Wednesday, April 3, 2013


First Paragraph: Harry disentangled himself from Ron and got to his feet. They had arrived on what appeared to be a deserted stretch of misty moor. In front of them was a pair of tired and grumpy-looking wizards, one of whom was holding a large gold watch, the other a thick roll of parchment and a quill. Both were dressed as Muggles, though very inexpertly: The man with the watch wore a tweed suit with thigh-length galoshes; his colleague, a kilt and a poncho.

Hi there, Esteemed Reader. I hope the week is treating you well. I myself am running just a bit ragged as of late. I think it's because I stay up too late reading at night instead of going to bed like a good Ninja and getting the sleep I need to function properly:(

But we're not here to talk about me, we're here for the same reason we meet every Wednesday, to discuss Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. You'd think I'd be sick of this book by now, but I'm finding I love it more than ever. It's hard for me not to fall back into it completely each week rather than setting it aside after reading one measly chapter.

But I've read the book multiple times through, I know what's coming next and how it all ends--with a promise of Harry Potter 5, of course:) The upside of this forced discipline is how much more I'm learning this time through by reading only one chapter and pondering it on it's own, away from the larger story. I'm hoping you're enjoying this post series as well, Esteemed Reader.  As of our 7th week in, I'm thinking we might have to find another book and do this Ninja Book Club thing again.

But we've got plenty of Potter to last a while and this week Harry and the gang have arrived at the Quiditch World Cup! Much of the chapter is devoted to Rowling's continuing the conspiratorial fantasy that wizards exist all around us and are just in hidings and the government knows the real truth! I suspect if I could ever get close enough to J.K. Rowling to have a drink with her without getting tased by security, and I were to ask her 8 questions (the first 7 I'd share here with you, Esteemed Reader), and my eighth question was "do you believe in conspiracy theories," the answer would be "yes!" 

Has J.K. Rowling ever seen a ghost or a UFO? Someone closer to her than I should be asking and telling the rest of us. 

She spends a great deal of time in this chapter paying lip service to the idea that wizards have to dress and act like humans to avoid detection. It's worth noting she mostly plays this for laughs rather than for serious.

On the one hand, if the wizarding world were an actual place and the wizards knew we muggles were dying from and becoming handicapped from injuries their magic could cure or prevent, they're jerks for not speaking up. On the other hand, much of the fun of the Harry Potter books is the notion that there's a magical world overlaying our own and anyone of us could one day get a letter delivered by owl inviting us to join.

Rowling's gift is to again and again focus in on the few fun details that represent the whole. She doesn't have to list every wizard/muggle interaction, just one or two to stand in for the rest:

“You foreign?” said Mr. Roberts as Mr. Weasley returned with the correct notes. 
“Foreign?” repeated Mr. Weasley, puzzled. 
“You’re not the first one who’s had trouble with money,” said Mr. Roberts, scrutinizing Mr. Weasley closely. “I had two try and pay me with great gold coins the size of hubcaps ten minutes ago.” 
“Did you really?” said Mr. Weasley nervously. 

Similarly, Rowling doesn't have to describe the entire wizard campground to us. Just a few of the most interesting details will do for the rest, and this is my favorite passage from the chapter:

A tiny boy no older than two was crouched outside a large pyramid-shaped tent, holding a wand and poking happily at a slug in the grass, which was swelling slowly to the size of a salami. As they drew level with him, his mother came hurrying out of the tent. 
“How many times, Kevin? You don’t — touch — Daddy’s — wand — yecchh!” 
She had trodden on the giant slug, which burst. Her scolding carried after them on the still air, mingling with the little boy’s yells — “You bust slug! You bust slug!” 
A short way farther on, they saw two little witches, barely older than Kevin, who were riding toy broomsticks that rose only high enough for the girls’ toes to skim the dewy grass.

How can you read that passage and not want a toy broomstick? But most of what's happening in Chapter 7 is set up for the rest of the book, and in the case of planting the concept of a magic tent you could conceivably live in for the entire middle stretch of a bloated seventh novel, the series. Much of Rowling's set up revolves around Ludo Bagman and Barty Crouch, and you'll need to know about them for later, but they're boring:)

I'm more interested in the larger plot pieces Rowling plants, such as Ron's love of and Hermione's seeming indifference to Viktor Krum:

“Krum!” said Ron. “Viktor Krum, the Bulgarian Seeker!” 
“He looks really grumpy,” said Hermione, looking around at the many Krums blinking and scowling at them.
“‘Really grumpy’?” Ron raised his eyes to the heavens. “Who cares what he looks like? He’s unbelievable. He’s really young too. Only just eighteen or something. He’s a genius, you wait until tonight, you’ll see.”

We all know Ron and Hermione are meant to be together because if the Harry Potter books teach us anything, it's that you're bound to find your one true love in high school (they seriously need a wizard college to expand their potential pool of romantic candidates). But this is a fun set up the reader's first time through and doubly fun the second time as we know Hermione will later have a thing for Krum and Ron will not care for him one bit then. It's a fun subplot and if you plan to write for teens or tweens, expect to include plenty of similar triangles in your stories:)

This first is an ironic set up. Next, comes the oh-by-the-way set up:

Next they were hailed by Ernie Macmillan, a Hufflepuff fourth year, and a little farther on they saw Cho Chang, a very pretty girl who played Seeker on the Ravenclaw team. She waved and smiled at Harry, who slopped quite a lot of water down his front as he waved back. More to stop Ron from smirking than anything, Harry hurriedly pointed out a large group of teenagers whom he had never seen before.

Oh, by the way, there's a girl who goes to Hogwarts Harry possibly has a crush on. Well, well, well. Isn't that interesting? Will that come up later, you think? Also, yea interracial dating being totally cool and unworthy of comment in the wizarding world despite many of the wizards owning house elves--more on that next week. 

Then there's the keep-the-reader-interested set-up:

“Glad! Don’t know when I’ve had more fun. . . . Still, it’s not as though we haven’t got anything to look forward to, eh, Barty? Eh? Plenty left to organize, eh?” 
Mr. Crouch raised his eyebrows at Bagman. 
“We agreed not to make the announcement until all the details —” 
“Oh details!” said Bagman, waving the word away like a cloud of midges. “They’ve signed, haven’t they? They’ve agreed, haven’t they? I bet you anything these kids’ll know soon enough anyway. I mean, it’s happening at Hogwarts —”

That word Hogwarts demands the reader take notice. Something's coming that going to impact our heroes, and this Bagman and Crouch are a part of it, which is perhaps why they have a whole chapter named after them. 

And look how many uses Rowling found for the Quidditch World Cup! At a glance, having the gang head to an activity away from Hogwarts and the main story seems like a hugely unnecessary diversion in such a long book, but just look how many different uses Rowling finds for this one event--and there's plenty of more set-up coming in Chapter 8. In a way, the Quidictch World Cup is like the baptism scene at the end of The Godfather, except instead of plots being resolved all around, they're being set up. 

My last, favorite of Rowling's set-ups is not the establishment of an international wizard community--though that will pay off later--but something I'll call the subliminal set up because it covers ground the reader's likely read before:

“Omnioculars,” said the saleswizard eagerly. “You can replay action . . . slow everything down . . . and they flash up a play-by-play breakdown if you need it. Bargain — ten Galleons each.” 
“Wish I hadn’t bought this now,” said Ron, gesturing at his dancing shamrock hat and gazing longingly at the Omnioculars. 
“Three pairs,” said Harry firmly to the wizard. 
“No — don’t bother,” said Ron, going red. He was always touchy about the fact that Harry, who had inherited a small fortune from his parents, had much more money than he did.

No matter how Rowling describes them, I will always imagine the Omnioculars as looking exactly like the nightvision goggles in Jurassic Park:) But the reason this is my favorite set up is it's just a gentle reminder. After all, we've seen Ron resent Harry's money before, but we need to be reminded of it here because later Ron's resentment of Harry is going to boil over and the two are going to be in their biggest fight of the series. 

But here, Rowling doesn't show the boys in conflict. Sure, Ron goes red momentarily, but he gets his Omnioculars, they watch the world cup, and the story moves on. Later, though, when the boys are at odds, the reader will remember Ron's reaction to Harry's money here and the conflict will be deeper and more nuanced because Rowling took the time to set up way back in this chapter as well as the other books. 

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is a book far longer than most of us will ever get away with publishing, but there's hardly a wasted sentence that isn't accomplishing something. Even Rowling's throw-away gags for younger readers deepen characterization:

"I bought this in a Muggle shop,” said the old wizard stubbornly. “Muggles wear them.” 
“Muggle women wear them, Archie, not the men, they wear these,” said the Ministry wizard, and he brandished the pinstriped trousers. 
“I’m not putting them on,” said old Archie in indignation. “I like a healthy breeze ’round my privates, thanks.”
Hermione was overcome with such a strong fit of the giggles at this point that she had to duck out of the queue and only returned when Archie had collected his water and moved away.

Hermione rarely seems more like a tween girl than when she's giggling here. And come on, the first time you read that passage, it had to make you at least smile:) Dick jokes are cheap, perhaps, but they were good enough for Shakespeare and they're good enough for Rowling. What does that tell you about their literary merrit?

And that's where we'll leave it:) Meet me here next week for Chapter 8.

Last Paragraph (s): And then a deep, booming gong sounded somewhere beyond the woods, and at once, green and red lanterns blazed into life in the trees, lighting a path to the field. 
“It’s time!” said Mr. Weasley, looking as excited as any of them. “Come on, let’s go!"

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