I love reading books to my kids, a lot more than my kids love being read to. I didn’t write about it here, but I started Wrinkle in Time a couple months ago and my kids did not love it. They tolerated it until we got to IT being introduced, and that was just too much so we put it down. I might have tried to pick it up again, but my son’s teacher gave him a copy of Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire because she thought he might like it. He loved the idea of reading such a big book. He may have read it independently, but he does not tend to have that much reading stamina. I had read them the series’ first three books, and we had already given up on Wrinkle in Time because it was too scary. But I had not previously read Goblet of Fire because I suspected it might be too scary for them. So I was not really sure if we would make it through.
I talked about it with them, and they were willing to try. I like to keep the book moving and listen to the audiobook in the car. We started with the Stephen Fry audiobook version, but I have that on a bootleg MP3 file that is impossible to find your place on. So we gave up on that one about 1/3 of the way through and moved to the Jim Dale version when my wife drove the kids on a trip without me. I continued to read out loud here and there, but by the time we were about 2/3 of the way through, it had become mostly an audiobook.
Goblet of Fire is the book that moves the series from a late elementary series to a middle-grade/young adult series. It gets darker, and Harry and his friends get older. They have a school dance, and romance starts to become involved. My kids are 8 and barely 10, so it does start to be a bit old for them as well. We stopped a lot to talk about what was going on, both because there were British cultural influences that they were unaware of and also because there were other issues that were over their head. That is part of what is so good about reading aloud; nothing else helps you see your kids as kids more than seeing blank looks on their faces as it becomes clear that they have no idea what is going on.
I assume anyone reading along has read these books before, so I will not hide spoilers. The Goblet is not introduced until nearly 40% of the way through the book. The first task is about halfway through the book. The death happens with more than 2 hours left in the audiobook.
Because I know my kids tend to get scared, we made sure that the section about the third task was mid-morning on Saturday while we were folding clothes. And after the end of the chapter (immediately after the death), we stopped for a day. And then the last couple hours were early Sunday afternoon, and once Harry got back from the graveyard, there was no interest in stopping until the book was done.
As is our custom, we will watch the movie again on a Saturday mid-morning because the kids know it will be a bit scary. As we were getting ready for school this morning, my son said that he didn’t think the dragons or maze would be very scary. But he was scared about Wormtail getting his hand cut off.
I think slightly scary books like this are helpful to let children know that the world is not always safe. Some kids have already experienced that more than is helpful and do not need the reminder. But some kids (including mine) do need the reminder. But also the idea of good triumphing over evil is also important.
Kids may have in the background the Christian story and Christ’s resurrection. But seeing a story of children participating in good overcoming evil is more tangible in ways that I think make both the story and the theology better. Theologically, kids can intellectually know that Christ’s death and resurrection is a good over evil story. But fiction tells that in another way that is also helpful. Of course, christ-figure stories like Harry Potter use the cultural understanding of redemptive sacrifice. As adults, we should be aware of the womanist and feminist critique of redemptive sacrifice. I think kids need to see fictional representations of redemptive sacrifice because that practice in their heads of doing hard things is part of what can help them do hard things on their own.
Part of what kept coming up for me in this book is that Harry assumes he needs to save Ron, Hermione, and Flure’s little sister because he does not trust that the adults around him are going to make things right. That is a trauma response to growing up in the Dursley’s house, where adults made things worse. It is why the orphan story is so common in children’s literature, because we want kids to think that the default is having adults fix things for them. But a story without conflict is not much of a story. And the orphan who does not have an adult that is there for them is one way to make sense of kids needing to take care of themselves.
After we finished Goblet of Fire, my son decided to go back and read the Sorcerer’s Stone independently. I don’t know if he will finish, but I think it is good that he tries. It may be time for me to introduce them to Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain Chronicles. And if they respond to that, then KB Hoyle’s Gateway Chronicles.