Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Nov 20, 2002 at 12:00 am

When we last saw Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, the young wizard-prodigy was on the way to a well-deserved summer holiday. Harry and his best friends and fellow classmates of Hogwart’s School of Witchcraft and Wizardry — Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) and Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) — had just faced the evil wizard, Lord Voldemort. Their skills, talents and bravery blended into an alchemy of power greater than the sum of its parts to conquer Voldemort and secure the Sorcerer’s Stone. Director Chris Columbus managed to retain, between the frames of this first Harry Potter film, the empowering message that author J.K. Rowling subtly hid between the lines of her first children’s book of the same title: Even bespectacled, bookish geeks have powers catalyzed by the bond of friendship.

Another message lies waiting to be discovered in this episode of the Harry Potter saga. A house elf, Dobby (the voice of Toby Jones), appears in Harry’s bedroom while the now 12-year-old wizard wunderkind spends another uncelebrated birthday under a kind of house arrest enforced by his piggish and evil Uncle Vernon (Richard Griffiths). Dobby, a slave to a wealthy wizard household, is there to warn Harry off from returning to Hogwart’s — by any means necessary.

But, of course, Harry returns to Hogwart’s rescued by Ron and his brothers in their father’s old, battered but enchanted flying Ford Anglia. And Harry and his friends stumble into a mystery that reveals Hogwart’s shadowy past, which involves an attempted genocide of “mud bloods” (wizards with “muggle” or human ancestry) and all the horrors and terrible trials that Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets’ PG rating will allow.

Columbus carefully avoids overly replaying the visual wonders of his first episode, and heedfully edits and amplifies Rowling’s story for the screen, preserving its spooky darkness. As the shadows of Rowling’s fairy-tale allegory of white supremacy close in on Hogwart’s, the true scare is how far beings — be they human or wizard — will go to defend the myth of racial purity.

James Keith La Croix writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].