When I reread the first three books in the Harry Potter series I was worried that I had lost the magic. If you’ve followed along, you know that as an adult I found the first three books to have problematic plotting and a somewhat unnecessary fixation on recklessness. Thankfully, Goblet of Fire came along to prove that I can still fall in love with Harry Potter–I just needed to wait for the books (and Harry) to grow up a bit.
Goblet begins with the same sense of wonder and fantasy that drove the first three books, but its ending marks the point at which the Harry Potter books become markedly darker and more grown up. By bringing Voldemort back to corporeal form, it raises the stakes in the series and gives Harry an actual threat to work against in the next three books. By having Voldemort return and simultaneously murder an innocent and unsuspecting student, Rowling immediately establishes those stakes and the threat Voldemort represents.
Not only that, it makes you desperate to find out what happens next. If you were reading the books as they were released, it was an interminable wait for Order of the Phoenix to be published.
Many Potter fans name Goblet their favorite book in the series, and it’s easy to see why. For a long time it was my favorite as well. It’s a long book but the pages fly by. The narrative is so dense that it’s hard to imagine what you would cut to make it shorter. Goblet is justifiably long.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t plotting problems to be found. The book’s conclusion gets contorted as it tries to do too much at once. The whole business with Barty Crouch and Barty Crouch, Jr. is perhaps one twist too many. It certainly puts undue burden on Rowling to explain everything. It doesn’t reach the level of talkiness that Prisoner of Azkaban was plagued with in its finale, but it’s still there.
I haven’t mentioned my next complaint in previous reviews because I had larger issues to address, but something that has consistently bothered me is the way Rowling portrays children who grew up in the wizarding world. The fact that Harry is new to the wizarding world helps introduce readers to it. We learn about wizard life at the same time he does. But it would be problematic for the narrative if Harry was too far behind his fellow students, so Rowling posits that no one begins their wizard education until age ten. That levels the playing field, but it also forces wizard children to know nothing of the world they’ve lived in their whole lives. You can suppose that riding a broomstick is like driving a car and you need to be older in order to learn how. But they don’t seem to know anything. It’s not even clear that they’ve had any schooling prior to being enrolled in wizard school at age ten.
Obviously, Ron is the primary victim of this cluelessness because of his proximity to Harry (and because Hermione is supposed to be their group’s resident know-it-all. Allowing Ron to know more than her would conflict with that arrangement). It feels like he is allowed to know basic wizarding facts when it’s convenient, and when it wouldn’t be convenient he needs Hermione to explain things to him. For instance, Ron is intimately acquainted with who Peter Pettigrew is and what (allegedly) happened to him following Voldemort’s disappearance. He knows who Sirius Black is. He knows what Dementors are. But somehow, he has absolutely no idea what a Death Eater is when they show up at the Quidditch World Cup. He knows who Barty Crouch is, but not that his son was a famous supporter of Voldemort–even though his father has worked alongside Barty Crouch for Ron’s entire life. The only excuse for this is that it allows the truth about Barty Crouch, Jr. to be a big plot reveal later.
It seems a minor detail, but it really has bothered me. And I realize two things: 1) these books are, strictly speaking, intended for younger audiences, and 2) perhaps it’s ridiculous to expect a sense of realism from a book set in a world of wizards. But it does take me out of the book and turn me into the thinking face emoji every time it comes up.
That aside, rereading Goblet of Fire as a 35-year-old is the first truly fulfilling Harry Potter experience I’ve had in revisiting the books. I enjoyed the books leading up to this–but in a more guilty way. It makes me excited–and hopeful–about revisiting the rest of the series.
Read on for more about this installment. Or check out my Harry Potter page for more. Up next: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.
Cedric Diggory and his tragic legacy will haunt Harry for the rest of the series, but I’m really including him here because his storyline will feature prominently in J.K. Rowling’s later play Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. Mad Eye Moody. There are two Triwizard champions in addition to Cedric and Harry, but only one of them shows up again in the series: Fleur Delacour, the future wife of Ron’s brother, Bill. She also plays a small role in the Battle of Hogwarts. I guess we technically meet Mad-Eye Moody for the first time, but only as an unconscious prisoner in the novel’s conclusion. During Barty Crouch, Jr.’s trial, we also get a fleeting glimpse of someone who will become a significant villain beginning in the next book: Bellatrix Lestrange. Meanwhile, unsavory journalist Rita Skeeter is a fan favorite character, but she doesn’t show up again in the series. Sorry, guys.
Despite the novel’s size, there are no new revelations about Harry, his family, or Voldemort’s strange immortality. The focus is really on bringing Voldemort back to life so those ideas can be more deeply examined in future books.
Defense Against the Dark Arts Teacher
Alastair “Mad Eye” Moody Barty Crouch, Jr. Mad Eye Moody was the top Auror during the years Voldemort was trying to come to power and in the years that followed (an Auror is a wizard policeman who hunts down Death Eaters and those who practice dark magic). Over the years, Moody descended into paranoia and had to retire. Knowing the security risks the Triwizard Tournament will present, Dumbledore convinced him to come out of retirement to fill the Defense Against the Dark Arts post.
Except Moody isn’t who comes to Hogwarts. Throughout the book, there is speculation that someone in Hogwarts is working for Voldemort in order to set Harry up. The last person you are meant to suspect is Mad Eye Moody, so naturally, the book’s final reveal is that he was the mole the whole time. In truth, Barty Crouch, Jr. had taken his place in order to get close to Harry, rig the Tournament, and help Harry along so he makes it to the end and gets snatched away to Voldemort via portkey.
If you forget about the final twist, it would be easy to score Moody high on the Dark-Arts teacher scale. It’s just that regardless of how good he is as a teacher, once you know who he is the recklessness and willingness to teach students about the dark arts takes on an unsettling slant.
We meet Nagini, Voldemort’s pet snake, for the first time. Other than Harry, Nagini is the only Horcrux that is not an inanimate object. Like Harry, Nagini is also the only Horcrux that isn’t symbolic. Nagini became a Horcrux out of need: after Voldemort was nearly defeated, Nagini helped nurse him back to health.
Special Artifacts or Spells
We discover a travel alternative to floo powder and apparating in portkeys–everyday objects that have been magicked to whisk away anyone who touches them at a specific time and to a specific destination. Of course, it appears the rules binding portkeys are a bit flexible since when we are first introduced to one it must be touched at a precise moment in order for it to work, but in the end it appears all one must do is touch it in order for the magic to happen. Perhaps there are different varieties of portkey? Harry uses gillyweed to breathe underwater during the second task. We also learn about The Unforgivable Curses: curses that will automatically land their user in Azkaban because of the danger they pose (although apparently, teachers can demonstrate them to students?). Imperius allows the wielder to control another person completely. Cruciatus causes intense pain and is most frequently used in torture. And Avada Kedavra is the killing spell–the one that killed both Harry’s parents and which backfired on Voldemort.
The State of Harry’s Legacy
When Harry is announced as the fourth Triwizard champion, people are understandably confused (including Harry). That confusion quickly turns to suspicion that Harry did something to get attention. People get over it during the course of the book, but when Harry returns from the Riddle house with Cedric’s dead body and ranting that Voldemort has returned, we get hints of the more profound suspicion that will come into play in Order of the Phoenix, when Harry is branded a liar in the media.