Wednesday, May 29, 2013


First Paragraph: The next two days passed without great incident, unless you counted Neville melting his sixth cauldron in Potions. Professor Snape, who seemed to have attained new levels of vindictiveness over the summer, gave Neville detention, and Neville returned from it in a state of nervous collapse, having been made to disembowel a barrel full of horned toads

Howdy, Esteemed Reader! I sure hope you're enjoying these weekly discussions of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. I've enjoyed writing them and though I'll likely take a break when we finish, I think we'll have to find another great book and do this whole Book Club thing again. 

This week we're talking Chapter 14, which is essentially an extension of last week's Chapter 13. We've seen Mad-Eye Moody out of the classroom and now we're seeing him in the classroom. Rowling builds excitement in the reader for what is going to be a long exposition dump by demonstrating the excitement of her characters:

The Gryffindor fourth years were looking forward to Moody’s first lesson so much that they arrived early on Thursday after lunchtime and queued up outside his classroom before the bell had even rung. The only person missing was Hermione, who turned up just in time for the lesson. 
“Been in the —” 
“Library.” Harry finished her sentence for her. “C’mon, quick, or we won’t get decent seats.”

Suppose there's anything to Hermione spending so much time in the library? Of course there is! Right now it's important to note only how Rowling builds reader suspicion by mentioning Hermione being in the library both here and later in the chapter as well as at least once in the previous chapter. Since Hermione spends a lot of time in the library anyway, Rowling has to draw attention to the fact that she's spending extra time in the library to arouse the reader's interest. 

The bulk of Chapter 14 is a long lesson taught by Mad-Eye Moody. There are three unforgivable curses the reader is going to need to know for not just the ending of this book, but for the next three books that follow. This exposition is important enough that Rowling gave it it's own separate chapter. But first, she has to establish a credible reason why Harry and his classmates are learning about them now:

I say, the sooner you know what you’re up against, the better. How are you supposed to defend yourself against something you’ve never seen? A wizard who’s about to put an illegal curse on you isn’t going to tell you what he’s about to do. He’s not going to do it nice and polite to your face. You need to be prepared. You need to be alert and watchful. You need to put that away, Miss Brown, when I’m talking.” 
Lavender jumped and blushed. She had been showing Parvati her completed horoscope under the desk. Apparently Moody’s magical eye could see through solid wood, as well as out of the back of his head.

What a masterful character Mad-Eye Moody is! I've mentioned before he's my favorite in the series, just barely edging out Dumbledore. I like that whatever else he may be, whoever else he may be, Mad-Eye Moody is a good teacher. I imagine it would be amazing to be in a class taught by him on any subject, let alone a subject as interesting as unforgivable curses.

Moody has prepared stunning visuals to illustrate his lesson and a less skilled writer would've left it there, but Rowling knows better. In the end, the information of how bad guy spells work is not of practical use to the reader. The magic doesn't exist. We can't take what we learn here and apply it elsewhere. 

The unforgivable curses are not genuinely interesting to the reader until they're impacting our characters in some way, which of course, they later will. There's a reason this information is presented in the context of a story and not a fantasy text book--yes, I know Rowling wrote two such Harry Potter themed text books as well as a fairy tale collection. But none of those works have approached the popularity of the main tale. 

The thing to take away from Chapter 14 is not the information about the curses or even Moody's presentation skills beyond how they add to his character. The thing to take away is how Rowling ties the information to character, using it to shape her characters as well as making the information relevant. 

She does this first humerously utilizing Ron's fear of spiders the reader will remember well from The Chamber of Secrets. And to be fair, if giant spiders had surrounded my car and threatened to eat me and my friend, I'd have a bit of a hang up about spiders as well.

Moody got heavily to his mismatched feet, opened his desk drawer, and took out a glass jar. Three large black spiders were scuttling around inside it. Harry felt Ron recoil slightly next to him — Ron hated spiders.
Moody reached into the jar, caught one of the spiders, and held it in the palm of his hand so that they could all see it. He then pointed his wand at it and muttered, “Imperio!” 
The spider leapt from Moody’s hand on a fine thread of silk and began to swing backward and forward as though on a trapeze. It stretched out its legs rigidly, then did a back flip, breaking the thread and landing on the desk, where it began to cartwheel in circles. Moody jerked his wand, and the spider rose onto two of its hind legs and went into what was unmistakably a tap dance. 
Everyone was laughing — everyone except Moody. 
“Think it’s funny, do you?” he growled. “You’d like it, would you, if I did it to you?” 
The laughter died away almost instantly. 
“Total control,” said Moody quietly as the spider balled itself up and began to roll over and over. “I could make it jump out of the window, drown itself, throw itself down one of your throats . . .” 
Ron gave an involuntary shudder.

Note how Ron's reactions build upon each other, climaxing at the demonstration of the final curse for maximum comedic effect. But laughter is not the only emotional response Rowling seeks to illicit. Returning readers will remember that Neville Longbottom's parents were tortured to death by the very spell Moody is demonstrating. See how it changes the tone of the exposition and invests it with greater weight:

“The Cruciatus Curse,” said Moody. “Needs to be a bit bigger for you to get the idea,” he said, pointing his wand at the spider. “Engorgio!” 
The spider swelled. It was now larger than a tarantula. Abandoning all pretense, Ron pushed his chair backward, as far away from Moody’s desk as possible. 
Moody raised his wand again, pointed it at the spider, and muttered, “Crucio!” 
At once, the spider’s legs bent in upon its body; it rolled over and began to twitch horribly, rocking from side to side. No sound came from it, but Harry was sure that if it could have given voice, it would have been screaming. Moody did not remove his wand, and the spider started to shudder and jerk more violently —
“Stop it!” Hermione said shrilly. 
Harry looked around at her. She was looking, not at the spider, but at Neville, and Harry, following her gaze, saw that Neville’s hands were clenched upon the desk in front of him, his knuckles white, his eyes wide and horrified. 
Moody raised his wand. The spider’s legs relaxed, but it continued to twitch.

And finally, Rowling brings us back to Harry, whose emotional journey is the subject of seven books. I especially want to point out Rowling's use of the word "thrill" in this next passage. It's the right word, of course, and it lends a certain perspective to Harry. But contrast Harry's reaction to the spell that killed his parents versus the reaction of Neville to the same: 

Moody raised his wand, and Harry felt a sudden thrill of foreboding. 
“Avada Kedavra!” Moody roared. 
There was a flash of blinding green light and a rushing sound, as though a vast, invisible something was soaring through the air — instantaneously the spider rolled over onto its back, unmarked, but unmistakably dead. Several of the students stifled cries; Ron had thrown himself backward and almost toppled off his seat as the spider skidded toward him.

Oh Ron, don't ever change:) All of this exposition and emotional investment is more than enough work for one chapter, but witness how Rowling uses this lesson to pull off one essential final coup:

“You all right, Neville?” Harry asked him. 
“Oh yes,” said Neville, “I’m fine, thanks. Just reading this book Professor Moody lent me. . . .” 
He held up the book: Magical Water Plants of the Mediterranean
“Apparently, Professor Sprout told Professor Moody I’m really good at Herbology,” Neville said. There was a faint note of pride in his voice that Harry had rarely heard there before. “He thought I’d like this.”
Telling Neville what Professor Sprout had said, Harry thought, had been a very tactful way of cheering Neville up, for Neville very rarely heard that he was good at anything. It was the sort of thing Professor Lupin would have done.

Comparing Mad-Eye Moody to the beloved Professor Lupin is a master stroke. Rowling is all but telling the reader that Mad-Eye Moody is one of the good guys, but she never actually says this. She has Harry think it.

This combined with his attack on Malfoy last chapter all but certifies Mad-Eye Moody, despite the reasons Rowling gave us to distrust him. Taking the time to endear Moody to the reader not by telling us about him, but by showing us his kindness to poor Neville sets us up perfectly for the book's big surprise many chapters and many weeks from now.

I'm out of time, but I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Rowling does tell us the reason Hermione's spent so much time in the library recently. She's been researching the history of house-elves and formulating a plan to create a political party in their favor. We'll be talking about that more in later chapters, but another event coming up in the novel is Hermione dating a boy other than Ron! 

Poor Ron! He looses his best friend and his girl thoughout the course of this novel, but see how Rowling plants the seeds. Suppose this conversation has anything to do with Hermione's later fancying someone other than Ron:

“I’ve been researching it thoroughly in the library. Elf enslavement goes back centuries. I can’t believe no one’s done anything about it before now.” 
“Hermione — open your ears,” said Ron loudly. “They. Like. It. They like being enslaved!” “
Our short-term aims,” said Hermione, speaking even more loudly than Ron, and acting as though she hadn’t heard a word, “are to secure house-elves fair wages and working conditions. Our long-term aims include changing the law about non-wand use, and trying to get an elf into the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures, because they’re shockingly underrepresented.”

And that's it. Meet me here next week for a discussion of Chapter 15. 

Last Paragraph: He heard Ron come up into the dormitory a short while later, but did not speak to him. For a long time, Harry lay staring up at the dark canopy of his bed. The dormitory was completely silent, and, had he been less preoccupied, Harry would have realized that the absence of Neville’s usual snores meant that he was not the only one lying awake.

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