Study Guide

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets Fear

By J.K. Rowling

Fear

"You've forgotten the magic word," said Harry irritably.

The effect of this simple sentence on the rest of the family was incredible: Dudley gasped and fell off his chair with a crash that shook the whole kitchen; Mrs. Dursley gave a small scream and clapped her hands over her mouth; Mr. Dursley jumped to his feet, veins throbbing in his temples.

"I meant 'please'!" said Harry quickly. "I didn't mean —"

"WHAT HAVE I TOLD YOU," thundered his uncle, spraying spit over the table, "ABOUT SAYING THE 'M' WORD IN OUR HOUSE?" (1.13-16)

The Dursleys' responses to Harry's even mentioning the word 'magic' show how frightened they are of him. The root of their prejudice is clearly fear. Uncle Vernon blusters and bullies in attempt to get control of power that he doesn't have and can't understand. Obviously, the Dursleys' abuse of Harry is inexcusable. Still, their fear of wizards in general may be justifiable. Think of the power that evil wizards like Voldemort could use against the Muggles they despise.

"Harry Potter got a Nimbus Two Thousand last year. Special permission from Dumbledore so he could play for Gryffindor. He's not even that good, it's just because he's famous...famous for having a stupid scar on his forehead..."

Malfoy bent down to examine a shelf full of skulls.

"...everyone thinks he's so smart, wonderful Potter with his scar and his broomstick —"

"You have told me this at least a dozen times already," said Mr. Malfoy, with a quelling look at his son. "And I would remind you that it is not – prudent – to appear less than fond of Harry Potter, not when most of our kind regard him as the hero who made the Dark Lord disappear —" (4.65-68)

This conversation between Draco and Lucius Malfoy reveals a bunch of things. First, Mr. Malfoy is clearly concerned about appearing socially correct. What his actual feelings about Harry might be doesn't really matter. The other thing that strikes us is that there is no warmth here between Draco and Lucius. Draco complains and whines, and his father shuts him up. The relationship between these two provides yet another foil to the wonderful Weasleys.

Everyone filed out of the classroom except him and Ron, who was whacking his wand furiously on the desk.

"Stupid – useless – thing —"

"Write home for another one," Harry suggested as the wand let off a volley of bangs like a firecracker.

"Oh, yeah, and get another Howler back," said Ron, stuffing the now hissing wand into his bag. "It's your own fault your wand got snapped —" (6.73-75)

This is why we don't think Howlers are a good form of discipline. Ron is so embarrassed by them that he doesn't tell his parents about his very real need for a new wand. At the same time, this seems like kind of a flimsy excuse, since he obviously desperately needs one – why might Ron be worried about telling his parents that he needs a new wand? We wonder if this might be related to Fred and George's earlier concern about the cost of all of the Lockhart books. Could Ron be worried about costing his family lots more money?

The dungeon was full of hundreds of pearly-white, translucent people, mostly drifting around a crowded dance floor, waltzing to the dreadful, quavering sound of thirty musical saws, played by an orchestra on a raised, black-draped platform. A chandelier overhead blazed midnight-blue with a thousand more black candles. Their breath rose in a mist before them; it was like stepping into a freezer. (8.83)

J.K. Rowling spends a lot of the Harry Potter series reminding us that death itself (while sad) is not necessarily something to fear. In the first book, when Harry destroys the Sorcerer's Stone that had been sustaining Nicholas Flamel's unusually long life, Professor Dumbledore promises that, to Flamel, death will be like the next great adventure. Here, we've got this rather hilarious deathday party. Nearly Headless Nick seems quite proud of having died 500 years before. All the ghosts seem so human – they want to chat and eat and play just like we do. It's hard to take death seriously in these early books – though that really starts to change in Book 4 and especially Book 5.

"Ah, if Harry Potter only knew!" Dobby groaned, more tears dripping onto his ragged pillowcase. "If he knew what he means to us, to the lowly, the enslaved, we dregs of the magical world! Dobby remembers how it was when He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named was at the height of his powers, sir! We house-elves were treated like vermin, sir! Of course, Dobby is still treated like that, sir," he admitted, drying his face on the pillowcase. "But mostly, sir, life has improved for my kind since you triumphed over He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. Harry Potter survived, and the Dark Lord's power was broken, and it was a new dawn, sir, and Harry Potter shone like a beacon of hope for those of us who thought the dark days would ever end, sir..." (10.148)

Dobby's statement of admiration for Harry as the defeater of Voldemort eleven years ago is really touching. At the same time, it's a bit at odds with the experiences of other magical creatures (the goblins, giants, and centaurs) who seem pretty ambivalent about choosing between Voldemort and the Ministry of Magic in Book 5. These creatures all resent the rights they have been refused by the Ministry, and they consider siding with Voldemort in order to get those rights. What might make the house-elf population different? Why are they not in a position to negotiate with Voldemort? How is the status of the house-elves different from the status of other magical creatures (such as the centaurs) in the wizarding world? What does Dobby fear will happen if Harry is killed? How might Dobby's own life be materially different if there were no Boy-Who-Lived?

The news that Colin Creevey had been attacked and was now lying as though dead in the hospital wing had spread through the entire school by Monday morning. The air was suddenly thick with rumor and suspicion. The first years were now moving around the castle in tight-knit groups, as though scared they would be attacked if they ventured forth alone. (11.23)

One of Voldemort's main weapons is fear. A few unexplained Petrifications are all it takes to start turning the Hogwarts student body against one another. Most of the other students think the Heir of Slytherin must be Harry, while Harry and his friends (equally unjustly) suspect Draco Malfoy. This theme of fear turning innocent people against one another is a huge topic in the Harry Potter series, particularly in Book 5, when even the Sorting Hat starts to worry that the Hogwarts House system is creating unnecessary division among the students.

"What d'you mean? You were there – you heard me —"

"I heard you speaking Parseltongue," said Ron. "Snake language. You could have been saying anything – no wonder Justin panicked, you sounded like you were egging the snake on or something – it was creepy, you know —" (11.113-114)

Parseltongue is a perfect example of the old saying that fear comes from lack of knowledge. The whole student body hears Harry saying things they don't understand, and so they automatically assume the worst: that he's egging on the snake to attack Justin Finch-Fletchley. Why does Parseltongue seem like an evil gift? What do snakes symbolize in Western culture that seems relevant to the wizarding world's fear of Parseltongue? If you could speak to one sort of animal, what would it be?

No one knows how he survived that attack by You-Know-Who. I mean to say, he was only a baby when it happened. He should have been blasted into smithereens. Only a really powerful Dark wizard could have survived a curse like that [...] That's probably why You-Know-Who wanted to kill him in the first place. Didn't want another Dark Lord competing with him. I wonder what other powers Potter's been hiding? (11.142)

In Book 1, the wizarding world treats the apparent death of Voldemort in 1981 as a miracle and Harry as a hero. In Book 2, we see another frame for the exact same event: where did Harry get the power to hold back Voldemort? Will he turn his power against the wizarding world the same way Voldemort did? How can they trust him? It goes to show that public opinion is fickle. No matter how beloved Harry may have been in his first year, that's no guarantee of how they'll feel about him in his second. What does this reversal of Harry's fortunes say about Rowling's view on public opinion? Do you think her assessment of public opinion in this book has any relation to her own growing fame as an author?

"That's two Gryffindors down, not counting a Gryffindor ghost, one Ravenclaw, and one Hufflepuff," said the Weasley twins' friend Lee Jordan, counting on his fingers. "Haven't any of the teachers noticed that the Slytherins are all safe? Isn't it obvious all this stuff's coming from Slytherin? The Heir of Slytherin, the monster of Slytherin – why don't they just chuck all the Slytherins out?" he roared, to nods and scattered applause. (14.84)

The whole House rivalry thing is a great example of the plot technique of misdirection. There is so much hatred between Gryffindor and Slytherin, but it turns out that the whole "Heir of Slytherin" thing is a fake clue. Ginny Weasley is the one who is opening the Chamber of Secrets, possessed by Voldemort. The thing that keeps her nighttime activities hidden is that she is a Gryffindor, an eleven-year-old, the youngest sister of a large and protective family – all of these things shield her from too much scrutiny from the people living in her dorm with her. Of course, Ginny is absolutely not doing these things on purpose. Still, she's a great choice for Voldemort to possess because she is, literally, the last person anyone would suspect of slaughtering roosters and Petrifying Muggle-borns. Harry's hatred for Draco and the Hufflepuffs' suspicion of Harry serves only to distract everyone from the real truth, which is something no one could guess.

There was a sudden movement behind them. Gilderoy Lockhart's knees had given way.

"Get up," said Ron sharply, pointing his wand at Lockhart.

Lockhart got to his feet – then he dived at Ron, knocking him to the ground.

Harry jumped forward, but too late – Lockhart was straightening up, panting, Ron's wand in his hand and a gleaming smile on his face.

"The adventure ends here, boys!" he said. I shall take a bit of this skin back up to the school, tell them I was too late to save the girl, and that you two tragically lost your minds at the sight of her mangled body – say good-bye to your memories!" (16.214-218)

Professor Lockhart is so frightened of what is waiting for them at the end of the tunnel that he doesn't seem troubled about leaving Ginny to become a "mangled body." As someone whose entire reputation is built on lies and Memory Charms, Professor Lockhart's whole life must also be ruled by the fear that he's going to be found out. Why might Lockhart choose to live his life with so much uncertainty? What is he getting out of this hypocrisy? What does Professor Lockhart appear most afraid of? How do Lockhart's fears shape his character in the novel?