Wednesday, July 10, 2013


First Paragraph: The prospect of talking face-to-face with Sirius was all that sustained Harry over the next fortnight, the only bright spot on a horizon that had never looked darker. The shock of finding himself school champion had worn off slightly now, and the fear of what was facing him had started to sink in. The first task was drawing steadily nearer; he felt as though it were crouching ahead of him like some horrific monster, barring his path. He had never suffered nerves like these; they were way beyond anything he had experienced before a Quidditch match, not even his last one against Slytherin, which had decided who would win the Quidditch Cup. Harry was finding it hard to think about the future at all; he felt as though his whole life had been leading up to, and would finish with, the first task. . .

Hi there, Esteemed Reader. I've taken up a new hobby: reading books to Mrs. Ninja's stomach:) Our little ninja seems to enjoy it and that makes me proud. "I'm not born yet" is no excuse for not reading:) So far the little ninja has enjoyed the work of Hugh Howey and J.K. Rowling, but he or she has only had ears for about  a week. 

By the way, if you're wondering if I'm ever again going to review another book, or if this blog is to be strictly about Harry Potter chapters from here on out, be rest assured. There's a reason I'm reading science fiction sensation Hugh Howey (beyond his inherent awesomeness). It might just be he's going to stop by the blog next week:)

But as it's Wednesday, Book Club Day, this blog is going to be strictly about Harry Potter today. The thing about one chapter a week is we don't always get to discuss a full part of the story. After all, chapters are the building blocks of a book. Chapter 19 wouldn't work on it's own and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire wouldn't work without it. 

Chapter 19 is largely about setting up the events of Chapter 20, which is for me one of the high points of the book as it's the chapter in which Harry finally fights a dragon--from the day Rowling started a seven-book series about a boy wizard in a fantastical world containing dragons, this fight has been inevitable. But Chapter 20 doesn't work without Chapter 19 setting the stage, which we'll talk more about in a moment.

First, I just want to point out how much delight Rowling takes in making Harry's life truly miserable. In her way, she's as bad as Mad-Eye Moody turning kids into ferrets and bouncing them about. She's already given Harry the stress of having to compete in the Triwizard Tournament, but that's necessary for the plot to progress. Then Rowling had Ron abandon Harry and she had most of the school turn on him, thinking he placed his name in the Goblet of Fire for personal glory. Many of the students are now wearing badges reading "Potter Stinks." 

I'd say Harry's had enough, let's stop before someone gets really hurt, but you can't pull Rowling off her protagonist when she's in a truly violent rage:) I'm joking, of course. Whenever a plausible opportunity comes along to twist the knife in your protagonist's back a bit more, a writer should seize it. Rowling introduced Rita Skeeter last chapter specifically to hurt Harry more both in this and future books, and now it's hard out here for a wizard:

In the meantime, life became even worse for Harry within the confines of the castle, for Rita Skeeter had published her piece about the Triwizard Tournament, and it had turned out to be not so much a report on the tournament as a highly colored life story of Harry.

Rita Skeeter had reported him saying an awful lot of things that he couldn’t remember ever saying in his life, let alone in that broom cupboard.

Now students are following Harry around quoting the article to him, and Harry is feeling, understandably, a bit defensive:

“Hey — Harry!” 
“Yeah, that’s right!” Harry found himself shouting as he wheeled around in the corridor, having had just about enough. “I’ve just been crying my eyes out over my dead mum, and I’m just off to do a bit more. . . .” 
“No — it was just — you dropped your quill.” 
It was Cho. Harry felt the color rising in his face. 
“Oh — right — sorry,” he muttered, taking the quill back. 
“Er . . . good luck on Tuesday,” she said. “I really hope you do well.” 
Which left Harry feeling extremely stupid.

And now Harry's love life is in the toilet to boot. The passage above is great because it not only tortures Harry further, making the book that much more readable, but also makes Harry relatable to the reader. Young readers will have surely had or at least witnessed awkward interactions with the opposite sex (or same sex person to whom one is attracted, if I'm going to be all politically correct and junk). Older readers will no doubt recall their own awkward interactions with the person of any race, gender, or creed, to whom they felt attraction:)

If I were to write an outline of this story, which would surely be less time-consuming than these weekly chapter breakdowns, I would write this for Chapter 19: Harry deals with the fall out from Rita Skeeter's article, Hagrid shows Harry the dragons he'll have to face in the first task of the tournament, and Sirius has a forbidden fireside chat with Harry about necessary exposition to further the mystery of who put his name in the Goblet of Fire. 

Some may say Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is too long, but not me. Rowling's story breathes and takes the time it needs to work. As I've said, there are three major events in this chapter, but the reason we care about them at all is because they involve characters we care about. Dragons have to take a back seat to the ongoing soap opera that is Ron and Harry's broken friendship:

Hermione was furious with the pair of them; she went from one to the other, trying to force them to talk to each other, but Harry was adamant: He would talk to Ron again only if Ron admitted that Harry hadn’t put his name in the Goblet of Fire and apologized for calling him a liar. 
“I didn’t start this,” Harry said stubbornly. “It’s his problem.” 
“You miss him!” Hermione said impatiently. “And I know he misses you —” 
“Miss him?” said Harry. “I don’t miss him. . . . ” 
But this was a downright lie. Harry liked Hermione very much, but she just wasn’t the same as Ron. There was much less laughter and a lot more hanging around in the library when Hermione was your best friend.

There's a lot of telling in that passage, but that's okay because Rowling also shows us Harry's loss in action:

Viktor Krum was in the library an awful lot too, and Harry wondered what he was up to. Was he studying, or was he looking for things to help him through the first task? Hermione often complained about Krum being there — not that he ever bothered them — but because groups of giggling girls often turned up to spy on him from behind bookshelves, and Hermione found the noise distracting. 
“He’s not even good-looking!” she muttered angrily, glaring at Krum’s sharp profile. “They only like him because he’s famous! They wouldn’t look twice at him if he couldn’t do that Wonky-Faint thing —”
“Wronski Feint,” said Harry, through gritted teeth. Quite apart from liking to get Quidditch terms correct, it caused him another pang to imagine Ron’s expression if he could have heard Hermione talking about Wonky-Faints.

That may be the best passage about a teen missing a friend I've ever read. Who hasn't been in a situation where you wish a particular friend was there to appreciate the moment? And those moments are bittersweet if for some reason the friend can't be there. Because Rowling takes the time to illustrate Harry's loss, we care that he gets his friend back. By further illustrating the boys importance to Hermione, we care that they mend their friendship for her sake.

And of course, there's a bit of misdirection in play as well. If Hermione doesn't think Krum is good looking, surely she won't want to later attend the big dance with him rather than Ron... Most every chapter in this book contains at least one set up for a later pay off, which brings us to what Hagrid shows Harry late at night:

Four fully grown, enormous, vicious-looking dragons were rearing onto their hind legs inside an enclosure fenced with thick planks of wood, roaring and snorting — torrents of fire were shooting into the dark sky from their open, fanged mouths, fifty feet above the ground on their outstretched necks. There was a silvery-blue one with long, pointed horns, snapping and snarling at the wizards on the ground; a smooth-scaled green one, which was writhing and stamping with all its might; a red one with an odd fringe of fine gold spikes around its face, which was shooting mushroom-shaped fire clouds into the air; and a gigantic black one, more lizard-like than the others, which was nearest to them. 
At least thirty wizards, seven or eight to each dragon, were attempting to control them, pulling on the chains connected to heavy leather straps around their necks and legs.

I especially love the detail about seven or eight wizards to each dragon. If each dragon takes that many wizards to control, what hope does one plucky boy wizard have? The dragons are well described, of course, and their presence is exciting, but my question for you, Esteemed Reader, is why are the dragons introduced in Chapter 19 rather than 20?

Surely they'll be plenty of time to describe the dragons when Harry is fighting one during the Triwizard Tournament. It seems this book could be shorter if Rowling simply introduced the dragons the day of rather than a whole chapter before hand. 

Anticipation is half of suspense, Esteemed Reader.Harry fighting the dragon is one of the biggest moments in book four and Rowling builds to it by telling the reader in advance some of what's coming. Because both Harry and the reader know what's coming, the tension that mounts prior to Harry's brush with the Hungarian Hortail is in some ways more suspenseful than the actual tournament event. 

Rowling doesn't give the whole game away. She doesn't tell us exactly how the dragons will be used, though she certainly plants enough clues:

They wanted nesting mothers, I don’t know why . . . but I tell you this, I don’t envy the one who gets the Horntail. Vicious thing. Its back end’s as dangerous as its front, look.” 
Charlie pointed toward the Horntail’s tail, and Harry saw long, bronze-colored spikes protruding along it every few inches. 
Five of Charlie’s fellow keepers staggered up to the Horntail at that moment, carrying a clutch of huge granite-gray eggs between them in a blanket. They placed them carefully at the Horntail’s side. Hagrid let out a moan of longing. 
“I’ve got them counted, Hagrid,” said Charlie sternly. 

Most every Stephen King book I've ever read had about 50 pages of character development and foreshadowing for every 5 pages of actual violence and horror, and he's the master of suspense. The secret to building suspense, as Rowling well knows, is not in keeping things from the reader, but in revealing things to the reader. If she told us nothing about the first task in the tournament, we wouldn't know what to expect and how excited to be until the second task. But because she prepares us a chapter in advance by revealing the dragons, we go into Chapter 20 excited and nervous for Harry.

And that's going to do it for Chapter 19. Meet me here next week for Hugh Howey and Harry's battle with a fire-breathing dragon. It's going to be fun:)

Last Paragraph(s): “Just thought you’d come nosing around, did you?” Harry shouted. He knew that Ron had no idea what he’d walked in on, knew he hadn’t done it on purpose, but he didn’t care — at this moment he hated everything about Ron, right down to the several inches of bare ankle showing beneath his pajama trousers. 
“Sorry about that,” said Ron, his face reddening with anger. “Should’ve realized you didn’t want to be disturbed. I’ll let you get on with practicing for your next interview in peace.” 
Harry seized one of the POTTER REALLY STINKS badges off the table and chucked it, as hard as he could, across the room. It hit Ron on the forehead and bounced off. 
“There you go,” Harry said. “Something for you to wear on Tuesday. You might even have a scar now, if you’re lucky. . . . That’s what you want, isn’t it?” 
He strode across the room toward the stairs; he half expected Ron to stop him, he would even have liked Ron to throw a punch at him, but Ron just stood there in his too-small pajamas, and Harry, having stormed upstairs, lay awake in bed fuming for a long time afterward and didn’t hear him come up to bed.

1 comment:

  1. I find that chapters that connect plot developments to, or set up for, some big event are always the hardest to write!


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