Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Revisiting Potter, Part 4: The Goblet of Fire

At first look, the fourth in the Harry Potter series is the first that looks like a big accomplishment. Weighing in at over 700 pages, The Goblet of Fire is a very dramatic leap up from the average-sized Azkaban! As I started this one, I wondered if it was going to prove worth all 734 pages or if the pages would simply be filled with unnecessary detail. I mean, books 1-3 are very successful with their succinct storytelling; had J.K. Rowling simply created this chunkster to prove she could? Were her editors too afraid to whittle down her words?

Harry is entering his fourth year at Hogwarts, but this story opens before the school year even begins. Harry leaves the Dursleys’ before the summer is over to rejoin his friends for the Quidditch World Cup, during which an unknown Voldemort supporter fires the Dark Mark into the sky, inciting fear in the wizarding world. Once the school year has begun, Hogwarts students are pleased to learn that the Triwizard Tournament will take place on their grounds once again. This gives one student from each of the three big wizarding schools the opportunity the successfully complete a series of tasks and win honor and notoriety for their school. Despite the age limit strictly requiring entrants to be 17 or older, Harry is mysteriously entered into the contest and must face the same tests as more knowledgeable and  practiced students. It’s all particularly suspicious with the appearance of the Dark Mark, indicating that Voldemort’s power is growing; the Tournament may be part of his plan for Harry.

One of the great literary arguments about the Harry Potter series is that, while immersed in fantasy, the relationships and situations and struggles of its characters are based in reality. It touches on many relatable issues as its characters develop and mature, like overcoming obstacles and differentiating between right and wrong. This book is where I see the beginning of that theme—with Hermione’s dedication to house-elf rights and S.P.E.W., and Harry’s guiding morality as he navigates the Tournament’s tasks.

After reading, the jury’s still out on my earlier musings about the book’s size. While my attention was kept, I’m also not sure the story itself was complex enough to elicit so many pages. However, I found Goblet of Fire to be the first in the HP series to delve into some more mature themes, and for that maybe the heft is warranted. Yes, we’re getting death and evil, but we’re also getting some teen jealousy and angst…and for the interaction at the dance between Ron and Hermione, I am just so glad a movie version exists! (Though, I never actually saw this one on film so I hope that scene lives up to the book version.)

No matter, this book is it. Voldemort has returned and it’s on now.