Reading by Ear: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J. K. Rowling
read by Jim Dale

As I mentioned in my review of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is, in fact, my favorite novel out of the entire series. It’s the novel where the rest of the series is set up, it’s the novel where these adorable British children become teenagers, and it’s the novel that opens the worldbuilding up… even while bringing up questions about that worldbuilding. It was also the Harry Potter book that introduced midnight book releases into the world, for which I am eternally grateful. I myself was nine when I attended this very book release. I still have that copy… the spine is broken, but I still have it.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire follows the titular boy wizard as he enters his fourth year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. After witnessing some harrowing pro-Voldemort violence at the Quidditch World Cup, Harry arrives back at Hogwarts to find the Quidditch season replaced by the Triwizard Tournament, a newly resurrected competition which aims to connect the young magical community on an international level, and, as always, a new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher—retired Auror Mad-Eye Moody. When Harry, an ineligible candidate, is chosen as a Triwizard champion, he’s forced to compete, despite the fact that this may be an attempt on Harry’s life. But even in the midst of all of that, Harry and his friends find time to be regular kids—for instance, Harry’s growing attraction to Cho Chang…

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is very different from the three books that precede it. Yes, there’s a mystery—who put Harry’s name into the Goblet of Fire?—but there’s little to no urgency there until the very end. And it’s also the book where the trio discover that they are teenagers. I think the best way to sum it up is the moment when Ron, anxious for a date for the Yule Ball, suddenly stares at Hermione and realizes that she is, in fact, a girl. (Hermione scoffs at this, naturally.) Harry, a fundamentally nice (albeit self-centered) kid, deals with romance for the first time, as he actually screws up the courage to talk to Cho, who was introduced as a love interest in the last book. But it’s not just romance; Harry and Ron have their first real argument, centering on Harry’s fame, and there’s even a quiet, awkward moment where Ron despairs of being poor and Harry and Hermione have no idea what to do. They’re growing up.

During this particular read (or listen), two things particularly jumped out at me—the way Rowling manages to capture the fragile, anxious masculinity of teenage boys and Harry’s overwhelming desire for a family. At the beginning of the book, Harry experiences a terrible pain in his scar, but frets about who to tell, because he doesn’t want to overreact. It’s handled quite deftly throughout the book; Harry’s first forays in the world of dating, his adoration of Sirius (the ultimate bad boy), and his argument with Ron… they all ring true for a boy his age. Hopefully, this will get me through Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, which is infamous for Harry’s whining. I was particularly touched by Harry’s desire for a family here, since this is the novel where he finally becomes absorbed into the Weasley clan. Mrs. Weasley begins to actively want to take Harry away from the Dursleys and into her home, especially towards the end of the book. But I think the thing that got me sniffling the most was the moment the shades of the Potters appear during Harry’s duel with Lord Voldemort; the small exchange Harry has with his mother is just haunting.

I loved this one as a kid because it was the first time we saw French and American witches and wizards. This time around, I still loved that; getting to see that the wizarding world is more than a tiny British community is great, especially combined with seeing magical families with little kids at the World Cup. We also learn more about the first rise of Lord Voldemort, including the introduction of Bellatrix Lestrange and what happened to Neville’s parents. Oh, Neville. Thinking about Neville makes me get angry at Harry for being self-centered; even Moody wonders why Harry didn’t even bother to ask him for help with any of the Triwizard tasks. You deserve better, Neville, and you got it in the film, I think. (Oh, we’ll get to those, we’ll get to those.) We get more depth to that story, which I absolutely love. In some ways, I like the story of the first rise of Lord Voldemort better than the second.

However, the worldbuilding is just shaky enough to leave me with a handful of questions. The first and foremost—how sentient are veela? I’m going to hope they’re on the same level as humans (with legal rights!), because otherwise the Delacours are going to give me the heebie-jeebies from now on. If Veritaserum exists, why isn’t it used at every trial ever, to prevent innocent people from being punished for things they didn’t do? Why doesn’t Harry see the Thestrals at the end of this book? (Rowling does have a reason for it; she didn’t want to leave the book on a cliffhanger, no matter how small.) It gives you the feeling that Rowling was occasionally improvising; some things are planned out, but not all. While it’s always fun to come up with the reasons, it’s less akin to pondering about the unmapped parts of Middle-earth and more akin to wondering if that particular beam is steady.

And I can’t believe I went this entire review without gushing over Cedric, honestly nice dude. You will be missed, man, you will be missed.

Bottom line: The Harry Potter series grows up in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, as the trio discover romance, growing pains, and, of course, someone trying to murder Harry. The worldbuilding, although as rickety as ever, expands nicely, and the stakes are raised higher than ever.

I rented this audiobook from the public library.

6 thoughts on “Reading by Ear: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

  1. This is one of my favorites of the HP books too! It was the first one that felt to me like a proper book, with a beginning, middle, and end, rather than just a series of incidents with a confrontation at the end.

  2. This is the book that I felt was the most poorly plotted — it’s not my least favorite (second one is!), but I can’t stand the plot. Why would whatshisface wait until the tournament to make his move? That makes NO SENSE. Arrrrrggggh.

    On the subject of Veritaserum, I thought the thing about that was that if you were prepared for it, you could fight it. Like you could do an occlumency-type thing to be able to say what you wanted. Did I make that up?

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