Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
Author: J. K. Rowling
The fourth book in the Harry Potter series is the one where shit gets real. As the page length has steadily increased (from 320 in book 1 to 435 in book three to 734 in this one) so has the danger and consequences. This is the first of the books I’d consider whether a kid who is old enough to ready might not be ready for some of the subject matter. That’s been my favorite part about the series though, as the characters have aged so have Rowling’s expectations of her readers.
Coming off the excellent Half Blood Prince, year three, book four begins with Potter going to the Quidditch World Cup along with the Weasley’s and Hermione. I’ve given this book four stars, and although much of it I actually liked better than the rest of the series there were two sections that didn’t work for me and this was one of them. These books always drag until Harry gets to Hogwarts, and here was the longest yet set up for a book. We get introduced to a ton of characters like Cornelius Fudge, Barton Crouch, Ludo Bagman, Winky the house elf, Mad-Eye Moody, Rita Skeeter, and probably others I’m forgetting. Rowling had a mind to tell a very intricate plot full of twists and revelations, but the drawback for that was a ton of exposition featuring characters I didn’t yet care about early on and it really dragged.
Once we get to Hogwarts, the book picks up with the usual yearly routine thrown off by the Tri-Wizard tournament. I wasn’t totally on board with this at first, because it just seemed too obvious what was going to happen (and it did happen). Still, Rowling wisely spends the majority of the book telling a complete story of the year aside from the actual three challengers the competitors must complete. That includes plenty of development for Hermione (who has definitely taken the lead for best character in the series, mainly because Harry and Ron are kind of dumb and procrastinate themselves into dangerous situations), Fred & George Weasley, Neville Longbottom, Snape (another guy climbing my rankings for favorite character) and Cedric Diggory.
My favorite moments from the book were the first challenge where four wizards must get past a dragon to steal and egg and use different methods with varying results. A flashback to the trials of different Voldemort via Dumbledore’s memories was also very interesting in fleshing out the world of these books. Even the less interesting plots (like Hermione’s society for the prevention of exploitation of house elves) moved along pretty well to ever keep the plot of dragging.
**Slight spoilers follow** The other major section that didn’t work for me was the moments before the big conflict between Harry Potter and a major bad guy at the end of the book, and Harry’s meeting with the secret bad guy that takes place afterward. Both of them reminded me of Dr. Evil in the Austin Powers movie in that the bad guys made sure to spend a long amount of time explaining their entire evil plan before allowing either enough time or circumstances to happen to allow their own defeat. I understand there was a lot of exposition that needed explained, but both parts really took me out of the book as I read them. In particular, with the bad faculty member, the same long dialogue could have been given through the use of the truth serum later on. **End of spoilers**
As more and more magic has become explained or used in the book, it will be more difficult to come up with a situation where a spell or something we’ve previously seen can’t fix any situation. The presence of truth serums would seem to make trials or doubting of witness testimony unnecessary, and I’ll be curious as to if Rowling explains why they’re not used by Dumbledore to strengthen his arguments about the threat of Voldemort. I also foresee a similar problem that the Mission Impossible movies have where every time somebody does something bad I’ll be waiting to see if they really have a different face than the one doing the bad action.
An interesting note, I had kind of resigned myself to never reading this series. I’d already had the ending spoiled by cultural osmosis, and I’m not a huge fan of fantasy or early reader books. I ended up starting the series because I wanted to try to read all of the Hugo Award winner books. Goblet of Fire is a Hugo Award winner, the only book in the series to do so. Like other series books that won the awards, I’ve decided to read the others in the series that lead up to the award winner and I’m glad I did as it’s been an enjoyable read so far.