Wednesday, March 27, 2013


First Paragraph: Harry felt as though he had barely lain down to sleep in Ron’s room when he was being shaken awake by Mrs. Weasley.

Hi there, Esteemed Reader! It's everyone's favorite time of the week: Ninja Book Club time! Yay! Wednesday is the day each week when we discuss one and only one chapter from Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Today we're chatting about Chapter 6.

I'm enjoying this series and I hope you are too. I'm not sure how I'll feel about this book club 31 chapters from now, but as of this sixth, I'm still having fun:) Slowing J.K. Rowling's naturally frantic pace down to a crawl has allowed me to appreciate what an awful lot of exposition goes into these books (as well as a lot of skill). Most of the later Harry Potter books were originally read by me in a day or two, which is how they should be read and enjoyed--but we're not here just to enjoy, Esteemed Reader. We're reading this book as writers and doing our best to dissect it like mechanics pulling apart an engine.

From a mechanic's perspective, Chapter 6 is another pile of exposition after the many chapters of exposition we've already had. But unlike the unbearable listing of events that occurred in Chapter 2, Rowling has a way of writing Chapter 6's exposition in a way that does not slow the story down. First, she explains magical travel, which muggle readers will no doubt find interesting, and she does it with a hint of graphic violence to keep our attention just as she did in Chapter 1:

“Oh yes,” said Mr. Weasley, tucking the tickets safely into the back pocket of his jeans. “The Department of Magical Transportation had to fine a couple of people the other day for Apparating without a license. It’s not easy, Apparition, and when it’s not done properly it can lead to nasty complications. This pair I’m talking about went and Splinched themselves.” 
Everyone around the table except Harry winced. 
“Er — Splinched?” said Harry. 
“They left half of themselves behind,” said Mr. Weasley, now spooning large amounts of treacle onto his porridge. “So, of course, they were stuck. Couldn’t move either way. Had to wait for the Accidental Magic Reversal Squad to sort them out. Meant a fair old bit of paperwork, I can tell you, what with the Muggles who spotted the body parts they’d left behind. . . .” 
Harry had a sudden vision of a pair of legs and an eyeball lying abandoned on the pavement of Privet Drive.

Ahh, the old gross-readers-out-with-an-eyeball-gag. That's a favorite of Rowling's and of horror writers everywhere because they know how the thought of having an eyeball harmed or removed turns the reader's stomach. Without this last bit, what we have is classic talking heads giving us information we're going to need to know to understand the story later and seeding "splinching," which we won't actually see for another 3 books. 

The information Mr. Weasley is delivering to the reader is interesting, but the presentation is not. This is the same sort of scene we've read in countless novels and seen in most every film or television show ever:

Character One: I'm going to tell you some information that explains what happens next.
Character Two: Interesting. Question that prods further exposition.
Character One: Further exposition.
Character Two: Are you telling me that blah, blah--exposition finished.
Character One: Grave repetition of exposition to make sure the audience remembers.

The lesson here is that if you're going to write this tried and true information-delivery scene, and inevitably, you will, you should: 1. Make the exposition about something as interesting as apparation which the reader can't know about unless you tell her. 2. Throw in some sexy or violent  (probably violent when writing middle grade) details to trigger a response in the reader's primal brain, covering up the fact that you just gave an exposition dump like a dog kicking dirt over its mess.

There's plenty more exposition delivered in Chapter 6, most of it about thousands of wizards from all over the world traveling to one place for the Wizard World Cup without alerting the muggle world. Much of this is fun, logical explanations for how a magical world could exist hidden with our own told to us like a person tells a young child how there's a secret village in the North Pole where a jolly fat man and his elves make toys for all the world's children. Rowling also needs to explain how Portkeys work and why they're necessary, which is the whole reason this chapter exist.

Those of you Esteemed Readers who know this story, which is hopefully everyone reading this, know that a surprise Portkey is to play a critical role in the finale act of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (we'll get there someday in the distant future). For that reason, it is essential that the reader know how Portkeys work in order for that surprise to be fair game. Therefore, this chapter opens with Harry waking and leaving the burrow with his friends and ends with the clan grabbing an old boot to warp to the Wizard World Cup. In-between Rowling delivers a bunch of exposition and that's pretty much Chapter 6. 

On the way to the Portkey, Harry and the gang meet up with Cedric Diggory and his father Amos, whom she has to plant even more prominently than the Portkey, and which she'll spend several chapters doing. Why? Because she's going to kill him of course! And if you're reading this chapter-by-chapter discussion and expecting a spoiler alert every time, you're being silly:) But see how Rowling expertly puts the reader's sympathy with Cedric and gets us to liking him (so we'll cry later) by the way he reacts to his boisterous father:

“Ced’s talked about you, of course,” said Amos Diggory. “Told us all about playing against you last year. . . . I said to him, I said — Ced, that’ll be something to tell your grandchildren, that will. . . . You beat Harry Potter!” 
Harry couldn’t think of any reply to this, so he remained silent. Fred and George were both scowling again. Cedric looked slightly embarrassed. 
“Harry fell off his broom, Dad,” he muttered. “I told you . . . it was an accident. . . .”
“Yes, but you didn’t fall off, did you?” roared Amos genially, slapping his son on his back. “Always modest, our Ced, always the gentleman . . . but the best man won, I’m sure Harry’d say the same, wouldn’t you, eh? One falls off his broom, one stays on, you don’t need to be a genius to tell which one’s the better flier!”

That pretty well does it for this week, except I want to share my favorite passage from Chapter 6 and then tell you why it's my favorite. First, the passage:

“What is that in your pocket?” 
“Don’t you lie to me!” 
Mrs. Weasley pointed her wand at George’s pocket and said, “Accio!” 
Several small, brightly colored objects zoomed out of George’s pocket; he made a grab for them but missed, and they sped right into Mrs. Weasley’s outstretched hand. 
“We told you to destroy them!” said Mrs. Weasley furiously, holding up what were unmistakably more Ton-Tongue Toffees. “We told you to get rid of the lot! Empty your pockets, go on, both of you!” 
It was an unpleasant scene; the twins had evidently been trying to smuggle as many toffees out of the house as possible, and it was only by using her Summoning Charm that Mrs. Weasley managed to find them all.
“Accio! Accio! Accio!” she shouted, and toffees zoomed from all sorts of unlikely places, including the lining of George’s jacket and the turn-ups of Fred’s jeans. 
“We spent six months developing those!” Fred shouted at his mother as she threw the toffees away. 
“Oh a fine way to spend six months!” she shrieked. “No wonder you didn’t get more O.W.L.s!”

What I love about that scene is that it's a whole page in this chapter that's not, strictly speaking, necessary  After all, we've already learned the twins are making joke toffees in Chapter 4 and we saw Mrs. Weasley's reaction in Chapter 5, so this page that is not on point for any of the activity in Chapter 6 is a repeat of information we already know. 

But this is why J.K. Rowling is J.K. Rowling and why her characters are remembered long after the story is done. Because the reader knows the boys would try to sneak more candies off and Mrs. Weasley would be suspicious of them. This scene is the natural outgrowth of character, not plot. It exists to give further dimension to characters who exist mostly in the periphery of the main story, which is why the wizarding world of Harry Potter is so detailed and nuanced. It's the little touches that add up to the whole. 

And that's it. Meet me back here for Chapter 7 next week... 

Last Paragraph (s): “Three . . .” muttered Mr. Weasley, one eye still on his watch, “two . . . one . . .” 
It happened immediately: Harry felt as though a hook just behind his navel had been suddenly jerked irresistibly forward. His feet left the ground; he could feel Ron and Hermione on either side of him, their shoulders banging into his; they were all speeding forward in a howl of wind and swirling color; his forefinger was stuck to the boot as though it was pulling him magnetically onward and then — 
His feet slammed into the ground; Ron staggered into him and he fell over; the Portkey hit the ground near his head with a heavy thud. 
Harry looked up. Mr. Weasley, Mr. Diggory, and Cedric were still standing, though looking very windswept; everybody else was on the ground. 
“Seven past five from Stoatshead Hill,” said a voice.

1 comment:

  1. I certainly hope the next 25 chapters are as entertaining for you as they are for me. They certainly leave me with things to think about.


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