Monday, December 28, 2015

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling (2000)

Harry Potter is nominally a fantasy, but as I was reading Goblet of Fire, I kept wondering if it's really a satire.  Shmoop says that satire "sets out to improve bad behavior through sarcasm and irony" and "humorously depicts a current state of affairs, and hopes that by doing so, he" - or she -  "might improve it."  One of the most famous satires is Swift's Gulliver's Travels - and that also works as a fantasy as well.

Consider Rowling's skewering of petty government bureaucracy (yet again), this time casting Percy Weasley as some sort of European Union-type minor official / busybody bureaucrat.  His clucking and tut-tutting about cauldron width is a picture of the henchmen (henchpeople) of EU regulatory minutia, and Ron's snorting disdain surely represents Rowling's own dislike.

Or Rita Skeeter writing gossip in The Daily Prophet; sure she's a stand in for gossip columnists; she literally has a poison quill.

The "pure blood" verses muggles, mudbloods, giants, half giants, house elves, etc.  - obviously a stand-in for not only the racist nonsense many people espouse, but also probably some aristocratic class nonsense as well.

Rowling takes the real world - sports, education, finance, international relations, etc. and delicately and/or brutally impales them on her own quill.  She's still trying to tell a grand story here - and succeeds - but she gets her digs in all the same.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Harry Potter #4)Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Although nominally a fantasy, I wondered if Goblet of Fire is really, at its core, a satire. Take for example Percy Weasley's job at the Department of International Magical Cooperation and his obsession with the standardization of cauldron thickness as a satirical look at European Union regulations, or the Quidditch World Cup as a more obvious satire of the World Cup of soccer. Rowling injects satire in other areas as well, delicately and/or brutally impaling journalism and the obsession with celebrity (Rita Skeeter's poisonous quill); education; finance. Yet her satire isn't a tsunami over the whole story ; she still has written a boisterous, dynamic, and actually quite provoking novel. There is the deft way she's injected the idea of prejudice, injustice and imperfection into the magical world for three novels and then hammers this home in the fourth; that is fine storytelling. Ron Weasley's casual indifference to the enslavement of the house elves and particularly his distrust of Madam Maxim as a half-giantess is perhaps the most disturbing example of this that should give the reader pause to think that this magical world of Harry Potter, like the muggle world, has ingrained flaws that aren't just because: Voldemort. Don't think too much about the implausible TriWizard Tournament and the Scooby Doo ending - that will spoil your enjoyment of what is otherwise a grand and excellent novel. If Harry Potter for future generations is the Beowulf of our time, it's in large part because Goblet of Fire is the most excellently written keystone to the series.

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