"It matters not what someone is born, but what they grow to be."
Covering the fourth year of students Harry Potter, Ron Weasley, and Hermione Granger at wizarding academy Hogwarts, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is the most ambitious, thrilling, and grown-up book in the series we've yet read. At more than twice the length of its immediate predecessor Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Goblet of Fire is a doorstopper of a book, but don't let the word count fool you: this is a thrill ride throughout, though it might be too scary for younger kids.
Harry loathes living at his aunt and uncle's house, so when his best friend Ron's dad shows up to whisk him away to their house, he's only too happy to leave. A quick jaunt to a hidden campground to watch the Quidditch World Cup is also tremendous fun, except when some masked wizards show up and start wreaking havoc. These assailants leave behind a terrifying token: the Dark Mark, a sign that the evil wizard Voldemort used at the height of his powers. Which is odd, considering Voldemort's been gone for years, ever since he tried to kill Harry while the latter was a baby.
When the trio finally make it to Hogwarts for the start of the school year, they find that the school is going to host an event called the Triwizard Tournament, which pits of-age students (17 years or older) from three different wizarding schools against terrible trials, all for the glory of their school and a hefty sum of money. 14-year-old Harry is quite excited to watch the tournament, but much less excited when he finds out he's been unwillingly made a participant in it, despite not even entering. Between the Tournament, a paranoid new teacher named Mad-Eye, and the return of his nemeses Draco Malfoy and Professor Snape, Harry's got a lot on mind. Namely this: who put his name his name in the Goblet of Fire, and why?
This is far and away the longest book we've read to this point, with 37 chapters spread over 752 pages. Despite its length, the story moves briskly, flowing from chapter to chapter and punctuated by little cliffhangers that make it very tempting to read just one more chapter. We had to resist that temptation though, because in true form for the Harry Potter series the chapters are long and require 30-40 minutes to read through, allowing for occasional interruptions or questions.
It's also the most complex story we've ever read aloud, and IMO that's a very good thing. Lots of things happen in the course of this story that at the time seem relatively unimportant, but turn out to be very impactful on the story as a whole. In the process, we can use these events to teach the kids about foreshadowing and the idea of a "Chekhov's Gun" in ways which will hopefully help them pick up on these details in other stories.
I want to draw special attention to the voice of a new character: Defense Against the Dark Arts professor "Mad-Eye" Moody. He is repeatedly described as "growling" and so I gave him the deepest voice I could manage, once that sounds like a hound snarling, spitting out the occasional word. Unfortunately this voice absolutely tears up my throat, and so I've had to dial it back. With the growing voice cast, it's becoming more difficult to find unique voices for all the characters that need them; I was thankful that Moody's voice was explicitly described, because then I could surmise what he should sound like more easily.
The earlier incident that happens during the Quidditch World Cup is basically a terrorist attack: a group of miscreants show up and deliberately cause as much fear and panic as possible. No one is described as being killed or seriously injured, but as with any terrorist attack causing harm and death is not the point. My kids don't have the background to understand that distinction, but yours might pick up on it, so keep it in mind.
This book also introduces the Unforgiveable Curses, a set of three spells that are the source much of the paranoia and mistrust found in later books. One curse causes unimaginable pain, one forces you to do the caster's bidding, and the third simply kills the target outright with no visible sign as to why they are now dead. The new professor "Mad-Eye" Moody demonstrates each of these in his class on spiders, to his students' disgust and fascination.
Finally, special mention has to be given to the climax of the book (MASSIVE SPOILERS ahead). A student named Cedric Diggory, introduced in the previous book, becomes a central figure in Goblet of Fire, having been selected as Hogwarts's Champion for the Triwizard Tournament. A situation arises in the third and final task which pits Harry against Cedric, but Harry proposes that they finish the task at the same time by each grabbing hold of the Tournament Cup, thus becoming co-champions; Cedric agrees. But the Cup was a trap, and Cedric is quickly and unceremoniously murdered by a follower of Lord Voldemort. Subsequently this same follower uses Harry's blood and his own dismembered hand to resurrect the Dark Lord. This event is, to say the least, a massive shock to the series; a major character dies for no reason, and the scariest and most powerful villain in this story is restored to his full power. It is at this point that readers recognize that this series is going to get a lot darker, and more adult. Be warned.
"Holy cow that was long and I LOVED IT."
As has been mentioned before, B is a HUGE fan of these books. That didn't change.
"But I know who they are! Why can't I tell (B and K)?"
A had unintentionally seen snippets of the movie for this book; one of those snippets involved a major spoiler regarding the identity of a principal character. He didn't have the context as to why this mattered, he just knew that he did. Consequently the above quote was what he said to me as part of a conversation about why revealing spoilers ruins the fun of hearing a story. To his credit, after this conversation he did not "spill the beans" and B and K were able to experience that plot twist without knowing about it beforehand (and A was able to understand why it mattered to the story).
"Do we have to?"
This was K's reaction to being told that the next chapter ("Flesh, Blood and Bone" the shortest and most impactful of all the chapters to that point) was the scariest one yet, and we were going to read it anyway. K has historically had some bad reactions to events in the Harry Potter universe, and the climax of this book absolutely shook her. She's fine, of course, she didn't even lose any sleep over it, but it was another reminder to me that as the books go on they get scarier, and I might need to slow down, filter some events, or take it slowly for the sake of my youngest child.
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is a long, involved book, but don't let that scare you. This is a thrilling fantasy, set among wizards and witches, that continues the overall Harry Potter series and tells a story all its own. The longer chapters allow for more deft characterization and complex plots, which all resolve into a satisfying and scary climax that is quite possibly the best in the series. All in all, while still being pretty scary for younger readers, I think you'll find that if you and your kids like any of the other Harry Potter books, Goblet of Fire is a worthy addition to your read-aloud library.
Recommended Age: 7 and up