Tuesday, February 07, 2006

5. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

by J.K. Rowling

[If I am not, in fact, the last person on the planet to read this book and you are and you want to read it at some point in time, consider this your spoiler space.]

I don’t know how this happened, how I became one of…them. You know who I mean. Those people who care about Harry Potter. It happened. I crossed over. Judge away…I deserve it!

I don’t care either, because in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, man, shit started going down. It started out simply, much like the three previous books. Harry’s forever trying to escape the Durselys, this time doing so by virtue of an invitation to the Quidditch World Cup, to which he accompanies Ron, his family, and Hermoine. It all seems pretty normal until the Dark Mark appears in the sky, something that hasn’t been seen since Lord Voldemort was in power. When the kids go back to Hogwarts, they find out their school is going to be a part of the Triwizard Tournament, a competition that hasn’t taken place for hundreds of years. Competing against them are the French school Beauxbatons and the Russian school Durmstrang. One champion is selected from each school and they compete against each other in three tasks; the one with the most points wins the Triwizard Cup and a bunch of money.

Here’s where things go predictably wrong. Although only those seventeen and above are allowed to enter the tournament, which is done by putting one’s name into the Goblet of Fire, Harry somehow gets entered and the Goblet picks him as the fourth school champion. Yeah…like the main storyline wouldn’t directly include Harry. On top of that, the new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, Mad-Eye Moody, has a suspicious past and is weird looking. We go a good six hundred pages with this. Harry goes to his classes and competes in the tasks, his scar hurts at times and various characters are suspected of having ties with Voldemort. Harry and Ron have a fight and we get the idea that Ron has unexplored feelings for Hermoine. Hermoine is, as always, strict with her studying and pours her efforts into the liberation of house elves. It’s the same kind of fare we got in the first three books, but, in those last hundred pages, as I said, shit goes down.

Dude. Voldemort comes back. He rises again! And not in some ethereal kind of way, either. He comes back because Harry is kidnapped and his blood is used as part of a spell to revive the Dark Lord. I never thought Rowling would reincarnate Voldemort because he is the embodiment of evil and everything she’s done up to this point has been very safe. Very good-always-triumphs-over-evil. Everything until now has reassured the kiddie audience that grown-ups keep you safe and bad things don’t really happen. In a few pages, all of that is gone. It is awesome.

Even though Harry escapes from Voldemort, it’s not without some scarring. His companion and fellow Hogwarts Triwizard champion dies in the confrontation. From this point forward Harry knows his safety is compromised and it’s quite the scene when Dumbledore enters the hospital wing and starts laying down the law. He dismisses Minister of Magic Cornelius Fudge for refusing to carry forth his orders, stating that he doesn’t have to do what he asks, but he better figure out which side he plans to be one. He demands they get the dementors out of Azkaban, for they will surely come to Voldemort when called, leaving the prison unwatched. He requests a truce be drawn with the giants, with whom they have experienced years of unrest. He makes Sirius and Snape, longtime foes, put aside their open hostility. He sends Sirius to find Remus Lupin and the rest of the “old crowd.” And to Snape he’s like, “Snape, you know what I need to do!” and Snape’s all, “I’m on it!” then walks out of the room. What’s Snape doing? Where’s he headed? What’s going on here???

This is the first time that an HP book hasn’t had a definite ending. We’re left with more questions than answers and it feels rewarding after three only semi-decent books. I almost had a moment of breakdown when the person who entered Harry into the tournament was revealed. I had just decided to commit to the series and placed an order for the hardbacked, not paperback, edition of the fifth book, and I came to the part where Mad-Eye Moody confesses that he’s the villain. I threw up my hands in disgust, thinking, “For once can we please not have the Dark Arts teacher be the bad guy?!” But a few twists later and with Dumbledore doing the equivalent of Jack’s “How fast do you think we can train an army?” on Lost, I was back in for the long haul. I’m here, man. You got me.

I still have problems with Rowling’s writing. I still find it very basic and plain and, at times, clunky. Her way of hinting that Harry might have a crush on Cho Chang (I don’t even want to get started with that name), is to say, “For a fleeting second, Harry had a strange desire to join the Ravenclaw table too.” Her version of foreshadowing is for a character to point out something’s weird. Classification as “odd” is our cue that something will be important later. There’s a way to write for children that isn’t 80% short declarative sentences, though you wouldn’t know it here. But I can overlook it. Voldemort’s back. Characters with a sinister air are revealed to actually be sinister. A kid freakin’ dies. For the first time, Rowling’s keeping it real and she’s got me hooked.

4 Comments:

Anonymous Heliologue said...

I've always been so conflicted about the Harry Potter series. On the one hand, I read the first book before it ever became an international sensation. Of course, I was much younger at the time, but I still enjoyed it for the light fiction it was.

The irony is that the books have gotten longer, darker, and more complicated, but Rowling's style is belabored and, like you said, childlike. I still read the books, but I certainly don't get into the Harry Potter craze.

9:40 PM  
Blogger Exxie said...

This is my problem with people who insist that Rowling is a great writer. No...she's a great storyteller. She's an okay writer. The two are very different things.

1:33 PM  
Anonymous Heliologue said...

Sad that irrespective of "good writer" or "bad writer," she's nonetheless a "billionaire writer"

6:36 PM  
Blogger Cheesesteak said...

I became a convert to the Harry Potter love back in 2000, just after this 4th book came out. I completely agree with you about Rowling's style but the 4th did it for me. Just tell us what you think of the next two. Heh

3:14 PM  

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