Thursday, February 21, 2019

Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling

Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling is the fourth book in the series. Like the previous entries, I enjoyed this novel a lot. The plot is interesting. It is full of fun characters, places and situations. Things get darker here and some interesting themes are introduced. 

Harry and his friends, as well as some enemies, are back for a fourth year at Hogwarts. This time, the evil Lord Voldemort is slowly gaining strength and hovering around the edges of the story, threatening Harry. At the same time, the Triwizard Tournament has come to Hogwarts. This is a magical competition between young wizards. Each participant or champion is chosen by a different magical school and represents that school in the competition. Despite the fact that he never intends to enter, Harry is maneuvered by unknown interests into becoming one of the champions from Hogwarts. Harry and the other participants are presented with a series of difficult and dangerous hurdles to overcome. Harry and the other champions are tasked with getting past dragons and dealing some ornery Merpeople as well as engaging with a host of other frightening creatures in their quest for the cup. Things turn a bit ugly when Harry ends up in a fight to the death with Voldemort himself. 

I have commentated that in previous books, the series had settled into a certain routine. This book continues some of the patterns of the last three. The narrative mostly consists of Harry and his friends’ day to day adventures. There is a whole host of entertaining passages to read about characters and creatures thrown in for good measure. Harry and his friends are getting older, so they are starting to become interested in dating. There is ball that diverts the interest of the students of Hogwarts and their guests from other magical schools. On the periphery, as usual, Lord Voldemort is sneaking around and is plotting to do bad things to Harry and the world at large. The magical competition and its mini adventures are similar to the magical encounters from previous books. Despite its familiarity, I found all this fun and interesting to read about. 

Rowling does begin to throw in some new and interesting elements here. The realities of the universe that the author has built begin to present themselves here. This world of Harry Potter consists of a worldwide community of wizards and other magical creatures that exist in parallel to the nonmagical, known as the Muggle, world.  This magical world hides its existence from the nonmagical world through the use of magical means. This world of magic has its own government, educational system, social customs, etc. This society is mostly a free one, it has elections, laws, a system of ethics etc. Throughout the series, we have seen that the society is flawed however. In this book, the flaws become a lot more apparent. We see that people, such as Harry’s Godfather, Sirius Black, are sometimes falsely imprisoned, the authorities sometimes impose death sentences on magical creatures based upon false pretenses, and the government is shown to be sometimes corrupt. 
Furthermore, around the time of Harry’s birth, a savage war raged between the government, which was controlled by the forces of light magic, and Voldemort’s and his dark wizards known as Death Eaters. Sirius Black tells Harry how during the worst of times, when Voldemort was murdering and torturing people and targeting his opponents’ families, many of the wizards on the light side resorted to unethical tactics and compromised their ideals in order to fight Voldemort. This seems an accurate representation of how free societies and individuals sometimes behave when under existential threats such as war. 

Perhaps the worst societal ill depicted involves magical species known as House Elves. These creatures are in a condition of slavery. They are bound to particular families and are controlled through magical means.
Harry’s friend Hermione decides to take up the cause of the House Elves. She comments, 

"You know, house-elves get a very raw deal!" said Hermione indignantly. "It's slavery, that's what it is!... Why doesn't anyone do something about it?" 

Later she observes how the oppression is covered up and that even in a book, Hogwarts, A History, that she admires, the existence of House Elves at the school, is omitted,

"House-elves!" said Hermione, her eyes flashing. "Not once, in over a thousand pages, does Hogwarts, A History mention that we are all colluding in the oppression of a hundred slaves!" 

Hermione decides to do something about it and begins a campaign to free them and provide better living conditions for them.

I think that Rowling is depicting an interesting dynamic here. We see a flawed magical society, that contains some oppressive and harmful institutions, that is threatened by the outside forces of Lord Voldemort, who have no morality and are completely malevolent. 

It seems that Rowling is portraying a magical world with parallels to the real world. Our modern democracies have been, and continue to be, imperfect. There is injustice and oppression in places. Yet, in the past and present, there are malevolent forces that are much worse, that are trying to destroy all of society. I will use a World War II example because it tends to work well.  During World War II, in the United States, there was terrible discrimination and violence aimed at people of color. It was the time of Jim Crowe, the mass lynching of black men and the internment of Japanese Americans, to name just a few of the terrible wrongs. Yet, outside, there was Nazism. Despite everything that was wrong inside of America, there was no moral equivalence between the two systems. I am not saying that there is not injustice and wrongs in modern day democracies, or that there are not malevolent forces lurking on the outside, but the situation that existed during World War II and afterward just makes for a clear-cut example. Many of the same dynamics, in less dramatic form, still exist. 

Hermione, as a friend and ally to Harry Potter, has positioned herself on the side of civilization, against the forces of barbarism as exemplified by Voldemort. Yet, she realizes that within the civilization that she is defending, like our own, there exits terrible injustice. She does not give up and try to overthrow her civilization, but she tries to reform and improve it. She attempts to do so by using peaceful means.  I think that this says a lot about the way our world and history has worked. Existential threats like Nazism and Communism were eventually defeated through the use of force and threats of force. The horrors of Jim Crowe, mass lynching, etc., have ended by people using peaceful, democratic means. There is still a ways to go, but the past offers valuable lessons. Rowling seems to be trying to mirror some of this in her world. 

It may be obvious in what I wrote above that this book takes the turn into darker storytelling than I have talked about in previous posts. References to torture and other nasty things that Voldemort and his allies engage in abound. Voldemort also murders several characters in this novel. Harry begins to show real pain at the loss of loved ones. Though I am sometimes skeptical  of the overabundance of dark fantasy and science fiction that seems to be vogue these days, Rowling does not go too overboard here. Also, the series did need some variation. 


This book continues all the motifs that led to the success of the previous novels. However, Rowling does add these more serious plot points and themes. I find that they add to the story in a positive way. Despite this, the novel is still a lot of fun and I enjoyed it a lot. I will likely continue with the series.

34 comments:

mudpuddle said...

i haven't read all the Potter books, but i've been impressed by Rowling's treatment of the dark side as omnipresent in human affairs... in spite of being totally imaginary, her world in it's description of politics and internecine struggles is much like our own, with evil forces all around us and the sometimes inadequate efforts to counter that... quite wonderful books, really... and subtlely perceptive...

Judy Krueger said...

I enjoyed your analysis here. This was one of my favorite volumes in the series, as far as I got. I may have to buckle down and finish these books as I follow along with you.

Sharon Wilfong said...

I enjoyed reading your thoughtful analysis of a series I won't ever read. Your commentary does allow me to make comparisons of other books and, as you said, how Rowling's stories parallel reality.

You have good and you have evil at war, which reminds me of Lord of the Rings, but also just about every story and movie on a certain level. Although it seems that lately movies and stories seem to end with evil winning, which I find disturbing.

Of course, as a Christian, I see all of this reflecting the Biblical story of the world: The fall of man through the temptation of Satan and the ensuing Spiritual war over humankind's eternal future. No government or economic system is going to cure that, because it has to do with the corruption of the heart. And the salvation of the soul for those who endure to the end.

Sue Bursztynski said...

A good analysis, Brian. I was starting to notice the darker side of the WW as early as Chamber Of Secrets, when Hagrid is sent to Azkaban just because Minister Fudge wants to be seen to be doing something. But Goblet Of Fire is now YA and teens can absorb more. Do they have elections? I never noticed, and I’ve read the books several times. My impression is that the Minister of Magic is appointed, perhaps by a committee. Dumbledore refused a post he would have had to stand for if there had been elections.

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks Sharon. This series was very influenced by Lord of the Rings. I also think that like many other things, it was influenced by Christianity.

In film, I thought that there was a trend back in the 1970s in which evil was triumphant in the end. I kind of have the impression that films have moved away from this.

Though I do not believe in a spiritual war, I do agree that some ills will likely always be with us. I also think thaf no economic system or form of government is perfect. I do believe however that some systems work better then others when it comes to alleviating suffering, reducing violence and promoting equality.

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks Sue - The darker nature does build over the course of the books. I questioned myself over the election thing. But this site, which I think is the official and authored site, indicates that there are elections. https://www.pottermore.com/writing-by-jk-rowling/ministers-for-magic

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks Judy. It would be very cool if you finished off the series and we read the books around the same time.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Muddpuddle- The books are very good. I think that a lot of fantasy is a reflection of the real world thaf authors portray in especially creative ways.

Suko said...

Brian Joseph,
I enjoyed reading your commentary. It seems as if you enjoyed this particular book a lot.

Paula Vince said...

Hi Brian, yeah, such an enjoyable series and a great review. The series does seem to turn that corner into the darker territory with Goblet of Fire, especially near the end. Those historic parallels you've come up with are so true. Hermione's taking up the house elves' cause is a great aspect of this book, especially considering so many of them didn't even realise they needed liberation. It's so easy to keep engaging as the Hogwarts students get older. I'll look forward to your further thoughts.

Kathy's Corner said...

Hi Brian, very thoughtful analysis. Rowling decided to go darker as the series progressed and i think that was a wise choice. As you say she wanted to make points about the world we live in and if Hogwarts remained this flawless society that can't teach us anythong about our own societies. I never read Alice in Wonderland but as I understand that children's book had political elements in it too.

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks Suko - I thought that this was a good one.

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks Paula - The fact that many of The House Elves were not looking for liberation added some real subtlety and complexity to this book.

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks Kathy. It is true, perfect societies are boring. I also never read Alice in Wonderland. But children's literature can indeed be meaningful.

thecuecard said...

Wow this one seems to have a lot more complexities in it than the previous books. Hermione is a lovely ally. Is there much Ron in this one? I need to read more than Book 1 obviously.

Whispering Gums said...

YOu've said what my kids said - that is, that Rowling starts to "mix it up" a bit here, well, "get a bit darker" is how they described it. It certainly sounds as though she worked to keep the interest level up, as well as, it seems, increase the messages? Thanks for this, because you've articulated in an adult way, I think, what my teen kids were trying to tell me.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Susan - A lot does go on as there is a lot of material building up. The books are also generally getting longer.

Brian Joseph said...


Hi WG - It sounds like your children put it very well. I kind of forget that these are considered to be Young Adult as they are very maturely written.

baili said...

Insightful commentary dear Brian!

i agree that writer tried to reflect the flaws of real world in his magical land

as through your review i can find the variety of characters that we often encounter in actual life

house elves reminded me a news on t.v few moths back in which a follower of a certain religion (sorry can't say the name) was burnt alive by other followers of same religion

his fault was that he admitted his child in school

other extremist fellows who declared him a low cast according to their believes (they believe that men are born from the different parts of the body of their DEVTA (lord) and who born from feet they are only to lead low life ,to serve and obey those who born from tummy ,hands and head of the lord.

can you believe that there are still such inhuman beliefs followed by men and applied by so called religious leaders

dark side of life is scary but realty to face and survive with

thank you for another remarkable review my friend!

The Bookworm said...

Ahhh the Triwizard Tournament....I remember it well. This book definitely gets darker.
Your point that Rowling creates a magical world that is alike to the real world is true. And I like Hermione's character, she always brought up issues and wanted to right wrongs. Rowling made the house elf Dobby an instant favorite for me. The way she writes these stories about good vs evil and friendships, I found all these books heartfelt and emotional, especially the later ones.
Fantastic commentary as always.

Brian Joseph said...

P.S. Susan - Ron plays a major part in this book as he does in other books. In particular, I find that he is very funny. His sense of humor is very slightly cynical. It works for me.

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks Baili. As you point out, there are still horrible things going on in the world. Sometimes these things are propelled by horrible interpretations of religion. I agree that we must face up to such things and try to make the world better.

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks Naida - I think that you raise a very good point. So far, the books have a lot of heart. Debby is such a fun character to read about.

James said...

While I have not read all of the novels in this series I admire Rowling's achievement. One aspect that intrigues me is the limitations within the world of magic. There seems to be a bit of rationality among all the mystical goings on.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi James - I was thinking about the point that you made. It turns out that Rowling has described a magical system that is very rational. The use of magic in her books is very much part of the natural world and is approached in a scientific way. Magic follows laws. It is studied in the way that science is studied. There are even charlatans that claim to haver powers that they do not have.

Sheree @ Keeping Up With The Penguins said...

It's really interesting reading your reviews of this series, Brian, I'm loving it! It feels like a fresh perspective, a new way of looking at these novels for which I feel such strong nostalgic attachment, and it means you're able to articulate things that I "know" about them but never really consider in any depth. I love the way you've highlighted Hermione's peaceful resistance against the problems she identified within the wizarding world - the parallels to the U.S. and WWII were really powerful, seemed "obvious" once you laid them out but I would have never thought of those correlations for myself. This book is definitely the one where the series "grew up" in my mind, and those themes demonstrate that. Thank you!

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks so much Sharee. I find that fantasy authors like to draw real life parallels. Like yourself, so many people who grew up with this series have such nostalgia for it.

Caroline said...

I seem to remember people saying the series gets darker and darker. I might like the latter books better.
With every post I’m more tempted to get back to this.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Caroline - I am well into book six now. Things do get darker. If you gave the series another go I would love to know what you thought.

Rachel said...

Hi Brian! My favorite of the Harry Potter books is the third book, before the story turns dark - though I loved them all. In fact, I am in the process of rereading them now (because I purchased a set of them), and am on the fourth book. I am reading them slowly, though, as I have a lot of books that I haven't read that I should really get to first. :)

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Rachel - This is the first time for me. It seems that so many people liked the third book the best. I am actually in the middle of book six right now. I will be posting about book five soon.

Evelina @ AvalinahsBooks said...

Ooh, what a beautiful cover for this one :) I haven't seen it. Matches how the books get darker by this point.

Hermione's campaign in this book really makes one sad. Both because her efforts are in vain, and because the elves seem like such an unhappy bunch, siding with their masters. Makes you sad. I love your democracy comparison!

Brian Joseph said...

Thsnks Evelina- Hermione’s quest may seem futile, but such human rights campaigns have sometimes taken a very long time in the real world, perhaps this is true of the wizarding world.

MakeupAlley said...

You book review about Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire has been really insightful. I agree with you on a lot of aspects. I have been reading this and found that your insights match with mine.