Once or twice upon a time, a lad named Harry Potter bewitched the reading public. He was the star of a series of bestsellers that were as famous for the hype surrounding them, as the books themselves.
Harry Potter, for those of you more interested in the Republican Party's platform, is the British orphan and student at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. When Harry's not occupied battling the evil Lord Voldemort or flying his broom in Quidditch games, he's taking classes in Double Divination and Care of Magical Creatures with his pals Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger.
He's everything you want in a friend or a Boy Scout: loyal, generous, brave, smart, and fun-loving. But he resembles a skinny geek with his trademark black-framed eyeglasses and a peculiar scar on his forehead in the shape of a lightening bolt. Not since Bilbo Baggins has such a humble and physically unimposing make-believe character elicited the adulation usually reserved for grungy rock stars.
After a summer stay with the Dursleys, his awful Muggle (human) foster parents, Harry returns to Hogwarts to learn that the school will be hosting a Triwizard Tournament. One champion from Beauxbatons, Durmstrang and Hogwarts, the three largest European schools of magic, will compete against each other in three tasks and only those seventeen and up can participate in the tournament. Since Harry is only fourteen, he won't be selected as a champion from the Goblet of Fire. Right? Well wrong. I won't disclose more than to offer that by the end of the story, Harry will have confronted a Hungarian Horntail dragon, the yellow-eyed merpeople, and the death of a classmate.
There are many quirky subplots and new characters in Goblet. For instance, Hermione's quest to organize a union on behalf of the house-elves who perform the menial labor at Hogwarts is hilarious. There's a shady tabloid reporter for the Daily Prophet named Rita Skeeter and a new teacher of Dark Arts nicknamed "Mad-Eye"ÃÂ Moody. There's also a Quidditch World Cup between Ireland and Bulgaria where game souvenirs include "collectible figures of famous players, which strolled across the palm of your hand, preening themselves."ÃÂ Rowling must have had heaps of fun writing such a well-plotted tale, while excelling at making the ancient theme of good vs. evil so very imaginative. The fanciful elements, I think, are part of the reason that over 30 million copies of these fairy tales have been sold. Perhaps our very with-it children are eager for a break from the barren entertainments of video games, computer-generated cartoons, organized sports, and cheesy horror stories. Curling up with a novel full of engaging characters is a time-honored tradition - a tradition sadly lacking in our cell phone culture.
But, if you'll excuse the expression, it's time to play devil's advocate. Way too many folks - even thoughtful conservatives - are so busy gushing about the Harry Potter phenom that they are ignoring Goblet's questionnable parts ... and it's just not the abracadabra stuff. This is, after all, a book that's being marketed to children as young as nine.
To start, I found the few "damns"ÃÂ being casually tossed out of characters' mouths unnecessary. Now that Harry is an adolescent, there were, in the words of my 14-year-old "annoying guy-girl stuff."ÃÂ The Bulgarian Quidditch team has gorgeous mascots - veelas - who have the same effect on male fans as that of tennis-player Anna Kournikova. There's a Yule Ball where the young wizards have to scramble for dates with the teen witches, and Harry's infatuation with Cho Chang figures into the story.
And here's a real horror: Some of the youth at Hogwarts act as catty about outward appearances as students at any old' suburban school. (Now that's a reason for homeschooling parents to think twice about assigning this work to their charges.) For kids who get to wear invisibility cloaks and send letters by owl carriers, the pettiness seems rather pedestrian. Is there no spell to temper those hormones? On a different note, the final showdown with the creepy Wormtail involves some bloodletting from Harry. Yuck.