Books one, two and three can be found here.
Let’s just start by saying I will always have a soft spot for The Goblet of Fire simply because Ireland win the Quidditch World Cup in it. Let’s face it, we will never win any Muggle World Cups in anything, so it’s nice to think that somewhere in a magical world, we are champions of the globe. Oh, and in this parallel universe, which is too fantastical for even JK’s imagination…
So onto the plot, which is pretty simple this time around. Harry and co found out at the end of The Prisoner of Azkaban that Ron’s pet rat was really a Voldemort supporter called Peter Pettigrew. Pettigrew was friends with Harry’s dad at Hogwarts, and betrayed his and Lily’s whereabouts to Voldemort, faked his death, killed a bunch of innocent people and framed Harry’s godfather for the whole thing. Said rat evaded justice and is off to rejoin his master. Harry’s scar has been hurting and he’s having weird dreams. At the World Cup, Voldemort’s supporters- the Death Eaters- use the opportunity to make their presence felt, torturing Muggles, firing symbols into the air and generally taking the focus away from Ireland’s victory.
Back to Hogwarts, there’s a new Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher, Mad Eye Moody, a grizzled former Dark Wizard hunter. A competition is also announced. The Triwizard Tournament, long since discontinued due to a string of deaths, has been revived. A champion from Hogwarts, the ever-so Gallic witching academy Beauxbatons and the Sturm und Drang-y Durmstrang, will compete for the glory of their school and a bag of Galleons. With an age line in place, the magical goblet of fire will only choose from entrants aged 17 and above. But of course, somehow fourteen-year-old Harry’s name pops out of the cup.
Someone has entered him into the tournament, but why? And how will he survive the challenges ahead?
It is the first doorstopper Harry Potter book and it generally matches its page weight well. It’s hard to see, where, if anywhere, Rowling could have made cuts, which is always a testament to a long book. Possibly anywhere ruddy Cho Chang is mentioned. I get why she’s there, to make Harry seems like a fully-functional adolescent, but it more or less highlights the PG restriction that Rowling is under. I bet she really enjoyed all the filth she made her Casual Vacancy teens repeat after this.
Of course, sex is the only adult content that is not dealt with in the Harry Potter series. Death and violence abounds. This is the second Harry Potter book where the opening chapter concerns someone other than Harry. This time, we are not watching Uncle Vernon being bamboozled by “weirdos in cloaks”. We are watching an old man, his leg lame from World War II, who is the lonesome caretaker of a manor house. Frank Bryce was wrongly accused of the murder of the manor’s family, the Riddles. The reader knows, or at least suspects, that it was Voldemort who murdered his father and grandparents. So when Frank sees activity up at the house, our reaction is to hope he stays away. Of course he doesn’t, and of course Voldemort murders him. It’s a rather disturbing opener, and somehow too real to be dismissed.
But tragedy does not solely affect the Muggle world. This book had been greatly hyped as the one where Rowling would kill off a character (I’m supposing Quirrell didn’t count). In the end, it came as a bit of a disappointment- and a relief- that it wasn’t anyone we were particularly fond of. Instead the target was Cedric Diggory, who was mentioned a few times in passing in The Prisoner of Azkaban. Despite being Harry’s rival in every sense- in Quidditch, the Tournament and Cho Chang’s heart- Diggory is such a decent sort that Harry can’t help but like him. Even if we didn’t get attached to Cedric enough to mourn his loss, Rowling sketches the grief and shock of the school expertly. It feels real, and that is her real strength. Narrative snark and glorious detail aside, JK Rowling is not the most technically gifted of writers. But the occasional clunkiness in her prose is cancelled out by this wonderful cast of characters and compelling story.
The eventual revelation that Mad Eyed Moody is an imposter, the son of a Ministry official who escaped from Azkaban with his father’s help, is stunning. The fake Moody (the real one has been locked in a magical dungeon in his own suitcase for ten months. Just let that sink in for a moment. Horrible, isn’t it?) is so decent and clearly on Harry’s side throughout, it still a bit of a shock to find out he’s a Death Eater. Even with rereading, you do need to remind yourself that this is not the real Moody.
One particularly blissful moment is when Barty Crouch Jnr, as Moody, turns Malfoy into a ferret and bounces him around the grounds. I know Draco has a bit of a following as a Byronic hero, but in the early books especially he’s a spoiled, nasty little bully with prejudiced ideas he inherited from his parents; ones that he is either too stupid or secure to question. I’m not a fan of Malfoy and I can’t help but think his doubts in the final book are far more about saving his own skin than any questioning of Voldemort’s beliefs. We will see if my opinion stands when I reread book seven.
The story behind Crouch and the flashbacks of the trials are worth novels in themselves. Here we see the paranoia and devastation wreaked by Voldemort. The disintegration of Crouch Snr, a man of order and rules, is chilling, and his son’s ruthlessness even more so. The thing about Barty Crouch Jnr is that he’s not mad. If he was, he would never been able to impersonate Moody for so long or come up with the cunning strategies he uses to get Harry, Cedric and even Neville on side. This makes his actions even worse than those of a madman.
We also encounter Dobby again and other house-elves, and Hermione sets up SPEW to help their cause, whether they like it or not. Then there’s the Rita Skeeter, The Daily Prophet’s most well-known and unscrupulous reporter. Reading about Rita after the Leveson Inquiry, at which Rowling testified, is an interesting experience. She’s a shameless hack, and as much as Rowling protests that Rita was devised before she herself became famous, I suspect she did not have to stretch too far to sketch such a convincing character. I’m sure some at the News of The World wished they had Transfiguration available to them.
The end of The Goblet of Fire is bleak; Fudge refuses to believe Harry and Dumbledore’s version of events, and Lord Voldemort is back. The split between the Ministry and Hogwarts would form the faultline for the next book.
Notes on My Copy: Now this was definitely the first book I bought as soon as it came out. It was the year 2000, and The Goblet of Fire had been well and truly hyped up by the media. There were no midnight queues in small-town Ireland, but I’m pretty sure I bought it as soon as the shop opened the next day.
This copy is in even a worse state that The Prisoner of Azkaban. The back cover is exactly like Nearly Headless Nick’s noggin- hanging on by a thread. I think I must have been filling in a World Cup/Euro Championship chart because the names of Dutch and Czech soccer players are written on the back cover. Even more bizarrely, the words ‘Legato a L’assassino’ are written on the back cover. This was the Italian translation of the Colin Farrell movie Phone Booth, but why I wrote it on The Goblet of Fire I could not tell you. I was a pretty weird teenager, in case you hadn’t already guessed.