Harry Potter & the Sorcerer's Stone

Harry Potter & the Chamber of Secrets

Harry Potter & the Prisoner of Azkaban

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
by J. K. Rowling
(Scholastic, $25.95) ISBN 0-439-13959-7
For a reader, getting a new Harry Potter book is like a golfer playing with Tiger Woods, a tennis enthusiast having centre court tickets at Wimbledon, a gambler winning the lottery. Just imagine; there are three more Harry Potter books to come. That's great news, and I'm even looking forward to what the publicity moguls will do to top the promotional excitement of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire had an initial print run of 3.8 million, almost forty times that of a typical bestseller, with rumors of a second printing of three million. Those figures are almost unheard of in today's tight publishing world. Bloomsbury Publishing, Harry Potter's British publishers, has printed an unprecedented first run of 1.5 million. The first three Harry Potter books have sold more than 30 million copies worldwide and have been translated into 31 languages. And to think that HarperCollins, Penguin and Transworld all declined the original manuscript.

At 734 pages and two inches thick, Harry Potter IV is not for the faint of heart reader. It is for the reader who has read the first three books and craves to find out more about Harry. Does it stand alone? Who knows? Who'd want to start with book four without having read the other three? That's akin to picking up Grafton's latest alphabet murders book, O Is for Outlaw, without having read the A-N books first. Or getting dressed and then taking a shower . . . dumb, dumb, dumb.

Starting off with a puzzling first chapter that comes into focus at the end, Harry is beginning his fourth year at Hogwarts School. After spending a dismal summer with the Dursleys, with Dudley on an enforced diet, Harry is rescued by the Weasleys, who'll be taking him to the Quidditch World Cup. The fanfare and detail surrounding this event are evidence that Rowling's fertile imagination is still cranking out original, lively scenarios. The descriptions of the wizards' tents are so funny that I laughed as I read them aloud to my husband. Imagine stepping inside a seemingly ordinary camping tent to find a three-room flat. Or seeing tents with chimneys or ones that resemble a sultan's palace, complete with live peacocks.

When the students return to Hogwarts, they're told that there won't be intramural Quidditch games this year. No, this is the year that the Triwizard Tournament is to be held at Hogwarts. This tournament involves two other wizarding schools: Durmstrang, the German school and the French school, Beauxbatons. In a ceremony involving the Goblet of Fire, each school will have one member to represent them in a test that will span a whole school year and will involve three hair-raising contests, each more difficult than the last.

When Harry's name is spewed out of the Goblet of Fire as a fourth participant, he's as surprised as anyone. Only three were supposed to be chosen. Most students, Ron included, think that Harry entered his own name. Needless to say, Harry's attentions are divided as he struggles with the rigors of the tournament, the resentment of his classmates and with warnings that suggest that You-Know-Who is preparing for a comeback.

Much of the appeal comes from Rowling's shrewd use of characters and language. Harry, Ron, Hermione, Hagrid, Dumbledore and even Dobby the house elf now seem more real, more vivid than ever before. We and her heroes know that good and evil are never as uncomplicated as they seem at first.

Remember being delighted with magic mirrors, flying cars, Quidditch and all the other things that put a smile on your face? Rowling hasn't let us down this time, either. She's conjured up the Pensieve, a stone basin to hold "excess thoughts from one's mind and examines them at one's leisure" and a household clock that shows family members' whereabouts . . . "home, school, work, traveling, lost, hospital, prison" and where the number twelve would usually be are the words, "mortal peril" instead of telling time. I kept thinking of Fred and George Weasley, wondering where these delightful scoundrels would be.

To say that Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is enjoyable is an understatement, but it's far from perfect. Rowling's characterizations of females are terribly stereotyped. Hermione, the bright student who's an overachiever, is the object of ridicule because of her looks. The only female competitor in the Triwizard contest is a French sex pot, Fleur Delacour. Mrs. Weasley and Ginny are treated with the same disregard, too. And the teenaged girls at Hogwarts giggle, pout and even argue over lipstick.

A second weak point involves Hermione, who becomes embroiled in a quest to free the house elves. When she realizes that house elves do the cooking and cleaning at Hogwarts, she's horrified and disappointed. She begins a recruitment program to enlist other student's help, but most aren't interested. This plot line just fizzles and makes Hermione seem flaky, a term that previously I'd have never applied to her.

Some may see the length of Harry Potter IV as daunting to younger readers. I disagree for two reasons. The first is that the majority of readers will have read the first three books, which weren't lightweight books themselves. This fourth book will just seem to be a continuation, the next installment in Harry's adventures. The second reason that I don't see this book as daunting has to do with Rowling's writing style. She never insults the intelligence of her readers. This latest Harry is a more complex book, with more complex characters. Harry is growing up. So are his readers. But at the core of it all, he's still Harry of the wondrous adventures.

I read recently that what makes Harry Potter so special to this generation of young readers is that he belongs to them instead of "a legacy left to them by a previous generation." If this is how our forebears felt when they first read Gone With the Wind, To Kill a Mockingbird and other classics, then we've been fortunate to be allowed to share this special fascination about a young man, a bespectacled hero who's encouraging several generations to rediscover the tremendous joy of reading.

It's exciting to be on hand as history is being made, to read something that will, in the future, undoubtedly be considered a classic. Harry may be imaginary but his impact is very real and very extraordinary!

--Linda Mowery

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