Fiction – audiobook. Read by Jim Dale. Random House Audio, 2001. 20 hours, 30 minutes. Library copy.
Beginning like the previous three novels towards the end of summer vacation, this novel finds Harry Potter in slightly better conditions than the previous three summers because the Dursleys are terrified he will report them to his godfather, an escaped mass murderer named Sirius Black. Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia aren’t exactly hospitable to Harry forcing the skinny boy into abiding by his obese cousin’s diet and refusing to allow him to complete his homework in preparation for his fourth year at Hogwarts or contact with his friends from the wizarding school.
When an overly stamped letter arrives from Molly Weasley asking if Harry’s aunt and uncle will allow him to attend the Quidditch World Cup with Molly’s husband and sons, including Harry’s best friend Ron, Uncle Vernon begrudgingly agrees that Harry may go. And Harry’s summer begins to look up as he travels by portkey to the match, experiences how badly the Wizarding World blends in with the muggles Harry has spent most of his life living alongside, and sees the infamous seeker Viktor Krum playing for Bulgaria take on the Irish national team.
YEt the celebrations over Harry’s chosen team winning end abruptly when someone sends the Dark Mark – the symbol of Lord Voldemort, or He Who Must Not Be Named – into the sky. Those attending the match beat feet into the forest to hide as ministry officials, including Arthur Weasley, and aurors spring into action. In the pandemonium, Harry loses his wand forcing him, Ron, and Hermione Granger to return to the open field where the Weasleys were staying in order to find it. The wand is eventually located in the possession of Winky, a house elf belonging to Barty Crouch who works as the Head of International Magical Cooperation and Percy Weasley’s boss, and determined to be the source of the Dark Mark.
Winky and Harry both fall under suspicion with the former being sacked by Mr. Crouch and the latter being protected from punishment by Arthur Weasley, and both will eventually make their way to Hogwarts with a miserable Winky being employed by the school and Harry embarking on his fourth year at the school. Once there, Harry and his friends learn that Hogwarts will have the distinction of hosting the Triwizard Tournament – the first in three hundred years – with one student aged seventeen or older representing each of the three schools: Hogwarts, the Beauxbatons Academy of Magic, and the Durmstrang Institute.
Anyone wishing to represent their school in the tournament is invited to drop their name into the Goblet of Fire, which is surrounded by a magical charm to prevent underage students from applying and bewitched to select one student from each school during the Halloween feast. Yet after all three names have been read – Viktor Krum from Durmstrang, Fleur Delacour of Beauxbatons, and Cedric Diggory of Hogwarts – the goblet unexpectedly selects a fourth name – Harry Potter of Hogwarts.
Many of Hogwarts students and those visiting from Durmstrang and Beauxbatons turn on Harry insisting he must have cheated in order to get his name into the competition, but those in charge of the competition insist the goblet’s indicts must be followed despite the fact that Harry is only fourteen at the time. As the fourth champion, Harry is charged with completing three tasks – the last of which will change the wizarding world forever.
When I decided to reread this series, I worried I would find the books did not hold up to the fond recollections I have of them. The first two books were exactly as I remembered them, and the third was, surprisingly, better than I remembered. Unfortunately, I had the opposite experience with this one.
There is so much that happens in this book that it is difficult to summarize and to point out exactly what I did not enjoy. Maybe because it feels like three separate stories? Maybe because there are so many new characters whose stories are barely skimmed? Maybe because Harry appears apathetic towards the competition and is, surprisingly, much more focused on girls? Maybe because the mystery surrounding Mr. Crouch and the resolution, particularly concerning the new Defense of the Dark Arts teacher, are murky and rushed? Maybe because the death in this book is less impactful now that I’ve read the final book in the series?
That said, there were some events and overarching themes that I think I missed out on reading this book for the first time when I was ten or eleven. The introduction of the students from Durmstrang and Beauxbatons allow the reader to see how prejudices within the wizarding world extend beyond the pureblood versus muggle-born conflict. Students from Durmstrang and their headmaster are immediately suspected of being followers of Lord Voldemort simply because they are form the eastern European nation of Bulgaria while students from Hogwarts seem singularly focused on the beauty of the French Beauxbatons students.
I also liked the insight into the larger wizarding world the introduction of these two wizarding schools provides the readers. Even Percy’s ramblings on about regulating cauldron thickness point to how important international cooperation is and how evil does not end at the borders of an individual nation.
There are two things I know that would have occurred had I attended Hogwarts: one, I would have been in Ravenclaw and, two, I would have been an avid member of Hermione’s S.P.E.W. organization with the problematic “white savior complex” that entails. And, with that mind, it was very interesting to read Rowling’s critique on pushing your own beliefs on people through Hermione’s insistence on saving the house elves. I can remember loathing Ron during this book because of how much he bought the idea the house elves are happy being slaves, and while I still didn’t warm to him, I can appreciate how he is willing to listen to the house elves and see how misguided and hurtful Hermione’s crusade is.
Most importantly, though adults can be misguided and just like children can refuse to see the truth in front of them. It much easier to pretend evil does not exist, to try to appease it rather than confront it, and to ignore facts in favor of fiction. This is particularly true of adults in power who do not want to lose their positions as we see with the Minister of Magic Cornelius Fudge at the end of this novel (and a whole host of American politicians today).