Tuesday, August 30, 2011


I laid out most of my thoughts on the Harry Potter series last time (in fact, I was going to combine these two reviews at one point), so this should go pretty quickly. Perhaps the most important thing to mention here is that this is the first fantasy novel to win a Hugo award, which still kind of amazes me. There were forty-eight Hugo awards handed out without anything close to fantasy winning (fantasy novels were eligible and nominated from the beginning), then, starting here, they win four of five. I think this is testimony to both how big the Harry Potter series had become and a sea change in speculative fiction readership as a whole. I’m sure I’ll say more about this going forward.

As for the book itself, it’s another strong, mid-series entry in the Harry Potter series. Every book and film after the first two always prompted headlines along the lines of “Harry Potter Grows Up,” but if you really want to choose a novel where the series matures the most, I think you have to look here. The central plot is kind of lame. There’s a big, inter-school competition hosted by Hogwarts in Harry’s fourth year called the Triwizard Tournament. Harry is chosen as a competitor despite being too young, but, with his usual pluck and help from his friends, he manages to do quite well. It’s a very artificial structure, and it’s one of the worst offenders of Rowling’s bad habit of not having her characters examine major mysteries until it’s convenient to the plot.

The attraction here is not in the main plot though, it’s in the sub-plots. And, there are a lot of them. One of the ways that this novel “matures” the series is that it is the longest yet, by a healthy margin. At 700+ pages, it’s more than twice as long as the first book. Rowling uses that space mostly for character development, as her characters become teenagers with the requisite hormonal angst. Harry has a crush, for instance. Meanwhile, in the background, Lord Voldemort once again threatens to return, but Rowling breaks formula by making the threat realer than in the first novels and by having his vicious minions, the Death Eaters, attack a sporting event in a manner that parallels any number of real world events. There’s also the famous death at the end, though it’s a fairly ancillary character.

All in all, it’s another fun book from a series that’s become an instant classic. It's one of the most controversial Hugo winners, and I probably wouldn't have voted for it, but it makes sense that such a landmark series should get some recognition from within the field. I am glad that the awards stepped away from the subsequent books though. They remain strong (especially the final two entries), but one Hugo and one Locus fantasy seems about right for the series.

Grade: A-

Also, to follow up on the movie watch from last time, I think the Goblet of Fire film isn't very good. It sticks mainly to the central plot, which, as mentioned above, isn’t so great. Mike Newell’s direction is limp and generic where Cuaron’s was taut and original. See Prisoner whether you like the books or not, but consider avoiding Goblet even if you are a big fan of the books.

Who am I kidding? Who hasn't read all the books and seen all the movies by this point?

1 comment:

  1. I loved the series but thought this was when it first really showed signs of needing a strong editor. Also, who designs a year long sports competition that has only three contests?