Goblet Debriefing

As noted earlier, I just finished listening to Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire the other day. It held up very well — the stuff that bothered me about it the first time through didn�t so much this time, and it definitely stands out as superior to Book Five. At the same time, I noticed a lot of foreshadowing as well as groundwork-laying, both thematically and plot-wise, for stuff that happens in Order of the Phoenix. Sirius has a conversation with the kiddies on p. 526-7, talking about Barty Crouch, that prefigures a lot of the political foibles of the Ministry of Magic in Book Five. One particular passage leapt out as a haunting evocation of some of our post-9/11 missteps, even though it was written well before then. Call it a memo to John Ashcroft:

“He’s a great wizard, Barty Crouch, powerfully magical — and power-hungry. Oh never a Voldemort supporter,” [Sirius] said, reading the look on Harry’s face. “No, Barty Crouch was always very outspoken against the Dark Side. But then a lot of people who were against the Dark Side . . . well, you wouldn�t understand . . . you’re too young . . .”

“That’s what my dad said at the World Cup,” said Ron, with a trace of irritation in his voice. “Try us, why don’t you?”

A grin flashed across Sirius’s thin face.

“All right, I’ll try you . . .” He walked once up the cave, back again, and then said, “Imagine that Voldemort’s powerful now. You don’t know who his supporters are, you don’t know who’s working for him and who isn’t; you know he can control people so that they do terrible things without being able to stop themselves. You’re scared for yourself, and your family, and your friends. Every week, news comes along of more deaths, more disappearances, more torturing . . . the Ministry of Magic’s in disarray, they don’t know what to do, they’re trying to keep everything hidden from the Muggles, but meanwhile, Muggles are dying too. Terror everywhere . . . panic . . . confusion . . . that’s how it used to be.

“Well, times like that bring out the best in some people and the worst in others. Crouch’s principles might’ve been good in the beginning — I wouldn�t know. He rose quickly through the Ministry, and he started ordering very harsh measures against Voldemort�s supporters. The Aurors were given new powers — powers to kill rather than capture, for instance. And I wasn’t the only one who was handed straight to the dementors without a trial. Crouch fought violence with violence, and authorized the use of the Unforgivable Curses against suspects. I would say he became as ruthless and cruel as many on the Dark Side.”

Book Four’s end fell into a pattern that was fresh in my mind from Book Five — riveting climax followed by altogether too much verbiage and exposition in the descending action. Its nature, as I’ve noted before, has more in common with the detective explaining how he caught the culprit in a mystery novel than it does to anything in epic fantasy. But in terms of pacing, it slows things down to a crawl. But it’s the sort of detail that, as a kid, I would have been perfectly content to read for pages and pages. In my first readings of Fellowship of the Ring long ago, my favorite chapter was the Council of Elrond, where the representatives of the races all get up and tell the stories of how they got there. I could have cared less about pacing and the forward momentum of the plot — I could have read a book’s worth of that stuff. OK, OK, I still feel that way when I read it today. But you get my point. I was ho-humming toward the end of Goblet, but probably wouldn’t have been near so much if had I been a member of Rowling’s target audience — or if I’d been reading it for the first time, for that matter.

Jury’s still out on whether Book Three or Book Four gets my blue ribbon. The answer will have to wait for my next road trip . . .