Wednesday, March 13, 2013


First Paragraph: By twelve o’clock the next day, Harry’s school trunk was packed with his school things and all his most prized possessions — the Invisibility Cloak he had inherited from his father, the broomstick he had gotten from Sirius, the enchanted map of Hogwarts he had been given by Fred and George Weasley last year. He had emptied his hiding place under the loose floorboard of all food, double-checked every nook and cranny of his bedroom for forgotten spellbooks or quills, and taken down the chart on the wall counting down the days to September the first, on which he liked to cross off the days remaining until his return to Hogwarts.

Today we're talking about Chapter 4, Esteemed Reader, which means we only have 33 chapters left to go! I'm sure the next 33 weeks will just fly by. I mean, what are the odds I'm going to be tired of talking about Harry Potter before then?

Actually, I'm looking forward to it. For me, the story begins to hit its stride here in Chapter 4 of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. We've still got plenty of exposition to sift through before Harry arrives back at Hogwarts, but at the end of Chapter 4, he leaves his Aunt and Uncle's house (to go Back to the Burrow!), so we at least feel like we're on our way:) 

From a pacing perspective, Rowling has made some odd (but brilliant, naturally) choices in Book 4. When I read a Harry Potter book, I'm always impatient for Harry to get to Hogwarts because that's where most of the magic happens and that's where my favorite characters are. I'm in for a wait this time around as Harry doesn't arrive at Hogwarts until the last sentence of Chapter 11 of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

I mentioned this in my review of Chapter 1 and I'm sure I'll bring it up again in future chapters, but I am in awe of Rowling's confidence, of her certainty in her story and craft. Surely, someone in the process of publishing book 4 had to comment it was far longer than the previous three and made suggestions for Rowling to trim some of the fat.

Supposing Chapter 2 was for some reason necessary, Chapters 3 and 4 might be good candidates for the chopping. After all, Harry's latest troubles with the Dursleys are always fun, but are completely unrelated to anything else in this novel. Harry's later adventure with dragons, magic eggs, merpeople, and the most exciting toparary fiction since The Shining, has nothing to do with the Dursleys or these chapters. Why not start the story with Harry Potter being selected for the Triwizard tournament, already at Hogwarts? 

What I like about Chapter 4 is it's own justification. It's the story's first pay off moment for a set-up that started two chapters ago. You'll remember Dudley Dursley is on a diet and just in case you've forgotten, Rowling reminds us again this chapter:

Lunch was an almost silent meal. Dudley didn't even protest at the food (cottage cheese and grated celery).

You'll also remember from the previous two chapters that Ron and the other Weasleys have been sending him food to help him survive the summer on Dudley's diet. See how Rowling reveals something's up:

Fred and George came back into the room carrying Harry’s school trunk. They glanced around as they entered and spotted Dudley. Their faces cracked into identical evil grins.

The purpose of this chapter within the context of the larger story is mostly to get a laugh early. Sure, Fred and George conjuring magical tricks and candies is going to be a larger part of the plot of multiple books, but this chapter is about torturing the Dursleys and allowing the Weasley family to earn the reader's love. This is the sort of plot diversion that really only works smack dab in the middle of a series rather than the beginning of a standalone book.

I would argue that though decidedly unpleasant, Dudley hasn't done much to Harry in this book to deserve his comeuppance. He's done plenty in previous novels, of course, and the return reader will be happy to see Dudley magically tortured once again. But he's mostly paying for previous crimes. More important, the reader will appreciate representatives from the Weasley family first standing up for Harry:

“Well . . .’bye then,” Harry said to the Dursleys. 
They didn't say anything at all. Harry moved toward the fire, but just as he reached the edge of the hearth, Mr. Weasley put out a hand and held him back. He was looking at the Dursleys in amazement. 
“Harry said good-bye to you,” he said. “Didn’t you hear him?” 
“It doesn’t matter,” Harry muttered to Mr. Weasley. “Honestly, I don’t care.” 
Mr. Weasley did not remove his hand from Harry’s shoulder. 
“You aren’t going to see your nephew till next summer,” he said to Uncle Vernon in mild indignation. “Surely you’re going to say good-bye?”

And then torturing the Dursleys: 

“See you,” said Harry, putting one foot forward into the green flames, which felt pleasantly like warm breath. At that moment, however, a horrible gagging sound erupted behind him, and Aunt Petunia started to scream.
Harry wheeled around. Dudley was no longer standing behind his parents. He was kneeling beside the coffee table, and he was gagging and sputtering on a foot-long, purple, slimy thing that was protruding from his mouth. One bewildered second later, Harry realized that the foot-long thing was Dudley’s tongue — and that a brightly colored toffee wrapper lay on the floor before him.

Just as we saw Harry stand up to Uncle Vernon last week, establishing his character, this scene establishes the character of the Weasleys. And more, it's just fun. Readers everywhere enjoy seeing Dudley tortured. It's a small celebration, like a fountain of sparks before Rowling busts out the Gandalf-style fireworks she has in store for us later in the tale. 

That's all I have to say this week. What do you make of Chapter 4, Esteemed Reader? Have I missed something? I'll leave you with my favorite similes from the chapter:

Bellowing like a wounded hippo, Uncle Vernon snatched up another ornament. 

The Dursleys rounded on Harry like a pair of angry wolverines.

Meet me here next week for a discussion of Chapter 5.

Last Paragraph: Harry didn't want to miss the fun, but Uncle Vernon’s second ornament narrowly missed his left ear, and on balance he thought it best to leave the situation to Mr. Weasley. He stepped into the fire, looking over his shoulder as he said “the Burrow!” His last fleeting glimpse of the living room was of Mr. Weasley blasting a third ornament out of Uncle Vernon’s hand with his wand, Aunt Petunia screaming and lying on top of Dudley, and Dudley’s tongue lolling around like a great slimy python. But next moment Harry had begun to spin very fast, and the Dursleys’ living room was whipped out of sight in a rush of emerald-green flames.

1 comment:

  1. I too thought that the 4th HP book could have started with Harry being chosen for the Triwizard tournament. Thanks for refreshing my HP memories. Its ages since I finished reading them (read all of them twice).


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