Sunday, September 19, 2010

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire Book Review

If you haven’t read my review of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban yet, take a look before reading on!  Also, just to warn you: the Harry Potter books have been out for anywhere from 3-13 years and have been made into movies, games, fanfiction, et cetera, as well as being a hot topic in the news and just about everywhere else; therefore I will be making absolutely no effort to avoid spoilers in these reviews discussions of the books so for the uninitiated, read at your own risk.

I distinctly remember when Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire was released.  It was the first volume of the series that I had to wait for, as the first three were already out by the time I jumped on the bandwagon.  My mother special-ordered it for me though for what reason I’m not sure as I was scheduled to be at sleep away camp during the release.  I wrote a letter to my mother from camp asking her to bring the book when she came to visit.  She said no, convinced that I would destroy it (mind you, I’ve always been neurotic about keeping my books in excellent shape), forcing me to deal with the trauma of being the only person at camp without a copy of the new Harry Potter.  I dealt with this mostly by borrowing a copy whenever I could and waking up early to filch my cabin mates’ copies while they slept on unawares.  This did not work out well.  When I finally got home, I grabbed my copy, parked myself in the recliner, and started over, reading the entire behemoth in one day.  It was the first time I had done this and probably the moment that solidified my Harry Potter obsession.  It was also the first but not last time that J.K. Rowling moved me to tears.

As I mentioned in my discussion of Prisoner of Azkaban, I consider the books to fall into the three groups: the first three book, the last three books, and Goblet of Fire, which stands alone.  In the first three books, we are introduced to the wizarding world and the dangers and themes to come.  In the last three, we deal with horrors that were only hinted at before.  Goblet of Fire is the pivotal time between the two when Harry is no longer a child but not quite yet a man and when the world he inhabits is changing around him.  It is a turning point in the series, when the series as a whole grows up.  It is also the first time that in innocent character who sides with the “good guys” is killed.  I think that the moment when Cedric is killed is the true turning point of not only the volume, but the series as a whole.  At this point, something has been started that can’t be turned back from. While before there was danger, everything always turned out okay; here, Rowling seems determined to erase the false sense of security created by those happy endings.  Of course, the impact of this first murder is nothing compared to that of the next (in Order of the Phoenix), but it is a hint of what is to come, both in this volume and those that follow.  Rowling has unlocked the future of the series and from this point forward, every word is influenced by this one moment.  Cedric is murdered and nothing remains the same.

However, the changes in the series are apparent before Cedric’s death in the graveyard; they can be seen from the very first page of Goblet of Fire. The novel opens in Little Hangleton, a small Muggle village far removed from Privet Drive, Hogwarts, and the wizarding world we’ve known thus far.  This first scene is also Harry-free, which suggests that being the title character does not necessarily make him the most important aspect of the story.  The return and rise of Voldemort is for once taking precedence over Harry’s journey.  While the majority of this and the successive volumes may continue to follow Harry, he is still always part of something larger.

The realization that Harry is not the most important person ever goes hand-in-hand with the maturation of both the series and Harry.  On a practical level, this change can be seen in the very writing.  The narrative voice has suddenly become more mature and matter of fact.  The sentences are more to-the-point than before, as though Harry’s maturation is reflected in the very words used to describe it.  While the whimsical tone that underlay the narration of the first three volumes was entertaining, it’s a relief to finally read something that makes its point so succinctly.

Sadly, Harry’s maturation contrasts unpleasantly with Rowling’s portrayal of girls in the novel.  Perhaps in an effort to emphasize the maturation of all (sexual maturation included), in Goblet of Fire Rowling seems to try and draw a line between the natures of witches and wizards.  The witches do not come off well, absorbing many stereotypes.  All of a sudden, Harry is surrounded by packs of giggling girls, obsessed with the ball and boys.  Mrs. Weasley shows her very stereotypically feminine zest for gossip, choosing to believe slander over the people that she really knows.  Perhaps I could stomach this if it wasn’t for Hermione’s behavior.  While she may not giggle and covet the cutest date, she becomes catty and vengeful, particularly in her behavior towards Rita Skeeter.  She also spends four hours getting ready for the ball, which just does not match the Hermione I’ve come to know and love.  It’s rather disappointing to see all of the witches in Goblet of Fire become mere stereotypes while other aspects of the series are so enriched by this installment.

Another thing that I don’t like about Goblet of Fire is Rowling’s unprecedented attempt to make this book more current.  During the opening scenes on Privet Drive, there are mentions of both Ferraris and PlayStations, which not only remove the timelessness of the story but also represent a continuity error.  Harry was born in 1980 and therefore had just turned fourteen in book four, making the year 1994.  He mentions in a letter to Sirius that Dudley threw his PlayStation out the window, however the original PlayStation was not released until December of that year.  So not only is Rowling’s deviation from her normal ignorance of modern Muggle affairs irritating, it’s also poorly researched.

My final complaint is that I don’t really believe Barty Crouch, Jr. as Mad-Eye Moody.  The man was a psychotic killer, spent a year in Azkaban, and then spent more than a decade under the Imperius curse, yet within two weeks of being busted out by Voldemort he convinces everybody with his performance as Mad-Eye Moody.  A bit implausible, no?  As usual, Rowling does an admirable job of making the story fit: Moddy is known for only drinking from a private flask, giving Crouch an easy excuse to consistently administer the Polyjuice Potion to himself; also, like Moody, Crouch hates any Death Eater who walked free (though for very different reason) so antagonism towards them comes quite naturally to him.  Nice try, Rowling, but this isn’t enough to convince me.  I will believe far-fetched magic but a dramatization this impressive?  No thanks.  Equally ridiculous is the fact that Crouch not only teaches Harry the Unforgiveable Curses but also teaches him to fight them.  Why would a Death Eater want to increase Harry’s defenses against Voldemort?  There is no reason.  I think that the movie actually handles this better – by giving the character of Barty Crouch, Jr. that disturbing tongue flick, we can guess at the truth about Moody whenever he’s behind on his Polyjuice Potion.  Just this one little flaw in his performance makes the whole thing more believable.

Speaking of the film version of Goblet of Fire – in terms of loyalty to the text, I think that this is the best of the adaptations.  The director did an excellent job of compressing what could be compressed and choosing what to cut, thus maintaining the integrity of the novel.  Granted, I’m not a fan of the extended flying scene during the first task (snooze), the obnoxious punk rock concert scene at the ball, or the fact that Harry meets no obstacles in the maze, but overall I think that as far as adaptations go, this one is really good.  It’s not actually my favorite of the films (that would be a toss-up between Prisoner of Azkaban and Half-Blood Prince), but I do respect it for this reason.

One final note (I apologize for how ridiculously long this is): Cedric’s death was done wonderfully.  As I hinted at earlier, it was the first time I cried reading Harry Potter and those tears were almost more from shock than sadness.  Rowling’s handling of this moment is superior – it happens so quickly and so unexpectedly that like Harry, the reader is left asking wait, what just happened?!  True to their disinterest in this murder, Voldemort and Pettigrew keep the plot moving even while Harry and the reader dwell on the moment.  We’re forced to handle the shock of what’s just happened while being confronted with what’s going on in the present and the moment is filled with pain, horror, and confusion just as it should be.

Overall, Goblet of Fire is in my top three.  I love the change in tone and narration, the story, and the growth in Harry’s characters.  Yes, I have my complaints but that’s to be expected.

2 comments:

  1. ...yeah, pretty much all I have to say about this is, "Look, it's my boyfriend!" which is probably why I don't have a REAL boyfriend.

    (You so knew I was going to say that).

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  2. I think in this book you get an inkling that the characters are about to start growing up - but it is the Order of the Phoenix where you really feel the full impact. I barely recognised Harry as Harry at the beginning of Order of the Phoenix because he became such a whinger - but then I though - hey, he's really a teenager now :-)

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