29/08/2005

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire


I wasn't sure if I wanted to re-read this one. A few years ago when it was published, I read it aloud to my teenage sons, and didn't really like it. I particularly thought the ending was too dark, but thought the rest of it a bit dull too. The first section of the book is about Harry seeing the Quidditch World Cup, and the rest about the Tri-Wizard Tournament that takes place at Hogwarts, with a series of difficult tests for four contestants from different schools.

But JK Rowling is worth a re-read, it seems. Even after finishing the first three books in the past week, I wasn't at all bored by reading the fourth - indeed, despite its length (over 600 page) I completed it in two days. Reading it with hindsight was helpful too: there were no clever surprises, as there were on the first reading; instead I could see where clues were dropped and how cleverly the plot hang together.

The ending is still dark. Very dark. It involves a relatively minor character being killed and some very unpleasant graveyard scenes. Not recommended for sensitive younger children, and I'm not sure if I'll want to see the movie when it comes out since it could be quite disturbing visually.

But this time through, reading straight after the earlier books, I could see the series as a whole and this episode as vital in the development of the overall plot. Indeed I began to wonder if there's a Christian 'end times' thread to the Harry Potter books: they begin with the distinction between those who have a gift, and those who don't: those who can see clearly, and those who are effectively blind to anything beyond the material world. And in a time of relative peace, won by unconditional love and sacrifice, people are still worried under the surface that the Dark Lord might surface and cause chaos and distress.

Gradually, as the books progress, this worry becomes reality and Harry is caught up in the middle of it. The books aren't directly allegorical as such; Dumbledore isn't exactly a God-figure although he's a totally trustworthy sage. The dementors are pretty close to demons. The patronuses are a bit like guardian angels. But looking at the series as a whole, the overall theme is of good vs evil - forget the 'magical' trappings, look instead at the traits that the good side possess: courage, loyalty, honesty, integrity, forgiveness, humour, the ability to distinguish laws from rules, an eagerness for personal growth.

And this book? On re-reading, it's risen from my least favourite to one of the best, in my estimation. Harry and friends are beginning to grow up: there are a few tiny hints about hormones and girl-boy relationships, though far less than would be expected from typical books about 14-year-olds. But it makes it possibly more suitable to an older audience than the earlier books, which were recommended for age 9-11. I would put this more in the 12-15 category myself, but of course it's read and enjoyed by people of all ages, from seven to well over seventy.

For anyone who's come across this review and is suspicious about the books, here's an excellent article I came across which looks at the whole picture of myth, magic, and Harry Potter from a wider Christian perspective than is often found: Harry Potter vs The Muggles.

(You can also see my review of the film Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, which I saw on DVD in 2012)

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