Originally posted on Potter's Place
As I mentioned in my review, Goblet of Fire is my favourite of the Harry Potter books (thus far at least). For many fans Prisoner of Azkaban was the high point of the series, so I decided to try and explain just what it is I like so much and why I prefer it over the other books.
Goblet of Fire has been criticised for being overly long, it's been suggested that Rowling's huge success with the first three books meant the editors were told to stand aside, advised to only change what was absolutely necessary and let the obvious literary magic she possesses shine through. Rowling has confessed that she was under a lot of pressure to finish the novel because she had committed to an unrealistic deadline and was even fantasising about breaking her arm so she physically couldn't write and would get more time. Perhaps this lack of time and added pressure is another reason why the story is longer, more convoluted and less focused than her previous works. Perhaps the tight deadlines meant the editors simply didn't get time to do their job to the fullest. I will hold my hand up and say that the book does meander a bit, even I can see that, but you know what, I don't care. It's a book, I have lots of time to wallow in it, to dive right in and lose myself, to let it wash over me, to read and re-read parts over and over and spend time enjoying not only the story but also the setting.
Rowling loves little twists, sly winks at the reader and hidden meanings, which are all part of the enjoyment for me. Her attention to detail is sublime, as is the level of thought put into all the backstories, which rival Tolkein's mythology, even simple things like names are a delight and are often loaded with information or insight instead of merely being a means of distinguishing one character from another. All of these things are part of the books, part of Rowling's style and part of the reason the books are so cherished. It's certainly something I love and I'm willing to be patient and listen to interesting sidenotes and obscure references. Pratchett does something similar in many of his novels, going so far as to include humourous snippets as footnotes. So, for me, the deviations from the plot are more than excusable, they're avidly welcomed.
Goblet of Fire marked a turning point in the series. Before it the books were self-contained adventures, though some elements transgressed them all and there were underlying themes that would continue throughout the series, they're standard three act novels. The subsequent books are simply pieces of a larger narrative: the return of Voldemort and the battle to stop him. They drive towards the final goal -- the defeat of the Dark Lord -- at the end of book seven. It means that they're filled with backstory and story developments necessary to make it work in the long term but which do not add up to an interesting story of itself. This may have been a consequence of Rowling's decision to write a book for each year Harry is at school, seven books in all. I doubt most authors who have a successful series knew how many books they'd write in total when they started. It has been both a guiding light and a shackle. I was a big fan of the X-files, I got in on the ground floor, watching it before many in the UK had even heard of it, when it was a quirky show on BBC 2. That started off as a group of self-contained episodes where, each week, Mulder and Scully faced a new and equally unexplainable phenomenon. It was great, I loved it. Then the series started to shift to a long running governmental conspiracy and, while inevitable (you just can't keep coming up with one-off episodes), I started to lose interest. At first the occasional interesting one-off would pop up but slowly they disappeared and it became an alien conspiracy soap opera, which was not what I wanted. Maybe it was the closure at the end of each episode, maybe the new and interesting challenges and solutions, the constant influx of new material, I'm not sure, but that's what I wanted, that's what worked for me. It happens on many series, Buffy the Vampire Slayer for example, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Smallville and any number of other series.
With no clear objective Rowling could have carried on writing adventures rather than being overwhelmed by a long-term story that she had to deliver on. The backstory of Harry and Voldemort is important to both the novels and the entire Potter universe, so maybe the books wouldn't have been as good without it, maybe she could have kept Voldemort a more ghostly, distant figure for longer. I'm not sure what the answer is, but Goblet of Fire is the turning point. The books that come before and after it are totally different and the novel itself is unique in the series.
Aside from all that, what's not to like? It's a thrilling adventure which goes beyond any of the other books, it's got action, suspense, romance, fantastic feats, spectacle, great new characters and more twists and turns than a country lane. It boils down to three significant events really:
1. The Quidditch World Cup
2. The Triwizard Tournament
3. Voldemort's return
The last is probably the most significant, but the other two are wonderful. You get to see a vast gathering of wizards, with adults, which have been rare outside the Weasley's and the teachers up to this point. Then there's the game, the two best teams in the world battling it out. It's all interrupted by the Death Eaters, and the narrative really gets rolling. The shear size and complexity of this section of the book is fascinating, although it's hardly essential to the story (as seen by the fact that the film-makers left most of it out and the only reason they kept any at all was because of the arrival of the Death Eaters).
Back at school and the fun begins, the Triwizard Tournament. Again, another massive creative leap. Not only do you introduce a huge number of characters and therefore make the whole plot more complex (everyone seems to be suspected of having ulterior motives at some point), you get to see two new schools fighting it out with Hogwarts in a legendary event where contestants have died, in this day and age, where kids can't throw snowballs in school anymore for safety fears, this really pushes the limits. It looks like Harry is taking a backseat, before being thrown into the limelight, literally.
Throughout the rest, Harry has to deal with personal battles (falling out with Ron and being on his own in a scary contest against students much older), romantic feelings (the whole castle seems to have been infected with a love potion), action (dragons!, mermen, a lethal maze), intrigue (who put Harry's name in the cup?) and learning a whole lot of magic. Lastly, he watches a friend get killed and then has to face off against the newly resurrected Dark Lord and a bunch of his followers.
I'm sorry, that doesn't just beat basilisks and finding out Ron's rat is the man who betrayed Harry's parents, that stomps all over it. Okay, so the subtlety isn't there like it was in the earlier books, there's very little sneaking around, rule breaking and going against everyone to save the day, maybe that's what people miss. Harry gets to come out and be an all-out action hero here (he makes sure to take Fleur's sister with him on the underwater task for heaven's sake, he saves his competitors in the maze) not something that's only acknowledged after the event as in the previous books.
Now, as I've said, the narrative could do with a bit of trimming and, I'll confess, I read it once, a fair while ago, so maybe my views have changed, but for me, Goblet of Fire reigns supreme.