If Azkaban was when the wizarding world of Harry Potter* started to change, Goblet of Fire marks the real turning point. After the Quidditch World Cup celebrations are ruined by Voldemort’s old supporters showing themselves and causing chaos and panic, Harry and his friends expect another school year of magic lessons, Quidditch, rule-breaking and perhaps a finale of risking their lives in some adventure. But the pattern is broken from the moment Dumbledore announces there will be no Quidditch cup this year, because there will be an even bigger event at Hogwarts: The Triwizard Tournament: a trio of challenging tasks for the champions of three wizard schools: Hogwarts, Beauxbatons and Durmstrang. Not that Harry, Ron or Hermione will be affected directly, except that they will be provided with a bit of entertainment. The Triwizard Tournament is far too complicated and dangerous, and Dumbledore has installed failsafe measures to ensure that no one under seventeen can be selected as champion…
Somehow, Harry Potter has found himself in deep. Again. Putting one’s name into the Goblet of Fire signifies a legally binding contract – if the Goblet says you are to be a champion, champion you must be. Never mind that Harry didn’t – couldn’t – enter his own name. For the first time, there are four wizards and witches competing in the Triwizard Tournament (though they don’t change the name) and Harry’s year is devoted to finding ways to survive the Tournament. Because in all probability, the person who nominated Harry – in his own category without any competition – did so in the hopes that he will die in the process.
But when Harry does survive – and win – the Tournament, it is only the start of his troubles. In the most horrifying, terrifying and gruesome scene so far, Voldemort, He Who Must Not Be Named, the Dark Lord is reborn. So far we’ve only seen him as a whisper, a memory, or heard about what he was like through other people’s stories. He seemed like a fairly standard memory of a children’s story’s villain, mostly harmless now. This new Voldemort puts an end to that delusion: he is terrifying. Although nearly-dying seems to be an occupational hazard for Harry at the end of the summer term, never has death felt so real – we witnessed the first on-page death of an established character moments before – and so inescapable.
In my opinion, the adaptation of Goblet of Fire is the first really good Harry Potter film, faithful to the book without being slavishly so, a good film as well as a good interpretation of the book. As such, I found on this reread that the film had a stronger impression on me than I had realised, and that there were many wonderful moments in the book which I had completely forgotten about: the Weasley family arriving at the Dursleys’ house to collect Harry for the rest of the summer holidays, Fred and George’s Weasley Wizard Wheezes, and Hermione’s entire S.P.E.W. campaign for the better treatment of house elves. (Still not entirely convinced by the house elves, I wasn’t too sorry that they were omitted from the film.) Even in the scenes that had been filmed directly from the book, I discovered I got more pleasure from reading than watching them. The scenes of chaos at the Quidditch World Cup felt so much more intense to read on the page than to watch a load of people running and screaming in the dark on the screen. And the Graveyard scene is so much scarier in my imagination than someone else’s translated to the screen.
I wonder why that is? Perhaps what is described but unseen appeals to the individual’s own worst fears for them to imagine the worst. When it is given shape through film, there is only one way to interpret it, and that is what is shown. Maybe it’s because you can read a book at your own speed, savour the moments and take your time to let things sink in. Whatever the reason, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is a fine example of the power of the imagination, and how superior books can be to the film of the same story.
*not the theme park