Book Review: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
At last. Rowling is now into her stride. The clunky, awkward reminders of previous important setting points were largely banished; instead of starting off with some self-esteem crushing incident at Privet Drive, we are dropped into a derelict building in Little Hangleton and the mystery of the Riddles. We have the short-lived character of Frank Bryce who overhears all sorts of teasers and promptly gets killed. Fortunately for the reader, we had been listening along with him.
Bizarrely, Harry too had been eavesdropping, despite the fact he was miles away, asleep and therefore not paying attention. So, despite the fact that we ended up in Privet Drive, it was only briefly.
The geography of the Wizarding World really opens up in this book. In The first few novels, it is largely Diagon Alley and Hogwarts, with the occasional visit to Hogsmeade. In this novel, Rowling managed to broaden the idea to this kind of complimentary world that was entire of itself and was global. There were two things that made this happen: the Quidditch World Cup and the Triwizarding Tournament.
The Quidditch World Cup was allowed to take its time and its place in the first section of the novel. All kinds of travel and accommodation moments, celebrities, supporters and rivals. There were all kind of hijinks and, of course, the sport to watch. What the reader may not have known is that Rowling was desperately weaving the basis of the climax of the whole novel into the seemingly extraneous World cup; what seemed to be incidental, turned out to be crucial.
The Triwizarding Tournament was also an international competition. Hogwarts was up against two other European schools: Durmstrang and Beauxbatons. Durmstrang seemed to be kind of North Eastern Europe and Beauxbatons seemed to be in France or thereabouts. The Tournament took place over the academic year at Hogwarts, and the visitor stayed in and around Hogwarts for the duration.
The novel therefore had its structure determined by the Tournament. There were three challenges throughout and each one had its build up and mini climax and resolution. Rowling was therefore able to plot the rest of the novel around these three key events, adding the actual climax of the novel to the end of the Triwizarding Tournament.
The first time I read this novel, twenty years ago or so, I thought that Rowling had just lost the will to edit, in the face of pressure to write more novels. I was delighted to have forgotton most of what had happened and I enjoyed reading this more than the others. It felt less famous, less iconic and more like reading a book rather than taking an open top bus tour of one’s home town.
I enjoyed Dobby and Winky and their contribution; Hagrid’s lesson involving Nifflers, one of whom will appear years later (or years before in fact…) in “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them”. I enjoyed Harry’s bubble bath, and Dumbledore’s “pensieve” where he stores his memories.
So, what of the message of the novel, this time? What of Rowling’s worldview?
Hermione was unsettled by the status of the house elves that she saw as in slavery, so that was an issue that was touched on, although she did not get much traction with her campaign to right the wrongs there.
There were also issues of prejudice noted in people’s attitudes to giants with expectations about their behaviour.
One interesting character was Rita Skeeter, a reporter who would interview people and then add some manipulation and spin to her articles that then prompted public backlash – this seemed very relevant, given Rowling’s experiences.
The top trait or value in this novel was bravery. In a few places, Harry was commended for his bravery and his moral fibre. The other thing is trust. Harry often is privy to things in these novels – and almost all of the time he fires back to the Gryffindor common room and tells Ron and Hermione everything. He trusts them completely. He does keep some secrets though; he doesn’t tend to share particularly dark moments, thoughts or secrets that aren’t his to share.
Throughout this novel, there was also a theme of truth – the truth about who you are. Whether a wizard, a muggle, a giant, a human, an animagus, an imposter… the moral high ground was with those who were who they were. We found out a lot about who were on the dark side, in terms of allegiance to Voldemort and those who were against him. And there was more about Harry’s core nature in relation to Voldemort – and this of course is played out in final few books.
So next, I believe, is “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” and I am pleased to find myself with a total memory blank as to who is in it and what happens. I know that it is long, though. But I am looking forward to it.