Well, it’s been quite some time since I shared my thoughts on the Potterverse, but with a Prospectus due to my Advisor and my annual Tolkien reading commencing, I haven’t had as much time to indulge in the world of HP. However, I have had the chance to finish Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, so here are some of my reflections on the fourth, and in many ways the best, of the Harry Potter books.
Even more than Prisoner, this novel reveals that shit is finally getting real. We as readers know this from the very beginning, when the unfortunate Muggle gardener runs afoul of Wormtail and the frail Voldemort and pays with his life. We now know, if we hadn’t before, that Voldemort is absolutely willing to murder anyone who threatens any aspect of his plans, no matter how trivial. I remember being shocked when I first read this novel over a decade ago, and that earliest murder, as well as the darker conversation the gardener Frank overhears, still sends shivers down my spine as I read it.
There is much in this novel that is actually quite chilling, not least the fact that Barty Crouch’s wife actually sacrificed her life for the son that was so unambiguously in league with Voldemort. There is something fundamentally touching and disturbing about the lengths to which she was willing to go to save a son that was, by all accounts, as monstrous as any of the other Death Eaters. For all that her actions have made possible all manner of atrocities, one cannot help but be at least somewhat sympathetic for a mother’s desire to save her son from the horrors of Azkaban. Although Rowling’s world is typically painted in broad strokes of black and white, this is one of those moments when a shade of grey gradually begins to make itself seen. Who can say that they wouldn’t do the same thing, if presented with this sort of perilous and terrible decision?
More than perhaps any of the other novels in the series (except for perhaps Half-Blood), Goblet allows us to see the true consequences that come from the battling of evil. Voldemort, however he may have begun, however oppressed and abandoned he might have been in his youth, has now become a creature so far beyond the emotional capacities of ordinary human as to be something else altogether. His casual dismissal of Cedric as “the spare” vividly illustrates this, and Cedric’s death still remains one of the most saddening in the series, in no small part because it is both so unexpected and sudden. Indeed, Cedric’s death illustrates something that will become increasingly clear as the rest of the series unfolds: the battle against evil inevitably leaves the bodies of many innocents in its wake. And that, I think, is one of the key features of the best fantasy. The best fantasy, especially epic fantasy, is that which does not end on an entirely happy note. Indeed, I am most satisfied after reading something that leaves me with a sense, however faint, of melancholy after I have finished the last page. It’s good to be reminded that, even when the quest is over and the war is won, nothing can ever be the same again.
It’s quite astonishing, really, how much this novel manages to accomplish, and accomplish well. As with the previous novel, it has a beautiful artistry all of its own that allows you to recognize its brilliance only after you have read through the entire narrative. Only after you are finished do you realize that all of the goings-on in the beginning were part of a larger master plan, delicately laid and executed (both by Rowling and by Voldemort). Likewise, the elements of the Triwizard Tournament are compellingly written, with just enough mystery layered in to make them worth reading (though they do, of course, play second fiddle to the larger narrative of Voldermort’s return). And who could forget the revelation that so many prominent members of the Wizarding community still maintain their loyalty to their master. It is this revelation, perhaps even more than that of Voldemort’s actual return, that really brings home to me the reality that this world, far from being a safe haven, is itself full of dangers and betrayals as grave as any that appear in the Muggle world.
All in all, Goblet emerges as one of the best-written and tightly plotted of the series. Unlike its successor, Goblet manages to weave its various plot threads together into a cohesive whole without seeming overly long or drawn-out. At this point, we haven’t yet got mired in the teenage angst that plagues the fifth and seventh volume of the saga, but we still get the richer and more compelling character development. Ironically, this was actually the first Harry Potter novel that I read (being the weirdo I am), and so it will always occupy a special place in my heart. Having re-read it for the first time in many years, I recognize that it fully deserves that special place.