Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

by J.K. Rowling

Cover image

Series: Harry Potter #4
Publisher: Arthur A. Levine
Copyright: July 2000
ISBN: 0-439-13959-7
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 734

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Ack! What happened to Rowling's editor?

Goblet of Fire apparently suffers badly from a problem that tends to plague best-selling fantasy series and famous authors: at some point, the author becomes more powerful than the editor, stops taking the editor's advice, and the books suddenly become huge and bloated. It looks like book four is when this hit for Rowling. (It's possible that this may have happened for other reasons, such as a rush to publication, but apparently book five has the same problem.)

Up until now, as much as I dislike the Harry Potter universe, the books have at least never started to bore me or drag. It was a bad sign when, within the first few chapters, I found myself reading passages of description and wishing we could get on with it already. This is a severe hit to the quality of these books, since good pacing and tight editing was nearly everything Harry Potter had going for it.

I've had several people describe this book to me as much darker. After reading it, I wouldn't use that term. It's not clear to me that Rowling is capable of writing anything truly dark in the Harry Potter universe. The partial episodic reset at the end of each book, the sacrifice of believability to book structure, and the incoherent universe all conspire against building a strong enough sense of impending doom. What there is here, however, is some real danger and more of a true villain who actually has some success. That at least is a nice change.

Unfortunately, Rowling's handling of character interactions and the continued stupidity of all of the adults who could potentially advise Harry Potter have not changed. Various things once again happen to Harry that cause much of the school to dislike and mistrust him. Solutions or at least helpful courses of action for this were blatantly obvious, but of course no one in the book managed to think of any of them and none of the adults gave Harry any useful advice whatsoever. Rather than actually solving the problem, Harry just quietly bears it until his innate superiority (by dint of being the viewpoint character) lets him win everyone over. Feh. This is just bad writing in any genre, children's literature or not.

Worse yet, Rowling is starting to introduce dating and romance into the story, and as you might expect from an author with such a hide-bound portrayal of gender roles and such a complete lack of willingness to try anything out of the ordinary, this is shaping up to be a train wreck. Thankfully, this subplot only infected portions of this book, and since I've now finally read the volume that won the Hugo and can stop reading this series now, I'll be spared when it gets worse. I feel for anyone who reads farther. I suppose that there's someone out there who thinks that watching boys and girls being stupid and annoying to each other is cute and amusing, but I'm not that person. (Why is it, even in fluffy fantasy where everything else in the world is significantly better than life, do authors always make teen romance as bad or worse than life?)

At least we're spared most of Harry Potter's ongoing abusive relationship with his guardians. Finally, some sort of explanation is offered in passing for why no one in the school has rescued Harry from this, but that's still not enough to explain the inability or unwillingness of everyone else in Harry's life to even talk about it, let alone try to make the situation better for him in some more lasting way than just being invited to stay with his friends. And that hasn't changed one whit.

Despite some decent plotting, the lack of editing and reduced quality of the writing leaves this volume short of even the quality of Prisoner of Azkaban, which means that I can now say that there is not, in the first four books of this series, a single book that I consider worth reading. I have not yet read any of the other books nominated for the 2001 Hugo, so I can't tell you for certain that one of the other books should have won, but I would be stunned if this was the best book of the year. There have always been questionable Hugo results, due to the popularity contest nature of the award, but this is the first that I think was just utterly unjustifiable.

Followed by Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.

Rating: 3 out of 10

Reviewed: 2004-11-24

Last modified and spun 2014-12-21