[DWJ] Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

Melissa Proffitt Melissa at Proffitt.com
Tue Jul 17 15:24:19 EDT 2007

(All page references come from the first Scholastic trade paperback
printing, September 2002.)

I've just shipped my oldest off to camp for four days and am relishing the
freedom this gives me, as I don't have to nag her into finishing her
coursework.  The other children are entertaining themselves with Guitar Hero
in the front room; that's right, I'm the kind of mother who pacifies her
children with the electronic babysitter.  Someday they'll no doubt need
therapy to stop them calling the television "Mommy."

It does leave me with plenty of time to read and avoid housework, my two
main occupations, but even so I ended up finishing _Harry Potter and the
Goblet of Fire_ around midnight last night.  That's the way it goes
sometimes.  I wanted to figure out if 734 pages was too long or just right,
but all I learned is that I'm not a good judge of such things.  I stayed
interested the whole time, which for me is enough evidence that it wasn't
too long, but I'm pretty sure it could have been a more streamlined book and
still been interesting.  Either way, it's a non-answer.

Strangely, I took a lot fewer notes and marked fewer passages than with the
previous books.  That's partly because the same complaints and praises I had
for the first three books continue into the fourth, but it's also due to the
changing nature of the series.  At this point, the series story arc has
taken center stage, and even the Goblet of Fire story, which appears to be
about Harry, is really part of the manipulations going on behind the scenes
with regard to Voldemort's return--which happens in this book.  Knowing that
this is a seven-book series, I'm tempted to break it down into three books
of "preparing for Voldemort's return" and three books of "dealing with
Voldemort's return," with _Goblet of Fire_ bridging the two.  Based on
subject material, age of protagonist, and increasing plot complexity (not to
mention swear words and that hilarious wizard who likes a nice breeze around
his privates), I'm also going to say that this is the book where J.K.
Rowling leaves behind the juvenile novel for the young adult.  Or should,
anyway.  Her writing style still isn't as complex as I'd want for a YA
novel, and I noticed several places where she either over-explained things
or told the reader what conclusions to draw--something that would work for a
juvenile audience.  I wish I had a better sense of what she's actually
capable of--whether she's deliberately trying to dumb her intrinsic style
down, or if she's just not very good.

Except--okay, my very first "note," which was more of a mental comment, was
in the first chapter, and it was "Holy freaking crap, who did she get to
write THIS part?!?"  Because that first chapter, "The Riddle House," is
stylistically very nice, very evocative, and sounds nothing like the rest of
the novel.  It's closer in style to that first chapter of _Philosopher's
Stone_, which was an excellent absurdist piece for all its inappropriateness
in the book.  So I wonder if Rowling has what it takes to be a novelist
after all.  Maybe that bland, nothing-special style I've been commenting on
is the mark of someone who wasn't actually meant to write for children. I'll
have to think about this.

I'm very fond of the Triwizard Tournament, though I have my
doubts--again--about who exactly thinks this is such a spiffy idea for kids
to take part in, especially since several of the adult wizards seem to take
its dangers very seriously, even more so where Harry is involved.  The
attraction is very like that of interhouse competition, or Quidditch, which
is also potentially deadly; though I can easily picture real-world teens
doing these things without fear and without brains, I wonder why the adults
are encouraging it.  (In this case, there's Dark wizardry manipulating
everything, which explains a lot, but since you don't know that until the
end, the question still arises.)  Anyway.  There's just something about a
competition of skill that grabs my interest, and for some reason I was
particularly tense about the dragons this time around.  Even though I knew
how it all turned out.  :)

But what I was most interested in was the question of the house-elves.  In
_Chamber of Secrets_, Dobby is the first and only house-elf we encounter,
and therefore his situation appears to be the norm; his free will is
subordinated to his master's orders, and he clearly wants out.  But in
_Goblet of Fire_ things are very different, and suddenly there are two
different perspectives on the house-elf situation.  According to almost
everyone, house-elves are made to be bound to a master, they enjoy serving,
and they're miserable when they're free; Dobby is actually said to be
abnormal (more specifically, a "weirdo").  From Hermione's perspective,
Dobby is the normal one, and the house-elves only enjoy serving because they
don't know anything else.  Since this setup is uncomfortably like black
slavery, I think the reader's instinct is to side with Hermione.  But no one
else does. She's told over and over again that she's wrong about the
house-elves, and Hagrid in particular makes his point clear:  "'It'd be
doin' 'em an unkindness, Hermione....It's in their nature ter look after
humans, that's what they like, see?  Yeh'd be makin' 'em unhappy ter take
away their work, an' insultin' 'em if yeh tried ter pay 'em'" (p. 265).

So the question is, who's right--Hermione or Hagrid?  To us, it's Hermione,
because we're all familiar with the arguments used to justify slavery, and
most of them are the same: they're suited to slavery, they couldn't cope
with freedom, it's how they're made.

But this isn't our world.  Unfortunately for us, it's Hagrid who's right.

We've already seen a number of magical creatures throughout the series, some
of them more or less mindless, others as sapient or (like centaurs) more
sapient than humans.  And the one thing most of them have in common is a
magical nature that cannot be changed and for which they can't be blamed.
Veela captivate men; dementors suck souls; that's just what they do.  The
idea that house-elves might truly need to be in service doesn't have to be a
human justification, and based on the actions of every house-elf but Dobby,
it seems to be true.  It also fits with the lore about brownies, who serve
the same purpose, have very strict rules governing their behavior--remember
how in "The Elves and the Shoemaker" the little guys left for good when they
were given clothes?--and seem to have no other existence outside their
interaction with humans.  What *is* a false human justification is when
their masters mistreat them on the grounds that the elves "belong" to them,
and Sirius Black confirms this when he tells Harry, Ron, and Hermione that
Bartemius Crouch's mistreatment of his house-elf Winky says a great deal
about him: "'If you want to know what a man's like, take a good look at how
he treats his inferiors, not his equals'" (p. 525).  Even so, Black, who is
certainly one of the more open-minded characters in this series, would, I
think, be quick to champion the house-elves if they were in slavery.
Instead, he identifies Winky not only as being in a subordinate position,
but as being that way by nature.

However, these points are all obscured by the way in which they are
presented.  Experienced readers know how to pick up on hints that a stated
reality is at odds with the truth, and this pushes all the wrong buttons.
For starters, you have the establishment (the entire wizarding world)
defending the status quo against a single person who is an outsider and
therefore has a fresh perspective (which in literature usually translates to
"correct perspective").  Second and more damning are the comments cited
above about how elves *like* serving others and aren't fit for anything
else.  Few modern readers fail to see in this a parallel to past rhetoric
justifying slavery--rhetoric we're predisposed to react negatively to, even
though in this case it's probably true.  Despite my feeling that Rowling was
simply adapting faerie lore for her own world, I can't say she handled it
terribly well.  The situation is just too biased against the new meaning she
tried to impose.

Finally, I have to applaud my favorite (not really) character, Cornelius
Fudge, for continuing to be a self-righteous pig-headed smarmy twerp.  One
of my favorite plot tensions is when you have the Good, the Bad, and the
characters or character groups.  The potential for interesting conflict
increases greatly when the good guys have to fight on two fronts.  Of
course, as long as Fudge is part of the third group, I will continue to have
the intense desire to smack the crap out of him, but that could be a feature
rather than a bug.

I've left out so much--there's the disadvantage of doing what's essentially
a survey of an extremely long book.  The whole dancing around (ha ha) of
Hermione and Ron at the Yule Ball.  The stuff I wish I could have, like the
wizard tents or a Foe Glass, assuming I could tune it to display the
approach of children wanting to bug me about something.  The stuff I have
questions about, like the Pensieve--does Dumbledore *forget* the stuff he
puts in there, or is he just copy-and-pasting?  Oh, and of course the
question about how Barty Crouch Jr. could keep up his disguise if it takes a
month to brew and has to be drunk every hour?  Which I figured out:

1.  The basic potion has to brew for a month, but you don't add the
ingredient specific to the person you want to change to until the end.  So
Crouch could have prepared the potion before they even knew who they were
going to kidnap.

2.  When Hermione did it in _Chamber of Secrets_, she dipped up three
separate cupfuls for Harry, Ron, and herself.  Therefore, a single brewing
makes more than an hour's worth of potion.  The actual amount isn't said,
but it can be assumed from _Goblet of Fire_ that it's enough to cover at
least the month you'd need to make more.  Also, there's nothing to indicate
that the recipe can't be doubled or tripled as necessary, nor how much
Crouch made in the first place.

3.  Mad-Eye/Crouch drank the potion more frequently than every hour; he was
always swigging at his flask.

4.  He had the real Mad-Eye locked up near at hand for a constant supply of
his hair for the potion.  I'd assumed you could treat an entire brewing with
only a little bit of the person's, um, essence, but either way, he was

5.  Given that nobody really wanted to spend time in Mad-Eye's room, Crouch
had plenty of privacy to brew potions all day long if he wanted.

Anyway, there you go.

Next up:  _Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix_.  So many people have
complained about how very "dark" this book is; is this really true, or is it
a function of people's expectations not keeping pace with the transformation
into a YA series?  Or, as is more likely, are most of the people I talk to
prone to interpret books with any negative content as "dark"?  (And I'm not
even seeing the movie until Friday.  Bah.)

Melissa Proffitt

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