Wizard world grows darker

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 15 July, 2000, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 15 July, 2000, 12:00am

SO IS THIS latest instalment in the series about a boy wizard worth all the fuss? In it Harry is entranced by magical creatures known as Veela, cheer leaders extraordinaire whose dance fascinates most males. Is Harry coming of age? 'The Veela had started to dance, and Harry's mind had gone completely and blissfully blank,' writes J K Rowling. 'All that mattered in the world was that he kept watching the Veela, because if they stopped dancing, terrible things would happen.' It is, of course, a pure American Beauty moment - but it also sums up the compulsive, bewitching nature of the series itself. This is the fourth book in the Potter series and the fourth I have consumed in a single sitting. And at 636 pages this volume is twice the size of any of the others - a huge handful for the many tiny fingers that will be grasping it this week and for months to come.

Harry is growing up - he is 14 and blushes when he sees girls, particularly a pretty and clever Chinese one called Cho Chang. Amid all this adolescent infatuation, Harry and his friends are also beginning to understand the nature of the world - not just of the parallel wizard world but also of the 'muggle' human world.

While Hermione campaigns for the Rights of the Oppressed, Ron and Harry begin to learn about the fragility of their own rivalries - and the class learns more about the Dark Arts. There are three powerful curses: the imperius spell, which hypnotises; the cruciatus, which hurts; and the irreversible avada kedavra, which kills. The book follows a now-familiar pattern - a school-year peppered with intrigue and adventure, ending with a spectacular battle against evil. Even so the denouement comes as a surprise. As the pre-hype suggested, this book is indeed darker than the others, and one person dies - although Rowling chose a rather two-dimensional character for the avada kedavra : a shame because the death wasn't quite as shocking as deaths of good people should be.

The Goblet Of Fire is full of Voldemort, the manifestation of evil, and school jokes - like socks that scream when they get too smelly.

The Potter books have been criticised by some 'Judges of Good Literature' as not being good literature at all. But to say that is to miss the point. These are books that adults and children can both enjoy. I can share a discussion with a nine-year-old about the book and neither of us has to patronise the other.

Since she became a multi-millionaire J K Rowling has been a target for media investigation. Reporters have found and interviewed her ex-husband - and over the year have suggested she copied elements of the books. Her revenge is the dreadful Rita Skeeter, with her 'Quick Quotes Quill', the kind of journalist who should not be named and certainly not be believed. The launch of this book was so secretive that no copies were sent out for review until the day of release. There was just one small leak, blamed on a Wal-Mart shelf-stacker in America, who put copies on the shelf prematurely. Hence a few thrilled young kids became the focus of attention for the international media. They were offered - by Rita Skeeter types - several years' worth of pocket money for their advance copies. They didn't accept.

The book, ultimately, is about being honest to yourself, how greed doesn't win. Harry Potter would have been proud of them.

Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire by JK Rowling Bloomsbury $170