Midnight’s Children

Then again, who was asking, except Rowling herself? Not George Will, I bet, whose prepub endorsement of Pottermania must haunt him; he probably never noticed that Voldemort's 11-year reign of terror lasts exactly as long as Margaret Thatcher's term in office, a detail that's often made me wonder just how damn mad Rowling got during her famous stint on the dole. Judging from Goblet of Fire, plenty: Her satiric attacks on bloody-minded bigotry, arrogance, and the fatuous complacency that gets her goat in both its ruling-class and middle-class versions turn thrillingly scathing here. One much advertised yummy was a Quidditch World Cup, but that romp leads into the most upsetting scene she's written since Harry's parents died; during the postgame bacchanal, Voldemort's supporters torture helpless Muggles for sport. More amusingly, that good girl Hermione gets radicalized after discovering she's a beneficiary of wizard-style slave labor, only to come up against revolution-from-above's perennial quandary: The house elves whose lot she aims to better are too demoralized to want it much.

J.K. Rowling: Her latest is the kiddie-lit equivalent of Sgt. Pepper.
J.K. Rowling: Her latest is the kiddie-lit equivalent of Sgt. Pepper.

Details

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
By J.K. Rowling
Scholastic, 734 pp., $25.95
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As usual, the Luke Skywalker-vs.-Darth Vader template looms larger than I'd like. But George Lucas is a humorless creep, and Rowling's fantasy is not only infinitely livelier and more humane but just more specific. In these books, good and evil aren't cardboard qualities; when it comes to locating the roots of monstrous behavior in snobbery or callousness or social fears or lust for power, count on her to call a spade a spade. On the flip side, adult virtue never stops getting more complicated. That's why my favorite of her characters is Snape the nasty Potions teacher, who doesn't get any more likable once he turns out to be on Our Side—at what we now learn was some cost. The reason his big decision in the book's into-the-storm finale is scary and moving at once is that he's a genuinely awful human being, and I wonder: Can he possibly be turning into Rowling's tragic hero? See you next midnight, gang.

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