JK Rowling’s fourth book, #5 Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, is a top-10 finalist on the Big Read list, and is more than 15 places ahead of the first three books in the series. I find this interesting because I’m inclined to agree with the placing but it’s impossible for me to determine why the gap appeared.
A slow beginning
As in the other three books, Rowling dwells on the ordinary-extraordinary lives of the wizarding world she’s created. It’s a thick book – over 600 pages – and the tension and the peril builds slowly. In fact, there are whole chapters which could be reduced to a paragraph or a sentence to move the plot along but which are enjoyable to read and let the reader spend more time hanging out in this fantasy world.
This is my favourite book of the four, but rereading it I thought it was too long. Most of the memorable action takes place in the last few chapters, and knowing what’s coming makes it harder to settle in to watch the schoolroom dramas unfold.
That said, Goblet of Fire is a complex novel and doing some heavy lifting in setting up the final three books, so perhaps it would be harder to prune than I tend to think. The editor in me itches to try though!
Goblet of Fire marks the shift, to my mind, from children’s literature to young adult. The characters have grown up and the peril has grown up too.
In school terms, the fourth year is when studying begins to get serious – exams are on the horizon and students have to start making choices which will affect their future careers. In teenage terms as well, it’s a year for crushes and relationships, when friendships are tested and romances start.
Harry’s growth is mirrored by Voldemort’s, and in book four the Dark Lord is undergoing his own growing pains. It’s an interesting juxtaposition, and the fact that it happens so conveniently – that Voldemort can come back with a larger threat, just as Harry is growing ready to meet it – is one of those big lies of narrative fiction you just have to live with. It’s not usually that interesting if the hero gets wiped out in the last chapter but two, even though it might be more realistic.
The second half of Goblet of Fire is quite different from the earlier books – it’s darker, more serious and deals with more complex ideas. To my mind it’s a better book – having reread the last three as well, I’d say it’s the best of the lot.
Overall, I find it hard to fault the Harry Potter books. There’s plenty of detail to complain about but the world is rich and intriguing and the stories do keep dragging you along with them, which is the most important thing, to my mind. I hadn’t really intended to reread books five through seven, but having gotten Harry and friends to the end of book four – well, I couldn’t just leave them there. And any series which holds my attention for a couple thousand extra pages is one I have to recommend.