Wednesday, March 20, 2013


First Paragraph: Harry spun faster and faster, elbows tucked tightly to his sides, blurred fireplaces flashing past him, until he started to feel sick and closed his eyes. Then, when at last he felt himself slowing down, he threw out his hands and came to a halt in time to prevent himself from falling face forward out of the Weasleys’ kitchen fire.

Today we're talking about Chapter 5 of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and only Chapter 5. If it's Chapter 6 you're wanting, you'll have to come back next week. 

Chapter 5 is the first time Harry meets Bill and Charlie Weasley, both of whom have roles to play in later books. It's also the first appearance in this book of Ron and Hermione, and the story never quite feels complete without them. My brother told me once Harry Potter was his least favorite character in the books, and while I'm not quite there, I do like a lot of the supporting characters more than him:) Ron Weasley and his parents are closer to my heart than Harry, though Mad Eye Moody and Dumbledore are my absolute favorites. 

I'm sure you have your own favorites, Esteemed Reader, and no one likes Dobby the House Elf:) It says something about J.K. Rowling's gifts for characterization that her books are populated with so many fully realized individuals that even throw-away characters such as talking paintings are memorable. I don't really know how Rowling does it, but today I want to look specifically at Mrs. Weasley. 

First, however, an observation: in this chapter the reader is reminded Ron has a feisty new owl for a pet. Spoiler ahead, I guess, although why you would be reading a series of blog posts analyzing Harry Potter without first reading Harry Potter is beyond me... Anyway, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban ends with one of the greatest, most unexpected twists in all of literature. Ron's pet rat, Scabbers, who slept with the boys and lived with them for three books, turned out to be an adult servant of Voldemort in disguise. And yet, here in Chapter 5 of the book immediately following that tale, Harry has this odd thought: 

Pigwidgeon zoomed happily around his cage, hooting shrilly. Harry knew Ron too well to take him seriously. He had moaned continually about his old rat, Scabbers, but had been most upset when Hermione’s cat, Crookshanks, appeared to have eaten him.

Now I know a story about a fantastic world of wizards within our own requires a certain suspension of disbelief, but shouldn't Ron be just a little less willing to love a new pet? Shouldn't he be in some form of magic therapy explaining to a wizard shrink how for years a creepy old dude watched him sleep and change clothes? I'm surprised Ron isn't subjecting his new owl to a series of test to prove he is indeed an owl. It's a minor quibble, I suppose, and Rowling seems to have decided not to directly address how unbelievably wrong that whole situation must've been. She's just moving on and perhaps that's best.

Chapter 5 is mostly about exposition, but unlike the atrocious Chapter 2, it doesn't read like exposition. Much of the chapter is devoted to Percy Weasley and his new job working for Mr. Crouch and the ministry of magic. It's essential to the plot that the reader know about Mr. Crouch, which is why we'll be meeting him later in Chapter 7. We're going to need to know about him later to have a fair shot at solving the mystery, but note the way in which Rowling tells us about this adult and his adult issues: through comedy.

Mr. Crouch isn't the least bit interesting in light of the things the reader has been promised. We want the Quidditch World Cup and we want to get to Hogwarts and Rowling already brought the story to a halt to tell us about an adult and his problems in Chapter 1. So instead of telling us about Crouch directly, Rowling tells us about Percy Weasley working for him and his brothers making fun of Percy for it. 

If Chapter 5 were an episode of a sitcom, Percy's struggles with Mr. Crouch would be the 'B' story, even though it's the most relevant to the overall plot. The 'A' story is Harry being reunited with his friends and Ron's brother's Fred and George getting in trouble for their prank on Dudley in Chapter 4. It's a successful means of misdirection.

The first time I read Chapter 5, I laughed at the many jokes the Weasley boys have at Percy's expense without ever suspecting the import of all Percy's exposition, even though it should be obvious anytime Rowling slows down the story to tell the reader about an adult it's important to the plot. Even though Percy and Mr. Weasley have a short discussion about Bertha Jorkins, who Voldmort and Wormtail discussed in Chapter 1, the casual reader will still be more interested in Fred and George's plans to build practical jokes with magic instead of focusing on their studies and their mother's fury at them. 

Which brings us back to Mrs. Weasley. Note how Rowling shows us more about who Mrs. Weasley by showing us the reactions to her by other characters in a way simply showing us Mrs. Weasley on her own wouldn't quite do: 

“Oh hello, Harry, dear,” she said, spotting him and smiling. Then her eyes snapped back to her husband. “Tell me what, Arthur?” Mr. Weasley hesitated. Harry could tell that, however angry he was with Fred and George, he hadn’t really intended to tell Mrs. Weasley what had happened. There was a silence, while Mr. Weasley eyed his wife nervously.

As Harry, Hermione, and Ginny followed Ron up three more flights of stairs, shouts from the kitchen below echoed up to them. It sounded as though Mr. Weasley had told Mrs. Weasley about the toffees.

Later, of course, Rowling shows us through a myriad of actions how upset Mrs. Weasley is while at the same time telling us how upset she is:

“Oh for heaven’s sake,” she snapped, now directing her wand at a dustpan, which hopped off the sideboard and started skating across the floor, scooping up the potatoes. “Those two!” she burst out savagely, now pulling pots and pans out of a cupboard, and Harry knew she meant Fred and George. “I don’t know what’s going to happen to them, I really don’t. No ambition, unless you count making as much trouble as they possibly can. . . .” Mrs. Weasley slammed a large copper saucepan down on the kitchen table and began to wave her wand around inside it. A creamy sauce poured from the wand-tip as she stirred.

Mrs. Weasley jabbed her wand at the cutlery drawer, which shot open. Harry and Ron both jumped out of the way as several knives soared out of it, flew across the kitchen, and began chopping the potatoes, which had just been tipped back into the sink by the dustpan.

If you're having trouble creating three dimensional characters like I am, J.K. Rowling is the writer for you to read. She's outstanding at plotting and pacing, of course, but I believe the key to Rowling's success is her creation of immediately identifiable characters the reader cares about. As my own characters always need work, we'll be talking more about Rowling's gift for characterization in the coming weeks. 

Though, just to be clear, I doubt we're ever going to find the magic bullet. There is no one technique J.K. Rowling mastered that's responsible for her success. She's amazing at all the techniques.

Join me next Wednesday for a discussion of Chapter 6. At this rate, we should reach the actual Goblet of Fire part of this story sometime in May:)

Last Paragraphs: “Well, I certainly don’t,” said Percy sanctimoniously. “I shudder to think what the state of my in-tray would be if I was away from work for five days.”
“Yeah, someone might slip dragon dung in it again, eh, Perce?” said Fred. 
“That was a sample of fertilizer from Norway!” said Percy, going very red in the face. “It was nothing personal!”
"It was,” Fred whispered to Harry as they got up from the table. “We sent it.”


  1. I'm really inspired to read this series now, even if it's just to catch up with you!

    1. Reading Harry Potter is always a good idea. I love to make fun of her, but Rowling is the absolute best.

  2. I've enjoined reading your thoughts on Goblet of Fire, especially since we've arrived to the Weasley's house. Rowlings characters are such fun and endearing from the get go, well except the mean ones who do bad stuff of course.

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