Warning: This post contains spoilers for the first and second books in the Harry Potter series, including a major spoiler regarding the end of the second book.
So I’ve just finished Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (the second in the series), and I’m left wondering what all the fuss was about. I’ve taken away from these books several messages, including: good will always triumph over evil; love will always defeat hatred; and, especially in the second book, that racism and other forms of exclusion based on who people are is wrong. The horrors.
I also took note of something toward the end of the Chamber of Secrets. Harry Potter is concerned that he was almost placed in Slytherin, the house that produced the evil Lord Voldemort and a number of other dark wizards, and wonders if he has evil within him. The headmaster, Albus Dumbledore, responds by saying that it’s not about some latent quality within a person, but about the choices a person makes – this, according to Dumbledore, is what defines a person.
“So I should be in Slytherin,” Harry said, looking desperately into Dumbledore’s face. “The Sorting Hat could see Slytherin’s power in me, and it –”
“Put you in Gryffindor,” said Dumbledore calmly. “Listen to me, Harry. You happen to have many qualities Salazar Slytherin prized in his hand-picked students. His own very rare gift, Parseltongue — resourcefulness — determination — a certain disregard for rules,” he added, his mustache quivering again. “Yet the Sorting Hat placed you in Gryffindor. You know why that was. Think.”
“It only put me in Gryffindor,” said Harry in a defeated voice, “because I asked not to go in Slytherin. . . .”
“Exactly,” said Dumbledore, beaming once more. “Which makes you very different from Tom Riddle [Voldemort]. It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.” (p. 333)
Sounds nefarious, doesn’t it? Definitely not the kind of thing we want our kids reading about!