In Honour of September 1st: Midnight Reading [Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling]
September 1st may be the date that will forever mean “start of term at Hogwarts” to me, but the time that I think of while reading Goblet of Fire is the beginning of the Easter holidays in 2002, when I did no longer want to wait and see whether I would get that book for Easter, and instead took the matter into my own bookstore-coupon-clutching hands.
When I think of that day, I always remember the ice-cream parlour across from the bookstore at the mall, and my mother complaining that it was rude of me to start reading my newly-purchased book then and there. But once I had opened it, once I had read the title of the first chapter, I could not put it down again.
The other moment I remember is one late at night, me curled up under a blanket in my room, reading, reading, reading, and the Carpenter Brother coming in to bring me a piece of freshly-baked apricot cake. Much as I love cake, I could not eat it. With my mind in the graveyard, with Harry and Voldemort, my stomach was churning too much to eat anything, and that cake remained untouched until, some time past midnight, I had finished the book.
When I think of this night, I also think of a day at school, whispering with my classmate Bunny during class*, and her telling me she spent most of a night sitting on a toilet to finish Goblet of Fire, because she was sharing a hotel room with her grandmother, and the grandmother would not allow her to keep the light on.
Even now, having read it what must be a dozen times, the graveyard chapters are delightfully creepy. I kind of miss the feeling of suspense they had when I read them the first time (being able to eat cake while I read now is nice, though), but then again, knowing the ending allows me to appreciate all the hints Rowling drops all through the book, setting things up for the ending, and in some cases, for the later books.
The prophecy in Prisoner of Azkaban might have been the first bit of keeping the books connected, but from Goblet of Fire on they become so interconnected that it’s “read all or read none”.
The size of the book reflects the growing complexity. Unlike the first three, which were mostly self-contained stories, Goblet of Fire really has two story arcs – the Triwizard Tournament one, which is resolved, and the Voldemort one, which is not.
When I began this reread, in the first two books, the characters seemed rather wooden. I didn’t have that feeling so much now, and I think it is because the emerging subplots are adding more complexity to the characters. The rift between Percy and the rest of the Weasleys, the beginnings of those tangled teenage love-lives…
This brings another memory of school, sitting in a classroom during break and listening to Bunny and another classmate yelling at each other about whether Hermione would end up with Harry or with Ron, and Bunny whipping out a copy of Goblet of Fire to read out some scenes that supported her theory. A third classmate who was supposed to be the impartial judge, not having read Harry Potter, just stood there blinking confusedly.
There are few funny scenes in Goblet of Fire, which means it’s not particularly high on my list of favourites, but I enjoyed rereading it more than I expected. And sad as it is, Dumbledore’s “Remember Cedric Diggory” speech is still one of my favourite scenes in the series. Maybe this is silly, but that speech is what I draw the strength and courage from to speak out against prejudice and bigotry. And I think this – being a source of strength – is a sign of a pretty powerful book.
I wish I could say more, something more intelligent – I feel it deserves more – but after all this midnight reading, Goblet of Fire has also inspired some midnight writing, and I am simply too tired to think of clever things to write. Next year, I must remember to do my rereading earlier, so I will have more time to think and write. Right now, I’m almost tempted to start Order of the Phoenix right now – that would certainly give me plenty of time, but the real reason is that I find it so hard to say goodbye to all these characters again. They may no longer be my favourite fictional people in the whole world, as they once were, but I still like them a lot.
* I would never have talked to my classmates if not for a Harry Potter-inspired caricature of a teacher that I’d drawn. Once they knew I’d read Harry Potter, Bunny and a few others finally had something to talk to me about.