We all like a good rags-to-riches story, and J(oanne) K(athleen) Rowling, the creator of the Harry Potter series, gives us a great one: now one of the (if not the) richest woman in England thanks to her publishing success, she got the idea for Harry Potter while she was living on welfare as a single mother in the Scottish city of Edinburgh (source). But J.K. Rowling remains totally willing to poke fun at her popular image as an up-from-nothing star. In an interview, she commented:
I had an American journalist say to me, "Is it true you wrote the first novel on napkins?" I really wanted to say, "No, on teabags. I used to save them." [...] The real story, like most of what appears in the press, there is an element of truth and there is an element of huge exaggeration. (source )
It's exciting to think of Rowling snatching up napkins (or tea bags) and scribbling down the inspiration for Harry Potter (in part because it makes us think we might get so lucky one day). But the truth of it is a little less glamour and a little more sweat: Rowling had to work her butt off for hours every day for years to plan the overall shape of Harry's world.
The stakes are particularly high with the fourth book in the series, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. By the time Goblet of Fire was published in July 2000, Rowling's first three Harry Potter novels had already sold 35 million copies (source). Imagine the disappointment of the world if it had been a flop? (Which it definitely was not.)
What's more, in terms of the plot of the whole series, Goblet of Fire is absolutely key. It's exactly halfway between the first and last Harry Potter books, which means it has to leave enough loose ends for future books while satisfying longtime fans who have followed along this far. It's also the book when Harry really begins to become an adult, with adult responsibilities (and a love life!). So there's a lot to accomplish in Goblet of Fire.
Not everyone thinks Rowling did a great job with Goblet of Fire – we read a particularly nasty review that accuses Rowling of "paper-chewing verbosity" (a.k.a. too many words) (source). But we happen to think every page is worth it. As Rowling puts it,
I knew from the beginning it would be the biggest of the first four. You need a proper run-up to what happens in the end. It's a complex plot, and you don't rush a plot that complex, because everyone's gonna get confused. (source)
We here at Shmoop can remember bringing the hardcover edition of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire home on a hot summer's night in July 2000. We stayed up all night reading it, even if it's over seven hundred pages long. We still feel that same enthusiasm about it now, many years later. So we think that every page of Goblet of Fire feels necessary – it's jam-packed with all the magical details and developments that make the Harry Potter series so awesome year after year, book after book.
It's odd to go back and watch the first Harry Potter movie, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, because the actors who play Harry, Hermione, and Ron all look so tiny: they're really just kids. But once you hit Goblet of Fire four years later, they're mature and grownup-looking – especially Rupert Grint (the guy who plays Ron), who's about eighteen feet tall. It's only a difference of four years between the release of the first movie and the fourth, but the actors look like completely different people.
We point this out because Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is the novel when Harry, Ron, and Hermione also really start acting like the adults they're going to be by the end of the series, which is pretty cool to witness. Once puberty hits Hogwarts with a wallop, the entire tone of the Harry Potter novels change. Because J.K. Rowling chooses to age up her characters in a realistic way – with hopeless crushes, mixed signals, and explosive fights between people who love each other – Goblet of Fire feels darker and more serious than the previous three installments of the Harry Potter series. And, to tell you the truth, we welcome the change.
It's really honest of J.K. Rowling not to turn a blind eye to how much people grow between the ages of eleven and fourteen. She doesn't get into NC-17 territory at all (of course), but she is brave enough to admit that teenagers do think about sex – or kissing, at least. Believe it or not, Rowling has gotten some flack for bringing the birds and the bees into Hogwarts. In an interview, she recalls:
I had a very forthright letter from a woman who had heard me say that Harry was going to have his first date or something and she said "Please don't do that, that's awful. I want these books to be a world where my children can escape to." She literally said "free from hurt and fear" and I'm thinking "Have you read the books? What are you talking about free from hurt and fear? Harry goes through absolute hell every time he returns to school." So I think that a bit of snogging would alleviate matters. (source)
("Snogging" is British for kissing, by the way.) We think Rowling is absolutely right: why do so many fantasy novels insist on keeping their heroes as eternal kids? (Peter Pan and Narnia, we're looking at you.) We all have to grow up some time, and we're glad that our favorite Harry Potter characters get to go through all of the joys and embarrassments of the process, too. It makes them seem more real and less sheltered. As Rowling also points out, Harry goes through "absolute hell" at Hogwarts. He should really be allowed to get some kissing out of this whole thing too!
And why else should you care? Well, because that J.K. Rowling sure knows how to write a plot twist…