The sight of me roaring with laughter over a book is a rare one. The joys of being an English Literature undergraduate mean that most of the books I read have a serious literary undertone to them; even the non-academic ones that I enjoy reading often don’t have many parts that make me giggle.
I like subtle comedy: the glimmer of the odd funny line, the quick banter of dialogue, or the comical clash of personalities. Believe it or not, the book that makes me laugh out loud the most is not by a comedian or television personality, but by a quiet author who spent her early writing days planning the development of her book series in small Edinburgh cafés, with her baby daughter by her side.
J. K. Rowling is known for her creation of epic battles, flawed characters and complex plots, but little is spoken about her use of humour in the world renowned Harry Potter series (1997-2007). She employs her clever, sharp wit regularly throughout the seven novels for comic relief (usually from redheaded Ron), but the increasingly dark tone towards the end of the saga tends to conceal the interwoven flickers of comedy. The first two Harry Potter novels – Philosopher’s Stone and Chamber of Secrets – in my opinion, are the most lighthearted of the series; while both deal with heavy subject matters, such as death and evil, the young age of the protagonists (eleven in Book One and twelve in Book Two) gives that little bit of extra freedom to Rowling to include more humour, as the kids establish themselves in their wizard school, Hogwarts.
Having successfully completed the first step of Harry’s journey in Philosopher’s Stone, Rowling flies off the mark from the get-go in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, showcasing her comedic skills.
“‘Do I look stupid?’ snarled Uncle Vernon, a bit of fried egg dangling from his bushy mustache.”
These sly and funny comments, the ones you’d hardly notice dotted here and there on the page, are the ones that make me laugh the most, not some big anecdote from a comedian’s autobiography that I will remember and be bored by the next time I read it. Rowling integrates her humour with particular aspects of her characters’ personalities, to make it all the more entertaining. Dudley, for instance, is Harry’s greedy, selfish cousin, whose interaction with Harry always gives me a few laughs:
“Dudley hitched up his trousers, which were slipping down his fat bottom.
‘Why’re you staring at the hedge?’ he said suspiciously.
‘I’m trying to decide what would be the best spell to set it on fire,’ said Harry.
Dudley stumbled backwards at once, a look of panic on his fat face.
‘You c-can’t – Dad told you you’re not to do m-magic – he said he’ll chuck you out of the house – and you haven’t got anywhere else to go – you haven’t got any friends to take you -‘
‘Jiggery pokery!‘ said Harry in a fierce voice. ‘Hocus pocus… squiggly wiggly…’
‘MUUUUUUM!’ howled Dudley, tripping over his feet as he dashed back towards the house.”
Rowling’s comedic value is hidden amongst her more prominent talents of character description and plot development, which is a shame, but it’s these golden moments of humour in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets that make me laugh ridiculously loud.