Saturday, 3 October 2015

Review: 'Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire' by J.K. Rowling


The summer holidays are dragging on and Harry Potter can't wait for the start of the school year. It is his fourth year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry and there are spells to be learnt and (unluckily) Potions and Divination lessons to be attended. But Harry can't know that the atmosphere is darkening around him, and his worst enemy is preparing a fate that it seems will be inescapable...

 
As I opened my oft-read, yellowed and rather battered hardback copy of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire I felt a thrill of excitement. As testified by its well-read condition (the corners are dog-eared, and the cover is held together with liberal amounts of sticky tape) this was one of my favourite books as a teenager. In fact, the only book I liked better back then was Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. So it was with much excitement – and some trepidation – that I returned to it now. Would it be as good as I remembered? Or would it disappoint me like its predecessor, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban?

Reading Goblet of Fire felt like sinking down into a cosy and long-forgotten armchair, one that is loved for its familiarly threadbare exterior as much as for its comfort. From the first page until the very last I was enveloped in nostalgia, and charmed anew by the easy prose and lightly humorous tone that suffuses so much of this entire series. Furthermore, Goblet of Fire is the first Potter book to really start to explore social issues like class and racism (it’s been so long since I read the book I’d almost totally forgotten about S.P.E.W!), and also to introduce lots of new characters and concepts. After reading Prisoner of Azkaban I realised that that the series was beginning to feel kind of stale – after all, how much can you really do with just classrooms and Quidditch? – but this is remedied in Goblet of Fire, which is simply packed with tons of new stuff: foreign wizards, new students, exciting events, and more. From the very first chapter it feels different from the previous books: the Quidditch World Cup is not only fun to read about but also grants us an extended change of scenery from the usual Privet Drive/Hogwarts fare. The pacing is also new and different, with the Triwizard tasks providing exciting mini-climaxes at key points in the story. The whole book just feels fresh, yet also much more mature than each of the previous instalments.

Much as I loved Goblet of Fire I have to say I felt it outstayed its welcome towards the end, largely due to the pages and pages (and pages) of anticlimactic exposition. I found myself skimming the long, wordy monologues in the final few chapters, wherein certain characters take the opportunity to drone on about what feels like their entire life story. The last few chapters are essentially one long infodump, which is a real shame considering that the previous events are so exciting. Still, the actual main event is just as chillingly awesome as I remembered, and it’s quite possible that it’s only my total over-familiarity with the story that made the explanations seem dull.

Re-reading the books as an adult is something of an exercise in cynicism. All the way through Goblet of Fire I found myself asking questions such as: why does Harry *have* to compete in the Triwizard Tournament? What will happen if he doesn’t? And what exactly do the students from the other schools do during the months between tasks? Why couldn’t they go home and just come back again when they need to? Would Krum really miss Hermione more than his own parents? Really? And if Moody can see Harry’s socks through his robes, doesn’t that mean he can also see . . . everything else? (Parvati’s got a point: “that eye shouldn’t be allowed!”) Why isn’t Veritaserum used at criminal trials? How the hell was Karkaroff allowed to become headmaster of a school? Don’t they have a wizarding equivalent of a CRB check? Oh yeah, and how did they swap the dragons over so quickly during the first task? And what was the point of having everyone watching the second task when it was entirely underwater? Why can wizards arrive at Hogwarts via Portkey when they’re unable to use other methods like Apparition? And why on earth would that Portkey have been enchanted to return to Hogwarts? And most of all, why doesn’t any of this stuff stop me from thoroughly enjoying these books???

5/5

1 comment:

  1. I just finished my own re-read of this book and all your questions were really making me chuckle - they are spot on! And yet this is still, I think, my favorite book in the series - it's the perfect turning point for the series and the climactic scene is SO effective. You also make a good point about the final chapters being all exposition - I didn't notice it while "reading" and I wonder if it is because I have been listening to the books on audio this go round. It helps smooths over some of those edges.

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