I’m someone who always thinks the book is better. Always. The only exception I can think of is Les Misérables; I’m always very thankful that the musical cuts out the 50+ page lectures on the Battle of Waterloo and the history of the Paris sewer system. But even there, I’m glad to know all that I know about Valjean’s sister’s kids, Javert’s family history, and of course, Eponine and Cosette’s more nuanced personalities. I just doubt I’ll ever feel the need to read the full unabridged version again. Once was more than enough.
What does this have to do with Chamber of Secrets? Well, the Harry Potter books – as long as the last few are – tend not to include those distracting 50-page info-dumps I was talking about. What they do include is a lot of subtle nuance and attention to detail that gets lost in the movie versions.
First of all, character personalities. In the books, Hermione is wonderfully human. And by that, I mean that she’s flawed. She admires Lockhart, whereas in the movie, the other girls swoon over him, but she seems relatively immune. She’s bossy, and she doesn’t always act too sympathetic towards Harry and Ron when they get themselves into trouble. I’m not saying this because I don’t like Hermione; on the contrary, she’s one of my favorite characters. But there’s a lot more to her than just being very smart and capable. She is those things, but she’s a well-rounded, three-dimensional character, and there’s way more to her than that.
On the other hand, if Hermione is reduced to her most positive traits, the opposite is true of Ron. In the books, he brings more to the table than just comic relief and general likability. He’s the only one of the three to grow up in the magical world and understands a lot about it that even Hermione doesn’t. But this is downplayed in the movies. For instance, in the book, Hermione can tell that “mudblood” is a rude thing to call someone, but she doesn’t know just how bad it is until Ron explains. In the movie, she explains to Harry while Ron is still throwing up slugs. Now, Hermione is very bright and knowledgable, but foul language is not something she’d have read about in a book. It makes far more sense that she wouldn’t have heard it until someone called her that, and only be able to figure out that it’s a rude thing to say, while Ron – who grew up in a wizard family – would understand on an instinctive level just how rude it is.
Even minor characters are given far more development in the book than the movie. Colin Creevy, for instance. In the movie, he’s simply a slightly annoying younger student who enjoys photography a little too much. In the book, we know that he – like Harry and Hermione – grew up in the Muggle world and was never exposed to magic before receiving his Hogwarts letter. He’s overwhelmed by all the incredible things around him, and he wants to capture them all on film to show his Muggle father, to give him an idea of what a special place Hogwarts is.
And Mr. Filch is not just a grouchy, unpleasant old man who hates the students and his job. He’s all of that. But he’s also a bitter would-be wizard who could never get magic to work and is still trying all these years later. He hates the students because they have an opportunity denied to him, even though he had a magical parent, and likely grew up in that world. Of course, taking it out on the kids is no way to deal with it, but still … it’s not a justification, but it’s an explanation, and one that makes his character seem all the more realistic.
Characters aren’t the only thing more fully fleshed-out in the books. The intense detail work is often shocking. In chapter 8 of Chamber of Secrets, for example, we first hear mention of a vanishing cabinet at Hogwarts, and we find out it’s just been broken. Four years later, Draco Malfoy will use that same cabinet to let the Death Eaters into Hogwarts. Earlier in the book, in Borgin and Burke’s, Harry actually hid inside the other vanishing cabinet, and we saw the cursed opal necklace that will later send Katie Bell to Saint Mungo’s. On a more short-term level, we’ve already been introduced to mandrakes, which will be used to make a potion to restore the people who are petrified at the end of Chamber of Secrets. The mandrakes are the only part of that included in the movie.
It’s not that I dislike the Harry Potter movies. On the whole, I like them a lot. It’s just that I’m reminded every time I read the books how much deeper and more thorough and more complex the story is when it’s told – as it was originally done – with ink and paper and hundreds upon hundreds of pages.