Wednesday, May 1, 2013


First Paragraph: There was a definite end-of-the-holidays gloom in the air when Harry awoke next morning. Heavy rain was still splattering against the window as he got dressed in jeans and a sweatshirt; they would change into their school robes on the Hogwarts Express.

Esteemed Reader, at 11 chapters in, I'm as crazy about Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire as I ever was, though I'm wondering if I've perhaps bitten off more than I chew by pledging to review a chapter a week. This book has a lot of chapters.

Oh well. I'm too far gone to turn back now:) And I don't know about you, Esteemed Reader, but I'm still having a good time. 

The nice thing about reading this, one of my most favorite books, at such a deliberately slow pace is it sucks a lot of the fun out of the proceedings. This would be a shame if this were my first reading as Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is one of the great reading experiences of my life. The story is meant to be devoured as a whole some weekend for a lucky reader. 

But this is my fourth or fifth time through and I've seen the movie. By refusing to read the next, more interesting chapter until I've written my review of this one, and slowing the story way down, I can almost see Rowling at work as she's typically moving too quickly to be seen by the human eye. 

Chapter 11 is a transition chapter. Its purpose is to get us from the aftermath of the Quidditch World Cup and fun times at the Weasley home onto the meat of the adventure. The gang boards the Hogwarts Express as they do every year and at the end of the chapter they've arrived at Hogwarts, which is what the reader of this fourth tale in the series has been waiting for. Why? All the fun stuff and magic happens at Hogwarts and all our favorite characters are going to be there--though we get brief moments with Neville Longbottom and Hagrid this chapter. 

If I were reading this book the normal way, I would immediately read on to Chapter 12 where good times await and I'd be in a hurry to do so. But because I'm not reading this book the normal way, I know the reason I'd be in a hurry to read on normally is because Rowling is busy building my anticipation all through Chapter 11 in conversations such as this one:

“I might be seeing you all sooner than you think,” said Charlie, grinning, as he hugged Ginny good-bye.
“Why?” said Fred keenly. 
“You’ll see,” said Charlie. “Just don’t tell Percy I mentioned it . . . it’s ‘classified information, until such time as the Ministry sees fit to release it,’ after all.” 
“Yeah, I sort of wish I were back at Hogwarts this year,” said Bill, hands in his pockets, looking almost wistfully at the train. 
“Why?” said George impatiently. 
“You’re going to have an interesting year,” said Bill, his eyes twinkling. “I might even get time off to come and watch a bit of it. . . .” 
“A bit of what?” said Ron. 
But at that moment, the whistle blew, and Mrs. Weasley chivvied them toward the train doors.

You may remember Rowling had previously hinted at this big Hogwarts event back in Chapter 7 through Ludo Bagman. Something big is going to happen at Hogwarts and I'd bet all my money it's going to involve Harry Potter and possibly a goblet of fire:) But by fueling the anticipation of Ron, Hermione, and Harry as to what this big event may be, Rowling fuels the reader's anticipation. The reason the pages will turn themselves later is because Rowling is laying the groundwork now.

She's making a promise to the reader that we're going to get to enjoy something extraordinary this trip to Hogwarts and as Rowling has never disapointed on that count, the reader has every reason to read faster. Christmas morning wouldn't be nearly as much fun with the long sleepless eve before hand in which children listen for Santa's bells. The anticipation is half the fun. 

Rowling works the reader into a frothing desire, then twists the knife because, dum, dum, dum, Malfoy knows:

“So . . . going to enter, Weasley? Going to try and bring a bit of glory to the family name? There’s money involved as well, you know . . . you’d be able to afford some decent robes if you won. . . .” 
“What are you talking about?” snapped Ron. 
“Are you going to enter?” Malfoy repeated. “I suppose you will, Potter? You never miss a chance to show off, do you?” 
“Either explain what you’re on about or go away, Malfoy,” said Hermione testily, over the top of The Standard Book of Spells, Grade 4. 
A gleeful smile spread across Malfoy’s pale face. 
“Don’t tell me you don’t know?” he said delightedly. “You’ve got a father and brother at the Ministry and you don’t even know? My God, my father told me about it ages ago . . . heard it from Cornelius Fudge. But then, Father’s always associated with the top people at the Ministry. . . . Maybe your father’s too junior to know about it, Weasley . . . yes . . . they probably don’t talk about important stuff in front of him. . . .”

From the first chapter on, Rowling's goal is to keep the reader wondering what happens next.  It's also important for this book's story that Malfoy be extra nasty. Later in the series, because she's a great storyteller, Rowling will build sympathy around Malfoy, but in this book she's planning to deliver him a most righteous punishment. 

For this reason, Malfoy needs to re-demonstrate his nastiness, despite three book's worth of previous nastiness, so the reader will find him deserving of this righteous punishment. When Mad-Eye Moody later turns Malfoy into a ferret, the laughter and joy we'll feel at seeing him reap his just rewards is in direct correlation to how deserving of such a punishment we see him being in these earlier chapters.

Just as Rowling wants to build reader anticipation around the main plot, the Harry Potter books are mysteries first and foremost, and she needs to weave in enough exposition that the reader could later conceivably guess whodunnit. Rowling doesn't make it easy for us as the reader doesn't even know there's a crime being committed at this point in the story. 

All the same, anytime the focus of the story shifts from Harry and his adventures to the going-ons of adult characters, it's a good bet Rowling's handing out clues:

Mr. Weasley groaned. 
“And what about the intruder?”
“Arthur, you know Mad-Eye,” said Mr. Diggory’s head, rolling its eyes again. “Someone creeping into his yard in the dead of night? More likely there’s a very shell-shocked cat wandering around somewhere, covered in potato peelings. But if the Improper Use of Magic lot get their hands on Mad-Eye, he’s had it — think of his record — we’ve got to get him off on a minor charge, something in your department — what are exploding dustbins worth?” 
“Might be a caution,” said Mr. Weasley, still writing very fast, his brow furrowed. “Mad-Eye didn’t use his wand? He didn’t actually attack anyone?” 
“I’ll bet he leapt out of bed and started jinxing everything he could reach through the window,” said Mr. Diggory, “but they’ll have a job proving it, there aren’t any casualties.”

It scenes like this in which Rowling puts on a magic show. Alas, magic in real life is all about trickery and illusion more than actual magic, which is why children can probably read all seven Harry Potter books without entering a covenant with Satan despite what some religious folk here in Indiana may think. Rowling should take their burning of her book as a compliment--she reached them:)

Rowling has to tell us about the situation with Mad-Eye Moody to give us a fighting chance of guessing what's going on with him later, though most readers won't. Just as a magician distracts the crowd with lights, or sound, or an attractive assistant, Rowling distracts her reader with fun and imagination. Amos Diggory doesn't simply drop by to deliver this important exposition. He's part of the fun:

Harry shut his eyes hard and opened them again to make sure that they were working properly. 
Amos Diggory’s head was sitting in the middle of the flames like a large, bearded egg. It was talking very fast, completely unperturbed by the sparks flying around it and the flames licking its ears.

It's important Rowling demonstrate wizards can Skype each other through fire as Sirius Black will be getting in touch with Harry later through the same means and by establishing it as a viable means of communication here, it won't seem out of order later. But that's not the reason Rowling's done it. She has Amos Diggory arrive through fantastic means so that the reader is more likely to remember the medium than the message. Just to be certain of this, she adds a final gag to act as the memory-erasing flash of the MIB:

“Never mind, Amos,” said Mrs. Weasley. “Sure you won’t have a bit of toast or anything before you go?”
“Oh go on, then,” said Mr. Diggory. 
Mrs. Weasley took a piece of buttered toast from a stack on the kitchen table, put it into the fire tongs, and transferred it into Mr. Diggory’s mouth. 
“Fanks,” he said in a muffled voice, and then, with a small pop, vanished.

I don't know about more observant readers than myself, but I can promise you the first time I read this chapter I remembered that piece of toast and the chuckle it gave me rather than the business with Mad-Eye Moody. But I did learn about Mad-Eye and when all that unfolds later came, I couldn't say Rowling hadn't played fair and given me a sporting chance at solving the mystery. She hid all the clues in plain sight. And if she used a little misdirection, well, she's a magician.

And that's it except for one last thing. I will defend an artist's right to her vision to my dying breath. If a child reads Harry Potter and then picks up a book on Wicca, which statistically has to have happened, that is not Rowling's doing or responsibility. If one dumb kid jumps out of a window wearing a cape, the rest of us shouldn't have to forgo Man of Steel (I'm counting down the days). Evolution separates those of us smart enough to try flying from the ground first:)

But, I do wonder at Rowling's inclusion of this detail about Hogwarts:

“Come off it,” said Ron, starting to laugh. “Durmstrang’s got to be about the same size as Hogwarts — how are you going to hide a great big castle?” 
“But Hogwarts is hidden,” said Hermione, in surprise. “Everyone knows that . . . well, everyone who’s read Hogwarts: A History, anyway.” 
“Just you, then,” said Ron. “So go on — how d’you hide a place like Hogwarts?” 
“It’s bewitched,” said Hermione. “If a Muggle looks at it, all they see is a moldering old ruin with a sign over the entrance saying DANGER, DO NOT ENTER, UNSAFE.”

I don't have any answers, Esteemed Reader, but this is the sort of detail I myself might've thought twice about including. It makes sense that Hogwarts be hidden from the world, but that doesn't mean some children won't go looking for it in real life. I wonder how many children King's Cross Station has had to revive after they've run smack into a brick wall:) And thanks to this chapter, kids now know they should be poking around unsafe, dangerous places to find wizarding schools. 

Again, Rowling is entitled to her vision and she doesn't have to curve it out of a sense of responsibility to a few readers who may be stupid enough to act on what is clearly a fantasy. But I have no doubt some will. This is a debate we writers for young, impressionable readers must have with ourselves. Whatever side you come out on, Esteemed Reader, a personal thesis on a writer's responsibility is worth at least some consideration.

See you next week.

Last Paragraph(s): First years traditionally reached Hogwarts Castle by sailing across the lake with Hagrid.
“Oooh, I wouldn’t fancy crossing the lake in this weather,” said Hermione fervently, shivering as they inched slowly along the dark platform with the rest of the crowd. A hundred horseless carriages stood waiting for them outside the station. Harry, Ron, Hermione, and Neville climbed gratefully into one of them, the door shut with a snap, and a few moments later, with a great lurch, the long procession of carriages was rumbling and splashing its way up the track toward Hogwarts Castle.

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