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Review: Gladly drinking from Rowling's 'Goblet of Fire'
"Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire"
By Kristin Lemmerman
(CNN) -- If you haven't already joined the legions of Harry Potter fans worldwide, it's possible that you're still laboring under two huge misconceptions as J.K. Rowling's fourth book in the series, "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire," is released. Let's go ahead and clear them up now.
First, though kids are the primary target for this chronicle of a young wizard's magical education, it isn't just a children's book. Grown-ups are also ripping through these novels as fast as they're released; I know more than a few adults who started the books as bedtime reading with their kids, and found that they couldn't help but read ahead after their charges were tucked away for the night.
Second, it is not great literature. Rumored Whitbread Prize nomination notwithstanding, her prose has more in common with your typical beach-blanket fare than, say, "Pride and Prejudice."
Colorful, clever world flourishes in Rowling's care
But no matter. As in her three previous Harry stories, Rowling's faculties of imagination remain in full gear with "Goblet of Fire," in which she continues to elaborate on the world she created, one populated by wizards who live among us poor Muggles too blind to see, their world intertwined with ours while remaining completely distinct.
As you may already have heard, Harry Potter is an orphan, brought up by relatives fearful of the magical world and bent on keeping him ignorant of it. It's a classic Cinderella tale: When Harry turns 11, he is thrown into a world in which he is not only accepted but finds he is wealthy, talented, and has a far-flung circle of friends and well-wishers.
In book four of the series -- which corresponds to Harry's fourth year at Hogwarts -- he faces a new challenge. Somebody has entered his name in a potentially fatal magical tournament, where Harry will compete against students several years his senior. Our hero must try to discover who enlisted him in the life-threatening challenge, and why. (Hint, but not a big surprise: Lord Voldemort, Harry's arch-enemy, is behind the plot.)
He also has to navigate the murky seas of dating, tolerate friend Hermione's campaign to free house elves from slavery, and dodge an omnipresent tabloid reporter who wants to make the Triwizards Tournament all about its lone celebrity. Oh, yes, and he's carrying a full class load this year too.
Earlier history slows down narrative
Rowlings faces a new challenge, too. The farther she gets into her planned seven-book series, the more difficult it will be for her to put some oomph into the beginning of each book; already, she's getting bogged down in the minutiae of introducing her characters to new readers, keeping "Goblet" from reaching its page-turning potential for a good 70 pages. Kids may be able to forgive the Potter Remedial Course, but adult fantasy fans will find the recap tedious.
Once past that barrier, however, Rowling quickly gets back on track, introducing readers to a host of well-drawn new characters setting foot on Harry's turf for the first time. Foremost among them are the wizard competition champions: a beautiful French half-harpy who initially looks at Harry as a "leetle boy"; a surly Bulgarian athlete who, in a Cold War-reminiscent twist, Harry's friends suspect of practicing Dark Arts; and the all-American MVP type from Harry's own school (the other two are from competing schools).
While those allusions will enrichen the tale for more mature readers, parents will appreciate that Harry still champions the cause of all honest, hard-working and fair-minded people. Concerned that the Dark Arts content could lead your child astray? With Harry as the champion, it seems unlikely that any kid could miss the moral message outlined in glowing letters throughout this series: Do the right thing.
In fact, the only thing likely to seriously vex you is the foreboding cliff-hanger Rowling leaves you to contemplate as you close the book. After all, it won't be resolved for at least a year, when Book Five comes out.
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