Top 100 Children’s Novels Poll #98: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling
I joined the Hogwarts Express at about this time, and though I saw the darkness beginning to become more apparent in the series, I was not prepared for this. This book marked the turning point in the series, and everyone had to begin to grow up. Even though I had seen it in other stories, it was now confirmed that ANYONE CAN DIE. – Kyle Wheeler
I like the whole series, but if forced to choose, this volume shows the characters and the world in sharp focus. – Laurie Zaepfel
It was #35 two years ago on the last Top 100 Children’s Novels poll. Now it sinks all the way down to #98, clinging to this list by its very fingernails. I did ask folks to vote for the first book in a given series when possible, but exceptions would be made for those books they felt were overwhelmingly good. As you can see, Harry strikes again. Interesting that it should be #4 considering that this is sometimes considered a rather divisive book. Some feel that it’s the moment that Rowling became so important that her editors stopped editing her (hence the page length). Others feel that it’s when the series found its footing and began introducing darker, more realistic elements. Either way, it’s a book that inspires passion.
The plot according to the publisher reads, “Harry Potter is midway through his training as a wizard and his coming of age. Harry wants to get away from the pernicious Dursleys and go to the International Quidditch Cup. He wants to find out about the mysterious event that’s supposed to take place at Hogwarts this year, an event involving two other rival schools of magic, and a competition that hasn’t happened for a hundred years. He wants to be a normal, fourteen-year-old wizard. But unfortunately for Harry Potter, he’s not normal – even by wizarding standards. And in his case, different can be deadly.”
When Goblet of Fire was released, Rowling’s books were acknowledged to be a full-fledged phenomenon. By this point in the proceedings the books had sold a mere 30 million copies in 33 languages. The Washington Post called this book “the biggest publishing event in history.” It was also, without a doubt, the longest. HP4 was probably the fantasy title that single-handedly convinced the publishing industry that fantasy novels of 500 or more pages (734 to be precise) could sell and sell well. By now Ms. Rowling had also partnered with Warner Brothers, so the marketing of the books went through the roof. In a way, it all kind of started here.
In a September 2000 Entertainment Weekly interview with Ms. Rowling, she said that in this book she discovered a huge gaping hole in the plot while writing it. The consequence? “I had to pull a character. There you go: ‘the phantom character of ‘Harry Potter.’ She was a Weasley cousin [related to Ron Weasley, Harry’s best friend]. She served the same function that Rita Skeeter [a sleazy investigative journalist] now serves. Rita was always going to be in the book, but I built her up, because I needed a kind of conduit for information outside the school. Originally, this girl fulfilled this purpose.” It’s a good interview if you haven’t seen it. I particularly like the part where she says, “American kids have no need to see a token American character.”
There was a relatively amusing controversy connected with this book. As you might recall, dead people start emerging out of Harry’s wand in the order in which they were killed. But Harry’s father appears before his mother, rather than the other way around. Salon reported on the problem saying that when a correction was made many wondered if Rowling had even had a hand in it. Scandal! Outrage! Now long since forgotten, I might add. Heck, in 2001 it became the only Harry Potter book that would ever win a Hugo Award. So clearly that committee didn’t care.
Said Horn Book, “The death of the Hogwarts student causes nary a lift of the reader’s eyebrow; the complicated explanation for Voldemort’s infiltration of Hogwarts is fairly preposterous and impossible to work out from the clues given. The characterization, as well, seems to be getting thinner, with Dumbledore in particular reduced to a caricature of geniality. As a transitional book, however, Goblet of Fire does its job–thoroughly if facilely…”
The New York Times said of it, “This time Ms. Rowling offers her clearest proof yet of what should have been wonderfully obvious: what makes the Potter books so popular is the radically simple fact that they’re so good.”
School Library Journal said, “So many characters, both new and familiar, are so busily scheming, spying, studying, worrying, fulminating, and suffering from unrequited first love that it is a wonder that Rowling can keep track, much less control, of all the plot lines. She does, though, balancing humor, malevolence, school-day tedium, and shocking revelations with the aplomb of a circus performer.”
Said The New Yorker, “the great beauty of the Potter books is their wealth of imagination, their sheer shining fullness.”
The Philadelphia Inquirer said, “Rowling has successfully managed to unite three successful elements often found in children’s books: a well-paced, terrific story; the escapades of kids at school; and the battle between good and evil. She’s packaged them into a most satisfying experience–the kind of reading experience that has you charging headlong through the book, oblivious to the outside world.”
Booklist posited, “Any inclination towards disbelief on the part readers is swept away by the very brilliance of the writing. The carefully created world of magic becomes more embellished and layered, while the amazing plotting ties up loose ends, even as it sets in motion more entanglements.”
And the Times called it “funny, full of delicious parodies and wildly action packed.”
Now back way way up, ’cause here come the Potter scans. I think I like the ones that concentrate on the mermaid element the most:
And, of course, the movie.
About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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