Harry Potter

"Four's a Charm: The Steady Spell Of Harry Potter"

by Jabari Asim ("Washington Post," July 10, 2000)

As one of the umpty-million Harry Potter fanatics who gobbled up every word of "Goblet of Fire" over the weekend, I can testify that J.K. Rowling has not lost her touch. The fourth in her series starring the courageous young wizard is just as absorbing as its celebrated predecessors. Although it's about twice as long, the story moves forward at a mostly magical pace. Harry's faithful friends Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley have joined him for another year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Many of their allies return as well, including Neville Longbottom, Rubeus Hagrid and Moaning Myrtle, to name just a few. And there's no shortage of such nefarious types as the dastardly Dursleys, the malevolent Malfoys, Severus Snape and Lord Voldemort, a k a He-Who-Must- Not-Be-Named.
Up to this point, Rowling has done quite well in rehashing previous plots for the benefit of those who may not have read the earlier entries. She is less successful this time around. Revisiting old turf seems to have been laborious for her and may have the same effect on readers; at times I couldn't help silently urging her to get on with it and proceed to the events of the present volume. A certain amount of setting up is necessary, however. For instance, Rowling reminds readers that at the end of last school term, Harry's divination teacher, Prof. Trelawney, had predicted that the "Dark Lord would rise again . . . greater and more terrible than ever before." How and when this comes to pass drives the plot of "Goblet of Fire."
It's no surprise that Harry winds up in the middle of it all. Isn't that what we love about him, his talent for being where the action is--even when he doesn't want to be there? "Everythin' seems ter happen ter you," his pal Hagrid says to him, and Harry can only silently agree. As if it weren't tough enough being the most famous student at Hogwarts, now Harry must also cope with adolescence and its attendant challenges. While he struggles to win the attention of a lissome lass named Cho Chang, he learns more about an epic battle looming. After the Dark Lord's defeat, wizard-agents known as Aurors tracked down and captured most of his lieutenants--a ghastly lot who call themselves Death Eaters. To regain his strength, Voldemort must summon his loyal assistants and plan his revenge against Headmaster Dumbledore and others who would dare to oppose him.
Good vs. evil is not the only colossal clash that Rowling addresses: There's also the spirited conflict over the pronunciation of Hermione's name. The author provides the answer on Page 419 (her-MY-oh-nee), forever silencing the "hermy-own" forces. And she has a word for those observers who, citing the absence of contemporary gadgets in previous books, have speculated that Potter's adventures take place in the 1960s or 1970s: PlayStation. Dudley Dursley's wrecked video game lays waste to that theory. Hermione neatly explains the general lack of such modern-day gizmos: "All those substitutes for magic Muggles use--electricity, computers, and radar, and all those things--they all go haywire around Hogwarts, there's too much magic in the air."
No one's likely to miss those Muggle toys anyway, with all the new enchanted playthings Rowling unveils, including Omnioculars, Portkeys, Ton-Tongue Toffees, Secrecy Sensors and even a nifty thought container called a Pensieve.
By now we've come to expect such inventiveness from Rowling, but we also know that she's just teasing us to delay the inevitable. Sooner or later--maybe even more than 600 pages later--our hero must prove himself in a climactic showdown with the forces of darkness. Not one to disappoint us, the author has packed her pages with far more events and adventures than there is room to describe here. To sum it up briefly, Harry attends the Quidditch World Cup, competes in a Triwizard Tournament and learns to look out for the Three Unforgivable Curses before finally facing the Dark Lord
It's not spoiling the plot (for the two or three readers who don't yet know) to reveal that Harry withstands Voldemort's strenuous efforts--and overcomes the death of a friend--to triumph yet again. He emerges battered, far less innocent--and more determined than ever before. I cheered Harry's progress, but I must confess to a few nagging questions: If Hagrid is so fond of beasts, why does he cook them up in casseroles? If he's so crazy about dragons, why does he feed their livers to his livestock? If Madam Pomfrey, head healer of Hogwarts, can mend broken bones and tame overgrown teeth so easily, how come nearsightedness is beyond her powers? (There seem to be a lot of bespectacled wizards.) And how come some people stay dead after they die while others become ghosts? I'd be willing to wager a few Galleons and Sickles that Rowling will explain these things in time. As clever as she is at creating cool characters, she's even more adept at tying together her various plot strands. And, as the whole world must know, there are three books to come.