The Tri-Book Tournament
I have written much in the past about how Jo astonishingly laid out rubrics for the entire Harry Potter series in the first book (“Seven Obstacles for Seven Books,” “The Three-Book-Long Chess Match”) and somewhat in the second book (“The Foreshadowing of Borgin and Burkes”). But one of the things that has not been as widely remarked upon is the literary victory lap that Jo took in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.
The more years pass, the more my esteem for Goblet of Fire grows – it is growing awfully close to eclipsing Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban as my second-favorite tome of the lot. Considering how masterfully the mystery plays out, and how much world-building and character development is accomplished in the book, I am all the more impressed that Jo wrote it in only a year. Goblet of Fire is also the turning point of the series – as Jo said, “It’s literally a central book, it’s almost the heart of the series, and it’s pivotal.” In light of that, to celebrate her magnum opus reaching its halfway point, Jo subtly used the tasks of the Triwizard Tournament as a recap or an homage to the preceding three books. (Shout out to Sophia Jenkins for helping me puzzle through this theory!)
The First Task
The first task is to get the golden egg, making one’s way past a highly dangerous dragon. In other words, it’s all about a quest to procure an object that is being guarded by deadly obstacles – rather like the Sorcerer’s Stone Harry pursues in the first book. Even the golden hue of the prize is a parallel – while the golden egg is the one to get, recall that the Sorcerer’s Stone (in addition to its immortality-related powers) also turns any metal into gold.
To get past the egg, Moody tells Harry, “Play to your strengths” (GoF 344). This hearkens back to how all the obstacles protecting the Sorcerer’s Stone are specifically designed to be overcome by the trio’s particular strengths: conjuring fire, flying and Seeking, playing chess, and using logic.
Of course, the dragon itself is also a callback to Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and the misadventures involving Norbert the Norwegian Ridgeback – this dragon-centric ring is later completed in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows as a clear-cut example of ring theory at work. And the first task is the only time aside from the Norbert incident in Sorcerer’s Stone that Charlie Weasley bears any relevance to the plot – he shows up before the task and provides Hagrid (and Harry) with helpful information about the Hungarian Horntail.
And just like in Sorcerer’s Stone, the first task concludes with a detailed (and very biased) awarding of points. In Sorcerer’s Stone, we wrap up with Dumbledore awarding points to Gryffindor – itemized by student and enumerating their specific virtues – adding up to put Gryffindor in first place due to Dumbledore’s bias. The first task ends with “marks out of ten from each [judge]” (GoF 359). Ironically, Dumbledore is among the less biased judges here, what with Karkaroff’s four and Bagman’s ten, but the end result is the same: The points Harry is awarded put him in a tie for first place. Unlike Book 1, there is no tiebreaker for standing up to friends, but we get the gist.
The Second Task
The second task as a parallel for the events of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets is so blatant, it is what served as the genesis for this essay. In the second task, Harry is forced to go to a wet and subterranean location to rescue a Weasley and the younger sister of someone he knows, even if he barely knows the sister in question. In other words… the same thing as rescuing Ginny from the Chamber.
Of course, the parallels run deeper than that. The second task also features the crucial involvement of Moaning Myrtle and Dobby, just like the second book does.
Moaning Myrtle provides Harry with some crucial clues as to what’s going on while he is in a bathroom – in Book 2, providing Riddle’s diary; in the second task, pointing out that mermaids are the focal point. In both moments, Harry manages to inadvertently offend Myrtle – by pointing out that a thrown book would go right through her (CoS 230) and by asking how he is supposed to breathe (GoF 465).
Then, in the climactic moment, Myrtle points him in the right direction: toward the entrance to the Chamber of Secrets and toward the merpeople holding the hostages.
Dobby spends much of Chamber of Secrets trying to save Harry’s life and promises to never do so again at the end of the book (CoS 339). Fortunately, he goes back on his word, and in the second task, the house-elf actually does save Harry’s life (or at least his Triwizard success) by providing him with Gillyweed.
The conclusion of both adventures features a similarly phrased excitement on Hermione’s part that Harry figured out the puzzle:
Hermione [was] running toward him, screaming, ‘You solved it! You solved it!’” (CoS 339)
’Harry, well done!’ Hermione cried. ‘You did it, you found out how all by yourself!’” (GoF 504)
The Third Task
The third task is not as clear-cut in the parallel as the first two – but neither is the third book itself! However, moment by moment and scene by scene, we can find how the maze hearkens back to the highlights of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.
The maze opens with a boggart masquerading as a Dementor (GoF 623) – there can be no more direct signal for avid readers to recall Prisoner of Azkaban, where both creatures (including the one transformed into the other) are featured so prominently.
The golden mist that turns Harry upside down (GoF 624) is tricky to place, but I believe that mist is a callback to the fog of a crystal ball, and Professor Trelawney’s predictions generally. In Prisoner of Azkaban, before Harry becomes jaded with Divination, Trelawney informs Harry that he has the Grim and that death stalks toward him. And Harry does, in fact, see the “Grim” on several occasions. Rather like with the mist, his world is (figuratively) turned upside down as he wonders whether he is soon fated to die. However, to get past both the golden mist and the morbid predictions, Harry has to just put one foot in front of the other – only by finding the willpower to keep on, despite what may happen, can he get past the obstacle.
Harry runs into a Blast-Ended Skrewt, which has been a regular deadly feature of the Hogwarts grounds in the past year – just like the Whomping Willow. The willow is doubly significant in the third book. First, it provides Sirius with a place to hide and a way to access the castle despite all the defenses. Second, it is a link to Lupin’s lycanthropic secret, and to the Marauders’ schooldays, which prove to be such a crucial backstory. Therefore, it merits an avatar in the maze, in the form of the Blast-Ended Skrewt.
The key to this Skrewt-Willow parallel is in how Harry gets past these lethal obstacles. At first, he makes one misguided attempt at getting past them the old-fashioned way. He casts a Stunning Spell at the Skrewt, which rebounds and singes his hair (GoF 625-626). In Prisoner of Azkaban, he is “darting here and there, trying to find a way through the vicious, swishing branches, but he couldn’t get an inch nearer to the tree roots” (PoA 335-336). But both times, the key to getting past the obstacle is simply to temporarily freeze it and make a run for it. Crookshanks immobilizes the willow by pressing a knot; Harry is finally able to flee from the Skrewt with a well-aimed Impediment Curse.
Harry next encounters an Imperiused Viktor Krum torturing Cedric Diggory (GoF 626) – and Krum serves as a stand-in for Sirius Black here. Originally, Krum appears friendly enough (after potential love triangles are averted) despite coming from the sketchy background of a Karkaroff-led Durmstrang. Then, in an apparently shocking twist, it turns out Krum is evil when he attacks Cedric (an ally of Harry’s). But there is another twist yet in store: Krum isn’t evil after all, and the attack isn’t all it appears.
Just by replacing a few names, we get the arc of the titular Prisoner of Azkaban. Originally, Sirius appears friendly enough despite coming from the sketchy background of the noble and most ancient House of Black. Then, in an apparently shocking twist, it turns out Sirius is evil when he attacks Pettigrew (an ally of James’s). But there is another twist yet in store: Sirius isn’t evil after all, and the attack isn’t all it appears.
After the scuffle with Krum, Harry comes to the sphinx (GoF 628): a feline with magical properties who allows Harry to pass a dangerous obstacle (itself!) to go directly toward the story’s climax. This is an homage to Crookshanks: a feline with magical properties (being part Kneazle!) who allows Harry to pass a dangerous obstacle (the aforementioned Whomping Willow) to go directly toward the story’s climax.
Harry gets his leg injured fighting an Acromantula (GoF 632), just like Ron’s leg is broken when he scuffles with Sirius (PoA 335). Harry and Cedric work together to overcome the Acromantula, the forces of their combined spells sufficing to take out the foe (GoF 632). This parallels the moment when the trio’s combined Disarming Charm takes out Snape in the Shrieking Shack (PoA 361).
Finally, there is a moment where Harry gives up on getting his prize. In the third task, he offers Cedric the opportunity to claim the Triwizard Cup, despite how badly he wants it (GoF 632). In Prisoner of Azkaban, Harry allows Pettigrew to escape even after using the Time-Turner, despite how badly he wants to capture the traitor (PoA 408). And both events lead directly to the tragic situation in the graveyard when Pettigrew kills Cedric and makes Lord Voldemort rise again.
One of the most chilling, most jaw-dropping, most “can’t put the book down now!” lines of the entire series is the closing of Goblet of Fire Chapter 32: “Lord Voldemort had risen again” (GoF 643). BAM!! Does Jo know how to end a chapter, or does she know how to end a chapter? The Harry Potter series can be very neatly divided into two halves with that moment as an axis: When Voldemort returns to corporeal form in Goblet of Fire, everything is irrevocably changed.
Perhaps the impact of that moment is somewhat muted in a world where Books 5, 6, and 7 are only a bookshelf away. But when I first read the books, during the three-year summer, the first four books were all we had. And though we did not know what the remainder of the series would look like, we knew it would be wholly different from what had come before.
Just as the three tasks of the Triwizard Tournament all lead to that moment, so did the first three books of the Potter series. So it’s wholly understandable that Jo would want to embed a subtle recap of those three books in the fourth: a marker at the halfway point saying “let us reflect on where we’ve been.”
The books are rife with both foreshadowing and callbacks to earlier books, but I cannot think of another instance in the series that echoes the novels’ past quite so distinctly. And in my opinion, it’s a victory lap by Jo that was very well deserved.