Book Review: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

It’s time for another book review! I am really tearing through the Harry Potter series, so here are my thoughts on the fourth installment in J.K. Rowling’s mega-bajillion dollar tour de force.

For reviews on the second book (the Chamber of Secrets), click here.  For the third book (the Prisoner of Azkaban) click here.

For a plot synopsis, as always check Wikipedia for a good one. Be forewarned that this book is over 700 pages long, so the plot synopsis reflects that.  In a very brief nutshell, Harry is unexpectedly entered into the Triwizard Tournament between Hogwarts and two other wizarding schools, and the book revolves around the tournament and someone trying to harm Harry using the tournament. 

I have been told that this book is the beginning of the series getting darker.  Well, this book did have some intense moments at the end, but frankly I am not positive I agree with that assessment of this book.  Frankly I think that this is the best of the first four, for a variety of reasons.  It definitely held my interest the entire time I read it, and I am looking forward to book 5.

The Good:

Above all, I like how the characters grow up in this book.  Harry and Ron and Hermione start their fourth year at Hogwarts in the Goblet of Fire, and at 14 Harry starts to experience romantic interest in the character of Cho Chang, a Ravenclaw that Harry takes a shine to.  There is certainly nothing inappropriate in their relationship (or lack thereof) from a Christian perspective, and I really like how Rowling begins to picture the kids taking an interest in the opposite gender.  Even for kids around 12 or so, this is a good chance for parents to talk to their kids about relationships and growing up.  I think it could make a good talk for parents and younger readers.

I also really like the subplot of Hermione being concerned for the house elves.  She is concerned for their well being and for social justice for a group that most Hogwarts students (and most wizards in general) don’t even notice exist.  This could be a great discussion from parents to kids about those who our society ignores and should stand up for.  This also ties in with their support for Hagrid, who is revealed in this book to be a half giant. (I love Hagrid.  He is probably my favorite character in the series so far)

Harry, in this book, is a real hero.  He makes several, and I mean several, really good moral decisions.  He helps Cedric Diggory (a Hufflepuff and the other Hogwarts champion in the Triwizard tournament) several times in the book; he makes sure that the tournament is a level playing field and defends Cedric’s life in the final challenge.  He also foregoes winning the second challenge to save the lives of two people, even though he does not have any relationship with them and knowing that it will cost him the challenge and maybe the tournament.  There are many good points about Harry in this book.

Not only that, but Harry gets put into proper perspective in this book. The first three books paint Harry as a phenom at Quidditch, but in this book we meet Viktor Krum of the Bulgarian national Quidditch team and learn that the Hogwarts Quidditch cup is small potatoes.  Harry is not such a stud at Quidditch compared to Viktor, and his learning to live with that and respect Viktor is an important plot line.

The effects of lying come up in this book quite a bit.  Bartemius Crouch sets into motion a lot of heartache with his lies and his obsession with rooting out dark magic, and his ethical dilemmas could be a good discussion too.

There are also several interesting points about perception versus reality, and about being careful who to trust and priorities in life.  I think that Harry’s fight with Ron is a great time for parents to talk to kids about pride and making up in healthy ways when we argue with friends.

The Bad:

Okay, I admit it: I have become quite a Harry Potter fan.  There is precious little to dislike about this book.  Watch out for plot spoilers in this section.

Number one, there are deaths in the book.  They are not gruesome, but they do happen at the hands of Voldemort as he comes back into some power.  Parents should be aware of this to talk to kids about life and death.

The climax of the book is intense, and Harry narrowly escapes death at the hands of Voldemort.  It is a scary time, though there was not imagery in it beyond Cedric’s death that was really scary. Even Cedric’s death is very abrupt and not at all gory.  It just happens as he is subject to the Avada Kedavra curse. (say it out loud…it’s close to Abra Cadabra)

Overall:

So far I think this is the best of the series.  There is a lot to like and little to get frustrated over.  I would recommend it to adults as a great, fun book to read, and to discerning kids 12 and up.

Book Review: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Yes, I read fast. Smile Deal with me.

For a discussion of Christians reading the Harry Potter books at all, see the first review I did in this series.  If you think reading about magic or fantasy is wrong, then please avoid these books.  If you think otherwise, you’ve probably read them long before I have!

If you want a plot synopsis of this book, Wikipedia has a good one.  Here’s a hint: Harry hates the Dursleys, then Hogwarts is awesome.  There is Quidditch, a bad guy, and Harry saves the day at the end.

The Good:

I stayed up until past midnight last night finishing this book.  It was a real page turner!  Rowling writes in a manner that the characters are interesting and perhaps more nuanced than they first appear.  There is a lot to admire about the characters and their actions in this book.

In this book, I think that Hagrid’s chastising of Harry and Ron for not reaching out to Hermione is really good.  They all treat each other in ways that aren’t very kind and Hagrid calls them on that.  There is a real lesson in being a good friend.  Hagrid is also a champion for outcasts, being an outcast himself.  His care for Buckbeak in the face of Malfoy’s mistreatment of him is a good reminder that Jesus calls us to care for those who are outcast.

Just like in The Chamber of Secrets, Harry has a great discussion with Dumbledore at the end and, while Harry wants to see his dad badly, Dumbledore affirms that Harry’s dad shines through in his son’s care for his friends.

I also think that there are several good plot lines about the difference between the way someone appears and who they are.  (PLOT SPOILER AHEAD) The big one, of course, is Sirius Black.  He is seen as an evil guy until the very end of the book, but at the end his redemption as a character is really neat.  The same can be said for Remus Lupin, the Defense Against the Dark Arts professor for this year.  He gets judged for being a werewolf, but that character flaw does not stop him from being a redeeming character.

At the end, Harry is also willing to give up his life if need be for his friends, and that is great.  I think that Harry’s commitment to Dumbledore, to Hagrid, to Ron, and to Hermione could be a great line of discussion between parents and mature kids.  I think it is great that Harry stood up for Sirius Black as well as for Buckbeak, and protected innocent people (and hippopgriffs!) from injustice.  He even stops Black and Lupin from killing Peter Pettigrew when they want to take justice into his own hands, which is admirable.

There is another lesson in here that, while I thought about putting it in “the bad,” in reality ends up in the good.  Harry is very frustrated that Dumbledore won’t help him try to exonerate Lupin, Black, and Buckbeak.  Dumbledore, being a wise mentor, helps Harry see that there are times that whatever the truth is, people may not believe it.  Just because it is true does not make it credible, and Harry has to come to grips with that and not let it stop him from doing whatever good he can.

I also like that at the end of this book, there is a feeling of goodwill.  Voldemort is not breathing down anyone’s neck.

The Bad:

My big concern with this book is that Harry runs away from home and suddenly gets whisked away without any consequences in the book for his actions.  He is again treated horribly by the Dursleys, and while it might be understandable that he can’t take it anymore there is no redemption of that action.

Also, Harry breaks a LOT of Hogwarts rules in this book without really much punishment, other than from Severus Snape.  Every 5 pages he and Ron are doing something to break the rules.  The only redemption to this is that it appears that Dumbledore is aware of it all and does not disapprove, so perhaps it could be said that Harry is not in rebellion.

Overall:

I liked this book.  It wasn’t super dark, the characters grew in significant ways, and Harry learned a valuable lesson about appearances not being what they are cracked up to be.  This is my favorite of the first three in the series, and I will certainly let my older 2 kids (14 and 12) read it.