Of the seven Harry Potter novels, The Goblet of Fire is the only one to have won a Hugo award, one of highest honors given to works of science fiction and fantasy. Is it the best of the HP seven? The most Sci, the most Fi, the most fantastic? Hard to say. What it is, is epic, almost triple the length of the first book. The timing of the novel (if I remember correctly) was after the book craze had gone international, and not long before the release of the first movie. So by this point in time the publishers were probably happy to give J. K. Rowling free reign, with very little editing, to chock it full of every whim and story line that came to her. She was, after all, their license to print money.
And so we find ourselves faced with 636 pages and dozens of different story threads, many of which could easily have been left out. The real testament to this is how smoothly the movie leaves them out — Ludo Bagman & Bertha Jorkins, Winky, Dobby and S.P.E.W, and the ridiculous pompousness of Percy Weasley.
But is The Goblet of Fire any good???
Well, yes. It’s got some beautiful moments of writing that echo the playful children’s book tone of the first novel (Harry and Ron attempting to ask girls to the dance is the first to spring to mind, also the Creevey’s brothers’ “Potter REALLY stinks” badges). It’s got some emotional depth — almost painfully so — in the growing relationship between Harry and his newly-discovered godfather, Sirius Black. Sirius becomes Harry’s adviser, an adult he can trust and whose opinions and advice he values.
And finally, it’s scary — it’s got death hitting very close to home for Harry, when an important character is killed standing by Harry’s side. Shit just got real. This is the The Empire Strikes Back of the HP series, ending with loss, uncertainty, and Dumbledore’s comment that “we are all facing dark and difficult times”. Indeed.
I’ve always loved this book. Rereading it over the last week with a critical and adult eye, I spotted numerous plot holes and devices that were less obvious to me as a younger reader. Probably the biggest stretch is Rowling’s habit of having each of the books span the entire school year, so the Triwizard tasks are in November, February and June. Yet this requires the visiting foreign students to be away from their country and parked at Hogwarts for the entire year, only to be seen at mealtimes or when the plot requires them. We know how easily the Witches and Wizards of the magic world can travel — do they really need to hang around Hogwarts doing nothing for so long? Don’t the remaining teachers and students at Beauxbatons & Durmstrang need their headmasters? Are the visiting students conducting lessons off on their own, or joining the seventh year Hogwarts students in theirs?
Great big chunks of time are passed over arbitrarily, so that the main events can having this spacing… other school sports are cancelled and the trizard champions are exempt from end of year exams (pandering to childish escapism fantasies — imagine if exams were canceled!!!), when we know it could have all fit neatly into two weeks, like our Olympic games. This doesn’t sit well with me for the “realism” of this fantasy world.
Now, Rowling is a positively BRILLIANT creator of worlds — much like Tolkien, she created histories (and futures) and back stories and characters we never even encounter in the books, just to make it more real and 3D. She planned her seven year plot arc well, planting hints and clues and red herrings right from day one. I feel she deserves her billions of dollars, and I will forgive any other small plot holes and stretches of reality because (at its heart) it is a series for young readers — we adults who got hooked did so at our own peril.
Goblet of Fire is not the best of the seven — there’s ultimately too many threads, they inevitably tangle themselves trying to each have a moment of attention and final resolution — but it’s a great read, and a great adventure. It spawned a fantastic movie (that rosy-cheeked young guy who plays Cedric sure is cute!) and serves as a good middle point, the start of the young-adult-to-adult end the series.
O.W.L Report Card
Moments when Muggle technology could’ve saved the day:
This is a tough one to assign, as the fantasy elements (and total departure from our reality) seem to rule the entire narrative. Perhaps some good old-fashioned CCTV at the campsite for the Quidditch World Cup may have sped along the resolution of the Dark Mark mystery?
Moments Hermione was the real hero in this saga:
Her unshakable belief in Harry — his innocence in the Goblet debacle, her coaching when he needs to learn new spells and skills in a hurry. These examples of her loyalty and determination highlight why she was sorted in to Gryffindor and not Ravenclaw with the other brainy kids.
Moments the movie did better:
Speed, speed, speed! The film takes all of 20 minutes to get Harry’s name out of the Goblet — 238 book pages — and wisely cuts out so many time-wasting plot points that it feels as though none of the 2+ hours run time is wasted.
Final Grade: E (for Exceeds Expectations in the O.W.Ls)