For the last couple of decades or so, parents have been scratching their heads in concern and sometimes real fear while their offspring gave hour upon hour first to television, then video and computer games, and more recently, the Internet. Hours that added up to weeks and, over time, to years of slack-jawed passive entertainment while technological marvels shoveled up activities that required little creative input from the growing young mind in question.
Harry is the kid most children identify with, adrift in a world of unimaginative and often unpleasant adults--Muggles, Rowling calls them--who neither understand them nor care to. Harry is, in fact, a male Cinderella, waiting for someone to invite him to the ball. In Potter 1, his invitation comes first by owl (in the magic world of J. K. Rowling, owls deliver the mail) and then by Sorting Hat; in the current volume it comes from the Goblet of Fire, smoldering and shedding glamorous sparks. How nice to be invited to the ball!
The novel opens as a confused Muggle overhears Lord Voldemort and his henchman, Wormtail (the escapee from book three, Azkaban) discussing a murder and plotting more deaths (and invoking Harry Potter's name); clues suggest that Voldemort and Wormtail's location will prove highly significant.
From here it takes a while (perhaps slightly too long a while) for Harry and his friends to get back to Hogwarts, where Rowling is on surest footing. Headmaster Dumbledore appalls everyone by declaring that the annual Quidditch competition has been canceled for the year, then he makes the exciting announcement that the Triwizard Tournament is to be held after a cessation since 1792 (it was discontinued, he explains, because many a competitor died during the tournament). At the beginning, we see that one representative from each of the three largest wizardry schools of Europe (the sinister Durmstrang Institute, the luxurious Beauxbatons Academy of Magic, and the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry) are to be chosen by the Goblet of Fire; because of the mortal dangers, Dumbledore casts a spell that allows only students who are at least 17 to drop their names into the Goblet. Thus no one foresees that the Goblet will announce a fourth candidate: Harry. Who put his name into the Goblet, and how is his participation in the tournament linked, as it surely must be, to Voldemort's newest plot?
The details are as ingenious and original as ever, and somehow (for catching readers off-guard must certainly get more difficult with each successive volume) Rowling plants the red herrings, the artful clues, and tricky surprises that disarm the most attentive audience. A climax even more spectacular than that of Azkaban will leave readers breathless; the muscle-building heft of this volume notwithstanding, the clamor for book five will begin as soon as readers finish installment four.
While "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" might invite comparison, there's not really a great deal that makes this cut. First of all, it's a massive book. More than twice the reading commitment of the previous books in the series. While something like this might be barely remarkable in a book by, say, John Grisham or Tom Robbins, the latest Rowling, like the others before it, is a children's book, aimed at--if not exclusively enjoyed by--humans under the age of 12 or 13 years.
The chapter on the Quidditch World Cup is far more exhilarating than any Super Bowl game, and the Triwizard Tournament offers plenty of soaring fantasy--and a chance for Harry and the readers to learn about the other schools of wizardry.
While the fun of fantasy might be its otherworldliness, its power lies is the truths it reveals about the real world. So the magical world of Harry Potter--a world of flying cars and dragons, unicorns and magic potions, invisibility cloaks and the Killing Curse--becomes real as readers discover truths about bravery, loyalty, choice, and the power of love. Read the following quotations from the Harry Potter books and discuss the truth that each reveals.
"Understanding is the first step to acceptance, and only with acceptance can there be recovery." (The Goblet of Fire, page 680).
"You place too much importance...on the so-called purity of blood! You fail to recognize that it matters not what someone is born, but what they grow to be!" (The Goblet of Fire, page 708).
Long before her fourth installment appeared, Rowling warned that it would be darker, and it's true that every exhilaration is equaled by a moment that has the readers fearing for Harry's life, the book's emotions running as deep as its dangers. Along the way, though, she conjures up such new characters as Alastor "Mad-Eye" Moody, a Dark Wizard catcher who may or may not be getting paranoid in his old age, and Rita Skeeter, who beetles around Hogwarts in search of stories. And at her bedazzling close, Rowling leaves several plot strands open, awaiting book 5.
Some of the darker feeling comes from the fact that Goblet of Fire is simply a much longer book than the previous three and thus there is room for more intricacies of plot with evermore delicious twists and turns. The conclusion leaves readers at the edge of their seat and anxious for more. More is coming, though at the moment, the wait seems very long. At its inception, there were seven books planned for the Harry Potter series. Just over halfway there and it feels like Rowling is just warming up.
Of course, dastardly and determined characters like Voldemort are not easily put out of their misery and the unspeakable noble provides some of the action and tension in Goblet of Fire. Since Harry is the only person--wizard or muggle, alike--who has been able to survive Voldemort's spells, it only stands to reason that he'll stop at very little to get Harry out of the way. Whatever it takes. As the story progresses, Rowling introduces some engaging new characters, some world-class Quidditch and a lot of the resonances at which Rowling is becoming so adept.