Who’s afraid of Harry Potter?

By Cynthia Grenier

What is it with all these folks who are having such a mad hissy fit over the very existence of J.K. Rowling and her Harry Potter series devoted to a boy wizard and his adventures? I mean, haven’t we had the likes of witches and magicians around for centuries with no harm to anyone except for that patch in the 17th century when it was the witches themselves who had to suffer needlessly?

Every folk tale has had its good people and its wickedly bad ones. We call them heroes and villains, I believe. Where would fiction be without them? Ms. Rowling had the good fortune to decide to make her hero an every boy who’d lost both his parents under strange circumstances and is being reared by some perfectly horrible relatives – do remember how horrid Cinderella’s step-mother and half-sisters were.

Rescue comes in the beneficent form of kindly white magicians, that is, white in the sense of being for good, for doing good to people of course. In young Harry’s life the bad, the very bad magician had done away with Harry’s parents and left a zigzag scar on the boy’s brow, and hovers as a malignant force in the boy’s life.

As all those untold millions of readers (not to mention those millions that made “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” the No. 2 worldwide box office hit of all time) know, Harry went off to Hogwarts – a kind of send-up of English public-school life, where students were schooled in various forms of magic. Benign magic, let it be noted. Black magic is reserved strictly for the villains.

Yesterday, the second volume of Harry’s adventures hit the screens across the land. In “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets,” we get a marginally older Harry and his pals Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger (mind you, that welcoming hug Harry gives Hermione promises more than is ever delivered in this segment of the Potter saga), as well as all those old chums ranging from Richard Harris, sadly in his last screen appearance, Maggie Smith, Robbie Coltrane, John Cleese (ever so briefly as Nearly Headless Nick) and Alan Rickman (also all too briefly).

Kenneth Branagh does a lively turn as the supremely egotistical best-selling author Gilderoy Lockhart, joining the Hogwarts faculty as teacher of Defense Against the Dark Arts. Jason Isaacs, last seen as the very nasty British officer who burned down a church and its congregation in “The Patriot,” gets to be a bad fellow once again (Lucius Malfoy), with promise of turning up in the next chapter of the Harry Potter series.

What’s to say? If you’ve read the book there are absolutely no surprises. The story’s a bit trimmed. No Death Day Party for Nearly Headless Nick, but that’s hardly a loss to the story line. The wicked “He Whose Name is Not to be Uttered” seemingly is vanquished, but can he really be? You get Dobby, a digitalized character who, if you adored Jar Jar Binks of “Star Wars,” you should be quite happy with. If not, you may just find him quite an irritant.

Director Chris Columbus for the next film passes directorial reins over to Mexican Alfonso Cuaron, whose “Y Tu Mama, Tambien,” (And Your Mother, Too) was warmly received by PC critics: lots of sex, hetero and homo, drugs, nudity – not exactly what you parents are looking for in Harry Potter. Will this be when Harry and Hermione hook up? Yuck, deeply and sincerely yuck.

Yes, this Harry Potter is darker than the first. None of the beloved characters meet their end, although some may be petrified for a while. The secret creature of that eponymous chamber is a pretty neat piece of work. My great-nephew Miles, age 5, out in Seattle, who’s got tickets to see the film on Sunday, said when I alerted him he might find the monster scary, sturdily replied, “I’ll be with my father.” What’s a movie monster when you’ve got your father right by?

Will this Harry Potter beat out or match the first in the series? We shall see. Good triumphs over evil – a lesson that can’t be offered too often to children. What is sure is that “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets” will most certainly topple Eminem’s “8 Mile” from its No. 1 slot.