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To: Website witches and warlocks
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: “The Goblet of Fire”
My wife Patricia, the sorceress, with the help of Amazon.com and Federal
Express, on Saturday made “The Goblet of Fire” magically appear on our
She fed our two black Labradors, Jessie (Jackson) and Farra (Khan), told
me I would have to make my own supper, and curled up in a corner with the
fourth of seven books by a British lady named J.K. Rowling. I was prepared
for the event because Patricia, who had read the first three books “at least
twice,” had re-read the third of the series last week to get a running
start on “Goblet.” This meant she did not have time to re-read any of
the dozen books about “Calvin and Hobbes” that circulate constantly at our
bedside. It also meant her complete collection of “Lost in Space” would sit
silently for a few hours.
Four hours is all it took for her to read that big fat “Goblet.” When I
went to bed at 11, she was still curled up, a wicked grin on her radiantly
beautiful face, halfway through the book. The next morning I somehow knew,
instinctively, maybe supernaturally, that she had finished the thing. Her
first words, which are invariably, “Jude, I adore you,” became, “Jude, I
can’t wait for the next Harry Potter book.” I asked her to write it all down
and here is what she wrote:
Hooray for Harry Potter!
All the buzz this past weekend has been over the release of the fourth
installment of the J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, “Harry Potter and the
Goblet of Fire.” The book has received the kind of publicity normally
reserved for the latest summer blockbuster movie; for a book, and a
children’s book no less, to get a such a buildup is nothing short of
On Sunday’s “This Week,” Sam Donaldson donned Harry-esque glasses
(although he looks more like Severus Snape, one of Harry’s toughest
professors), and Gail Collins of The New York Times and George Will, for
example, penned columns on the hoopla. Yale professor Harold Bloom sneers in
yesterday’s Wall Street Journal that “if you cannot be persuaded to read
anything better, Rowling will have to do.” He prefers Kenneth Grahame or
Lewis Carroll. And like Bloom, most of the pundits seem, though, to assume
the value of the series is that it is an inducement for children to read
other books. “Classic” books, that is. This may or may not be the case, but
it does rather shortchange J.K. Rowling and Harry Potter.
In her review of book 4, arts critic Janet Maslin skimmed the essence of
the phenomenon in Monday’s New York Times: “what makes the Potter books so
popular is the radically simple fact that they’re so good.”
What makes the Potter series so good? Why are these books so very
appealing to adults and children alike? The series is that rarity of
childhood tomes, a book that parents actually enjoy reading to their kids,
or with them. (Or in some cases, instead of them!) They are indeed fun. The
plots are satisfyingly intricate but told in such a way as to be accessible
to children. Rowling is a heck of a storyteller; it’s rare that the reader
can guess what is going to come next.
The basic premise is that Harry, the sole survivor of a curse normally
immediately fatal, broke the power of the most evil sorcerer to ever exist,
the Lord Voldemort. Voldemort continually is searching for a way to return
to full strength, and in this latest installment, seems to have managed it.
This is a tale as old as time: good vs. evil; innocence vs. sin. Imaginative
and funny and frightening and sad, each book may stand on its own, although
like C.S. Lewis’ “The Chronicles of Narnia,” the reader will get more out of
the story if familiar with what has gone before.
The characters are complex and three-dimensional; each has virtues and
faults. Some, like Draco Malfoy, the school bully in Harry’s class, are
deeply flawed; Draco and his father are almost Hitler-like in their devotion
to pure-blood wizards. Malfoy is also pathologically jealous of Harry’s
ability to fly a broomstick, which earned Harry a position on one of the
school’s four Quidditch teams, becoming the youngest player at Hogwarts in
Yet, in spite of being able to turn teacups into tortoises, each
character is remarkably human. One can almost feel pity for Draco Malfoy
when his father buys his son’s way onto an opposing school Quidditch team by
purchasing the latest model broomstick (and, yes, Rowling makes each model
unique). Malfoy, it seems, will never know the satisfaction of earning
things on his own. Ron Weasley, Harry’s best friend, is poignantly envious
of his four elder brothers, all of whom did well at Hogwarts school. “Even
if I do it, it’s no big deal, because somebody did it before me,” he
laments. Harry himself struggles with the loss of his parents as a baby, and
living with his non-magical aunt and uncle, who treat him “as if he’d rolled
in something smelly.”
There is a universal feeling to these children. Readers can see a bit of
themselves in these characters. They feel rejection and acceptance, fear and
happiness, and the reader feels with them.
In addition, J.K. Rowling has constructed a complicated, creative
wizarding world that works so well because of her astounding attention to
small detail. For example, there is a separate monetary system of gold
Galleons, silver Sickles and bronze Knuts. It’s 17 Sickles to a Galleon, and
29 Knuts to a Sickle.
Naturally, these are all tradable for pounds sterling or other currency
at Gringotts, the wizards’ bank. The bank is the safest in the world, as
the locks on the vaults are soluble only by the caretaker goblins; anyone
else trying to dissolve the enchanted doors is sucked inside. When Harry
asks how often the vaults are inspected, a goblin named Griphook gives him a
“rather nasty grin” and responds, “about once every ten years.” One can get
to the bank only by entering a London pub, the Leaky Cauldron, and tapping
bricks over the trash cans in the rear courtyard in a certain succession.
This opens a portal to Diagon Alley, where Gringotts, a large white building
rising over the shops selling wizard wares, is located. (Rowling remains mum
on the issue of wizard taxation, however.) Harry visits Diagon Alley and
Gringotts yearly to pick up assorted school supplies. The magic to enter,
however, can only work if Harry believes he can do it. No one who enjoys the
genre of fantasy fails to be impressed by any of these books.
What is most unusual, though, about the Potter series, is that it is a
morality tale that children and adults are plainly enjoying. Christian
conservative groups who wish to see these books banned from public schools
and libraries are misguided in thinking that the action within encourages an
interest in witchcraft simply because the stories largely take place at
England’s premier school for wizardry.
There is a clear standard, a gold standard, of what is right, and a clear
standard of what is wrong. There is a sense of good and evil, and there are
ambiguities which Harry must slog through. As Albus Dumbledore, the fatherly
headmaster at Hogwarts, explains to Harry, life is about the choices we
make, and what makes us each an individual. Harry and his friends are
tempted in various ways, and struggle with issues that are real, not
supernatural: racism, slavery, fear of the unknown, and evil ambition.
Harry, having known tragedy, confronts his challenges head-on, with the help
of his friends as much as with magic.
Most importantly, Harry’s desire to do good, to do what is right, is
central to the premise of the books. He seeks the truth, even when it will
cause him pain. And, although it is a magical world, things don’t always
turn out happily, particularly in the latest book, which sets up the action
for the remaining three volumes. But as long as young Harry continues to
make the right choices and believe in himself, he is a heck of an example
for children. Loyalty, bravery, friendship and honor mean something in
Harry’s world. Virtues have value.
Now that’s magic.