Wednesday, 24 October 2001

J.K. Rowling: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2000)

Edition: Bloomsbury, 2000
Review number: 972

The fourth Harry Potter novel, about as long as the other three put together, continues to match his increasing age by becoming more adult. A lot of The Goblet of Fire covers what is by now familiar territory; it begins with the summer holidays, and goes on to describe a school year, with elements such as the unpleasant Dursleys and Harry's fluctuating popularity at Hogwarts repeated from earlier novels. The main plot is about a competition between champions of the three schools of magic, in which Harry is entered even though below the age limit by an enemy who put his name in the magic implement which chooses the champion (the goblet of the title) in the name of a non-existent school, hoping to use the opportunity of the contest to harm Harry in the cause of dark wizard Voldemort.

There are some quite subtle differences, part of Harry's growing maturity. For example, his relationship with the Dursley's has been changing ever since he first went to Hogwarts, and now they are almost frightened of him and his friends. The changes which gained most publicity when the novel was first published, the handling of awakening sexuality and the additional seriousness brought by the death of a Hogwarts student, are more obvious, as is the increasing use of the techniques of the horror writer which begins with the introduction of the Dementors in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and which is continued in the chilling first chapter here.

Does the way that the series is developing make the fourth Harry Potter novel better than the first? The fact that it continues to grab the reader all the way through - to the extent that I stayed up all night reading it - is testimony to Rowlings' technical maturity. Like all the best children's books, the series has always included subtleties aimed at adult readers, but I suspect that younger fans are likely to find aspects of The Goblet of Fire offputting. It certainly lacks some of the freshness of The Philosopher's Stone, and is far less humorous and exciting than the other novels. On balance, I probably enjoyed it less than its predecessors but admire it as an achievement, even if I wouldn't go so far as to say that it was as good a piece of fantasy as the Hugo award it has received implies. It is also not difficult to see why Rowling is taking longer than expected over the fifth novel, especially as she cannot really allow it to get any longer this time.

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