Rowling’s 4th book in the series, Goblet of Fire really takes what has been a pretty insulated world and expands it drastically. Here we get a close look into the size of and variety within the Ministry of Magic, exposure to Harry’s past and the world’s past, and a sense of the culture/politics operating in the wizarding world. It’s almost as though Jo realized at the start of this book that she needed to push at the boundaries of her landscape pretty heavily because shit is getting so. dang. real. We get a sense of this from the very beginning. We have the first opening chapter of a book (so far) to begin away from Harry (though we find out that he’s linked through his dream) and the chapter not only foreshadows Voldemort’s return but also shows a dangerous crossing of the streams between the Wizard and Muggle worlds. Frank’s death shows the chaotic and wide-spread effects of Voldemort, and it strikes me as a really intentional move here, because we’ve had pretty insular effects from the Dark Lord up to this point. Certainly Rowling has provided whispers about the anarchy of the past, but so far in the present we’ve had relatively contained bad guys, and it can’t be an accident that we have this first convenience killing in the book that so drastically widens the scope of the narrative and the textual landscape.
In my read-through this time, I was struck by how completely uncomfortable the dispute between Harry and Ron made me. There are so many lovely plot elements and cool story pieces at work in these books, and it’s easy to forget how completely integral the friendship between The Three (Harry, Ron, Hermione) is. There seems to be a pretty strong emphasis in this text on the importance of Harry and Ron’s relationship, and Hermione’s role, as is often the case it seems, is to act as the mature, level-headed, and responsible character who acts as the group’s foundation for success. Seriously, I don’t think it can be said often enough how awesome Hermione is.
One of the other elements at play in Goblet of Fire, an element that will come back to haunt us in later books, is the Dumbledore as deus ex machina piece of the story. Though it’s certainly there in earlier books, the idea of Dumbledore playing the really long game and being the “one whom Voldemort always feared” seems to be especially present in the 4th book. Harry thinks his secret correspondence with Sirius, full of talks of strategies and attempts to decipher plot elements, is, well, secret, but we find out that Sirius, whom Harry thinks is a sort of ace up his sleeve is actually a piece in Dumbledore’s larger game, just as is Moody, Snape, and even Harry himself. And don’t get me wrong, that scene at the end when Dumbledore busts into the office, drops Barty Crouch Jr. like a bad habit, and sends Harry into bouts of awe just with the blazing look in his eyes, I mean, that scene rocks. But there’s a way in which it serves to reinforce the idea that Dumbledore is always watching, always alert, and always there to save people when they need it. Sure, Barty Crouch Jr. was able to wear a Moody suit under Dumbledore’s crooked nose for most of the year, but when things got really bad, and it seemed all was lost, he was there because he was observant enough to detect the Moody switch and powerful enough to stupefy faux-Moody through a door and still slam him to the floor. The scene emphasizes that Dumbledore is the goddamn man, that’s for sure, but I can’t help but feel a little bit like I’ve been given a slightly-too-obvious safety blanket. I’m certainly not saying I dislike Dumbledore (The book 5 fight–you know the one I’m talking about: that has to be one of the most badass chunks of any of the books), but there’s a way in which Rowling’s own dependence on him, her own staging of him as the Deus Ex Machina, is revealed here at the end of this book. And yeah, Rowling is a good enough writer to do something with this in the future, but here I can’t help but feel uncomfortable with how comfortable I am.
And finally, there’s Cedric. God. I remember when I read this book the very first time. It took me all day, and I didn’t finish until 10:30 or 11:00pm, which meant I’d read all day and my eyes felt like they’d been scrubbed with extra strength lemon juice. I fell asleep right after finishing it, woke up the next morning, went up for breakfast, and found that I couldn’t sit at the table with my family because I couldn’t stop crying. Why was I crying? Because Cedric F’ing Diggory, barely a major character in this story, died and Dumbledore said those really nice things about him. The end of the Headmaster’s speech kept running through my head, and after reading it this time (several years later) I still found myself tearing up: “Remember Cedric. Remember, if the time should come when you have to make a choice between what is right and what is easy, remember what happened to a boy who was good, and kind, and brave, because he strayed across the path of Lord Voldemort. Remember Cedric Diggory.” It struck me as a beautiful and painful sentiment then, and it still does now. And really, what are these books about if not standing up for what is good and right in the face of all the hard stuff your world has to throw at you.