Harry's entry into the Tri-Wizard tournament as an under-age competitor reflects his wider life, where he has been consistently thrust into situations he hasn't asked for and which are more than anyone of his young age could rightly be expected to face. The tournament sets wizarding schools against one another and this highlights the dangers of chasing individual glory at the expense of co-operation and community. As the champions attempt to gain an advantage over their competitors they prove themselves capable of lying, cheating, and becoming completely single-minded. However, there are moments too where they choose to selflessly assist each other, whether through a shared need to succeed or a sense of what's 'right'. Though Harry is occasionally seduced by the idea of winning the tournament and receiving all the glory and plaudits, he never becomes enthralled and doesn't allow the potential success to corrupt his self. That the competitors are able to become friends by the end of the tournament is testament to the strength and merit of co-operation over single-minded self-progression.
Rowling makes some powerful statements about fairness and diversity, the nature of courage, and friendship. Voldemort is the posionous antithesis of all these virtues; a pitiless loner who chooses to command rather than connect with people, and who loves power. As ever Rowling affirms the values of courage and fairness, of finding the strength to stand against what is wrong in oneself and one's friends. As ever, the reader is taught not to jump to conclusions. From Mad-Eye Moody to the mysterious merpeople, very little is how it is first represented and Harry and the reader learn to accept cautiously and not to rely on pre-conceptions when forming judgements.
Harry is surrounded by injustice, from the apathetic misuse of house elves by the majority of the wizarding world to the cruel elitism of the Death Eaters. Hermione battles the enslavement of the houselves who, as uneducated and voiceless servants, are tied to their wizarding family and forced to do whatever they are commanded. This refusal to accept intolerance and the misuse of inferiors is the flipside of Voldemort's contempt for everyone he considers to be outside his selected group of 'pure-bloods'. Sweeping and mindless hate like this is seen as the great evil and, in her own small way, Hermione's fight against the oppression of houselves, which has at its heart compassion and a will to accept uncomfortable truths, offers the solution to hatred and prejudice.
As well as the new interest in romance and the sexual tension between certain characters, there are other elements of adolescence that become obvious, most clearly self-awareness. Here, the young characters become more self-conscious, worrying about how their actions are perceived by others and where they sit within the social hierarchy. To make matters worse, Harry's involvement in the tournament means he becomes a serious media target and is hounded throughout the year by tabloid journalist Rita Skeeter - this is a nice bit of satire and demonstrates the parasitic side of the media, which by this point Rowling herself would have experienced, and warns of the dangers that come along with fame. Through Skeeter's pursuit of him, Harry becomes increasingly aware that he has a public image to be managed as well as a private one.
Rowling's writing takes on a new richness here. There are some wonderfully vivid scenes, notably the Quidditch World Cup and the Yule ball, both events which paint a richer picture of the wizarding world whilst blending it with our own, and sculpting a vivid memory for the reader. However, when all the detail is stripped away the plot is a little disappointing, with little drive and too little genuine conflict until the latter stages. The villain's account at the end, which explains all that came before, is a fairly poor device and doesn't wholly make up for the lack of direction early on. Added to this the plot feels unnecessarily convoluted at times, in particular the ridiculously circuitous and unreliable route taken to achieve the ends of having Harry touch the port key at the novel's conclusion when any object could have been used at any point. Yet the novel's final set-piece is wonderful - as Rowling has demonstrated previously, she knows how to write thrilling, and poignant conclusions to her books. This is no exception.
The main characters become ever more complex and their teenage angst provides an extra dimension to them as heroes. Other than Harry's increasing self-consciousness, perhaps the most interesting development here is Ron and Hermione's relationship as it begins to hint at something more than friendship. In contrast, while other characters evolve around him, Malfoy is oddly stagnant at this point, failing to develop beyond the stereotypical bully. His development comes later in the series than most, and this sticks out increasingly as the majority of the ongoing characters only become more refined and complex.
The Goblet of Fire is the first book that ends on a down, and this is important leading into the darker, more perilous books in the series, where the real sense that things won't work out perfectly is only enhanced by having Harry face truly bleak outcomes. As Harry begins to develop a greater self-awareness so too he becomes more aware of the outside world and how he fits into it - for the first time he truly appreciates how wide the wizarding world that he is a part of really is. With some brilliant set-pieces, The Goblet of Fire provides some of the most memorable scenes from the series as a whole and this, more than anything, is why it is one of the most enjoyed of the Potter books.
Reviews of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire on Amazon (UK)
Reviews of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire on Amazon (US)
Film adaptation of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire on Amazon (US)
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