Spending part of the summer holidays with Hermione and the Weasleys at the Quidditch World Cup is an exciting prospect for Harry Potter. Or it is until a bunch of Voldemort supporters show up. There is clearly danger afoot; even more so when he returns to Hogwarts. The school is hosting the Triwizard Tournament (relaunched after being axed due to an excessively high death toll). The Goblet of Fire will receive the names of the candidates and choose the champion who is to take on contenders from the schools of Beauxbatons and Durmstrang. But this year the Goblet expels two slips of paper - one bearing Harry’s name. Someone, somehow, has fooled it into thinking that there is a fourth school in the tournament, and that Harry attends it and is of age; and Harry has an awful suspicion of why. Unfortunately for him, being chosen by the Goblet is a binding contract - he must compete.
The tasks aren’t the only hair-raising things at Hogwarts this year. Hagrid’s fondness for all creatures vile and venomous hits a new low with his collection of Blast-Ended Skrewts, making Care of Magical Creatures classes more dangerous than ever. The new Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher is paranoid, battle-scarred ex-Auror Mad-Eye Moody. The eye in question can see through anything, and rumour has it the rest of Moody is mad, too. Harry’s Triwizard entry has brought him to the attention of Rita Skeeter, who wields the Daily Prophet’s sharpest quill and loves to dig up scandal and drama wherever she can find it - or even where she can’t. But for Harry and Ron, the greatest challenge is none of these – it’s finding dates to the Hogwarts ball. Until, that is, the Tournament takes an unexpected and potentially fatal turn.
Being the middle book in the series, this is naturally its turning point. One or two Voldemort supporters have appeared before, but now the Death Eaters are given a collective noun and introduced en masse. Voldemort himself makes a major step forward on the comeback trail, and in future will pose a much more real and immediate threat. The build-up continues at Hogwarts, where Moody raises the subject of Unforgivable Curses - much favoured by Voldemort and his fan club. If Harry had any doubts about what he was up against before, by the end of the book he doesn’t.
I raised my eyebrows quite a bit during this book at Harry’s continuing run of good luck (first it was Gryffindor winning at Quidditch, now this) ... but I underestimated J. K. It turned out not to be luck at all; and it was skill, willpower, and the nature of magic that got him out of the mess the Tournament got him into. (It helped, too, that cheating was a longstanding Triwizard tradition.) Surprisingly, most of the help comes from sources other than Hermione; but she has a stroke of brilliance regarding Rita Skeeter and her toxic quill. The Tournament also forms a narrative landmark, introducing a new character, new information about Hagrid and Snape, and Harry’s own weak point.
Another thing introduced was a bit of a puzzle. One of the Death Eaters lost a hand and was furnished by Voldemort with a silver replica. This is something I’ve read before, in a Kim Wilkins novel, so I’m guessing there’s a source somewhere. A fairy tale I never read, perhaps? It sounds very Brothers Grimm - does anyone know?