Jun 23 2011 11:18am

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire: The Turning Point

I was late arriving to the Harry Potter parade. Books one through three were already out before a friend finally convinced me I needed to read what I thought were a bunch of over-hyped kiddie stories. Of course, since I’m writing this, you know how that tale ends. Within a few months of the release of book four, I was seen trundling all over London hauling a set of the original British releases just so I could read them without Americanized slang. I caught the bug.

The first three books were easy reads for the kids in all of us—clever worldbuilding that those of us with a few more years under our belts could appreciate for some of its more subtle humor and plays on mythology and legend. The three initial books kept the dark undercurrents flowing in the background: Harry the orphan, the victim, the lonely misfit. We joined him as he made his first friends, discovered his past, explored his world, and managed, often by luck more than wit, to escape the slow rebirth of evil in the wizarding world.

Conversely, the last three books were progressively darker, not only with higher stakes but mounting death tolls, strained loyalties, defiance and deception.

In the middle, surrounded by the light and the dark, was what has become my favorite book in the series. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, was a transition book in many ways, both in terms of character development as our kids start to mature into (sometimes annoyingly realistic) teenagers and in terms of the overarching plot, as Voldemort stops being a series of disembodied threats and sight gags and turns into a corporeal villain worthy of all the angst built up around him.

Here are some of the turning-point elements that work so well in Goblet of Fire.

Harry ditches the victim mentality. We know this book is going to be different at the outset. The story begins, as usual, with Harry on summer break from Hogwarts, stuck at the Dursley’s house on Privet Drive. Instead of being locked in the closet or nailed inside his room, however, Harry has gained a measure of self-confidence after book three’s discovery of his godfather, Sirius Black. When the Dursleys starve him, putting him on the same deprivation diet as the overgrown “Dudders,” Harry sends his owl to Ron and Hermione for food. Instead of simply taking whatever punishment Uncle Vernon deals out, Harry has learned to use Sirius Black’s (unfounded) reputation as a serial killer to control them. Thus, when the Weasleys invite Harry to attend the Quiddich World Cup and spend the remainder of the summer with their family, Uncle Vernon has little option but to give in (although not without the usual shenanigans at Dudley’s expense).

The magical world gets really big. And I’m not just referring to Hagrid’s Giantess girlfriend. Until Goblet of Fire, although we get mentions of other magical practitioners, Harry’s world is pretty much limited to Privet Drive, Hogwart’s, Platform 9-3/4, and the establishments in London’s Diagon Alley. In book four, we begin with the Quidditch World Cup in a stadium filled with 100,000 wizards from around the world, and then move on to the Triwizard Tournament, where Harry and Hogwarts teammate Cedric Diggory undergo a series of competitions against students from French Beauxbatons and Slavic Durmstrang, other wizarding schools.

The kids start to grow up. We get a glimpse of future pairings as Ron gets glum and jealous over Hermione’s flirtation with Durmstrang Quidditch star Viktor Krum, Harry pursues his crush on Cho Chang while Ginny Weasley watches from afar, and both Harry and Ron suffer a humiliating time at the formal winter ball. Hermione discovers a passion for house-elf rights, and Ron and Harry learn about the occupation of auror—the wizards who fight practitioners of the Dark Arts. We also start seeing more of other characters whose roles will be important, such as Neville Longbottom and Charlie and Bill Weasley.

The inviolate space of Hogwart’s is shown to be more vulnerable than we believed. Hogwart’s was always where the kids were safe, where Voldemort and his minions were powerless. But in Goblet of Fire, the faculty is infiltrated when the new Dark Arts teacher, semi-retired auror Mad-Eye Moody, is secretly locked in a trunk and taken over by a polyjuice potion-guzzling Death Eater, the evil son of Ministry of Magic member Barty Crouch. Only at the end of the book do we discover the truth, thanks to Albus Dumbledore. But the fact that this, and the co-opt of the Triwizard Tournament, has gone on under Dumbledore’s nose gives us another chink in our faith that the old professor and his school are as all-knowing and invincible as they once seemed.

The stakes get much, much higher. Our story starts dark and ends darker. In the opening scenes, an elderly groundskeeper is murdered at the Riddle mansion when he overhears Voldemort making plans to infiltrate Hogwart’s, kill Harry Potter, and regain both his corporeal form and his power. The link between Harry and Voldemort becomes clearer as he begins having a series of dreams in which he knows what Voldemort is doing—a plot element that is followed through the rest of the series. The Death Eaters reunite to torment Muggles at the Quidditch World Cup. And, finally, there is the climactic scene, where things start to get real (well, in a Harry Potter kind of way).

Harry and teammate Cedric Diggory are racing for the Triwizard trophy, which is really a portkey that transports them to a graveyard where Voldemort waits, still in nebulous form. But we know the He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named jokes are over as seventeen-year-old Cedric is callously murdered. Harry’s injury gives Voldemort the blood he needs to get his body back, and even though Harry technically wins the duel by escaping to Hogwart’s with Cedric’s body, it’s clear Voldemort and his Death Eaters are back to stay. In the end, we find Dumbledore pleading with the ministry to believe Harry’s story—with the usual bureaucratic denial we’ve come to expect.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire walks a perfect line between the humor and playful imagination of the first three books, and the increasingly dark and dangerous world of the final three. (Of course, if Voldemort had known that Cedric Diggory, played in the movie version by newcomer Rob Pattinson, would come back as a brooding vampire in bad makeup, he might have killed him twice....)

Urban fantasy author Suzanne Johnson is a bonafide book geek. Her new urban fantasy series, scheduled to begin with the release of Royal Street in 2012 by Tor Books, is set in New Orleans during and after Hurricane Katrina. Find Suzanne on Twitter.

Rich Bennett
1. Neuralnet
This was the first of the series where prior to release I had been following all of the various websites, forums, Rowling interviews etc. JKR had stated several times that someone was going to die in the book. I will always remember that while reading the book (picked up at midnight of course), I was sure Ron or Hermione were going to die at some point, especially during the merpeople challenge... i just couldnt put the book down because of that and read it in one long stretch (had to call in to work sick). very funny in hindsight.

This is not my favorite of the series... I think you could tell she had trouble writing it.. some parts are great and some parts just go on for too long IMHO.
2. SnapeOne
There's no apostrophe in Hogwarts. Five points from Gryffindor.
Suzanne Johnson
3. SuzanneJohnson
@Aw, Snapeone. Five points for a typo? Surely three would be enough, you Slytherin.
Suzanne Johnson
4. SuzanneJohnson
@Neuralnet. I hadn't gotten into the boards and such at the time I read this, so I fully expected Cedric to make it back. In fact, he dies so quickly I had to go back and read it to make sure I hadn't imagined it. I agree the pacing of the book struggled a bit, but I liked the way the kids matured in this book. They hadn't becoming such annoying teens (I wanted to slap them all around in Order of the Phoenix) yet they were beginning to deal with issues beyond themselves.
5. radagastslady
I had not read or heard of the series until one day when I was driving and listening to my favorite news/politics liberal talk show. He had started talking about Goblet and a 5th grade boy called in. The caller stated that every boy in his class was reading this 600 page book. This fact intrigued my English teacher psyche and I had to investigate. Thank you Jack Cole for that particular program.
Goblet of Fire does seem like the point of the overall story arc where Harry and his friends begin to understand and confront the real threat.
Dumbledore is human and falible, Hogwarts is not ultimate haven, and evil is alive and threatening.
The expansion of the entire wizarding world takes the series from a fairly simple boy against his enemy to a complicated realistic universe. Hermione and SPEW echoes human history of prejudice against the Other that we began to see in Chamber and Hermione's actions and thoughts about treatment of the house elves in particular will bear useful fruit in Hallows.
tatiana deCarillion
6. decarillion
Heh, in the film, when Ron is standing in front of the mirror, in his girly-tux, and says, "Murder me, Harry," I said to my husband, "I wonder if that's meant to be foreshadowing?" Of course, it wasn't, but until I was done with reading the series, I always wondered ...
Suzanne Johnson
7. SuzanneJohnson
I'd forgotten that line--LOL. I also wondered up till the bitter end if one of the three would get killed, and I always expected it to be Ron.
8. Lsana
I have to disagree with one point: I don't think Hogwarts is shown to be any more vulnerable in this book than it is in the earlier books.

In Book 1, we had a teacher who was not only working for Voldemort but actually brought his spirit into the school.

In Book 2, we had students being attacked left-and-right, a secret chamber in the school that was out of Dumbledore's control, and a monster that was the pet of one of the school's founders.

In Book 3, the school was infiltrated multiple times by a supposed mass murderer, happiness-sucking demons were stationed at all enterances and exits to the school, and we discover that Voldemort's spy has not only been in the school all these years, but actually sleeping in Harry's bedchamber.

Book 4 gives us another corrupt teacher, the disappearance of Crouch from the school grounds, and the use of the portkey to kidnap Harry. I don't think any of that was significantly worse than what happens in the first 3.

Hogwarts was never a "haven" for Harry in the sense of being safe from magical threats. It was only a haven in the sense that he was away from the Dursleys. In many ways, Harry is in more danger at Hogwarts than he was anywhere else.
Evan Langlinais
9. Skwid
I think the introduction of portkeys as a plot solution in this book foreshadow the mechanism of the horcruxes as plot solutions in the final books. Not in the usual sense of foreshadowing, but more "the author has learned a trick" foreshadowing, and I don't see it as a particularly good trick to have learned. Ah, well.
10. sofrina
have to agree with lsana's points about hogwarts vulnerability, and about sirius black being a convicted mass murderer, not a serial killer.

also, cedric diggory is harry's competitor not his teammate.

i love how this book shows harry to his face just how evil voldemort and the death eaters truly are. these are the parents of his schoolmates. they have sons just like him and they join together to torture and murder him in the dead of night. the idea that voldemort has it in for harry stops being an idea - a conviction even - and becomes a cold, hard fact.

the funny thing is that the skills which allow harry to escape in the end are the very skills that voldemort's agent, crouch jr., taught him.

this book rates for sheer dramatic twist. that no one had any idea what was really going on, that dumbledore never prepared for this possibility, that they could have allowed such a monstrous game-changer to happen on their watch. i imagined dumbledore and snape on their knees pounding the ground that this happened. ...but then there's that look of triumph in dumbledore's eye...
Suzanne Johnson
11. SuzanneJohnson
Good points about the vulnerability of Hogwarts.

I hadn't thought about the portkeys as an easy plot device, but they do end up serving as a deus ex machina to get Harry and Voldemort face to face on V's territory.
12. radagastslady
This book brings up one of my big questions with the magic. Polyjuice potion. Barty Crouch Jr masquerading as Mad Eye is drinking the potion every hour. Granted that most of what he does is with the goal of Harry winning the Goblet and being delivered to the Dark Lord, but the sympathy with which the fake Mad Eye treats Neville is in Mad Eye's character, unnneeded to further the dastardly deed, out of character for Barty Jr. Coming finally to the question, does this overdose of polyjuice lead to some leakage of personality itself?
Discuss, students, please.
13. Stefan Jones
@radagatslady: I always figured that maybe Barty wasn't a total jackass. Perhaps he was the Neville of his class . . .

* * *
I remember liking this one a lot, but was a little put off by its length.
* * *
Yeah. PortKeys. The Wizarding World seems to have an awful lot of ways to get around. This one seemed awfully plot-specific.
14. Megaduck
@12 Radagastslady

I've always seen BCJ as a bonifide psycopath. He acts nice and sympathetic because his entire life has been spent putting on a mask about what a nice guy he is to gain sympathy.

His niceness to nevile isn't a leak of personality. It's someone without empathy and totally self centered trying to worm his way under someones guard.

Made all the more creepy by him comforting a young boy traumatised by something HE did.
Suzanne Johnson
15. SuzanneJohnson
Good points about Barty Jr. I remember first reading the book, getting to the end, and wondering about that very thing--I could understand him helping Harry to succeed because it furthered his own end. But the "kindness" to Neville was odd. I think the psychopath theory makes as much sense as any.
Birgit F
16. birgit
The "kindness" to Neville was just a pretext to slip him the book with the clue about Gillyweed.
Charles Gaston
17. parrothead
This is definitely my favorite of the series, and not just because it beat Storm of Swords for the Hugo (worst book I ever read; I'd even take Tess of the d'Urbervilles if it meant I could avoid more Martin). The drama seems much stronger here. I think the offhand way in which Cedric is killed really highlights the maturing of the series. It's not "Harry & Co. having wacky magical adventures" anymore. Sure, there was danger prior, but I still agree with Ms Johnson's assessment of Hogwarts as a haven. After this, not so much.
Bruce Meyer
18. dominsions
Good post! I liked how the book began at the abandoned Riddle House. In addition to creating suspense, it also opened a lot of questions into the past of Tom Riddle and his connection to Harry. I also liked the transition to Harry using his scar, and then re-introducing all the characters by Harry trying to decide who to consult about his scar.

I also agree that it was a transition book. A transition from a small world to a much larger world; a transition from a child's world to a more adult world; and a transition from a fairytale world to a much darker world. It was the beginning of Voldemort's rise to power again and the civil war within the magical world.
19. vsthorvs
I loved this book, although I think I was really annoyed with Harry during the second challenge at the time.

This is the book where Harry starts to actually become a warrior. The Triwizard Tournament is a great way to force Harry to change from the courageous but ultimately weak boy from the first three books into the young man who in the last three books is something of a prodigy when it comes to battle. The DA in book 5 is only believable because of how much Harry has to advance in this book.
William Fettes
20. Wolfmage
vsthorvs @ 19

That’s a very good point about Harry’s preparation. Prior to Goblet of Fire, Harry is in no position to be giving lessons to his peers, let alone taking on Death Eaters. He’s only of average wizarding ability, well behind Hermione, aside from his skill with Expelliarmus, and of course, his highly advanced corporeal patronus charm. The Tri-Wizard Tournament experience adds a lot to his repertoire, including such useful core spells as the summoning charm, Accio, Relashio and the uber-spell Protego.

This book marks the point where Harry starts to come into power in his own right.

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