Let's face it. When it comes to fantasy for young readers, British authors have the edge. Think of P.L. Travers's Mary Poppins (1934); J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit (1937); C.S. Lewis's The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe (1950); Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (1964); even Brian Jacques's Redwall series, or Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials series qualify. J.K. Rowling surely joined the ranks with the publication of her Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone in 1998. Winner of too many top awards to list, this first novel is full of magic, humor, and action. Readers, both young and old, raved.
And, wonder of wonders, Rowling has done it again in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. This story is laced with even more characters than her first title. Readers will already know the Dursleys, Severus Snape, Albus Dumbledore, and Harry's friends at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, Ron and Hermione. Making a first appearance (or near-appearance in some cases) are Nearly Headless Nick, the ghost who didn't quite achieve a complete decapitation, and Moaning Myrtle, who haunts a stall in the girls' bathroom. Anyone in the book trade will recognize Gilderoy Lockhart, a new Hogwarts faculty member and an author more intent on fame than creativity. Rowling has a sure-to-please sense of names for people and places.
But the droll word play is merely icing on a delicious plot. From the first chapter, when Harry is locked in his room during summer vacation by his priggish guardians, to his numerous adventures at Hogwarts, clues drop incidentally in the fast-paced story. Why does the house-elf Dobby warn Harry not to return to Hogwarts? Who killed Mrs. Norris, the caretaker's cat? Why would someone want to flush away the diary of a student from 50 years ago? Most important, how was the Chamber of Secrets opened, and what or who exists there?
Brave, wise, and innocent, Harry Potter is determined to find out. He faces evil and dangers reminiscent of those in Raiders of the Lost Ark. In the end, he learns that he was right to ask not to be a Slytherin even though he has the rare gift of Parseltongue. As Professor Dumbledore tells him, "It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities."
Be sure to look for the third Harry Potter installment, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, this fall. I don't know how long or how fast Rowling can create more Harry Potter stories (she is planning on seven in all), but she will undoubtedly find a large audience waiting whenever they come.
Etta Wilson is a children's book enthusiast in Nashville, Tennessee.