Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
How we cite our quotes:
History of Magic was the dullest subject on their schedule. Professor Binns, who taught it, was their only ghost teacher, and the most exciting thing that ever happened in his classes was his entering the room through the blackboard. Ancient and shriveled, many people said he hadn't noticed he was dead. He had simply got up to teach one day and left his body behind him in front of the staffroom fire; his routine had not varied in the slightest since. (9.83)
There's something ironic about a dead man teaching history, since history is all about the past and the activities of long-dead people. We have to wonder a little at the wisdom of Professor Dumbledore leaving such a deadly dull instructor in charge of a subject that's actually really important. Not only is the history of the four founding wizards and witches essential to the plot of Book 2, but wouldn't it have been helpful for Harry to know about Grindelwald before Book 7?
"Dangerous?" said Harry, laughing. "Come off it, how could it be dangerous?"
"You'd be surprised, said Ron, who was looking apprehensively at the book. "Some of the books the Ministry's confiscated – Dad's told me – there was one that burned your eyes out. And everyone who read Sonnets of a Sorcerer spoke in limericks for the rest of their lives. And some old witch in Bath had a book that you could never stop reading! You just had to wander around with your nose in it, trying to do everything one-handed." (13.33-34)
Muggle-born wizards and witches obviously are just as good (or in Hermione's case, better) than purebloods. Still, Book 2 does show evidence of real cultural differences between people who have been raised in the wizard world and those who have been brought up in the Muggle world. Harry is a great example. As a kid brought up by the Dursleys, he has no idea why being a Parselmouth would make him terrifying to other wizards. Here, he has none of the caution around an unknown book that comes naturally to Ron. So Harry has none of the prejudices that purebloods have about their world, but he's also still learning a basic level of caution and understanding as he integrates with other wizards. As an early part of the Harry Potter series, Book 2 shows us that Harry is still in the middle of a process of adapting to the unfamiliar dangers and differences of the wizarding world. He doesn't think about this new, empty book as a danger because he hasn't been raised by a magical family, but his experiences with Tom Riddle's diary give him a quick education in taking bewitched objects very, very seriously.
"Ginny!" said Mr. Weasley, flabbergasted. "Haven't I taught you anything? What have I always told you? Never trust anything that can think for itself if you can't see where it keeps its brain. Why didn't you show the diary to me, or to your mother? A suspicious object like that, it was clearly full of Dark Magic —"
"I d-didn't know," sobbed Ginny. "I found it inside one of the books Mum got me. I th-thought someone had just left it there and forgotten about it." (18.21-22)
This is certainly a useful lesson to have: only trust thinking things if you can tell where their brains are. Wizarding lessons are definitely different from ours. At the same time, we find this rule completely puzzling. Why would a visible or invisible brain case make a difference to trustworthiness? What does Mr. Weasley's lesson mean? How might this lesson apply to another book we come across in the series, the Half-Blood Prince's advanced potions textbook in Book 6?