Wednesday, June 19, 2013


First Paragraph(s): I don’t believe it!” Ron said, in a stunned voice, as the Hogwarts students filed back up the steps behind the party from Durmstrang. “Krum, Harry! Viktor Krum!” 
“For heaven’s sake, Ron, he’s only a Quidditch player,” said Hermione. 
“Only a Quidditch player?” Ron said, looking at her as though he couldn’t believe his ears. “Hermione — he’s one of the best Seekers in the world! I had no idea he was still at school!”

Hello there, Esteemed Reader! I hope your week is going well. The Ninja has recently learned firsthand that husbands can experience sympathy pregnancy symptoms, which has to be the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard of. But I've talked with enough dad's to confirm it's a real thing. I won't bore you with the obnoxious details, but know the whole time I'm experiencing them, I am annoyed and quite disgusted with myself. 

Mrs. Ninja and I have enough complications in our life with one of us being pregnant; we don't need any trouble from me. In a battle, should one soldier be shot in the leg, the rest of her platoon doesn't shoot themselves in the leg to make her feel better. The whole business of sympathy pains is absurd and I'm tired of talking about it (which could be the result of sympathy moodiness), so let's talk about Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.

It's to be Chapter 16 this week in which we at long last have reached the actual Goblet of Fire, allowing us to fully appreciate the title of the book. The main purpose of Chapter 16 is to establish the rules of the Triwizard Tournament and set up one of the biggest plot points of this book's adventure. Harry Potter is going to compete in that tournament. Of course he is. Can you imagine a Harry Potter book in which Harry spent chapter after chapter cheering for Cedric Diggory from the stands? That's not going to happen and the book would be a lame read if it did. 

To her credit though, Rowling does take the time to build doubt in the reader's mind. This is important for two reasons: 1. it's no fun to read a story in which everything happens the manner in which the reader expects it to happen. 2. Harry is a more relatable, as well as more a consistent character if he is a reluctant hero--see every action hero movie ever made. 

John McClain's days of killing terrorists by the dozens are done until his wife/daughter/son is kidnapped and he has to make a bunch of folks Die Hard one last time, depending on opening weekend grosses. The Man of Steel isn't planning to save the world until General Zod holds it hostage and only he can save us. If Harry rushes to put himself in harm's way without a compelling reason, he isn't a real character, and if his reason is merely seeking additional fame, he isn't the Harry we've grown to love over three books. Russel Crowe doesn't choose to be Gladiator, he's forced to be. And so it's to be with Harry.

As usual, whenever Rowling has some important exposition to relate to the reader and Hermione isn't available, she has Dumbledore. One of the advantages of setting a story in a school is headmasters really do give long speeches to their student body explaining rules of an event:

“Anybody wishing to submit themselves as champion must write their name and school clearly upon a slip of parchment and drop it into the goblet,” said Dumbledore. “Aspiring champions have twenty-four hours in which to put their names forward. Tomorrow night, Halloween, the goblet will return the names of the three it has judged most worthy to represent their schools. The goblet will be placed in the entrance hall tonight, where it will be freely accessible to all those wishing to compete. 
“To ensure that no underage student yields to temptation,” said Dumbledore, “I will be drawing an Age Line around the Goblet of Fire once it has been placed in the entrance hall. Nobody under the age of seventeen will be able to cross this line. 
“Finally, I wish to impress upon any of you wishing to compete that this tournament is not to be entered into lightly. Once a champion has been selected by the Goblet of Fire, he or she is obliged to see the tournament through to the end. The placing of your name in the goblet constitutes a binding, magical contract."

That last line is especially important. The "binding, magical contract" bit guarantees that as soon as Harry is chosen by the Goblet of Fire, he'll have no choice--the key to the reluctant action hero--but to compete in the Triwizard Tournament. And he'll win (by a tie, it's true) because, we'll, he's Harry Potter, dude. And despite his reluctance, Harry may not be entirely opposed to bit a glory:

“You’ll try and get in, won’t you, Harry?” 
Harry thought briefly of Dumbledore’s insistence that nobody under seventeen should submit their name, but then the wonderful picture of himself winning the Triwizard Tournament filled his mind again. . . . He wondered how angry Dumbledore would be if someone younger than seventeen did find a way to get over the Age Line. . .

Writers, take note: Rowling may lay out the rules of the Goblet of Fire in a boring talking head scene, but she doesn't leave it there. In order to keep readers guessing as to how he'll get into the tournament and to show Harry's reluctance, Rowling has to create an obstacle to Harry's entering. It's one thing for Dumbledore to explain there's an Age Line around the Goblet of Fire, but the reader will not accept it unless we're shown. The result is quite funny and comedy is almost always worth slowing your story down for:

“Done it,” Fred said in a triumphant whisper to Harry, Ron, and Hermione. “Just taken it.” 
“What?” said Ron. 
“The Aging Potion, dung brains,” said Fred.
“One drop each,” said George, rubbing his hands together with glee. “We only need to be a few months older.”

Harry watched, fascinated, as Fred pulled a slip of parchment out of his pocket bearing the words Fred Weasley — Hogwarts. Fred walked right up to the edge of the line and stood there, rocking on his toes like a diver preparing for a fifty-foot drop. Then, with the eyes of every person in the entrance hall upon him, he took a great breath and stepped over the line. 
For a split second Harry thought it had worked — George certainly thought so, for he let out a yell of triumph and leapt after Fred — but next moment, there was a loud sizzling sound, and both twins were hurled out of the golden circle as though they had been thrown by an invisible shot-putter. They landed painfully, ten feet away on the cold stone floor, and to add insult to injury, there was a loud popping noise, and both of them sprouted identical long white beards.

And there you have it. Rowling tells us that no one under the age of seventeen can put their name in the Goblet of Fire and then she shows us it's so, giving credibility to Dumbledore's words and a laugh to the young reader.Therefore, Harry Potter cannot enter the tournament, simple as that, so there's no point in his worrying about it. But just as the reader accepts this, Rowling reveals in the last paragraph cliff hanger that Harry's name has somehow been placed in the cup and he must compete. The reluctant hero is forced to act and is made more sympathetic by being forced. That's the meat of the chapter and if Rowling left it there, her story would be moving along nicely and I wouldn't have anything to say about it. 

But Rowling doesn't leave it there. Her pacing and her plots are impeccableusually, but the reason this series is so beloved is for its characters. Though the majority of Chapter 16 is devoted to the Goblet of Fire and this all-important plot point that sets up the novel's main mystery: who put Harry's name in the Goblet of Fire and why, there are still whole sections of the chapter devoted to character. 

Rowling further's her running joke of Ron being the world's biggest Victor Krum fan, which will be extra funny later when the world-famous athlete starts dating Ron's would-be (will-be) girlfriend:

Several sixth-year girls were frantically searching their pockets as they walked — “Oh I don’t believe it, I haven’t got a single quill on me —”
"D’you think he’d sign my hat in lipstick?” 
“Really,” Hermione said loftily (another unnecessary adverb--MGN) as they passed the girls, now squabbling over the lipstick. 
“I’m getting his autograph if I can,” said Ron. “You haven’t got a quill, have you, Harry?”

Ron and Hermione aren't the only teens discovering lust for the first time. Harry himself again takes special notice of Cho Chang, which is a crush that will pay off more in the next adventure than this book. And to make matters more interesting, there are veela running around Hogwarts this year, distracting all the boys and mayhap some of the girls:

The girl picked up the dish and carried it carefully off to the Ravenclaw table. Ron was still goggling at the girl as though he had never seen one before. Harry started to laugh. The sound seemed to jog Ron back to his senses. “She’s a veela!” he said hoarsely to Harry. 
“Of course she isn’t!” said Hermione tartly. (this adverb not quite so offensive--MGN) “I don’t see anyone else gaping at her like an idiot!” But she wasn’t entirely right about that. As the girl crossed the Hall, many boys’ heads turned, and some of them seemed to have become temporarily speechless, just like Ron. 
“I’m telling you, that’s not a normal girl!” said Ron, leaning sideways so he could keep a clear view of her. “They don’t make them like that at Hogwarts!” 
“They make them okay at Hogwarts,” said Harry without thinking. Cho happened to be sitting only a few places away from the girl with the silvery hair.

Teenagers thinking about the opposite sex is hardly groundbreaking stuff, but it is important that Rowling's characters be consistent and behave the way non-magical teenagers would behave at this age. More interesting is Hermione's jealousy of Ron noticing another girl, though as I've mentioned, she'll get hers later. Even with everything else going on in this chapter, Rowling makes time to service our main characters and their relationships, which is precisely why we care about everything else going on. 

Of more interest to me in this chapter than teenagers and their hormones is Rowling's treatment of Hagrid, though he'll later have his own romantic issues to contend with. In some ways Hagrid is a big child and a fourth member of the trio. He genuinely seems to enjoy his time with Harry, Ron, and Hermione, and few settings in Hogwarts are as vividly described over seven books as Hagrid's hut: 

Hagrid’s cabin comprised a single room, in one corner of which was a gigantic bed covered in a patchwork quilt. A similarly enormous wooden table and chairs stood in front of the fire beneath the quantity of cured hams and dead birds hanging from the ceiling. They sat down at the table while Hagrid started to make tea, and were soon immersed in yet more discussion of the Triwizard Tournament. Hagrid seemed quite as excited about it as they were. 
“You wait,” he said, grinning. “You jus’ wait. Yer going ter see some stuff yeh’ve never seen before. Firs’ task . . . ah, but I’m not supposed ter say.” 
“Go on, Hagrid!” Harry, Ron, and Hermione urged him, but he just shook his head, grinning. 
“I don’ want ter spoil it fer yeh,” said Hagrid. “But it’s gonna be spectacular, I’ll tell yeh that. Them champions’re going ter have their work cut out. Never thought I’d live ter see the Triwizard Tournament played again!” 
They ended up having lunch with Hagrid, though they didn’t eat much — Hagrid had made what he said was a beef casserole, but after Hermione unearthed a large talon in hers, she, Harry, and Ron rather lost their appetites.

It's a lovely scene and Rowling is setting us up perfectly. Who wouldn't want to spend an afternoon in Hagrid's hut, even if lunch wasn't such of a much and the conversation revolved around the main plot? It's a warm, comforting place, and to me, it feels like home. Given his love for Harry and Harry's love for Hagrid, I'm amazed the giant managed to survive seven novels, as Harry's love is typically a death sentence. But just as the reader is feeling safe, even if only for a few paragraphs, Hagrid drops a bomb: 

A light rain had started to fall by midafternoon; it was very cozy sitting by the fire, listening to the gentle patter of the drops on the window, watching Hagrid darning his socks and arguing with Hermione about house-elves — for he flatly refused to join S.P.E.W. when she showed him her badges. 
“It’d be doin’ ’em an unkindness, Hermione,” he said gravely, threading a massive bone needle with thick yellow yarn. “It’s in their nature ter look after humans, that’s what they like, see? Yeh’d be makin’ ’em unhappy ter take away their work, an’ insultin’ ’em if yeh tried ter pay ’em.” 
“But Harry set Dobby free, and he was over the moon about it!” said Hermione. “And we heard he’s asking for wages now!” 
“Yeah, well, yeh get weirdos in every breed. I’m not sayin’ there isn’t the odd elf who’d take freedom, but yeh’ll never persuade most of ’em ter do it — no, nothin’ doin’, Hermione.” 
Hermione looked very cross indeed and stuffed her box of badges back into her cloak pocket.

That may be one of my favorite conversations in the series. I love that Hagrid is wrong and that Rowling dares to give him the wrong view. Hagrid's not a bad guy, the reader knows. A few paragraphs before he was everyone's favorite, so why is he here endorsing slavery?

We can debate the reasons behind Rowling's choice, and by all means, if you disagree with me, sound off in the comments below. But realistically, in order for a society to have slaves, slavery has to be endorsed by a sizable portion of its members, and not just the villains. There are some relatives in my life who hold despicable views, but they love me and I love them right back. Life's too short for philosophical grudges among family.

And it's important to note that Hagrid's argument for continued slavery, wrong though it may be, is not an unkind one. The reasons why he thinks what he thinks are as important as what he thinks. This is worth remembering if you're planning to give your own character a view on the wrong side of history and want them to still be sympathetic. Rhett Butler may have helped form the Klan, but he had handsome, dashing reasons for doing so:) 

That's it for this week's long rambling about Harry Potter absolutely no one asked for. But traffic patterns tell me these weekly snore fests are being read and I enjoy writing them, so meet me here next week  for a discussion of Chapter 17 in which Ron and Harry finally start their big lover's quarrel

Last Paragraph(s): The fire in the goblet had just turned red again. Sparks were flying out of it. A long flame shot suddenly into the air, and borne upon it was another piece of parchment. 
Automatically, it seemed, Dumbledore reached out a long hand and seized the parchment. He held it out and stared at the name written upon it. There was a long pause, during which Dumbledore stared at the slip in his hands, and everyone in the room stared at Dumbledore. And then Dumbledore cleared his throat and read out —
“Harry Potter.”

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