In the interest of finally moving on to Order of the Phoenix, I’m going to try to wrap up the rest of my Goblet thoughts in this one last post. Considering I haven’t really covered much yet, there’s a lot to still get to, so here we go.
Despite my incredulity at the house-elf subplot, I still highly enjoyed the fourth installment of the Harry Potter series. The trio of main characters were now fully emerged from childhood to adolescence, with all the petty jealousy, hormonal confusion, and complete awkwardness that comes with that pubescent stage. Ron’s jealousy/anger at Harry for being in the Triwizard Tournament felt natural, and more importantly, lasted the perfect duration; Rowling dragged certain subplots on too long in the second book (Ron’s broken wand) and third book (the mystery of Hermione’s simultaneous classes), but her timing was far better in Goblet. Ron was upset just long enough; similarly, the mystery of how Rita Skeeter was getting her stories was introduced late enough to not drag on excessively — but really, Rita was annoying enough that I could have done without her anyway.
The dance, especially the build-up to it, was extremely fun. As a former prototype of the awkward teenage boy, I felt very sympathetic/amused at Harry and Ron’s difficulty in finding dates and knowing how to behave on said date. The fact that Harry, Ron, and I all got married is a true testament to women’s ability to overlook flaws. The culmination of all that youthful angst comes in Hermione’s eruption that Ron should have asked her to the dance first. It was a great moment, and the first time you can tell for sure that those two will end up together.
The other schools were interesting, and Rowling did a fairly nice job of building up Krum, Fleur, and especially Diggory to be identifiable characters, rather than just faceless competition for Harry. The multitude of revelations about dark wizarding backgrounds — Karkaroff, Bagman, Crouch — was particularly exciting, and really showed the tangled web of questionable allegiances that still remain so many years after Voldemort’s first defeat. But of course, none compare to getting a big piece of Snape’s backstory. We finally get confirmation to the long-held suspicion that Snape was a Death Eater, and while I know how it turns out, I can see how readers would echo Harry’s unease; Dumbledore vouching for Snape should be enough, but Dumbledore has been fooled before, and we’ve watched Snape torment students for fours years now. Rowling has made it so readers aren’t quite sure whom they can trust.
Harry might not have gotten to ride off into the sunset with Sirius like I wanted at the end of Azkaban, but at least we still get healthy doses of Sirius. That’s a very good thing. We see yet again the lengths he will go to in order to protect Harry, or even be near him. He’s protective without being annoying, wise without being pretentious. And he still has that wild desperation about him that makes him so interesting. Possibly my favorite character, unless I can count George and Fred Weasley as one.
Mad-Eye Moody is a seemingly great addition to the cast of characters. He’s perfectly grumpy, extremely capable, and he gives the students perhaps their best Defense Against the Dark Arts instruction yet (no disrespect to Remus, whom I loved). But of course, it turns out that we didn’t really meet Moody at all, but Barty Crouch Jr. doing an elaborate yearlong impersonation. On the one hand, that was slightly disappointing to me; I couldn’t remember the movie well enough to recall whether Moody had ever been present, or if it had always been an imposter. Learning that this character who was so likable was never really himself was a bit of a bummer. Sure, there was a real Moody, and Crouch’s impression of him must have been excellent, even beyond the physical aid of the Polyjuice potion, to avoid suspicion. But even if we can reasonably assume the real Moody is similar (or even identical) in manner to his imposter, it still was never him. He doesn’t really know our trio of main characters or have the relationships built up with them that Crouch did. Moody may still exist, but we still lost a lot of the foundation of a great new character.
But on the other hand, it may have been worth it, because having Crouch have been the imposter all along makes the Death Eaters’ plan all the more intricate. Voldemort alone (more on him in a moment) makes the forces of darkness plenty intimidating all by himself. But while Voldemort alone shows off sheer power, the intricacy of the plan that Barty Crouch Jr. carries out as Moody shows off the Dark Lord’s cunning, as well. So much of what made Fake Moody endearing was all calculated toward Voldemort’s end goal. His kindness toward Neville (which Neville so badly needed) was just an effort to tip off Harry; even his effectiveness as a teacher was perhaps just to make Harry more prepared for his challenges. And sure enough, it all came together about perfectly.
Except…wait, why was all that necessary? Voldemort needed (or at least wanted) Harry for the ritual, to provide the blood that would help return him to power. So to get Harry to the graveyard, Fake Moody secretly guided him through to the Triwizard Tournament trophy, enchanted to be a portkey to transport Harry to his unwitting destination and presumed death. But again, why? Rowling established early in the book that a portkey can be literally anything. So why the Triwizard trophy? Wasn’t that a LOT of extra work, all of which added greater exposure and chances of failure, when they could have just enchanted one of Harry’s shoes to be the portkey? Sure, there would have been risk that making some common object the portkey would result in someone else touching it first — but no less risk than was already present in the Tournament. If Cedric hadn’t been noble, he could have gone through alone, without Harry, foiling all that effort. So is the plan incredibly unnecessarily elaborate for really no greater chance at success? Does the entire basis for the book’s plot boil down to the equivalent of trying to kill Austin Powers using sharks with lasers on their heads instead of just grabbing a gun?
But whatever flaw in logic brought Harry to that graveyard was worth it for the scene that resulted. I remember watching the first two movies years ago and wondering if the entire series would involve Harry foiling attempts to bring Voldemort back to power. But the end of Goblet turns the entire series on its head with Voldemort finally returning. After nearly four full volumes of building up her villain, it would have been easy for Rowling to accidentally disappoint when we at least see him in the flesh. Amazingly, he exceeds all expectations. As mentioned a moment ago, he exudes power, but there’s more to it than just that. He has a creepy stillness about him as he angrily yet calmly takes stock of his followers and their questionable loyalty. As he moves to finish off Harry, it’s clearer than ever what a great villain Rowling has created. Voldemort is evil, but there are a lot of evil characters; Rowling sets her antagonist apart by being effortlessly chilling.
I don’t know what I would have expected to finish off the book if it were my first time in the story at all, but after Harry’s narrow escape from Voldemort and the revelations from Barty Crouch Jr., I doubt I would have expected a government cover-up. Cornelius Fudge’s blindness to reality was almost too aggressive of ignorance, and it nearly took me out of the dramatic denouement with which Rowling was trying to cap off her breathtaking climactic chapters. But it ultimately worked; Dumbledore’s assertive actions after Fudge left really went a long way to setting up the next book. Dumbledore had always been the figurehead of wisdom in the series, but we’d rarely seen him take much overt action. Watching him morph into a field general as he handed out assignments was a welcome change.
There was certainly no doubt that as Goblet drew to a close, the series had turned to far greater darkness. A student had been murdered, the personification of evil had risen, and wizardkind’s wisest leader was marshaling his forces for the coming battles. It was a perfect end to an imperfect (but still very good) book, and like every installment thus far, Goblet of Fire created the impression that the best was still to come.