Wednesday, May 8, 2013


First Paragraph: Through the gates, flanked with statues of winged boars, and up the sweeping drive the carriages trundled, swaying dangerously in what was fast becoming a gale. Leaning against the window, Harry could see Hogwarts coming nearer, its many lighted windows blurred and shimmering behind the thick curtain of rain. Lightning flashed across the sky as their carriage came to a halt before the great oak front doors, which stood at the top of a flight of stone steps. People who had occupied the carriages in front were already hurrying up the stone steps into the castle. Harry, Ron, Hermione, and Neville jumped down from their carriage and dashed up the steps too, looking up only when they were safely inside the cavernous, torch-lit entrance hall, with its magnificent marble staircase.

Hi there, Esteemed Reader! We've got a lot to talk about today and not a lot of time to do it. I'm moving  and Mrs. Ninja, as I've previously mentioned, is with child, so I'll be doing the lifting. Between that and the conference last weekend, my blogging time is limited. But we'll have a surprise literary agent stop by tomorrow and next week and I'll find time for Chapter 13. Never fear. We've got some great interviews coming up and even a few full book reviews, but today we're sticking with Chapter 12 of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

Chapter 13 is the one I'm always most looking forward to when I read this book because it's the first chapter where the story has reached Hogwarts, which is where all my favorite characters live. Technically, we saw Hagrid at the end of Chapter 12 and we've already seen some familiar faces on the Hogwarts Express. Rowling welcomes us back to the school with a couple emblematic characters to remind the reader of wonderful times had in previous books:

A large, red, water-filled balloon had dropped from out of the ceiling onto Ron’s head and exploded. Drenched and sputtering, Ron staggered sideways into Harry, just as a second water bomb dropped — narrowly missing Hermione, it burst at Harry’s feet, sending a wave of cold water over his sneakers into his socks. People all around them shrieked and started pushing one another in their efforts to get out of the line of fire. Harry looked up and saw, floating twenty feet above them, Peeves the Poltergeist, a little man in a bell-covered hat and orange bow tie, his wide, malicious face contorted with concentration as he took aim again. 
“PEEVES!” yelled an angry voice. “Peeves, come down here at ONCE!” 
Professor McGonagall, deputy headmistress and Head of Gryffindor House, had come dashing out of the Great Hall; she skidded on the wet floor and grabbed Hermione around the neck to stop herself from falling.

So, what's up with these ghosts? We've got Peeves flying around dropping water balloons on everybody and then we bump into another favorite ghost:  

Nearly Headless Nick, the Gryffindor ghost. Pearly white and semitransparent, Nick was dressed tonight in his usual doublet, but with a particularly large ruff, which served the dual purpose of looking extra-festive, and insuring that his head didn’t wobble too much on his partially severed neck.

If there's one thing that's always bugged me about the Harry Potter universe, it's the ghosts. I know, I know, it's a fictional world and it's best not to get too hung up on the details. But Rowling's great strength is typically the details. She's thought up magical rules for most everything that are consistent throughout seven books. But the rules on ghosts and paintings are just a tad sketchy.

Yes, I know Nearly Headless Nick explains to Harry that only people who are afraid of death come back as ghosts and that being a ghost is not desirable for most people. But this doesn't satisfy my suspicion that Harry's mother should be lingering around somewhere as a ghost or a talking painting. After all, who could possibly be more afraid of dying than a new mother?

It's just a story, after all, and as Rowling has made an effort to explain herself, I'm going to let it go and enjoy the illusion. It's best not to over-think these things. It doesn't take too terribly long to deduce a reason a hidden wizarding world probably doesn't exist within our own, but isn't it more fun to imagine one did? If I'm going to suspend my disbelief about that, I suppose I can accept that Mrs. Potter can't reach her boy from beyond the grave, despite showing up in memories and old spells later on.  

And the ghosts do make for a nice segue. Rowling doesn't just have Peeves throwing water balloons for the fun of it. She's establishing credibility for this later story (though I'd love to know whether Rowling wrote Peeve's scene first and then this next scene, or if she added Peeves later):

“Yeah, we thought Peeves seemed hacked off about something,” said Ron darkly. “So what did he do in the kitchens?” 
“Oh the usual,” said Nearly Headless Nick, shrugging. “Wreaked havoc and mayhem. Pots and pans everywhere. Place swimming in soup. Terrified the house-elves out of their wits —” 
Clang. (love this dramatic one-word paragraph--MGN)
Hermione had knocked over her golden goblet. Pumpkin juice spread steadily over the tablecloth, staining several feet of white linen orange, but Hermione paid no attention.
“There are house-elves here?” she said, staring, horror-struck, at Nearly Headless Nick. “Here at Hogwarts?” 
“Certainly,” said Nearly Headless Nick, looking surprised at her reaction. “The largest number in any dwelling in Britain, I believe. Over a hundred.” 
“I’ve never seen one!” said Hermione. 
“Well, they hardly ever leave the kitchen by day, do they?” said Nearly Headless Nick. “They come out at night to do a bit of cleaning . . . see to the fires and so on. . . . I mean, you’re not supposed to see them, are you? That’s the mark of a good house-elf, isn’t it, that you don’t know it’s there?” 
Hermione stared at him. (another nice use of the short paragraph--MGN)
“But they get paid?” she said. “They get holidays, don’t they? And — and sick leave, and pensions, and everything?” 
Nearly Headless Nick chortled so much that his ruff slipped and his head flopped off, dangling on the inch or so of ghostly skin and muscle that still attached it to his neck. (note how this and the following paragraph are broken up when they could just as easily be together to create more white space, making a long book read faster--MGN)
“Sick leave and pensions?” he said, pushing his head back onto his shoulders and securing it once more with his ruff. “House-elves don’t want sick leave and pensions!” 
Hermione looked down at her hardly touched plate of food, then put her knife and fork down upon it and pushed it away from her.

You didn't think Rowling spent all that time in previous chapters and books talking about house-elves for nothing did you? Not her. The liberation of house-elves is something we'll be coming back to, but I would maintain that it's a subplot created less for what it says about house-elves yearning to be free, and more for what it shows us about Hermione and the wizarding community at large. 

Rowling is a social radical, or have you not read The Casual Vacancy? Nothing wrong with that. Most of the best writers are, which is why they're compelled to seek a platform in the first place. There are themes of class-ism and racism throughout the Harry Potter series and with good reason: children who read Harry Potter will grow up to find themselves in a world permeated with both those things. While Rowling has those kids captivated, she's decided to plant the seeds of some ideas worth having, though never at the expense of the story. 

More, Voldemort's conquest is ultimately tied in part to his view that magical people are superior to non-magical people (muggle-ism?). As such a demagogue cannot rise without the support of society, Rowling is making the argument that a community willing to own slaves, however they may see themselves, is one willing to compromise with a Voldemort. What does that tell you about our world, children? Discuss amongst yourselves:)

House-elf rights are not Rowling's only running game this chapter. As she been doing for weeks now, she's fanning the flames of other subplots, such as Harry's crush:

Harry caught a glimpse of Cho, the Ravenclaw Seeker, cheering Stewart Ackerley as he sat down. For a fleeting second, Harry had a strange desire to join the Ravenclaw table too.

And Ron's growing resentment of the Have's when he is a Have-not (should we expect any less from a woman who went from no money to Oprah money?):

“The champions’ll get to do all sorts of stuff you’d never be allowed to do normally. And a thousand Galleons prize money!” 
“Yeah,” said Ron, a faraway look on his face. “Yeah, a thousand Galleons . . .”

What's Ron talking about? Only a little thing called the Triwizard Tournament:

A champion was selected to represent each school, and the three champions competed in three magical tasks. The schools took it in turns to host the tournament once every five years, and it was generally agreed to be a most excellent way of establishing ties between young witches and wizards of different nationalities — until, that is, the death toll mounted so high that the tournament was discontinued.” 
“Death toll?” Hermione whispered, looking alarmed. But her anxiety did not seem to be shared by the majority of students in the Hall; many of them were whispering excitedly to one another, and Harry himself was far more interested in hearing about the tournament than in worrying about deaths that had happened hundreds of years ago. 

That pretty well concludes what I have to say about the book for this week. I've got boxes to finish packing. But before I do I want to contrast two passages of character building. First, you'll remember it was raining when Harry and the gang arrived at the start of the chapter and I submit to you the entire reason for it was this moment:

But at that moment, there was a deafening rumble of thunder and the doors of the Great Hall banged open.
A man stood in the doorway, leaning upon a long staff, shrouded in a black traveling cloak. Every head in the Great Hall swiveled toward the stranger, suddenly brightly illuminated by a fork of lightning that flashed across the ceiling. He lowered his hood, shook out a long mane of grizzled, dark gray hair, then began to walk up toward the teachers’ table. 
A dull clunk echoed through the Hall on his every other step. He reached the end of the top table, turned right, and limped heavily toward Dumbledore. Another flash of lightning crossed the ceiling. Hermione gasped.

Between this and the previous passage I'm wondering if Hermione is brave enough for Gryffindor, hunger strike or no:) We'll talk about Mad-Eye Moody next week, but today I just want to point out what a dramatic introduction Rowling has given him. It's perhaps a bit cliche, but it's quite effective, if not a touch over the top. 

Contrast that with this subtle reminder to the reader of who Dumbledore is:

“Mr. Filch, the caretaker, has asked me to tell you that the list of objects forbidden inside the castle has this year been extended to include Screaming Yo-yos, Fanged Frisbees, and Ever-Bashing Boomerangs. The full list comprises some four hundred and thirty-seven items, I believe, and can be viewed in Mr. Filch’s office, if anybody would like to check it.” 
The corners of Dumbledore’s mouth twitched. He continued, “As ever, I would like to remind you all that the forest on the grounds is out-of-bounds to students, as is the village of Hogsmeade to all below third year.

To be fair, Rowling's introduced Dumbledore over three previous novels at this point and the reader is just meeting Mad-Eye for the first time. Still, for my money, I feel like Dumbledore leaps off the page with his subtle, dry humor and becomes immediately real in a way it takes Mad-Eye a little longer to do, despite the theatrics. 

In any case, Rowling wins, as usual:) My fate is to paw feelby at her brilliance and to accept that try as I might, I will never fully grasp it. I am a mere muggle:( But if you're enjoying this series as much as I am, meet me back here next week for Chapter 13. 

Last Paragraph (s): Harry rolled over in bed, a series of dazzling new pictures forming in his mind’s eye. . . . He had hoodwinked the impartial judge into believing he was seventeen . . . he had become Hogwarts champion . . . he was standing on the grounds, his arms raised in triumph in front of the whole school, all of whom were applauding and screaming . . . he had just won the Triwizard Tournament. . . . Cho’s face stood out particularly clearly in the blurred crowd, her face glowing with admiration. . . . 
Harry grinned into his pillow, exceptionally glad that Ron couldn’t see what he could.

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