This year, I’ve been working my way through J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter novels. I thoroughly enjoyed the first three novels. Rowling’s imagination in creating her wizarding world in such fun and wacky detail inspires awe and respect. I have seen all the movies. Perhaps it’s accurate to say, however, I’m not knowledgeable about all things Harry Potter. I’m reading these books as a writer.
I’ve just finished the fourth, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Once again, Rowling has maintained her Hogwarts world and given it a darker, more paranoid aspect. Because I was already familiar with the story, I just sat back and immersed myself in that world, enjoying Harry’s adventures and trials. I loved the imaginative and original detail from the owl post (and owls with individual personalities), to living paintings, weird creatures, and Mad-Eye Moody. The heart of Rowling’s novels, however, are the characters and their relationships, their loyalties, and Harry’s story. She writes from Harry’s point of view, which can be claustrophobic at times, but also ratchets up the suspense. The reader knows only as much as Harry. I really admire and respect the world and characters Rowling has created, and it’s abundantly clear from the first three novels that she can write well.
However, Goblet of Fire was bloated with digressions and at least one subplot which did nothing to move the story forward, reveal character or both. When I saw the physical size of the book, I was astonished. The bloating made for slow reading, too, without the crisp pace in each of the three previous novels. Since I’m in the middle of my own revision work on Perceval’s Secret, perhaps I’m especially sensitive to things like word choice, digressions, and flubs. Some examples of things that leaped out at me:
POV issue: This could also be “word choice.” An example in chapter 17 of the difficulty…”Karkaroff’s face was burning.” If Rowling had written this from Karkaroff’s POV it would be fine, but it was from Harry’s POV. “Burning” is a physical sensation that only Karkaroff could feel, not Harry, so how could Harry know that the man’s face burned? From Harry’s POV it would make more sense as “Karkaroff’s face, the color of fire, looked as if it burned” or something like that. These issues are subtle and infrequent, but they leaped off the page at me and made me stop reading.
Consistent character action/detail: The single example that I can remember is a whopper. When Harry, Hermoine and Ron visit Sirius at the mountain cave, he changes from his dog form to human form out of sight, and he’s dressed before they see him again. But in chapter 36, Sirius begins as a clothed human when Harry first sees him in Dumbledore’s office. Dumbledore asks him to return to dog form in order to stay with Harry in the hospital wing. Sirius obliges. But what happened to his clothes? No mention of them. If he’d still worn them, someone would have commented about a dog wearing human clothes, right? But no. During a serious and important meeting in Harry’s hospital room, Dumbledore asks Sirius to return to human form. Oh. My. God. He does and I started giggling. Poor Sirirus! Standing there buck naked in front of Hermoine and Molly Weasley! Where are his clothes? But no one remarks on his nakedness. He then returns to dog form and leaves. But this flub was horrible to me — it made me laugh at an extremely serious point and took me right out of the story.
Unnecessary subplot: Rowling juggles an awful lot in this book, keeping up with relationships formed in earlier books, dropping more clues for who’s an enemy and who’s a friend regarding Voldemort, the connection between Harry and Voldemort, and so on. She adds the subplot of George and Fred Weasley’s bet at the beginning with Ludo Bagman. This subplot ends up revealing character — Ludo’s and Harry’s. But the Rita Skeeter subplot? I believe this was totally unnecessary and most of it could have been left out. Rita interviewing Harry in the broom closet works well. I understand how Rowling used Rita to add tension and adversity from Draco Malfoy and his gang, but Harry has more than enough to deal with. Having said that, I enjoyed how Hermoine finally got the better of Rita.
I concluded that Rowling’s editor failed to serve her or the story well with the work on this novel. I hope Rowling had a stern talk with that editor or even sacked him/her and got a better one for the next novel which I am really looking forward to.
Some miscellaneous questions about Harry and his world:
Why isn’t Harry angrier at the Dursleys for the way they treat him? Especially after he sees how other kids live. I’m happy Harry is a good boy, but even good boys are human and subject to resenting that kind of treatment. The times he seems to retaliate are by accident rather than intent.
Why don’t the Dursleys treat him far better after he begins his studies at Hogwarts? Rowling mentions that they fear him and his abilities with magic but they continue to treat him badly. I’m surprised they wouldn’t be nicer to insure they won’t get zapped at some point in the future. People like the Dursleys tend to think that way, don’t they?
Finally, I expected there to be a class at Hogwarts called “How to live in the Muggle World” or something like it. For the kids with no experience in the Muggle world, like Ron Weasley for example, they have problems operating in the Muggle world. It would make sense that there would be a class for 4th year students and up. Maybe in the next book….