I remember middle school as a time of turbulence. I attended a school where we were required to wear uniforms - an ensemble of white or navy polo shirts and khaki pants/shorts. It didn't bother me much. On the contrary, I would show up on free-dress days wearing my uniform, claiming to forget that I was allowed to wear whatever I wanted. I think I was just lazy, or too ashamed of my Jnco jeans and orange Ecco shirt.
Ages 12-14 were not without a great amount of frustration and awkwardness. I started wearing glasses - these great golden monstrosities that did little to aid my already dorky looks. In 7th grade I had a crush on a girl named Katie. I remember sending a friend to ask her if she liked me back. She didn't. There were hierarchies and tiers of popularity. Looking back, I'm astounded at how easily everyone assumed their roles in middle school society. Mine - that of a short nerdy kid who liked to stretch my shirt over my knees and amble around like an drunk ape - was not up to the standards of the established society. I was not cool, for some mysterious reason.
Harry Potter is cool. In fact, he's the coolest, despite having hair that cannot be tamed, huge glasses, and a serious lack of knowledge considering the wizard world. In the Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Harry is the same age as I was during those difficult middle school years. Sure enough, Harry begins to deal with many of the same petty and avoidable troubles that nearly all middle school students face. His age and the trials associated with it are much more apparent in this book.
More on that later.
In my last post I discussed my thoughts on books two and three. My read-through and conversations with HP fans have led me to the conclusion that the story starts to get really dark. The opening chapter of Goblet confirms this. We begin not with the repetitious setting of Harry counting down the days until the school term starts while trapped at Privet Drive - which I was thankful for - but instead in another place entirely. There are new characters. There is a seemingly disembodied voice, a giant snake, and an overall feeling of dread. Before you know it, someone dies. Just like that, in the very first chapter.
Well, all right. Death it is!
One of the things I appreciated most about this book is the amount of information the reader gets about the wizard world. There's a Quidditch World Cup? There are other schools?? There's an awesome tournament that only occurs every X amount of years? These events pulled the scope back and revealed that there's more to the story than just this one school somewhere in Britain. Upon finishing the third book, I had glaring questions regarding the world of wizards. Where is Hogwarts, in another dimension? Goblet - at first - did nothing to clarify these questions. How in the great heck are the wizards able to keep a giant coliseum hidden? Aren't there Muggle airplanes flying around able to see everything?
Thankfully, I began to understand more as I read on - the classic Read And Find Out strategy - who would have thought? Through the use of Memory Charms and other wards set up around sites like the World Cup and Hogwarts, Muggles aren't able to see magical things. If they look at Hogwarts, they just see a bunch of mountains and whatnot where the castle would be. At least that's how I understand it. Hermione explained it, and she's smart. So I don't doubt it.
The formula of the books was changed with the introduction of the World Cup (which was awesome). It was further augmented by the Tri-Wizard Tournament, which was even more awesome. It is revealed that there are other wizarding schools out there - one in what is seemingly Russia, and one in France. This opens up so many possibilities and questions. Is there more than one Ministry of Magic? Is there a French Voldemort-like character? I MUST KNOW. To the library!
I began this post with a brief note on my middle school days. I return to that theme now because the age and behavior of the characters in this book make so much more sense when I think about them as a bunch of 7th graders. Take Ron, for example. He perfectly encapsulates the clueless tendencies of boys everywhere when he so obviously likes Hermione and vice versa, but he still dreams about going to the ball with the popular and pretty French girl. The dance itself is a perfect setting to showcase the eternal struggles of adolescent behavior. Both Ron and Harry ignore their dates because they are too busy fawning over who they wanted to ask in the first place. Girls like boys and boys like girls and no one can figure out how to properly demonstrate their feelings. I get it. I went to one dance in middle school. I wandered around for an hour and a half with a cup of punch, talking to exactly zero people. If you ask my siblings, they'll tell you I hid under a table the whole time. It was a wasted night.
Before long, the Tournament begins to dominate the plot. There are few times when this series surprises me, but I was entirely caught off guard a few times in this book. The first instance was when the Goblet spat out Harry's name. It should have been obvious given the title of the book (I've even seen the movie once). Harry suddenly becomes the talk of the school yet again, but for once it isn't exactly for good reasons. This quickly culminates in Ron's jealousy of Harry, something that seems to define their friendship. After all, how would you feel if your best friend got all the praise and recognition in the world while you were made fun of for being poor? Ron's frustrations are completely understandable, and I felt myself being plunged into the terrifying world of middle school behavior yet again. Harry and Ron spend half of the book mad at each other, using Hermione as an unwilling mediator. Once again, no one knows how to communicate or listen. But they're fourteen! It makes sense.
Before I ever read a page of the books and I only had the movies to go on, the one thing that bothered me the most was Harry's penchant of inevitably doing something heroic just in time for the school year to end, resulting in accolades and praise and ballyhoo. If I was the average kid attending Hogwarts - let's say a third year in Hufflepuff (because why not), nothing Harry Potter did would surprise me. I'd be like:
"He faced the spirit of Voldemort and saved the Sorcerer's Stone? That's amazing, what a guy. He rescued that Weasley girl from a giant snake thing and faced down Voldemort a second time? Impressive, it seems he has the Dark Lord's number. Oh, he caught the Snitch again? Cool, I guess. He blasted a hundred Dementors away with a spell that's incredibly hard to learn? Of course he did. His name just so happened to come out of the Goblet, breaking the age-old tradition of there only being one Champion per school? What a jerk, always looking for attention." What if there are other really good Quidditch players at Hogwarts but no one ever talks about them? Is literally no one capable of doing anything amazing other than this Potter kid? Dude's been doing cool things since he was in diapers. It's no wonder the Weasley kid gets jealous.
The truth is, that line of thinking had dissolved by the time I finished the first book. Who cares if I'm not surprised by Harry saving the day again? The series is literally named after him, of course he's going to be this logic-defying hero. Would you read a series about Neville Longbottom? Don't lie.
In times of doubt, we turn to memes. Dumbledore sums it up pretty well. Language warning:
I try not to spend these posts going through the book chapter by chapter, but I have to talk about the ending. It's a testament to the increasingly dark nature of the series when the book begins and ends with death. I can't really recall if anyone died at all in the first three books combined (I have an atrocious reading memory). The nature of the final death scene makes it all the more harrowing. Voldemort utters three words and his henchman kills a teenager without a moment's pause. He doesn't even have to do it himself. Before long, Harry is chained to a gravestone and Death Eaters are Apparating left and right.
Can we take a second to talk about how cool the name Death Eater is? It's so metal.
It seems to me that this final scene acts as a bridge between the first several books and the last few. I don't expect the series will focus much more on Harry getting detention or potting Mandrakes. The players are set, and the sides are chosen. I feel like there will be no shortage of death in the coming novels.
In conclusion, I liked this book more than Prisoner. I'm a sucker for lore and world-building, so all of the backstory leading up the the World Cup and the Tri-Wizard Tournament were very enjoyable. My complaints are silly and small, but I hope that someone figures out how to tell their crush the way they feel. Teenagers are so oblivious.
On to book five and the Evil Pink Lady!
PS Rita Skeeter is just the worst.