HARRY POTTER AND THE CHAMBER OF SECRETS By J.K. Rowling Scholastic Press 342 pp., $17.95 Ages 8 and up
A new book by J.K. Rowling is almost as much cause for rejoicing as the discovery of an eighth Narnia manuscript tucked away in the wardrobe.
Indeed, demand for her second children's book, "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets," was so great that the publisher bumped up its US release from September to June.
Harry is so eminently lovable and Rowling's prose so eminently readable that adults have catapulted the tales onto bestseller lists.
In Britain, the Harry Potter books are printed with two different covers, so adults don't have to be seen reading a children's book in public. (How any book lover could be stuffy enough to be embarrassed by Mary Grandpre's lovely illustrations is beyond me.)
Like C.S. Lewis, Rowling uses the mundane as a doorway to magic. Her second book is as stuffed with bric-a-brac as a Victorian spinster's home - flying turquoise cars, diaries that write back, portraits that put their hair in curlers at night. In addition to bits of whimsy like clocks that tell you when you're late, "Harry Potter" is also furnished with all the staples of fantasy adventure - secret passageways, swords, monsters, and of course, a hero.
That would be Harry Potter, a wizard orphan raised as a human by the most disgustingly uptight people who ever gave a dinner party.
For those who haven't read "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" (reviewed Jan. 14), Harry spent the first 10 years of his life unaware of his magical heritage, forced to live under the stairs in his Aunt and Uncle Dursley's house.
Much to his shock (and their horror), he is accepted at Hogwarts School for Witches and Wizards, where Harry's life takes a dramatic turn for the interesting. He goes from being a poor outcast to a celebrity, and ends up rescuing the school from the evil wizard who killed his parents. None of which saves him from finals - or from having to spend summer vacation with his aunt and uncle.
Which brings us to the present. This time around, Harry manages to get into trouble even before the school year begins and winds up a prisoner in his own home. His friend Ron Weasley has to rescue him in a flying Ford Anglia - which they subsequently crash-land on school grounds.
Things don't improve once classes get started. Something is stalking the students at Hogwarts, turning those who are from human families to stone. At least as terrifying is the new teacher - Gilderoy Lockhart, author of "Magical Me" and five-time winner of Witch Weekly's Most-Charming-Smile award.
As if dealing with monsters and preening poseurs weren't enough, Harry finds himself suspected of the crimes. And high on the list of possible victims is his friend Hermione - the only student smart enough to figure out what is turning the school into a statuary. (In true fairy-tale fashion, most of the adults are either ineffectual or downright nasty; the few teachers who are nice are never around when they're needed.)
Rowling's sense of humor keeps things from getting too scary for smaller readers - you've got to love a battle where the hero literally pulls victory out of a hat. The end result is a charming tale that bears a strong resemblance to one of the enchanted objects in the story: "Some old witch in Bath had a book that you could never stop reading! You just had to wander around with your nose in it, trying to do everything one-handed."
Consider yourself warned.
*Yvonne Zipp is on the Monitor staff.
(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society