Goblet 1: Heaven is a Weasleys chapter that never ends

Forgive my post-Azkaban absence. I’m very busy and important, by which I actually mean that I’m lazy. But I have finished the fourth Harry Potter installment, Goblet of Fire, and will be catching up in a few posts over the next couple days, so I can start Order of the Phoenix.

Azkaban had done a vastly superior job over the first two books of developing its central conflict earlier, with ominous moments that set the tone and gave the book a real energy. Goblet wisely continues that with the opening chapter, “The Riddle House.” To call it the best opener of the series would be an understatement. It’s creepy, almost scary, yet muted in a way that keeps some mystery and suspense. We don’t find out what Voldemort looks like, just that it’s horrible. We don’t know what he has planned, but we know he already seems closer to being back to power than he has all series. It made me excited right off the bat.

From there, we go back to Harry living at the Dursleys, because Rowling hates me. But it doesn’t last long at all, because j/k, J.K. kinda likes me. Just like I was told in the comments in an earlier post, the Dursleys’ role has been thankfully reduced. They barely have a chance to be ridiculously awful before Harry is out the door (or fireplace, rather).

And then, all heaven breaks loose, because it’s time for over a hundred pages of Weasleys, y’all.

If Rowling ever writes an eighth book for this series, I think it should be called Harry Potter and the Weasleys’ Dinner Party and it should be 700 pages of everyone chilling at the Burrow. Yeah, I remember the house being destroyed near the end of the movie series, but they can rebuild. I’d be down for at least 30 pages of Molly Weasley interviewing magical contractors.

We get the entire Weasley gang together for the first time in the books. Particularly interesting to me was Bill, the eldest child turned hippie curse breaker in Egypt. I definitely hope to see more of him in future books. We also see that Percy has somehow gotten even douchier since graduating Hogwarts and getting a Ministry job. Respect, Percy. That’ll teach everyone who predicted your douche levels would peak in school.

The gang all heads to the Quidditch World Cup. Quidditch was always a fun idea — creating an entire sport for the magical community, rather than just using soccer or something the readers already knew. But it went to another level for me in the Hogwarts Quidditch final in Azkaban, by far Rowlings’ most exciting depiction of her sport creation up to that point. The World Cup final was cut from the same cloth, and it was an achievement to make it just as exciting despite none of the characters we previously knew being involved.

It seems worth noting that over the course of this book, starting early on, Rowling begins to patch up many unanswered questions to make her world more realistic.We’re finally told that there are magical schools all around the world — obviously a major plot point for this book, but a needed explanation anyway. We see that people can apparently pop in for talks via the ol’ head-in-the-fire method (the original FaceTime); since we already knew that wizards don’t have phones, we kinda needed something like that to show they haven’t been completely lapped by Muggles in terms of ability to communicate instantly across distances. We find out later that Muggle technology doesn’t work at Hogwarts, another detail that closes potential holes. There are more details I would still like, and maybe I’ll do a post on them some other time, but these were very positive steps.

The only mild annoyance for me was that Harry knew nothing about the Dark Mark before it was conjured at the World Cup. I complained in Chamber about Harry going through his entire first year without ever learning that Mudblood is the worst slur in the magical community, but this was actually worse. He’s been a wizard-in-training for a full three years by the World Cup, yet he has learned so little about the evil wizard who has tried to kill him at least three times that he’s never heard of the Mark, which is a pretty big deal to everyone else? I mean, Harry would have to be willfully ignorant, and while he’s never been the bookworm Hermione is, I don’t think Rowling intends him to seem like someone who buries his head in the sand — and if he’s still learned so little about Voldemort and his followers by now, that’s exactly what he is. At some point, don’t you say, “Hey, that guy murdered my parents and keeps trying to murder me; maybe I should read up on him”? Rowling’s mistake often seems to be thinking that because nearly the entire series comes from Harry’s POV, he should learn things for the first time at the same time as the reader. But that’s really not necessary; the reader can recognize that we’re only seeing episodes within everyday lives, and the characters may be aware of things before they’re revealed to the reader.

But that’s a relatively minor complaint in a long stretch of opening goodness. It was a bold move to wait until Page 171 for the characters to be at Hogwarts, but it was a move that paid off handsomely to me. The book opens with plenty of humor and fun as we orient ourselves with extended interactions between the characters we’ve come to love. There’s still plenty of excitement with the Quidditch match and the disturbances at the World Cup, and early senses of foreboding evil with the Voldemort opener and the Dark Mark. And, there’s a lot of the Weasleys. I suppose we had to leave the Burrow and get to Hogwarts and the Goblet and the central conflict of the book eventually, but I would have been just as happy to stay there and get a play-by-play of the three-on-three Quidditch match Harry has with the Weasley boys. Alas. Until Harry Potter and the Weasleys’ Dinner Party

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