Pt. 4 of The Harry Potter Readstravaganza
If Prisoner of Azkaban was “darkness to light,” then Goblet is a search for balance.
This shows what the series is capable of — bright action, laughs, and fun schoolbound adventuring, but with a dark side that’s frightening because it’s not so removed from real Muggle non-book life.
Also, for what I believe is the first time, the ending DOESN’T suggest that Harry Potter is about to gleefully torture the Dursleys. If that’s not a sign of thematic development, I don’t know what is.
I don’t have a stupid cartoon cast to compare the gang to this time (you’ll recall that I’ve likened them to both Rugrats and the Fairly OddParents), but I will say this: my head-voice for Sirius Black is amazingly close to Stu Pickles.
In Hindsight, I Guess This Wasn’t The Most Amazing Plot Of All Time
Once again, we have an adventure with B-plots, C-plots, and an overarching mystery that ties it all in with Voldemort. Like I said, this is the Chuunin Exams of the Harry Potter series: the Triwizard Tournament, where “champions” from three wizarding schools compete for money and glory.
Without spoiling anything…oh, for heaven’s sake, it should not count as a spoiler that Harry ends up competing, despite all the suspense around it. He was never supposed to compete in the first place — he’s too young and inexperienced, and the tournament has killed many participants in past centuries — but a mysterious person tossed his name in the Goblet of Fire, which is like the Sorting Hat except even more limited and plot-specific.
(Speaking of…the Goblet of Fire. It only exists to give us this cool name for a book, doesn’t it? Dumbledore hypes it up like it’s a grand artifact of Hogwarts that everyone knows and loves. What he’s unaware of is that NOBODY cares, and this mysterious object is PROBABLY going to disappear completely.)
What was my point? Oh yeah…this book was very fun to follow, but in hindsight the plot is kind of dingy. There are three tasks. Through a combination of hard work, constant panic, refusal to cheat, and most importantly his eventual, inevitable, and happy decision to actually cheat, Harry makes it through by the skin of his teeth.
Along the way, he falls out with Ron, he falls out with Hermione, someone calls Hermione “Hermy-own-ninny,” there’s a new Lockhart, there’s a lady with big bones, there’s a guy with a magic eye that’s constantly moving, and there’s a guy who looks guilty as sin plus his partner who only looks mildly guilty.
In actuality, the Triwizard Tournament has been twisted by evildoers into some kind of Harry-snarey puzzle-box plan for something-something-Voldemort-something.
Interestingly, this book starts with a detached perspective and a murder-mystery vibe at the Riddle House. It’s just one chapter of pattern-breaking…I want more pattern-breaking.
My Heart Was Warmed
In Goblet of Fire, Harry constantly fails due to hubris, stress, or old-fashioned mistakes. It was oddly inspiring, especially because he is a fictional child and I am a being of flesh and bone. Even an ultra-celebrity who is basically a child’s dream come true messes up all the time. We all make little and huge mistakes, but usually it turns out alright if our hearts are in the right place. Maybe? Hopefully?
More directly inspiring, I think, is Hagrid’s story. (Why is it that again and again, Hagrid gets these bomb-ass stories? One would assume that of all the Hogwarts staff, it’d be Dumbledore that gets all the direct fleshing-out, but so far he’s mostly indirect, discussed, behind the scenes — not that that’s a bad thing). He’s the main lens through which we see wizard-world racism and intolerance, and the toll they take. Plus the bias of news reporters?!
It’s surprisingly nice to see “fun” characters in whimsical fiction talk about relatable struggles.
“Really, Hagrid, if you are holding out for universal popularity, I’m afraid you will be in this cabin for a very long time,” said Dumbledore, now peering over his half-moon spectacles. “Not a week has passed since I became headmaster of this school when I haven’t had at least one owl complaining about the way I run it. But what should I do? Barricade myself in my study and refuse to talk to anybody?”
Other Tidbits That Don’t Spoil Much
Rita Skeeter is not the new Dark Arts teacher, but she is so obnoxious that she may as well be the new Lockhart. As a character — really as a device — she’s loads better than him. She’s not very funny and Rowling knows it. She’s just a thorn in the heroes’ collective side. She’s a powerful person out in the world who can’t exactly be thwarted.
She’s a lesson to kids everywhere: “you can’t please everyone, and should you ever get hate mail, dispel the important lies and don’t bother with the rest.” Meanwhile, Lockhart’s lesson in Chamber of Secrets is “some people are quite obviously lying scumbags.” What am I supposed to do with that?
There was a lot of schooly and spelly fun. In this book Harry learned the Accio spell to pull anything toward you — sounds game-breaking to me. Wizard police need to go “Accio Voldemort” sometime. We also got help from — didn’t see this coming — Moaning Myrtle! Unfortunately — totally saw this coming — Moaning Myrtle did not get help herself. I’m talking about psychiatric help. She’s depressed.
Here’s something less positive about Goblet: I found the house-elf stuff so uncomfortable. It’s like some kind of re-tread de-tread of racism…? You see, Dobby is a happily liberated house-elf. Lucius Malfoy was tricked into freeing him back in Chamber, so now Dobby wants to be paid for his work.
“Good,” says Hermione, who wants to free all elves.
He wears mismatched socks and he constantly makes Harry uncomfortable. That’s basically his role in the story.
There’s also this other house-elf who’s unhappily liberated, named Winky, who is implied to be more like the majority of house-elves. She’s always sad, crying, and nobody likes her. She loves her old masters to the point of madness. Again, though, she’s suggested to be a typical case — and it follows that 99% of house-elves prefer to be in unpaid, unrecognized captivity. Even Hagrid, even Hagrid, knows that their psychology is conducive to abuse under the human thumb.
Also, I bet that Rowling is trying her darnedest not to have the house-elves sound like stereotypical African-American maids, servants, and slaves, but…she’s really teetering on the edge here. I think that the fact that they speak any kind of weird pidginny English is uncomfortable enough. (Note: I’m primed to think of American history because of my background and the people around me…that doesn’t mean it’d be in the front of the author’s mind.)
The most uncomfortable part of all this is…Hermione is a fierce house-elf liberator, but her cause is total bollocks according to the universe she lives in. It’s like Rowling is saying, “Sure, I have sympathy for this cause, but the magic world is just different! Some species just have different psychologies!” Psychologies that cry out for constant abuse, both clear and subtle? Ah, yes, sure. But they said that about human beings, too. They still do.
I guess we get these kind of mixed messages whenever a franchise like Pokemon wants to have its cake and eat it too. For all that, say, Pokemon Black and White supports sympathizing with, and recognizing the inalienable human-like rights of, the monsters you send into that adorable little cockfighting ring…it sure does make a lot of excuses for why you should enjoy sending monsters into said cockfighting ring. Harry Potter can’t exactly support liberating house-elves or throwable gnome, because where’s the fun in that!?!?!?!?
SPOILERS: Crouching Bagman, Hidden Barty? …Okay, This Joke Didn’t Work
But you’ve gotta admit, that Barty was super well-hidden.
I really admire how Barty Crouch (Sr.) is guilty as sin AND not the culprit AND is named Barty — what an embarrassing fact that was. Learning about him was a trip.
At some point in Goblet, I started holding out hope that Ludo Bagman was a villain, not just some weird jolly bumbler who I’d think Harry would like more than he does. He’s not a villain this time, but the flashback in the Pensieve suggests that he’s been a Death Eater all along, only scooting past the courst thanks to personality, charisma, and public image.
As of the end of this book, it looks like Snape is really a spy for the enemy on Dumbledore’s short leash. My interest is piqued again, following that dip after the first book that I feared would never recover. This really strengthens his character in my eyes; he’s lookin’ valiant.
It’s weird that we don’t have much moral muddiness in the Harry Potter series (…yet?). It’s not that the villain is never in doubt…it’s that the villain is a jerk or a coward even before his reveal. I can’t give any props to Wormtail — he was only sympathetic because we hadn’t met him. The idea of him, when we thought he was just a poor victim of Voldemort, was sympathetic. In person, though, he’s a simpering trickster. He’s like a puddle of cowardice.
So where are our likable, charming, friendly, personable villains?
I’ll tell ya somethin’ else, readers. When Harry Potter pits its heroes against tidal waves of bad public opinion, bile, and outright cruelty, it’s powerful. But the idea that all the villains are either one-dimensional (Crabbe and Goyle…I’m not holding out much hope for Draco) or one-time twists (the villain of every single book!!!) is disappointing.
If Moody really was a traitor, that would be one thing. If Crabbe and Goyle became legitimately decent, that’d be great. But what would floor me is if an honest-to-goodness GOOD GUY that we LIKE turned out to be evil. I’d go banans. It’s all I’m wanting now.
(Well, actually, I want the endings to stop being Dumbledore Explains All. (I’m surprised I’m not tired of that, though.))
Hermione Tortures A Fellow Human Being For One Year!
She wants to free the elves, though.
Explanation: Rita Skeeter, ace reporter spreading hate and lies, is actually a bug-lady. She’s a secret Animagus and she can turn into a little tiny bug. Hermione, to teach her a lesson, captures her in a little tiny jar. She says she’s gonna keep her in there for a year.
Yeah, I’m sure she’s just gonna say, “What? I thought it was just a regular old beetle!” But imagine if they knew she knew. She’d be arrested for, like, ever.
I’m gonna have to quash the I Am Hermione Theory because I don’t freakin’ torture freakin’ humans for a whole freakin’ year.
Dawn of Voldemort: Harry-Hating Fundamentalists Can Finally Have A Field Day
Voldemort is, very unambiguously, a twisted evil Jesus. He’s the Dark Lord…he’s rising…he was reborn (not strictly through his own power, but through the sacrifices of others)…he rewards unwavering trust…his power will see you through. So on and so forth.
When I saw the faulty fortunetelling in Prisoner of Azkaban, it struck me as a way of telling Christian fundamentalists “it’s okay, the occult really CAN’T solve all your problems.” I feared Rowling had gone soft, dude. But this time in Harry Boy with the Goblet, she’s going, “Fuck it, I’m finally goin’ all the way!”
It’s cool that the dementors are inevitably gonna be his servants, but only because they can give him what he wants: torture of innocents and their sweet sweet suffering.
The ending of this book was another great rollercoaster with high intensity and twists that won’t quit. We go from a speedy maze to a surprise visit by the spooky old Riddle House. Then we get the unraveling mystery, complete with gotchas.
But what smelled about this climax was the fight between Harry and Voldemort. I’m glad there’s a reason why Voldemort couldn’t have just killed him (from hereon out, though, is there any reason why we can’t…imprison him? maim him? give him brain damage?). But what was that fucking gold dome thing?
Okay, so when two wizard wands made of the same things fight each other — which is a one-in-a-billion event, happening right now with Harry and Voldemort — they apparently create this thing called the Goldius Domius, and they recast the last spells that those wands cast. I’m not sure why that results in Fawkes the phoenix singing to Harry, but I guess that part’s supposed to be symbolic and resonant. Also symbolic+resonant is how the ghosts of people Voldemort killed climb out of his wand. Like, what the heck? Those are people, not spells! He’s breaking the rules!!!!!
After I got a handle on what was going on in this whirlwind battle scene between Harry and Voldemort, I could only think, “How convenient.” The ending of Prisoner of Azkaban felt contrived in the same way: we need Harry to get away, but we have to reverse-engineer some kind of weird spell or magic object (the Time-Turner) so he can get away and the next book can exist.
Man, this book was a whopper. The copy I have is 730 pages, which is nearly twice as long as the last one. Scary stuff. That’s most of why this post was so long in coming.
Favorite scene: Hagrid talks to Dumbledore in the cabin
Favorite character/s: Uh…Mad-Eye Moody, I guess. He’s got a good catchphrase. I like how he has a hip flask.
Book ranking: Stone > Goblet > Chamber > Azkaban
Is there anything I should add to the list of favorites up there? You can let me know in the comments!
Thanks for reading, and await Pt. 5 with bated breath (I JUST got an ebook copy today). I tend to hear bad things about Order of the Phoenix. In fact, one of my valued contacts insists that Goblet of Fire is the peak of the series…meaning that Phoenix is a trash fire. I know you can’t trust everything you hear and that opinions differ, but…I am frightened.
I also remember watching the film version around sixth grade. I thought that it was boring and it smelled. There was this lady wearing pink who took over the school and everyone hated her. Then they started running around chasing Voldemort. Just noxious.
Before you read about me reading that, though, you can read this about me looking at Harry Potter special edition covers. Alternatively, you can skip that noise and jump right to Phoenix!