Sunday, May 16, 2010

The Beginning? – Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (novel)

Ever wonder how to set up a multiple book series? Why not study one of the most popular and famous series in print – Harry Potter. Now I know a lot of writers who look down on J.K. Rowling and her series, but I find them to be great reads and constantly entertaining and compelling. I think she did a good job not only telling her story, but laying it out. Reading the series through a second time I’ve been focusing on the way she constructs her tale. It goes without saying that I’m going to go into spoiler territory here. I’m also assuming you are familiar with most of the names and terminology here.

The fourth book in a seven book series, “Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire” (I’ll continue calling it “Goblet” for short), is the point where Rowling changes everything about the series. What started out as a playful series of adventures and fun takes its first real step into darkness. The most obvious are the death of student near the end of the book. In addition you have the return of the greatest force of evil in the series, now back to full power and prepared to wage war on the forces of goodness. But let’s take a look at some of the details that Rowling uses beyond these obvious points.

The first few chapters deal with Harry and the Weasley family enjoying the Quidditch World Cup. On the surface these scenes serve the basic function of providing Quidditch action in a book that won’t have any during the school year. But it also expands the scope of Rowling’s world in an entertaining way. We see that there are magical societies outside of the ones we are familiar with in England. This wider view not only fleshes out the world, but also makes the stakes of the later books higher. We understand that Voldemort’s desire for control of the magical world extends beyond the British Isles and into a larger world.

The other key element in this sequence is the appearance of The Death Eaters, Lord Voldemort’s followers. Up to this point, they’ve been kept as a vague idea, something that happened long ago. But we see them in action here, and Harry as well as the reader gets a sense of the fear they can generate. And when the Dark Mark appears and causes a frenzy of fear – things become even clearer.

At school Harry first hears about the wizards who battle the Dark Arts, called Aurors. These are embodied by Mad Eye Moody, a scarred, paranoid and dangerous wizard who teaches at the school. Moody in this book is a key element. Not only does he represent the tolls of battle against the dark arts, but he also shows the kind of will and personality needed in a time of war – something none of the children have ever considered. And beneath that is the secret that Moody hides – he’s not the real Moody at all, but an imposter. He’s a dark wizard working for Voldemort and doing his best to deliver Harry Potter to his master. This undermining of a dangerous Auror shows us very clearly how dangerous things are about to become.

It is the climax of this book that changes the tone of the series. The moment Cedric is killed in the cemetery nothing is ever the same for Harry Potter. He can’t turn aside from facing down Voldemort. He can’t ignore the consequences of his actions. In many ways, when Wormtail stabs Harry with the knife, he kills the child, and the adult Harry Potter is born.

The last chapter of the book is called “The Beginning” and it is fitting in many ways. This book marks the beginning of the war story that takes the rest of the series to complete. This marks the beginning of adult Harry and the final stages of his hero’s journey. From this book forward there is little time to be a child any more. The world has become too dangerous, and that danger is focused on Harry Potter.

What do you think of Rowling’s approach to this vital section of her Harry Potter story? Any other elements you can think of that reflect the major change in storytelling in this series? What did you think of this book in comparison to the others?

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