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.