I recently re-read Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets for two reasons––for fun and to observe how Rowlings structured the story. For those who have forgotten or who have not allowed themselves the pleasure of reading the Harry Potter books, Chamber of Secrets is the second in the five-book series.
As in the first book, the story starts with Harry suffering under the oppressive regime of his Uncle, Aunt and cousin––the family he was sent to live with as an infant when his parents were killed. This time he is rescued by his friends from Hogwarts, the school for wizards, which he started attending the prior year to kick off the meat of the story.
The first chapters are like riding a roller coaster. The valleys of Harry’s struggles are followed by peaks, such as his time with the Weasley’s or his visits with Hagrid, the groundskeeper who actually plays an important role in each book. Rowling takes her time getting to the main issue driving the story–the Chamber of Secrets. In the process character development in the form of incidents drives the story. There’s the Quidditch match, classes with the phony Defense Against the Dark Arts instructor, conflicts with Slytherin house, and so on. Ron Weasley serves as a comic foil and Hermione serves as a kind of guide keeping Harry moving in the right direction.
One reason the Harry Potter books are so well regarded by adults as well as teenagers is that Rowling is skilled at structuring her story to keep the reader interested from start to finish. For example, early in book two, Harry gets in trouble thanks to a mysterious house elf named Dobby. It seems as if Rowling introduced this character to keep the story light, but at the end we discover who Dobby belongs to which gives Rowling an opportunity to show Harry’s character when he tricks Dobby’s owner–the father of his rival Draco Malfoy–into releasing Dobby from his bondage.
Despite the slow pace which is kept interesting by inventive details of life at Hogwarts, Rowling doesn’t drift too far from the central conflict that drives the entire series–Harry versus Voldemort. In this book, Harry faces Voldemort in his younger form which was preserved in the pages of a dairy. Harry wins this battle, learning more about himself in the process, but the war is not over.
There are plenty of lessons for writers of fantasy series in the Harry Potter books, and they’re just plain fun to read.