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734 pages! This was my first thought on seeing the alleged kid’s book, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. At this length and weight, parents would be reading children one chapter a night for a very, very long time. In addition, this book was rumored to be darker, scarier, and containing the death of a well-known character. Would it still be Harry Potter, innocently playful children’s book?

After plowing through it from cover to cover, my reaction didn’t change. The book is immense. In some places it started to drag a bit, not because it was dull, but simply because this book covers a year in 700 pages instead of 300 or 400. There are an equal number of the clues, mysterious acts, and furtive behaviors that create the plot, yet spread among almost twice the pages, the action seems slightly duller.

For those few people who still haven’t tried it, Harry Potter is an orphan brought up by his horrible relatives, the Dursleys. On his tenth birthday, he receives the surprise of his life: he’s really a wizard and is invited to attend Hogwarts, the magical boarding school for wizards and witches. He finds that he’s already a hero for having destroyed the evil wizard Lord Voldemort while still a baby. Now, as he attends a magical school and makes friends with loyal Ron Weasly and brainy Hermione Granger, he is forced to struggle with Lord Voldemort’s return.

In Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Harry meets his best friends for the International Quiddich tournament, yet finds that much more is at stake than it appears. Someone at the game sends the evil symbol of Lord Voldemort into the sky. Harry and his friends return to Hogwarts, only to discover a magical challenge of wizard proficiency that will strain them all to their very limits. They also must face exchange students and the Hogwarts annual ball as they struggle through another school year. Through all this seeps the mastermind of Lord Voldemort, twice thought to be utterly destroyed, but who still seeks his revenge on all the wizards, especially Harry Potter.

This book takes a far darker turn than some of the previous works, but remains the essential Harry Potter, complete with new quirky spells, professors, magical traps, and nasty plots by the school bully Malfoy and company. New professors, friends, and enemies all make their appearances, as well as all the old favorites, from Moaning Myrtle to Crookshanks the cat.

In this extra-long book there is far more room for backstories, and extra insights into the characters. We see into the histories of klutz Neville Longbottom, Headmaster Dumbledore, and even the grudge-harboring professor, Severus Snape. We see Ron’s oldest brothers, and even Harry’s parents make a brief appearance, to say nothing of his fugitive godfather, Sirius Black. While many of the new people, such as the lovely Fleur Delacour or furtive Professor Moody are kept at arm’s length, there are many surprising secrets to be learned about the old characters.

Many of the characters act in unsuspected ways, giving them far more depth than in previous books. However, many of them become angrier, as if with all of Lord Voldemort's turmoil, their own emotions become equally affected. Professor McGonagall loses her tightly controlled temper, Hedwig, Harry’s trusted owl, gets mad at Harry, Hermione becomes an anti-slavery champion who sets out to free all house elves, and later restyles her hair. Malfoy and his obnoxious friends have a far smaller role in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire than the other books. Perhaps he and his friends are growing up, and find that they have less interest in bullying others. Ron and Harry fight for a surprisingly large portion of the book, while Ron’s sister appears to have abandoned her fervent crush on Harry.

The students seem to all be on the cusps of various tantalizing relationships as they journey closer to adulthood. Harry has a crush on Cho (as foreshadowed in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban) and even Hagrid, the gigantic gamekeeper, seems to have found a true love. As Ron remarks to Hermione at one point, "Hermione, Neville’s right—you ARE a girl." Once he starts to notice that, the characters’ relationships can never quite be the same.

Yet against the background of blossoming adolescence, this book seems to hint at darker things than the previous volumes. Teachers abusing students, slavery, magical coercion, torture, blackmail, gambling, drunkenness, and even more insults and threats appear in the fourth book, as well as the three Unforgivable Curses. Even abuse of the media plays a large role in the story. Without spoiling too much, let’s just say that the book ends implying that the wizard world is in for some rough times ahead. And yes, someone important (and undeserving) dies.

So is this book worse than the other three? No. However, it is slightly scarier and loses some of the lighthearted vein that has made it so popular with children. Amusing moments abound, yet something sinister appears to shadow the entire story, starting from the first display of Lord Voldemort's followers near the book’s beginning. Depending on the age of the child, this book seems more likely to provoke nightmares than any of the others might. The wizard world seems to contain no more justice than our real world, where murderers may go free on legal technicalities or plea-bargains, and where innocent people lose money to crowding corporations or stand convicted of crimes they didn’t commit.

This book portrays life as it really is. Innocent people can die, good doesn’t automatically triumph over evil, especially when good is outnumbered and helpless. So is this truly a fantasy children’s book? I think everyone knows that Harry will win in the end, even if book 7, Harry Potter and the Utter Squashing of Lord Voldemort is a long way off. Despite being darker, scarier, and more menacing, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is still Harry Potter, filled with hilarious spells and the joys and sorrows of growing up. However, children or not, readers may want to leave the lights on while they read.


Rowling, J.K.
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.
Scholastic Press, USA: 2000

 

 

 

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Slavery, magical coercion, torture, blackmail, gambling, drunkenness, insults and threats...
has contributor Valerie Frankel been to Zealot.com before?

 


 

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