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Re-Reading “Harry Potter”–“Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire”

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.

Re-Reading “Harry Potter”–“Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets”

Well, here it is, the second installment of my adventures in re-reading Harry Potter.  Today, I wanted to talk about the second volume in the series, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.  Again, I was pleasantly surprised at how well this book has aged, as well as how compulsively readable it is.  It now occurs to me that it really shouldn’t have surprised anyone that this series became the phenomenon that it did; these books pull you in and they don’t let go until the very end.

What struck me anew as I read this second book was how very much of a mystery it was, in the sense of leading us inevitably toward the revelation of a deep history that was there right in front of us all along.  I’ve often found that these books in particular operate on a number of textual levels; while you can certainly enjoy them as individuals and in the moment, it is only when you finish both the novel and the series that the true genius of the construction comes to light (I find this to be even more true for Prisoner of Azkaban, but I’ll get to that in my next post).

I also particularly enjoy how this novel does not shy away from the darker side of the wizarding world.  Although we got a glimpse of it with Quirrel and Voldemort in the first novel, now we really get a sense of the great fissures that still exist in the magical realm, particularly concerning wizarding blood and bloodlines.  Naturally, this is a commentary on the deep-rooted classism that still exists in much of British society, but it is also a potent wake-up call to any sort of eugenics movement that stresses the importance of blood.  It also serves as an important reminder that even a world as seemingly halcyon as the wizarding one has its ugly parts as well.

Although Harry is ostensibly the hero and star of this book, I actually found Tom Riddle to be the most compelling part, partially because at this early stage he is still something of an enigma, both to Harry and to us as readers.  We don’t yet know all of the things that led him down the dark road that he would eventually travel.  What we do realize, however, is the uncomfortable similarities that exist between Harry and his nemesis.  While of course, as Dumbledore reminds Harry (and us as readers), it is the choices one makes that determine one’s fate, it still is worth considering just how deeply runs the darkness in all of us, and how much we must continue to fight against our own baser natures to forge a more just and peaceful society (which seems, in the end, to be what Harry and his friends are seeking).

What really sticks with me, however, is just how much this book doesn’t answer.  I am still uncertain just how much Lucius Malfoy knew about the diary that he snuck into Ginny’s possession.  Certainly, he knew that it had great power, but just how much did he know of the charms that had been put upon it?  After all, he was one of the most powerful of the Death Eaters and was part of Voldemort’s inner circle, so it’s entirely possible he knew that it had some greater purpose than merely being charmed.  Of course, Lucius would never be so foolish as to reveal that knowledge to anyone, and it’s a testament to Rowling’s skill with he characters that she doesn’t reveal too much of his hand either.  There are times, it appears, when it’s better not to know all of the information.