First Paragraph: Early next morning, Harry woke with a plan fully formed in his mind, as though his sleeping brain had been working on it all night. He got up, dressed in the pale dawn light, left the dormitory without waking Ron, and went back down to the deserted common room. Here he took a piece of parchment from the table upon which his Divination homework still lay and wrote the following letter: Dear Sirius, I reckon I just imagined my scar hurting, I was half asleep when I wrote to you last time. There’s no point coming back, everything’s fine here. Don’t worry about me, my head feels completely normal.
Hello there, Esteemed Reader. Sorry to have missed you last week. I wish I could tell you it's because I was working on my new book and was so caught up I simply forgot to blog. Alas, I'm missing a crucial element in my new tale and I won't really be able to get it up and running until I solve the story problem. I'll figure it out; I always do. When I do, I'll be so busy creating the new world I'll forget to eat, shower, take bathroom breaks, etc. It's not inconceivable I may forget to update this blog. In many ways, being a creative writer is a lot like having a mental disorder:)
Last week, I had a boring, run-of-the-mill medical issue. It's since been resolved and as I write this I have lovely painkillers coursing through my system. I'm just fine now, really. This isn't an attempt to prey on your sympathies, just a--heck, I don't know what this is. Stupid painkillers. Stupid mushy brain:)
Anywho, I'm back this week and eager to chat about Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire with my favorite Esteemed Reader (that's you!). This week, it's to be Chapter 15. This is yet another chapter that's more about setting things up to happen later rather than things actually happening--that comes next chapter. In order for three wizard schools to compete in a Triwizard tournament, two additional schools need to be introduced at some point. Chapter 15 is that point.
Learning about other branches of wizard society is certainly interesting, but the reader has already been to the Quidditch World Cup, which was like the Epcot of wizard countries. Some fantasy readers are endlessly hungry for imaginary details about cultures that have never actually existed. The Ninja is not one of these readers. I enjoy enough world-building to be caught up in a story, but I have little patience for supplemental material or stories bogged down by too much non-essential detail.
I watched the new Star Trek movie and I had a good time, but I'm not going to learn to speak Klingon (if I'm investing that kind of time, I'm learning a language I can speak with more people than my friend who lives in his mother's basement). I've only seen one or two of the original Star Trek movies (I can't take Shatner's acting) and only a handful of episodes of the different television series. There are plenty of Trekies out there and for them, supplemental material is available in an incalculable quantity. Good for them, but they aren't the mainstream. I enjoyed the movie because it stuck to action, space lasers, explosions, and a contained story I didn't have to know the complete Trek history to understand.
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is a mainstream story. Rowling gives us plenty of details about the Beauxbatons and Durmstrang, the two rival schools joining in the triwizard tournament, but never too many. In the end, no matter what we learn about the other schools, the reader is going to root for Harry and Hogwarts. Therefore, Rowling restricts our knowledge of the schools to what is relevant to this story. With every new student introduced, Rowling shows us how their presence will impact our characters, thus making the new characters relevant.
To start with, Rowling shows us how Hogwarts is getting ready for the arrival of the schools:
Harry noticed too that the castle seemed to be undergoing an extra-thorough cleaning. Several grimy portraits had been scrubbed, much to the displeasure of their subjects, who sat huddled in their frames muttering darkly and wincing as they felt their raw pink faces. The suits of armor were suddenly gleaming and moving without squeaking, and Argus Filch, the caretaker, was behaving so ferociously to any students who forgot to wipe their shoes that he terrified a pair of first-year girls into hysterics.
The subjects of the paintings wincing at their raw pink faces may be my favorite detail in the whole book. It just captures the imagination, doesn't it? But of course the point of this passage is meant to show us the mood of the school as the students and faculty pull together to be ready for competition. This next passage has the details fanboys will need to make their own Harry-Potter-themed whatever, but Rowling presents the information in this same context of the school gearing up for the big game:
When they went down to breakfast on the morning of the thirtieth of October, they found that the Great Hall had been decorated overnight. Enormous silk banners hung from the walls, each of them representing a Hogwarts House: red with a gold lion for Gryffindor, blue with a bronze eagle for Ravenclaw, yellow with a black badger for Hufflepuff, and green with a silver serpent for Slytherin. Behind the teachers’ table, the largest banner of all bore the Hogwarts coat of arms: lion, eagle, badger, and snake united around a large letter H.
The teachers are loading our heroes up with extra lessons and homework under the guise of preparing them for their Ordinary Wizarding Levels. But really, the teachers want their students up to snuff for comparison with the students of rival schools. Hogwarts is preparing itself to do battle, and that's why the details of the coming schools will be interesting rather than supplemental information: the other schools are competitors.
If Rowling were writing supplemental material, she might not choose to make the headmaster of Durmstrang a former dark wizard who has a history with Dumbledore, or the headmaster of Beauxbatons a giantess who might make a perfect love interest for a certain Hogwarts gamekeeper. But every detail of these new characters from rival wizard schools is relevant only because of how their presence impacts our protagonists and their journey. Otherwise, Rowling would be better served saving these new characters for their own book.
In this same vein, the long history of oppression for unfortunate house-elves is not interesting since this story isn't about them. This isn't Dobby Unchained (too bad). House-elves and their fate is not a subject relevant to our story until our characters debate it:
Ron now rolled his eyes at the ceiling, which was flooding them all in autumn sunlight, and Fred became extremely interested in his bacon (both twins had refused to buy a S.P.E.W. badge). George, however, leaned in toward Hermione. “Listen, have you ever been down in the kitchens, Hermione?”
“No, of course not,” said Hermione curtly, “I hardly think students are supposed to —”
“Well, we have,” said George, indicating Fred, “loads of times, to nick food. And we’ve met them, and they’re happy. They think they’ve got the best job in the world —”
“That’s because they’re uneducated and brainwashed!”
The liberation of house-elves is a subplot never fully satisfied in the seven Harry Potter books, nor does it need to be. There's a lot of discussion of a house-elf revolution, but it never actually happens. The climax of book seven is not a house-elf uprising (too bad). We do get to see the evolution of a couple house elves throughout the series, but their fight for civil rights continues outside the scope of these books, and that's as it should be. At the end of the day, house-elves and their story is the subject of another book and they are important here only because of how they impact our heroes.
Still, I love how Rowling cautions children to question society and our rules without coming right out and advising them to. Children who read about Hermione's views on imaginary oppression are growing up to recognize actual oppression. Because Hermione asserts that a fantasy history is in some cases a pack of lies, future conspiracy theorists may question real history. This is actually pretty heady stuff for a "kid's book:"
She noticed them all looking at her and said, with her usual air of impatience that nobody else had read all the books she had, “It’s all in Hogwarts: A History. Though, of course, that book’s not entirely reliable. A Revised History of Hogwarts would be a more accurate title. Or A Highly Biased and Selective History of Hogwarts, Which Glosses Over the Nastier Aspects of the School.” “What are you on about?” said Ron, though Harry thought he knew what was coming. “House-elves!” said Hermione, her eyes flashing. “Not once, in over a thousand pages, does Hogwarts: A History mention that we are all colluding in the oppression of a hundred slaves!”
And that's what I have to say about this book this week. Hope I can think of something else to say about it next week:) We're out of time, Esteemed Reader, but I'm going to leave you with two last descriptions because I think they demonstrate an important prinicipal of writing: the most vivid descriptions usually involve violence or a gross-out or sometimes both. I've said it before and I'll say it again: Rowling would've made a heck of a horror writer and I sincerely hope she's working on a scary story now rather than a sequel to The Casual Vacancy.
See how Rowling brings the Owlery to life by highlighting the grossest aspect of it:
The Owlery was a circular stone room, rather cold and drafty, because none of the windows had glass in them. The floor was entirely covered in straw, owl droppings, and the regurgitated skeletons of mice and voles. Hundreds upon hundreds of owls of every breed imaginable were nestled here on perches that rose right up to the top of the tower, nearly all of them asleep, though here and there a round amber eye glared at Harry. He spotted Hedwig nestled between a barn owl and a tawny, and hurried over to her, sliding a little on the dropping-strewn floor.
Owls are interesting, but not as interesting as poop:) And just in case Rowling didn't capture the reader's imagination, there's always that old standby of eating puss, which comes up frequently in the Harry Potter books:
They knew Hermione would rather eat bubotuber pus than miss such an important lesson.
And just because it makes me laugh, here's one last passage:
“Talk about paranoid . . .” Ron glanced nervously over his shoulder to check that Moody was definitely out of earshot and went on. “No wonder they were glad to get shot of him at the Ministry."
Last Paragraph: Karkaroff beckoned forward one of his students. As the boy passed, Harry caught a glimpse of a prominent curved nose and thick black eyebrows. He didn’t need the punch on the arm Ron gave him, or the hiss in his ear, to recognize that profile. “Harry — it’s Krum!”