The premise of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is simple: He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, weak as a newborn, is powerless to reassert his will on the wizarding community. He schemes to obtain a specimen of Harry’s blood for the spell that will restore him to a human body. While another victim would do, he relishes the poetic justice of forcing the Boy-Who-Lived to be an accessory. Until then, the dark lord must carry out his plan through creatures like Wormtail or the pale, hard-eyed Crouch junior, the subject of one of the best portraits in the volume.A lot happens in the 300-odd pages before Harry lands in the Little Hangleton graveyard and squares off with Voldemort. There are peeks into the Burrow’s cluttered kitchen and Ron’s memorabilia-cluttered cave. The flying leprechauns and swaying Veelas cheer on their teams at the World Quidditch Cup. The fans party hearty until the dark mark appears in the night sky. The champions from Beauxbatons, Durmstrang, and Hogwarts must be chosen for the Tri-Wizard Tournament and unscrupulous journalist Rita Skeeter’s coverage endured. Creating space for Jim Kay to illustrate and decorate this sprawling narrative as lavishly as the first three shorter volumes meant some clever redesign. By setting the text in two columns in a smaller font, it was possible to fit the entire story into a 450-page volume uniform with the others. The high point of the art program is the sequence of eight double-page spreads for the climactic resurrection chapters. Three spreads lead up to the stone cauldron scene, one portrays the arrival of the Death Eaters, and three dramatize the magical duel.The first part of the section shocks with an illustration of a character dying from an unforgiveable curse. When Harry and Cedric share the honors by touching the trophy, their act of good sportsmanship drops them into the graveyard’s murky green darkness. Winning the Tri-Wizard Tournament turns out to be the deadliest game they could have played. Almost immediately, the young men hear a disembodied voice say “Kill the spare” to a short man unrecognizable as Peter Pettigrew. When his curse strikes Cedric, his contorted corpse is silhouetted by blinding greenish-yellow light streaming in all directions. There was no pathos or nobility in the death of Hufflepuff’s champion, the house where Hogwarts places its plodders.The voice, of course, was the dark lord’s. Up until now, all that has been seen of him was the red eye attached to the back of Quirrell’s head in Philosopher’s Stone. In the form of Riddle, he was heard, but not seen in the Chamber of Secrets. He made no appearance in Azkaban. As Pettigrew prepares to cast the spell, the image of a raw, red, bloody creature out of a nightmare suddenly confronts the reader’s eyes. Kay’s monstrous cross between a human embryo and a diseased crustacean is so much more menacing than Rowling’s words, that the second picture of his skeleton rising out of the cauldron seems a cliché in comparison. Would it have been more ominous to see Pettigrew stabbing Harry’s arm? Or more suggestive if the first glimpse of the reembodied dark lord were the cold red eyes and flat nose on pages 396-7?After rebuking the reassembled (and edgy) Death Eaters for their lukewarm loyalty during his thirteen-year-exile, he gives Pettigrew the sign to return Harry’s wand. Voldemort’s next move was to supposed to be dispatching Harry in a farcically unequal fight, but only Ollivander could have predicted how the way their wands would behave in a duel.
Voldemort’s startling setback is illustrated in six pages with green-black backgrounds. Seen from below, he looks up with an unfathomable expression at the bead of light Harry has forced to the end of his wand (Harry appears two pages later, after the one of Voldemort and Harry in the eerie yellow cage of light, completing the composition). The eye goes hard right to Harry’s crouching body, arms outstretched in the effort to hold the wand steady. To the far left the dark lord’s smaller, less dynamic figure recedes, while the Death Eaters’ larger silhouettes break up the golden beam of light connecting the antagonists. This spread follows closely Rowling’s words (unavoidably but inconveniently placed after it); yet critical details like the figures of James and Lily hovering over their son are all but lost in the murk. For all Kay’s boldness, the sequence might have been more intense if there had been less detail.Compared to Harry and the dark lord, the champions of the Tri-Wizard Tournament hardly seem to be in contention. The magical creatures were given more space, in any event, than the young wizards. The Common Welsh Green dragon, Swedish Short-snout, the Chinese Fireball, and Hungarian Horntail (a relative of Drogon?) imported for the first challenge bristle with spikes and fangs. A gross of Grindylows lurking below the surface of the Hogwarts lake to as distractions to the champions during the second task are more compelling than the picture following of a splinched Viktor Krum. The life-cycle of the blast-ended skrewt, a repulsive insect with a pimply pink exoskeleton and a slew of long, skinny legs, is carefully documented before an adult makes an appearance in the maze. I wouldn’t have missed another picture of the gigantic spiders from the Forbidden Forest if it had been replaced with one of the funny, miserable moments that happen between the tasks, like Harry in the bath room trying to crack his egg while Moaning Myrtle leers.Humor takes a backseat to horror most of the time in Goblet, but when Kay tries to lighten the mood, as in the underdeveloped Viktor Krum/Hermione subplot, the results can be heavy handed. Krum is introduced to the reader in a splendid poster of him glowering, with broom overhead, every inch the Quidditch star, with nothing of the Durmstrang Academy about him. Off the Quidditch field, however, he is physically and socially awkward, but he looks like a goon with vampire blood next to a radiant Hermione at the Christmas ball. If he were that ghoulishly unattractive, why would Hermione have accepted his invitation or tolerated his constant companionship in the library? Another good subject would have been a jealous Ron finding them in the stacks, but Kay prefers focusing on single figures.
The remaining three volumes, like this one, mix up magical derring-do, teen angst, and strange creatures in fabulous settings, giving Kay a wealth of choice for subjects. It would be wonderful if he’d abandon the book decorations, which don’t add as much to the visual storytelling as would illustrations of Hogwarts interiors. Or stretch himself and tackle a few more dramatic scenes where several characters interact. Until The Order of the Phoenix later this year.