(Pottered is an ongoing series.)
Another year, another Defense Against The Dark Arts teacher. Well, that and torture, dismemberment, mutilation, patricide and a heavy dose of dead Diggory face (see above).
Sometimes it sucks when your predictions come true.
I am convinced that the Harry Potter series might be one of the most involving, deftly written and compelling of its kind to come along in years. Thing is, its machinations are absolutely nasty. Even more surprising, I completely respect this with each surprising, stomach-churning plot development.
What saves these books are their perspective. From the unknowing, inquisitive viewpoint of Harry all things are eventually revealed. There is an innocence and comfort in this. Harry is a fairly normal boy. He loves sports. He has a crush on a girl (the elusive Cho Chang). He spars and makes up with his friends. He dislikes some of his teachers and classmates. He feels like an idiot sometimes. He’s unflinchingly human.
But Harry’s social problems and adolescence aren’t what is beginning the cloud the big picture. It’s the villains, who have been lurking and not completely present, that are becoming the main thrust of the storyline. The Philosopher’s Stone, The Chamber Of Secrets and The Prisoner Of Azkaban are being left behind. Death has finally come to visit the Potter books. Rowling is upping the ante and playing for keeps.
The Goblet Of Fire is the first book that doesn’t begin on Privet drive. It opens with a murder and more are revealed as the plot unfolds. There is a terrorist attack at the Quidditch World Cup. There is the disappearance of Bertha Jorkins, who is never found. There is also tragic backstory: hysteria and finger-pointing during the Death Eater trials; the destruction of the Crouch family; the torture and madness of Neville Longbottom’s parents.
So yes, we now know what these villains are capable of (as well as a clearer picture of who they actually are). After three books it’s obvious that if these assholes are as terrible as rumored, the payoff has to be unrepentantly dark.
And good Lord, it is.
Yule Balls and Triwizard Tournaments aside, the main event takes place in a graveyard and under the most unexpected circumstances. Harry is on top of the world. He has just won the Triwizard Cup, having tied with his fellow classmate and sort-of friend, Cedric Diggory. Then they are transported somewhere unexpectedly. The two are ambushed and Cedric is thoughtlessly murdered in front of him. (“Kill the spare!” a voice shouts.)
What I mean to say that Cedric is instantly killed. Bam. Just like that. Like a fly getting crushed.
A terrified Harry is dragged off, tied to a headstone and gagged. I repeat: bound, gagged and staring at the fresh corpse of a classmate nearby. Then it only gets worse. Harry is taunted, tortured, mutilated and forced to watch absolutely terrible things. He witnesses Peter Pettigrew cutting off his own hand and the reanimation of Lord Voldemort. It gets pretty graphic. Nothing is spared, except one detail. Rowling could have added that Harry urinates all over himself. I know I would have.
To a certain extent I’m thinking, Am I the only one getting how serious and twisted this is? Then, What did I expect? Obviously Voldemort isn’t fucking around. His threats can’t be empty. His evil does need to be pretty bottomless. But really? Really? This guy makes Sauron, Emperor Palpatine and the Borg Queen look like members of The Mickey Mouse Club.
It is during this confrontation that I realized Voldemort’s downfall. He doesn’t know Harry. (On the other hand, readers do.) He assumes that Harry is a meddling, spoiled brat who has been protected all this time. Without that protection he is nothing. That’s when it gets really intense. Although the odds are stacked against him, this fourteen year old kid isn’t going quietly. He would rather die than put up with Voldemort’s bullshit. When he is forced to duel him, Harry outwits and outperforms his nemesis, end of story.
The trauma and fallout of this confrontation is rendered quite realistically. I won’t go into it here but to say the least it impressed me. No one is automatically “okay” after this and the book ends on a serious but hopeful note. What’s coming will come… in The Deathly Hallows, right?
Don’t forget, this is all new to me.
On another note, the film adaptation of this book is, er, okay. There were some differences in this one I definitely didn’t care for, particularly regarding the portrayals of Diggory, Bartie Crouch Jr. and Dumbledore. For one thing, you don’t get the full sense of how likable and decent Diggory is, which makes his death harder to mourn. He’s just a kid who’s kind of an obstacle for Harry, then he dies. The casting of Robert Pattinson as this boy in the wrong place at the wrong time rings true, though. In real life I think of him the same way.
The film’s Dumbledore is very puzzling. One of the surprises in the book is how composed and together Dumbledore is before revealing the authority, force and (yes) the temper beneath it all. For some reason Mike Newell directed Michael Gambon to play Dumbledore as if he’s on the verge of a breakdown, with no control over his emotions. He seems to lose himself a few times, throttling Harry and staring into the abyss of his pensieve with a haunted look. It was weird.
The movie does have its moments though. Some things never change. Snape still hates Harry sooooo hard. So hard he has to touch his hair.
Also, I’m pretty convinced that Draco’s obsession with Harry is unhealthy. I’d bet he is the first thing Draco thinks about when he wakes up in the morning and the last thing he thinks about when he goes to sleep at night. Hopefully he’ll buy Harry flowers and ask him out for dinner in book six.