The Story: [from GoodReads:]
Harry Potter is midway through both his training as a wizard and his coming of age. Harry wants to get away from the pernicious Dursleys and go to the International Quidditch Cup with Hermione, Ron, and the Weasleys. He wants to dream about Cho Chang, his crush (and maybe do more than dream). He wants to find out about the mysterious event that supposed to take place at Hogwarts this year, an event involving two other rival schools of magic, and a competition that hasn’t happened for hundreds of years. He wants to be a normal, fourteen-year-old wizard. But unfortunately for Harry Potter, he’s not normal – even by wizarding standards. And in his case, different can be deadly.
My Take: Upon finishing each Harry Potter novel when I first picked up the series back in 2006, I asked myself, “How can this series top itself? What else can it do?”
But it did. It most certainly did.
Up to this point, the novels have been modest in size, but this entry clocks in at an impressive 730+ pages! Now, I’m no stranger to big books (as I love big books and I cannot lie), but tomes really have to present a compelling story and characters in order to keep me invested lest the temptation to indefinitely sit them aside becomes too strong. Thankfully, Goblet of Fire does not disappoint – not that I was expecting it to, mind you.
For starters, this novel does a great job balancing scenes of intense action with quieter moments of character development and refinement. Gone are the days of the old fashioned whodunit school days mystery tales that defined the earlier books (Sorcerer’s Stone and Chamber of Secrets, especially). But this deviation into a more mature storyline, and one that involves more working parts, is actually a
good great thing as it accommodates Harry and his friends as they grow up. In this particular novel, Harry finds himself unwillingly selected to compete in the dangerous Tri-Wizard Tournament, a spectacular wizarding event that hasn’t been held in years. However, the rules state that only three wizards from three different schools are permitted to enter, yet Harry finds himself stuck as the fourth champion and magically obligated to see the challenge to the end. There is a slight mystery undercurrent here, hearkening back to the series’ earlier books though it’s subtler in tone, regarding who or what put Harry’s name up for selection. Yes, the book does address this by the end and, like all of Rowling’s denouements in this series, it’s not who/what you think.
Despite its length, Goblet of Fire keeps its proverbial head well above water through quick pacing and clever introductions to yet more elements of the Wizarding world. As stated, there are multiple working parts and character dynamics here yet nothing feels heavy-handed or bogged down. Naturally, the Tri-Wizard Tournament consumes a great deal of space and accounts for most of the book’s action-packed moments. But there is also the delightful Yule Ball; the introduction of Defense Against the Dark Arts Professor “Mad Eye” Moody; incorporation of various minor characters from two rival wizarding schools (Beauxbatons and Durmstrang); more details about Hagrid’s past; and the induction of the wonderfully despicable reporter Rita Skeeter. These additions to the familiar setting and current cast add a continuing sense of depth to the series and offer up plot angles that keep the momentum going.
Among the new additions here, I have to highlight Mad Eye Moody and Rita Skeeter as both bring touches of the charmingly bizarre mingled with a dose of intrigue in the vein of are-they-or-aren’t-they when it comes to their respective intentions. Mad Eye is both a genuine hoot as well as a somber presence with a taciturn attitude, akin to a dry wit joke that you’re pretty sure isn’t meant to be funny but you can’t help but chuckle anyway. This subdued comical edge to his rough and gruff exterior makes him a pleasure to engage on the page as well as a welcomed addition to the series at large.
Similarly, Rita Skeeter is just so wickedly devious that she’s wonderful even though her scenes are slim (though she’s intended to be a minor character anyway). Not to mention Rowling utilizes her to make painfully true jabs about the media, thus Rita serves as a subtle commentary about how the truth gets stretched and over-dramatized all for the sake of “reporting” the “news.” Normally, I dislike characters who serve as fill ins for social commentary, but in Rita’s case she’s not an in-your-face, dreadfully obvious metaphor. So for that, Rowling shows a fine hand.
Both of these new additions also possess a subtle questioning element to them regarding how trustworthy they are. Mad Eye Moody certainly seems to be an ally but his past and present obsessions with all things Death Eater do make the reader question whose side he might really be on. In the same way, Rita is presented as someone who’s clearly untrustworthy but exactly how untrustworthy she is and to what aim we’re left to speculate. I won’t discuss further details, which certainly count as spoilers, but it’s certainly worth sticking with this novel to uncover the true aims of both characters.
What really sets Goblet of Fire apart as the novel that graduates the series from a perky middle grade read into epic fantasy territory is the gradual immersion into the connection between Harry Potter and Lord Voldemort. Just as Prisoner of Azkaban set the table for a darker tone, Goblet of Fire lays out some dangerous entrées alongside frequent helpings of tasteful charm and excitement. Lord Voldemort becomes a very real threat in this novel and its concluding chapters offer up some truly bone-chilling moments that I won’t delve into as they count as spoilers for sure. The novel’s opening chapter actually deviates from the usual POV as it relates events outside of Harry’s immediate knowledge. At first, this might seem out of place but it all ties together in the end, so I was not thrown off by this deviation in POV as it works to set up Voldemort’s plans, casting a shadow over the rest of the novel.
As a whole, Goblet of Fire combines elements that are familiar and true to the series, especially the appearances-are-deceiving technique that never grows old in these books thanks to their expert set up, delivery, and denouement, with a gradually maturing tone. Harry, Hermione, and Ron are thrown into some rather precarious situations and comical scenarios as they navigate their young lives both as fledgling wizards and as teens. However, these moments of humor and warmth are subtlety shaded by a sense of impending danger. Rather than fill its chapters with directionless plotting and padding as is common in mid-series novels, Goblet of Fire makes every inch of the page count to move Harry closer to his destined confrontation with Lord Voldemort.
Content: Content-wise, this novel is still fine for its middle grade target audience and anyone older though it does increasingly become darker and, of course, its size might deter the very youngest of middle grade readers.
Language – There are minimal, PG-level profanities (along with some British profanities) though they’re sporadically dropped. Also, there is a singular reference to some leprechauns delivering an obscene gesture during a sporting event but the specifics are never described (though it’s fairly easy to deduce what this gesture is).
Violence – Violence falls squarely into the fantasy violence lane where magic is used as opposed to weapons. However, some of the last chapters contain some very dark moments where one character is brought back to “life” through a ceremony that involves murder, torture, and mutilation albeit it’s not told in a graphic, gory way.
Sexual Content – None. Some characters are caught secretly smooching but nothing further occurs or is even implied. In the same way, a few characters are smitten by other characters and even try to flirt but nothing ever becomes crass, inappropriate, or suggestive in any way.
Overall, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is another step in the right direction for the series as a whole, elevating it from a middle grade magical mystery tale to a more mature story possessing both light and dark portions and characters that eventually collide. If you’ve been avoiding this novel due to its size, run no longer. Rather than be filled with fluff and fodder, Goblet of Fire offers up thrilling action, introspective moments, and plenty of bombshells that will leave you hungry for more.