Book Title: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
Author: J.K. Rowling
Genre/Audience: YA fantasy, drama, fiction
Rating: [Amending my previous 8/10] 9/10
Worth the read?: I mean, don’t start with this one, but certainly read it!
After finishing Prisoner of Azkaban I lamented over not being able to count books four onward in my 50 book total this year because I had already read them in 2018. But then I thought to myself, “Who says?” And the answer, of course, was me—I say I can’t count rereading books twice in a year toward my total. But then I decided that was stupid—incredibly dumb—I’m the rule-maker here, after all. And so, here I am today with book #28, for the second time this year: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.
I must make myself incredibly clear before I dive into some more gritty details about the story: this book has always been my least favorite in the series. Whenever the movie would be on TV, I’d either ask to turn the channel or leave the room; and when I first read Goblet of Fire, it took me an entire month to trudge through (while the rest of the books took less than two weeks combined). Now, however, on my third reading, I think I must alter my statement to better reflect my feelings toward the story.
Goblet of Fire, although remaining my least favorite installment of the series, is by far a better book than at least the first two. J.K.’s writing is worlds and worlds more mature in this book, includes significantly less exposition than the three prior releases, and is quite a bit more creative, inventive, and magical in this book. Purely based on writing, story progression, and character development, this is a wonderfully written book. But no matter how well-written I admit it to be, this book remains my least favorite in the series—the one I am most likely to wish didn’t exist, even though it’s such a darn good book.
So why don’t I enjoy it? I think I’ve finally got an answer.
When reading chapter nine, “The Dark Mark,” I was absolutely sickened by the story. The Death Eaters, led by Lucius Malfoy (head of Muggle torture), set about to relive the “good ole days” by magically hoisting a family of Muggles into the air and sexually harassing (I’d call it assault) the wife by revealing her underwear. I had to stop reading to digest how awful it made me feel.
Oh how quickly Goblet of Fire reminds us that we aren’t in Kansas anymore (that is to say we are no longer reading children’s books).
After talking out my thoughts with my mom and a friend, I came up with only one word to describe my feelings about this book: senseless.
The book itself isn’t senseless, but many of the action scenes that take place have a tone of senselessness to them or are otherwise actually senseless.
The torture of the Muggle family by the Death Eaters was the first of these acts. It is violence for the sake of violence, aggression for the sake of reinforcing supremacy, and terror for the sake of terror. The Death Eaters are, quite literally, terrorists. And if that isn’t senseless, I don’t know what is.
Personally, too, I’ve never been a big fan of the Triwizard Tournament. It certainly helps to illicit suspicions and to give us an idea that something fishy is happening with Snape and/or Voldemort, and it even pulls our attention away from the actual culprit at Hogwarts. But it’s always seemed a bit silly to me how it’s made out that this is a huge event carrying great significance, but really, how much time does Harry spend working on the tasks? Although the tasks present challenges to the champions, they are spread out over 8 months. That’s a heck of a lot of down time for such a big event! (The application of senseless, clearly, is a bit different here.)
But the big thing that gets me, what really makes this book unenjoyable for me (again, this is about preference, not quality) is the reincarnation of Voldemort and the reveal of just how evil he is.
I truly believe that J.K. Rowling has successfully written an antagonist with no redeemable qualities. He is a near-perfect embodiment of evil, so terrible, so cunning, manipulative, shrewd, clever, and so distorted by fear of dying that he is practically nonhuman. It’s not even accurate to call him immoral because he so far transcends the concept of morality. Voldemort is not just the bad guy, he is the bad.
When we think of villains, we often wonder what could be done to save them. There is no such thought with Voldemort—it is clear that there is no salvation for him. He is too far gone. He isn’t merely doing the devil’s work; Voldemort, for all intents and purposes, is the devil, is the evil.
And evil is senseless.
It’s important to note, too: Voldemort isn’t a body and soul necessarily overflowing with bad stuff; rather, Voldemort is a body and soul inherently lacking the very thing that stops evil. It is not his excess of evil, but his lack of love, that destroys him.
A really good example of Voldemort’s brand of evil occurs just before he and Harry duel. Now, killing someone intentionally is always evil, but as I’ve said, Voldemort isn’t about just doing evil things, he is evil. So instead of merely “putting Harry out of his misery,” Voldemort makes him into a plaything:
“We bow to each other, Harry,” said Voldemort, bending a little . . . “Come, the niceties must be observed. . . . Dumbledore would like you to show manners. . . . Bow to death, Harry.”
Harry refuses to bow, but Voldemort forces him to, leaving the Death Eaters laughing harder than before.
“Very good,” said Voldemort softly . . . “And now you face me, like a man . . . straight-backed and proud, the way your father died. . . .”
It was this exchanged more than anything that left me with a sinking feeling in my stomach, the sense that I shouldn’t be reading this because it’s just too far, too evil. It’s that Voldemort could speak softly to Harry, instructing him how to duel and demanding that he bow, that sends chills through my spine. Here he is, turning a 14-year-old kid into a toy, taunting him while his little friends circle round.
And, like, how could that be fun to read?
Perhaps if it wasn’t so real—ah, but there’s the problem: it is real. Evil like this happens all the time, everywhere. It’s rising up, again and again and again, this never-ending cycle of evil for the sake of evil (is there any other kind?). And, although the ultimate message behind Harry Potter is that evil doesn’t win, in Goblet of Fire, we’re left thinking that maybe, just maybe…it does.
I didn’t intend this post to be so lengthy, but this book, and the senseless evil it drops us into, is worth discussing, worth debating, worth learning from.
There is so much I’ve left out here—like Barty Crouch (Jr. and Sr.), Winky and Dobby, Beauxbatons and Durmstrang, Rita Skeeter…oh, the list goes on and on.
I’ll leave you with some illustrations below 🙂