The first fantasy books I’d ever read were nothing like what I read now. They did, however, provide a gateway to them. C. S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia (most popularly known for The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe) and the Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander (from which the Disney movie The Black Cauldron was born) are still a part of my collection, and I occasionally break them out to reread; they’re still just as good as when I’d first read them; adult sensibilities don’t take away from them one bit.
Which brings me to Harry Potter. I’ll admit I got on pretty late with Mr. Potter. I’d only recently gotten paperback versions of the first three books (Sorcerer’s Stone, Chamber of Secrets, and Prisoner of Azkaban), and I held off reading the latest until recently, when it finally came out in paperback. Many people have the perception that the Harry Potter books are kid’s books. Well, from my reading, that’s not quite true-although kids will certainly have no problems reading them. Just because they don’t have the epic battles that many associate with fantasy doesn’t make these books any less enjoyable to read.
For the very few people who don’t already know about young Harry: Harry Potter (at this point) is a fourteen year old boy who became famous as an infant for being the only survivor of an attack by the evil Lord Voldemort; four years ago, Harry was clued in on his true heritage-his parents were wizards, and so was he! He was invited to attend Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, made friends and enemies, and learned that Voldemort-long thought dead-wasn’t as dead as expected, but not as alive as he wanted.
Now, in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Harry is looking forward to returning to Hogwarts-not surprising, since the Muggles he lives with (that would be, folks who don’t do magic) are real unpleasant. He gets an early break from them when the mother of his friend, Ron Weasley, invites him along to the Quidditch World Cup (the World Cup of the sport of wizards). However, that trip is destined to be a bit more lively than anticipated, due to some rather dire happenings. On Harry’s return to Hogwarts, he discovers that the school is about to be honored with an event that hasn’t happened for centuries-and the young wizard in training finds himself involved in an unexpected way.
Fans of Harry Potter will find a great deal to be happy about. In addition to the return of the usual cast, we get the return of the house elf, Dobby-whose presence sparks off a bit of a tiff between two of Harry’s friends, Hermione and Ron. We also get another of the revolving-door teacher for the Defense Against the Dark Arts (although Mad-Eye Moody seems competent). Harry splits his time between his usual studies, his involvement with the event, and dealing with hints that Voldemort may be behind that involvement. The story balances between all of this fairly nicely, and I found the book very difficult to put down (very difficult; it’s been a while since I was up until past one in the morning reading a book). And the story wraps up with enough changes to show that the next book will be anything but status quo.
The personal lives of Harry and his friends aren’t neglected either. Harry’s got a crush on a fellow student; Hermione goes on a crusade on the plight of the house elves of Hogwarts, and Ron becomes bitterly jealous of Harry because of his involvement in the event (yes, I know I could say more, but why ruin surprises?). And then there’s a really nosy reporter for the Daily Prophet, who gives yellow journalism a bad name…. Best of all, there are a few secrets that have their truths revealed that explain a certain character’s attitudes (somewhat) and how certain people survived things that they shouldn’t have.
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is a very good read, and it’s got more story in it than many other standard fantasy books, which puts it in good company indeed. It does everything that a book in a series should do-it advances an over-arcing plot, it stands well on its own, and it causes the characters to grow-which is most important because a great deal of the appeal of Harry Potter is watching him grow up even under the pressures of being the second most famous wizard in the world.
Too bad the first most famous is Voldemort….