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Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

01/22/2011
US book cover

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire was the first Harry Potter movie I saw in theatres; as such, my memories of the movie are probably more positive than they should be, as films seen in theatres typically seem better than films seen at home. Still, the film is a reasonably decent adaptation of the book, although of course there are changes any fans of the book would want to have seen changed or added to. (In a way, we have been spoiled by the Extended Editions of the Lord of the Rings films; nowadays, with every film adaptation of a book I’ve read, I’ve wanted there to be a longer version arriving on DVD months later. Alas, that’s not to be with the Harry Potter films…)

My paperback copy of Goblet of Fire is 734 pages long; the film is a little over 2 hours. Is the book unfilmable? Nah. But many changes had to have been made. Anyone who has seen the film should also read the book, as they are missing out on a lot, including characters and ideas that are mentioned in later films. Whole subplots were cut out, the most notable being Hermione’s quest to free the house elves. This is where the majority of interaction between Dobby and Harry Potter occurs, which helps set the stage for Dobby’s demise in The Deathly Hallows. In the books, it works; in the films, a character nobody has seen for 5 movies all of a sudden shows up and is Harry’s faithful best pet friend. Without the extended encounters with Dobby in Goblet of Fire, the emotional impact is lacking. But, the removal of Dobby allows Neville Longbottom to have more scenes, which works best in the films.

When I first read Goblet of Fire, I disliked all of the house elves subplot; reading the book again, though, I don’t mind it, because it helps the characters grow, and especially knocks Hermione down a peg or two. (I’m watching the film as I’m writing this, and just passed the scene with Hermione angrily yelling “Ron, you spoil everything!” Obviously this is setting up the relationship between the two of them, and it’s a shame we don’t truly see any romance in the books or films, but the scene is also important for reasons I will mention below.)

There is a loss of innocence about how the world works in this book. The majority of the book follows the standard child fantasy adventure plot, with our intrepid hero Harry Potter eagerly competing and winning against older opponents; the character, to the delight of the child reader, wins everything and has fun adventures. But, and JK Rowling is brilliant for having done this, Goblet of Fire is bookended by two incredibly dark scenes (for a children’s novel) and has a subplot running through it that carries with it a loss of innocence (Hermione’s quest to end house elf “slavery”). The book opens with Voldemort killing a Muggle, which emotionally scars Harry from a distance, and the book ends with a character introduced in the previous book (Prisoner of Azkaban, but not the film version) being murdered in cold blood by Voldemort. And as an epilogue, nobody is happy, the enemy is at large and gaining power, and Harry is emotionally wrecked and physically damaged; things aren’t cheerful and don’t turn out well. And throughout the book, Hermione learns she can’t bend the world to her will, and some things are in shades of gray – an important lesson children learn while growing up. Things don’t always turn out as we want.

Goblet of Fire is the turning point in the Harry Potter series. From this point on, characters will suffer pain, fight against the forces of evil, and grow up and mature quickly. But in the tradition of great literature, this is needed. The old quote is “it’s always darkest before the dawn.” JK Rowling gave us three books of light, fun, hearty adventures following three friends. Now, after Goblet of Fire, she is going to test us as well as the characters. What is real? What is true? Who are the heroes? Can our friendship survive this? Will everything turn out all right in the end? Can we survive? And what will we become if we do?

JK Rowling is a Christian; that is the religion she self-identifies as belonging to, and as a result of reading these books, I’ve little doubt that she is. It’s a distinctly Christian and Biblical idea that it’s always darkest before the dawn. Most humanist and pagan ideas say that life will keep getting better until we hit a utopia. Christianity gets away from this and says it’s all gonna go downhill to the worse possible moment before it gets better. If you follow the Harry Potter books closely, you can see small triumphs but a definite downward trend leading up to the end of the series. Sacrifices are made, characters die, and nothing is ever the same.

Alan Rickman likes beating little boys

Snape punishes Harry and Ron

I mentioned before that Snape is my favorite character in the films. In Goblet of Fire, Alan Rickman gets the short straw. He shows up as scenery often, but truly has only one unique memorable moment, when he hits Harry and Ron’s heads in the classroom. Contrast this to the book, with Snape confronting Moody often, the extended scene on the staircase between Harry, Snape, and Moody, and Dumbledore giving Snape orders at the end, and we lose a lot of character development in this film (although not as much as in Half-Blood Prince).

One other thing that struck me as I was finishing up the book version of Goblet of Fire today was the stark parallel between the character of Cornelius Fudge and the real life person Neville Chamberlain. Fudge refuses to believe any evidence brought before him, choosing instead to bury his head in the sand (figuratively) and lash out at anyone who suggests a truth beyond what he chooses to believe. I’m not sure if it was intentional on the part of JK Rowling, but I clearly see this character as a reference to Neville Chamberlain, who refused to believe that Hitler was evil and Germany was attempting to conquer the world. In real life, Chamberlain was replaced by Winston Churchill, who led England during World War II. In the books…it’s not so great of an outcome.

something wicked this way comes

Dark times lie ahead, Harry...

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is an excellent book accompanied by a somewhat subpar film. If different ideas had been pursued in the film, then the payoff in later films would have been greater. As a chapter in a larger story, however, Goblet of Fire is the turning point between innocence and maturity in the Harry Potter characters.

One final thought…WHAT’S WITH THE HAIR IN THE FILM??

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