, about ten times more than the average foreign rights sale at the time, and promoted the book heavily. When “Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone” appeared on the American market in 1997 J.K. Rowling became an international celebrity. Overwhelmed by this unexpected success, Rowling experienced writer’s block while attempting to complete Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. She said that she felt unprepared for the amount of publicity she received, and was worried that the second book wouldn’t measure up to the first. But she got through it and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets was published by Bloomsbury in the United Kingdom on July 2, 1998, and by Scholastic in the United States on June 2, 1999.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets tells the story of Harry Potter’s second year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Harry is a twelve-year-old wizard who only discovered his true identity the year before. He lives with his aunt, uncle, and cousin, who are what wizards call Muggles, meaning that they have no magical ability. Throughout the series, Harry endures neglect and derision at home, while being hailed as a hero at school. The wizard community admires Harry for having defeated Lord Voldemort, a notorious dark wizard, when he was a baby. His parents perished in that attack, and as an orphan Harry struggles to come to terms with his place in the world.

This is primarily a fantasy novel, providing the delights of a unique world with made-up words and rules for everything from sweets to games. It is also a coming-of-age tale in which adolescents clash with authority and struggle to mature. The plot follows the structure of a mystery, with elements of adventure and gothic horror. And Harry’s personal development fits into the literary model of the hero’s journey. This second book develops the darker side of Hogwarts, as we learn that one of the founders, Salazar Slytherin, promoted prejudice against students who were not born to wizards. Harry discovers that Slytherin created a Chamber of Secrets with a monster inside that would purge the school of those he deemed unworthy to practice magic, to be opened only by his heir. When students are attacked, the school panics. Harry finds that his celebrity status quickly reverses into a pariah as his fellow students begin to fear all differences. Harry must confront social isolation and evil simultaneously. The loyalty of his friends ultimately gives Harry the courage to face his nemesis in the Chamber of Secrets.

The Harry Potter series was a phenomenal success, selling more than 500 million copies worldwide. While published as children's books, adults embraced them as well, which allowed for a common language across generations. The books caused a sensation in the publishing industry, as fans lined up at bookstores and camped out overnight to purchase each new installment as it appeared. Literary analysis and fan culture became a popular pastime. Harry Potter was not without controversy: Religious groups accused the books of satanic subtext and some literary scholars judged them to be cliched and derivative. The books have been adapted into successful films, video games, and theme parks. Harry Potter is now a brand worth an estimated $15 billion. In recent years, the ethical framework of the Harry Potter series has given the millennial generation a framework for engaging with politics.