Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, J.K. Rowling

Raincoast, 2000, 636 pages, C$35.00 hc, ISBN 1-55192-337-8

Another Potter movie, another Potter book, another review where I struggle to find something to say.

At this point, I mean, what is left to write? Amazon.com lists no less than 4 198 reviews for Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire alone. It’s been read, reviewed, pirated, plagiarized, parodied and pilloried by thousands of people, most of whom are much smarter than I am. What else is there to add to the critical carnival?

Not much except for my own impressions, most of whom boil down to “eh, I liked it.”

The fun part with the Potter book so far, of course, is that even with the enormous hype, the mainstream spoilers, the merchandising, the myth-making, it’s possible to just sit down with the book and read it fresh, reasonably confident that it’s still going to be a worthwhile read.

And so this fourth volume begins like the others, as Harry is spending the last days of the summer with his evil mundane (er, muggle) relatives. Before long, through, it’s back in the magical world, back in Hogwarts, and back in unspeakable peril as The-One-Who’s-Always-Coming-Back is, well, coming back. As Harry and cohort are now 14, this leaves ample opportunity for more conventional teenage drama, including the dreaded “whom shall I take to the ball?” question. The budding romance between Hermione and Ron advances a bit, but not as much as Harry’s funny feelings for Cho.

If, like me, you’re reading along with the movie release schedule, you won’t be surprised to see that the fourth film left out a lot of background material from the book. The entire house-elf subplots are gone, along with bits of characterization (such as Harry’s anger fits) and smaller, more amusing moments. The journalist character, dropped in mid-film, is present through the whole book. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire isn’t exactly a fast-paced page-turner, but at least it keeps the considerable charm of the series so far: reading the book is like slipping in old comfortable slippers.

Not that it’s all fun and games, of course. Harry and his friends may just want to pass their exams and have fun with each other, but they’re stuck in a situation not of their own choosing. As this instalment makes it clear, the whole Voldermort situation has a rich political history, with shades of McCarthy-like witch-hunting (ahem) and complex personal histories. Among the book’s new characters is the newest Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher, Alastor “Mad-Eye” Moody, a man with a rich past in special operations… The higher authorities of British magic also get a bigger role this time around, leading this “children” book in very adult places.

The Potterverse also expands significantly in this instalment, with the arrival of foreign wizards in Hogwarts. It’s been a stated wish of mine that the very English magic of the Potterverse be expanded to take in account foreign flavours of the supernatural, and so we here get a glimpse of magic as performed in France (Beauxbatons) and Eastern Europe (Durmstrang). If we’re lucky, we may get to see a little bit more of the world in subsequent volumes.

The big plot segment of this volume, though, is the Tri-Wizard tournament, which purports to find a “best” wizard through a contest of magical abilities. You probably won’t be surprised to learn who wins: While the Potter series may be charming, it becomes somewhat contrived at times. In fact, the big finale is likely to engender questions like “wasn’t there an easier way for the villains to reach their objectives?” Harry himself is curiously passive (although less so than in the movie) and exhibits better networking than magical ability.

But (making “bla-bla-bla” sign with hands), none of that really matters to anyone likely to read book four of the series. Perfectly pre-packaged to fans, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire delivers on its promises and expands the series in a satisfying fashion. No further comments are required.

(Well, maybe another: This didn’t deserve to win the 2001 Hugo Award. But I digress.)

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