This has gone so much faster than I anticipated! It’s been only a touch over a week and I’ve already powered though four books in this incredible/amazing/magical/fantastic/perfect series! I began book five today, but I also got my holiday work schedule and, friends, the book reading train is about to be derailed. But! Enough of that! Let’s chat about Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire!
I don’t remember being a huge fan of this installment when I was younger, but I really enjoyed it way more than I was expecting! The film is pretty up there for me, but maybe that’s because, like most girls at Hogwarts, I’m ga-ga for Cedric Diggory. I totally go to pieces every time Harry returns to Hogwarts with Cedric’s body, and the book made me cry just as much in that scene. Thinking about it is making my eyes sting so let’s move on!
So, we finally got into some social justice action with the house-elves! Go Hermione! I’ve been talking about this a lot, and it was great to get real, actual dialogue from characters about this issue. It was disconcerting to hear some of the things that trusted characters said about the issue, but the conversation wouldn’t be worth having if it wasn’t hard, and it certainly wouldn’t be relevant if there weren’t differing opinions. It’s hard to make up my own mind about the house-elf quandary, largely because it is nearly impossible to get to the truth of the matter. On one side, we have Hermione championing freedom and rights for the house-elves, on the other side we have Wizarding families claiming it’s the natural order, on another side we have the house-elves claiming they like their positions and don’t want freedom. Then, on each of these sides, we have more divisions — some house-elves are treated poorly, like Winky and others, like the Hogwarts elves, who seem to be treated quite well; some house-elves, like Dobby, want to be free, and others, like Winky, scorn the idea; some families bemoan the idea of paying elves, while Dumbledore is willing to pay Dobby quite liberally. Even Hermione gets a little twisted about during the course of the novel. We don’t get any real resolution or even real action on this issue. Things get busy elsewhere and the camera moves away from the plight of the house-elves, but I highly doubt this is the last we’ll hear of the issue.
We also saw more prejudice against another group — the Giants. We, as readers, have only had experience with two giants, Hagrid and Madame Maxime, and neither of them have given us any reason to dislike them (unless Maxime’s pride gets to you). Again, we see Ron (who, it is important to mention, has met only the same two giants we have — as far as we know) reacting to news of Hagrid’s heritage with prejudicial outrage. Rowling is using him as a representation of the Wizarding community as a general body, I think, since he’s the only one of the three that grew up as a wizard in a Wizarding home. We can judge the rest of the community (what they believe, what they know, what they like or don’t like) by Ron, however, this clearly doesn’t hold water every time. Clearly, Ron and Malfoy differ in opinion on the status of Muggle-born wizards, but he still is acting as a representation of a faction of wizards in the same way that Malfoy is. Regardless, Ron doesn’t appear to cling very strongly to these convictions since by the end they’ve all mended with Hagrid, but his reaction is important. Like with Lupin, he lets his ingrained prejudice against the species override his own personal knowledge of and experience with the person. He stops seeing them, for however brief a moment, as the people he knows and is fond of, and instead sees them as the monsters that he’s been taught they are. For the most part, it seems that the Wizarding community at large shares the same prejudices with Ron, however, we do hear Dumbledore tell Hagrid that many people wrote to him begging that Hagrid stay on at Hogwarts despite Rita Skeeter’s damning article, since they know him from their own Hogwarts days and remember him kindly. Still, the Minister of Magic, the leader of the wizarding world and a figure of popular opinion, holds onto his prejudice enough to refuse Dumbledore’s plea to send an envoy to the giants in the aftermath of Voldemort’s resurrection — most of this is probably from denial that Voldemort has risen, but I am sure that no small part of it is prejudice against the giants themselves. Fudge would rather stand alone against Voldemort, than condescend to recruit the giants to his side — risking their alliance with Voldemort. Prejudice runs wide and deep in this community, as it does in any.
Realting to Hermione’s social justice streak, I think another theme that’s strong in this novel is one that I should have expected — but as with the prejudice theme, I forget that these people are people living in our modern world, even though they are also wizards. Having magic abilities doesn’t prevent you from having prejudice, and being a wizard teen doesn’t exempt you from teen angst, and WOW there was a lot of unleashed teen energy in this novel. We get it from all sides — Hermione lets out her feelings by leading the S.P.E.W charge and getting revenge on Rita Skeeter; Ron misinterprets his feelings about Hermione, which gets him into some nasty rows with her, and he also is dealing with unchecked and unexamined feelings of inadequacy, competition, and jealousy which gets him into a tangle with Harry early on; and Harry’s own stress and anxiety prolong issues with Ron and gets him into a couple of verbal (and magical) confrontations with his enemies outside of the tournament. It’s really frustrating to read these arguments, especially the ones between our trio, when we, as the reader, know exactly what’s happening that’s fudging things up, and also, as an adult who has faced similar issues, it’s frustrating that I can’t just reach into the novel and shake Harry and tell him that more often than not, it’s better just to let things go, or tell Ron that he’s perfect and enough just as he is.
We are rewarded for our strain though (or at least I am!), by some wonderful scenes of happiness and family. We get to see Harry having the time of his life at the Burrow and at the Quidditch World Cup, we get a beautiful reunion between Harry and Ron (I was totally a sobbing mess like Hermione), and we get more moments of Harry being taken in with the Weasley family that are so heart-warming. I shed a tear when Harry arrived in at the family event to find Mrs. Weasley and Bill, and when Mrs. Weasley comforted Harry after his near-death experience with Voldemort. We also see Harry giving his Triwizard winnings to Fred and George, so they can pursue their dreams.
Harry very frequently exposes himself as a genuine, caring, and thoughtful person — which is vastly important for young boys to see — and is in touch with his feelings and his emotions, and never shies from them (unless Ron is watching. Boys are so silly sometimes). Dobby was one of the first to remark on this, saying that while he believed Harry was magnificent because of his triumph over Voldemort as an infant, he never believed that as well as powerful and famous, Harry could be generous and kind beyond measure. This may not mean much coming from a house-elf whose idea of kindness is someone not kicking him, but Harry displays his good nature and pure heart so frequently over the course of the novel that I sometimes find myself in a state of Dobby-esque admiration. Rowling really pulled a fast one on us here — he’s not this way due to any innate characteristic, but because of the horrid life he’s lived. I’ve spoken a lot about how much I resent Harry’s upbringing, because he’s so good and kind that I feel he deserved a happy life — but if he had a perfect happy life, if the Dursley’s hadn’t been so wicked to him, could he have become the person he is? He’s suffered and lost more than the average person, he’s been downtrodden and lonely, he’s been treated as if he were nothing or a criminal. Because his life leading up to his time at Hogwarts was so horrid and foul, he’s become emotionally intelligent. He knows how to read people and he knows what it feels like to lack and to lose, so he’s eager to mend those feelings in others. He’s grateful for every act of kindness and generosity, and humbled by every kind word or warm feeling. It’s so refreshing to read, and it makes us appreciate Harry so much more. There are a lot of foul and surly characters in these novels, plenty of people I wouldn’t want to be within ten miles of, and a plethora of situations that make my skin crawl with anxiety, but I think that all works to make those few moments of pure happiness and joy and family seem even brighter by comparison.
Well, I guess as Harry predicted in The Prisoner of Azkaban, we’re going to suffer, but we’re going to be happy about it!
How does Goblet of Fire rank on your list? Which Triwizard trial would you least like to do?