Sonderbooks Book Review of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

Sonderbooks Book Reviews by Sondra Eklund

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I don't review books I don't like!

*****= An all-time favorite
****  = Outstanding
***    = Above average
**      = Enjoyable
*        = Good, with reservations

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*****Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

by J. K. Rowling

Reviewed June 17, 2003.
Arthur A. Levine Books (Scholastic), New York, 2000.  734 pages.
Available at Sembach Library (JF ROW).
A Sonderbooks Best Book of 2001.
A Sonderbooks’ Stand-out of 2003:  #3, Young Adult and Children's Fantasy Old Favorites

Whew!  I finished my project of reading the Harry Potter books in German just in time for Book 5 to come out on June 21st.  A chapter of German, a chapter of English--What could be a more fun way to practice reading German?  Only, funny thing, it took forever to read Book 4!

First, I think I should state up front why I feel that there is no conflict between my Christianity and my loving this book.  Yes, I know that God forbids witchcraft.  This book, however, is fantasy.  The witchcraft in this book does not require using the power of Satan.  This book presents a fantasy scenario in which God has given some people, from birth, the gift of magic.  It is completely clear that the author is not suggesting that anyone in real life would be able to do the magic that Harry Potter does.

I do think that these books are masterpieces.  Mind you, some people like fantasy, and some people don’t.  If you’re already an adult who doesn’t like fantasy, these books will not win you over.  If you do love fantasy (and you all know that I’m a huge fan), then I imagine you’ll thoroughly enjoy these books.  It didn’t take Harry Potter to get me to read kids’ books, but I’m glad some other adults are now discovering the delights they contain.  Just because you missed it as a child, doesn’t mean you have to miss it all your life!

For me, in many ways, fantasy speaks more directly to my life than more “realistic” books.  If I am not in the situation of the person in a true-to-life book, then it doesn’t seem to apply to me.  Fantasy, through its symbolism, can apply to many different situations.

I love the following paragraph by Madeleine L’Engle (found in Glimpses of Grace, compiled from her writings by Carole F. Chase):  “Nonetheless, myth is the closest approximation to truth available to the finite human being.  And the truth of myth is not limited by time or place.  A myth tells of that which was true, is true, and will be true.”

Although she’s speaking of higher things, I think that her words also can be applied to fantasy books, like Harry Potter, with mythic elements, as well as her own writings.  There is a broader scope to fantasy.

Reading this book again, I was more impressed than ever.  On my first reading, a few details bothered me.  I didn’t like it that Ron swears occasionally.  I didn’t think it realistic that an interscholastic tournament would require the participants to spend the entire year at the host school.  I didn’t think it fair to the students that there wasn’t any Hogwarts Quidditch.  Most of all, I thought the Dark Lord’s plot to get Harry was a bit too elaborate for me to entirely believe.

This time through, I’d gotten past those details.  I was tremendously impressed with how richly she is deepening her characters in each book.  After the first book, I thought some of her characters were rather flat.  I’m prejudiced against any children’s book with a bully, being lucky enough not to have known any in my own childhood, so I didn’t like Harry’s attitude toward Draco Malfoy and Professor Snape.

I admit that Draco Malfoy isn’t gaining a lot of depth, but J. K. Rowling is doing fascinating things with the character of Snape.  In this book, we learn about his dark past.  Yet for some reason, Dumbledore trusts him, and we don’t know all the reasons why.  It looks like Snape, who still acts hatefully and unfairly toward Harry, is nevertheless on the side of the Good.

Also on the side of the Good are other people who are by no means perfect.  One character is dramatically and self-righteously opposed to evil--and turns out to be quite hateful toward his own son when he seems to have joined the Dark Side.  Through this and many other characters, we see that there’s more to Good and Evil than a simple choosing of sides.  Some of the people who have chosen Good do hateful things, and others do stupid things.  Some who have chosen Evil turn around and do noble, self-sacrificing things.  By this time, the characterizations are by no means flat or hollow.

Of course, the books also come out strongly against prejudice.  By making the targets of prejudice Muggles or half-giants, we can all see how unfair and wrong it is, in a much more far-reaching way than if she was dealing with a real-life target of prejudice that we may or may not have experienced.

I still think that her greatest strength is probably her use of imaginative details.  I’m looking forward to seeing Fred and George develop more joke products like “Tongue-Ton Toffee” and “Canary Creams.”  Who else has ever thought of inventing a candy that makes the eater turn briefly into a canary?  Her wonderful sense of humor keeps the big and heavy themes from overpowering the book.

I was amazed by how strong the Dark Lord had grown by the end of the book.  I had expected him not to regain his power until, say, Book 6.  Going into Book 5, we know that the Dark Lord has regained his power, and that there is no one he would rather kill than Harry Potter.  Things are going to get dramatic!  I can hardly wait!

I do have to say that the Harry Potter books are some of the best books for reading aloud that I have ever come across.  The humor is mixed in so perfectly with the drama.  When we originally read Goblet of Fire together as a family, ending it while on vacation, we ended up with many discussions about the ideas and what we thought would or should happen next.  I hope that I will have the self-restraint to also read the next one together with my family.  It takes so much longer, but then, it wouldn’t be fair for one of us to get to read the book before the others.  I’m not saying I won’t read a chapter ahead now and then, but I’m afraid you won’t be able to expect my review of Book 5 until a few weeks after June 21st.

Year One at Hogwarts:  Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
Year Two at Hogwarts:  Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
Year Three at Hogwarts:  Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
Year Five at Hogwarts:  Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix 
Year Six at Hogwarts:  Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
Year Seven at Hogwarts:  Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows audiobook
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child
Tales of Beedle the Bard

Copyright © 2005 Sondra Eklund.  All rights reserved.

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