While I was excited to dig my teeth into The Sorcerer’s Stone, The Chamber of Secrets and The Prisoner of Azkaban once again, most of my highest-level excitement regarding this re-read of the Harry Potter series centered around revisiting books 4-7. Harry Potter & The Goblet of Fire is the clear-cut turning point in the story of Harry, Ron and Hermione -- indeed, you can pinpoint the very page where the story takes a sharp turn into a darker, more serious tone and never looks back.
Goblet of Fire is not only the book where the stakes are permanently raised for our heroes, but also stands alone as a masterpiece for author J.K. Rowling, who pieces together an intricately woven tale that leads to one of the most satisfying revelations I’ve ever enjoyed from a plotting perspective. I’ve mentioned in my past blogs for the first three books in this series that Rowling consciously foreshadows pieces of the Harry v. Voldemort endgame as early as the first chapters of the first book. While Goblet of Fire does contain even more endgame foreshadowing, it’s also plotted like a whodunnit within its own pages.
My re-read of the series is prompted by the podcast Binge Mode, in which Mallory Rubin and Jason Concepcion are deep-diving into each book one by one. Matching the format of their shows, I’ve been choosing a theme in each blog for each book. For Stone it was joy, for Chamber it was duty, for Prisoner it was kinship, and for Goblet it is division. Instances of division, divorce and/or isolation crop up regularly in Goblet of Fire, and by the book’s end, there will be a division between The Ministry of Magic and Albus Dumbledore so stark and stubborn that it will define the next year, perhaps the most crucial year, of our story.
I can’t talk about Goblet without mentioning its first chapter, set at the old Riddle House, where we learn Voldemort is growing stronger and may be nearing a more fully fledged return into the physical world. We witness Voldemort murder the Riddle house caretaker, Frank, and meet his snake, Nagini. When I was younger and read this book for the first time, I viewed this chapter as a chore to get through, all table-setting and too long for what it gave us in tangible plot points or action. Reading it as an adult, though, I couldn’t feel any more different. This chapter is an essential taste of what’s to come, and opening the story anywhere other than with Harry Potter at the Dursley household in the midst of an awful summer break is such a meaningful creative choice. It divides us from the place of relative comfort that we expect to enter into, and lets us know that we may be in for a different type of ride this time.
Soon after that, though, we’re back where we expected -- with Harry, at the Dursley’s, about to be rescued by Ron. This year is the Quidditch World Cup, and the chapters around this event are some of my favorite in the series. When the group wakes up early to walk to the Portkey that will transport them to the World Cup grounds, I was just about skipping heartbeats with excitement. Rowling’s dedication to detail and set building at the World Cup is as good as it gets, for me -- one of those moments where you can almost feel yourself walking around and taking in the Wizarding World. It's moments like these that make me want to go back to the Harry Potter land at Universal / Island's of Adventure, since I am a sucker and capitalism works on me.
The Quidditch World Cup is also where Rowling really starts to build up her arsenal of moments that feed into this book’s reveal regarding Barty Crouch, Jr.’s plot to kidnap and assume the identity of Mad-Eye Moody at Hogwarts throughout the school year. Each moment makes perfect sense when it happens, and the explanations later on fit seamlessly into our recollection of those moments as readers. It is a display of masterful plotting, of course, but on this revisitation of the text I was floored by the level of difficulty that must have been involved in puppeteering these events to have them make so much sense in both contexts.
Anyway, happiness and excitement are omnipresent throughout the Quidditch World Cup, but Rowling shows her willingness to turn the mood on a dime here. A similar sudden turn will happen in a much more crucial moment several hundred pages down the road, but I would make the case that Rowling prepares us for all the darker events later on in this book and in this series by demonstrating her intentions at earlier junctures. Here, we are bystanders to the horror of Death Eaters harassing and abusing a Muggle family and the craze that stirs up when the Dark Mark is launched into the sky; as readers, we often share the same amount of knowledge about current events as the relatively uninformed Harry, but even Ron and Hermione do not fully understand the gravity of the Dark Mark's apperance.
This type of division, with our heroes running away from a pack of Death Eaters, happening so quickly after the shared thrill of the World Cup allows for some revealing and heavily weighted exposition from Arthur Weasley, who provides rare insight into the climate that existed the last time Voldemort was in power. As Mallory and Jason mention on Binge Mode, it’s the fault of the Ministry of Magic and other adults in the Wizarding World that the younger generation is not as prepared as it should be for Voldemort’s potential return -- Arthur’s explanation of the Dark Mark being used as a symbol of murder and torture is one of the first really honest views we get into what life was like during the first war against Voldemort.
Harry, Ron and Hermione return to Hogwarts as the Ministry of Magic is in damage-control mode stemming from the broken security at the Quidditch World Cup. We get a lot of looks into the inside of the Ministry here, which helps set up many of the events in Order of the Phoenix. The themes of division soon continue when Harry’s name comes out of the Goblet of Fire, positioning him as the fourth school champion and forcing him to compete in the Triwizard Tournament. Not only is Harry divided from most of the rest of the school by the exceptional nature of this event, but also in the school’s support for the other Hogwarts champion, Cedric Diggory. Harry’s selection for the tournament and his failure to properly explain the situation to Ron also leads to a fissure in Harry and Ron’s friendship. This is the first time we’ll see Harry and Ron separated for an extended period of time at Hogwarts.
The impact of Harry not having Ron by his side shows how fragile even the best friendships can be, and it reminds me of how fully a single event can dominate your brain when you’re a certain age. This doesn’t feel quite as possible as an adult, but it was easy for me to put myself back in the shoes of being a young person having a disagreement with a friend or worrying about whether you’ll be accepted by a person you have feelings for -- another event that Harry will go through in short order. Harry prepares for the first task of the Triwizard Tournament with Hermione’s help, and finally makes amends with Ron after the conclusion of that first task.
Before the first task, Harry tips off Cedric about what they’ll be facing, having been tipped off himself by Hagrid. This act sets a level playing field for the competitors, and creates a new bond in an already-friendly-enough-to-get-by relationship between Harry and Cedric. However, when Harry asks Cho Chang to the Yule Ball and finds out that she’s already going with Cedric, his feelings being hurt leads to a division between him and Cedric -- one that Cedric didn’t really even have a say in. It’s a lesson in how sometimes, it only takes one person to drive a wedge in a relationship.
Harry gets through the second task with a tip from Cedric and some late-stage heroics from Dobby, then the group meets up with Sirius for the first time this year in Hogsmeade. Sirius, who has been keeping informed on the strange events at Hogwarts by Harry and Dumbledore, is certain that there’s a person at Hogwarts who means Harry harm. All signs point to the Durmstrang headmaster, Igor Karkaroff. The headmaster’s past as a known Death Eater and his school’s reputation for teaching the Dark Arts marks a division between most of the Hogwarts student body and the students from Durmstrang.
One of my favorite chapters in The Goblet Fire and the Harry Potter series as a whole is “The Pensieve,” chapter 30 here. This is a turning point for Harry, personally -- the source of a forthcoming division of Harry’s own creation. Harry learns several secrets of the past involving Barty Crouch, the Ministry of Magic and a group of Death Eaters that were sent to Azkaban over a decade ago. This moment is where Harry begins to be burdened by knowledge that he cannot necessarily share with others. While he winds up sharing most everything with Ron and Hermione throughout even the rockiest points in the series, there are plenty of times -- including a large swath of Order of the Phoenix -- where Harry takes it upon himself to shoulder the burden of truth and knowledge on his own. This scene with the Pensieve is also the first of many, many moments that Harry and Dumbledore will share in Dumbledore’s office where Dumbledore either shares something with or asks something of Harry, usually in crucially important matters.
Finally, this lengthy, masterful book begins to reach its climax. During the third task of the tournament, Harry and Cedric decide to claim the Triwizard Cup simultaneously, resulting in a dual victory for Hogwarts. The Cup transports them both to a graveyard near the Riddle House, the place where Voldemort is about to regain his physical body. Immediately, Wormtail kills Cedric with the Avada Kedavra curse. This is what Rowling was prepping us for at the Quidditch World Cup -- this stunning and brutal twist from happiness to immediate pain. Cedric’s death is that pinpoint moment where everything changes in the story, where the tone becomes darker and where the stakes are permanently raised. Voldemort regains his body with the help of chilling, terrifying dark magic; some of his Death Eaters flock to him immediately, though they are so scared of him that it only makes us marvel at how scared the rest of us should be. Voldemort explains a bunch of stuff to Harry -- as any useful villain loves some exposition in these situations -- before challenging Harry to a dual. The twin cores of their wands result in the intense Priori Incantatem scene, another one of my favorites in the series. Catch me crying when Lily Potter tells Harry to hang on, because his father is on his way. The echoes of the people Voldemort has killed provide Harry with enough cover that he’s able to reach the Portkey, getting himself and Cedric’s body back to Hogwarts.
Harry witnessing Cedric’s death, Voldemort’s return and the regrouping of the Death Eaters is a division in multiple ways. First, it’s the clear line of demarkation that Mallory and Jason referred to as a loss of innocence on Binge Mode. This event divides us from the relatively innocent first few years of our time at Hogwarts and the much more serious, bloody, painful years to come. The event also divides Harry from his classmates, at first, some of whom believe Harry played a role in Cedric’s death. It eventually comes to divide Harry, Dumbledore and the people on their side (the Order of the Phoenix, soon) from the Ministry of Magic and others who do not believe that Voldemort has returned.
Back at Hogwarts, Mad-Eye Moody is revealed to be Barty Crouch, Jr., and a useful dose of Veritaserum from Snape helps fill in the mystery that has crowded these pages. It’s one of the most satisfying reveals, no matter how many times I read the book and no matter how well I remember the details that are to be uncovered. Harry fills Dumbledore and Sirius in on the events from the graveyard -- his revisiting them is almost as brutal as their original happening -- and Dumbledore intends to take immediate action. He provides Corny Fudge, the Minister of Magic, with a blueprint detailing exactly what he should do to prevent Voldemort from regaining full power. But Fudge, blinded by the desire to be at power during peacetime, refuses to believe Harry and Dumbledore. This division -- as Rowling calls it, this parting of the ways -- will define the next year of Harry, Ron and Hermione’s lives.
The school year ends with one of the best Dumbledore moments of the entire series. In his farewell speech, Dumbledore tells this group of 11- to 17-year-olds assembled before him that Voldemort has returned. He delivers one of my favorite Dumbledore quotes: “In the light of Lord Voldemort’s return, we are only as strong as we are united, as weak as we are divided. Lord Voldemort’s gift for spreading discord and enmity is very great. We can fight it only by showing an equally strong bond of friendship and trust. Differences of habit and language are nothing at all if our aims are identical and our hearts are open.” It’s obvious as the train takes off from Hogsmeade Station that everything has changed, and that the worst is yet to come.
Goblet of Fire may be the best book in the HP series -- I reserve the right to decide that when I finish this re-read. (For perspective, my ranking before the re-read was 1 Order 2 Prince 3 Hallows 4 Goblet 5 Prisoner 6 Stone 7 Chamber.) Its greatness isn’t limited to the way in which it stands alone as a literary triumph, but extends to the way in which it helps move its audience along from lightness to darkness in the same way its story moves its characters along the same path. The book begins with a troubling occurrence, a murder of an innocent man. It ends with the murder of an innocent boy. It begins with a sense of unity and ends with a parting of the ways, but with the unity that comes baked into being on the same team in a situation like that. It expertly brings in the darkness, and even does so with shock and surprise -- it’s shocking in its own right that Voldemort fully returns this early in the series -- but while allowing the audience to brace for impact the entire time.
For as much division is present in Goblet, the most important theme of this book and the HP series as a whole remains the power of friendship, love and tolerance. It’s only with the help from his allies and the love he feels for his friends that Harry is able to ultimately triumph over Voldemort, and it’s only with the power of love that Harry is able to even make it out of the graveyard in Goblet.
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