05 September 2013

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling
Audiobook read by Jim Dale
2001 Hugo Award Winner
Got it from: Public Library
20h 37m

The same, but darker.

Trying to make sense of so many questions…
I’ve read the Harry Potter series twice now and I always enjoy them as fun, familiar, and not very challenging.  Preparing to read it in the context of all of the really great SF/F titles that have earned the Hugo, I was a little perplexed and to be honest, earnestly dreading this read (is it possible to dread earnestly?  Because I was very intent in my dread).  I would never admit to this, but there may have even been a moment in time when I sort of chose to listen to the audiobook so that I could only half pay attention and just be done with it with minimal effort.  And I was even less excited about writing this review.  Now, I’m glad I’ve taken some time to stew over it, because I’ve developed a slightly different perspective.

Initially, I was concerned that the pendulum swing of voter fickleness (is that a word?) had swung from the very hard SF choices of the 90’s to what appeared to be little more than a popularity contest in the 2000’s (Vinge, Gaiman, Bujold, and Rowling, all with large fan bases, account for half of the Hugo’s).  But really, that’s a silly comparison; after all, people like Heinlein, Asimov, Clarke, and LeGuin have been getting repeat wins since the beginning.

My fear that Rowling’s win would only evidence the number of fans rather than the quality of the book was probably unwarranted as popularity has always influenced Hugo Award voting.  But my concerns about the book went beyond popularity too.  I joked that this was the same Harry Potter only darker.  I’ll get to the darker part in a minute, but Rowling really does lean heavily on the safe and predictable at times.  I wondered for a long time why this book won, if none of the others (which are written very similarly) had even been nominated?

I have also been seriously delaying this review (earnestly delaying it), then writing and rewriting major portions of it for the last month or so, trying to decide what to defend (I think there’s plenty worth defending) and what to criticize (probably even more).  But just now, I don’t think I’ll go there except to remember that if any book signaled Rowling’s attempt to transform this series to something darker, it was this one.  There’s a lot that feels rote-Harry-Potter about this book, but even amidst really awful moments like the entire World Cup Quidditch Cup, Rowling was able to introduce a sense of pervading and seemingly permanent doom.  Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire shed quite a lot of the happy-go-lucky, even-if-something-bad-happens-it-will-turn-out-alright-in-the-end feeling of the first three books.  Rowling’s fourth installment had some real weight (physically too), and even a sliver of emotional depth.  In all fairness, it’s not entirely undeserving (just mostly).

So I guess, while it might seem that I could get behind arguments in favor of- or in opposition to- this win, I think I still lean toward being opposed to this win.  At the same time, I’m of the opinion that the question of whether this or any of the Harry Potter books are deserving of the Hugo is irrelevant.  That Harry Potter won the Hugo seems to say more about the award process to me than the worthiness of the book.

The Hugo Award, at least for best novel, is only marginally about the crowning of this year’s best SF/F work.  It’s a fan process.  It’s a thing anyone can do (if you can pay).  It’s a popularity vote.  And yet, we also know that people are supposed to be voting for the “best” of the year.  I don’t think any of that is bad necessarily, but I think it’s probably necessary to remember before starting to read Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire in the context of quite a few really distinguished SF/F novels.  It might be a little more fraught with questions of legitimacy (rightfully IMHO), but it is still fun, immersive and sometimes a little gross.

If you’re trying to finish off the Hugo list like me and, like I was, regretting this one, just know that despite being a little miffed about this Hugo, I still think there’s plenty to enjoy.  Overall, I enjoyed the book.  Not my favorite HP, definitely not my favorite Hugo, but still worth the time.

If you’ve already gone through the print books and you think you want to read them again, I recommend giving the audiobooks a shot.  Jim Dale is always great, and he has such a Harry Potter-y voice that he’s doubly good here.


Universe 5/5
Social/Political Climate 4/5
Dialogue 2/5
Scientific Wonders 4/5
Characters 3/5

Overall 18/25

Hey! In case you didn’t notice, I actually finished the Hugo’s just a few hours before Redshirts was announced this weekend.  I considered that a challenge completed, though I have already started reading Redshirts, and I’m sure I’ll end up reviewing it here later.


  1. Hi Jeremy,

    I agree with you on questioning the Hugo process with this one. I think by definition, awards often devolve to a popularity contest, whether the voters are peers or a fan base. Why did Red Mars win a Nebula, but Green and Blue won Hugos. Why did Asimov win the one-time greatest-series-of-all-time award for the Foundation trilogy over Tolkien. Why didn't Hitchcock ever win an Oscar. I had one friend who accused the Pulitzer and National Book Award panels as being old-boys clubs.

    With each book I read, I often try to guess what about it propelled it to a Hugo win. I think after a while, it becomes rather masturbatory.

    Despite being bogged down by the last 13 massive tomes, I've come to look at my challenge like an item I read in the WWE FAQ about their emphasis on awards: it's not that the awards are definitions of the best. They give us a broad indication of some good stuff, and exposure to different authors.

    Just a technical note, Rowling was also nominated for Prisoner of Azkaban. I would agree with your thought process though that Goblet of Fire might have won because it's the turning point between light and dark, as well as in the level of juvenality (is that a word?). See, there I go analyzing again...

    1. DERP! I forgot Prisoner! Thanks for pointing that out. Yeah, I mention it (the reasons I think a book won the Hugo) here probably more than I care about the actual reason. I look at it just like you mention; I started this blog/challenge mainly for exposure to more SF.

  2. And another note: L Ron Hubbard was nominated once...

  3. Let me know what you think of Redshirts when you're done. It's my least favourite of Scalzi's books, and I have many of the same misgivings about the award process as you do in relation to Harry Potter.


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