My re-reading journey is back on track. I finished Goblet of Fire a couple of weeks ago and now I’m a few chapters into Order of the Phoenix. I have a month and a half and three of the longest Harry Potter books to fit into them in (along with all the other things I read for work and fun) but I’m DETERMINED to finish.

Book cover image of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

Here are some of the thoughts I had while reading the fourth book:

  • I never noticed the class allusions before with the Riddles. They’re described as rich, snobby, live in a fancy house, have servants. I didn’t think much of this when I read the books in India but I have more context now that I live in the UK and know what kind of family would be able to afford all this. Voldemort, like his father Tom Riddle, seems to have this inherited sense of superiority – based on his mother’s Pureblood family and Slytherin ancestry. But then you can see how his attitude reflects spoiled rich white boys in the UK even now (or spoiled rich brown boys in India).
  • Until they discovered Harry’s godfather is a dangerous murderer, the Dursleys didn’t allow Harry to have his school things with him out of a combination of fear of his powers and the wish to keep him as miserable as possible?! Whose perspective is this – Harry’s assumption or the Dursleys actual intent? If the latter, I’d like to say they’re cartoon villains but tragically, they’re all too recognisable.
  • Aha! Vernon Dursley reads The Daily Mail. Of course he does. When I worked at a children’s newspaper in Mumbai during my late teens/early 20s, we frequently turned to The Daily Mail’s features for our science and weird news round-ups – something I would never dream of doing now that I know the role of the paper in stoking xenophobia and racism amongst other things. The context, of course, was completely lost to me in India – didn’t realise that the newspaper was virulently right-wing.
  • Aunt Petunia’s sharp eyes seem to notice “fingerprints on her gleaming walls” and “the comings and goings of neighbours” it seems. Very specific idea of being a woman, no? It’s almost like Tonks in the next book is exceptionalised because she doesn’t like doing domestic things.
  • Dudley is on a diet but diets don’t work! Especially if you’re starving your son by giving him a quarter of a grapefruit for breakfast, as Witch, Please angrily declaims. vernon and Dudley are constantly fat-shamed and Petunia is described in ugly ways – horsy teeth, for example. Using someone’s looks against them, no matter how much you hate them, is a problematic way of critiquing them. Granted that Harry is fourteen and we’re reading the books from his POV but ultimately it’s the author/narrator who’s asking us to think this way.
  • Even Harry calls the Dursleys “the Muggles” in his letter to Ron. Is Ron rubbing off on him? What is this language? Why can’t he say the Dursleys or my aunt/uncle or my relatives or whatever. “The Muggles” sounds so dismissive and dehumanising.
  • In terms of magical transportation, is Floo travel accessible to everybody? What if you live in a tiny flat with no chimney? How much does Floo powder cost? And the Weasleys might be “poor” but they have immense cultural and social capital. First of all, they have a house with a chimney. And even though Muggle fireplaces aren’t meant to be connected to the Floo network, Arthur uses his networks at work to make it possible. Apparition is supposed to be very difficult – does lack of ability and skill limit how people can travel in the magical world? The Knight Bus doesn’t seem too popular – more like an emergency service that you’d only use as a last resort than anything else. Or only a certain group of people use it because they can’t afford anything else. With Portkeys, are they a government controlled mode of transport? Can people set up their own Portkeys? What controls access – money, bureaucracy or magical skill?
  • Dudley is the butt of all jokes and attacks by magical folks. There’s Hagrid in the first book who gives him a tail and now the Weasley twins in this book who deliberately seek to prank him with their sweets by taking advantage of his diet. And there’s no consent involved! No ethics committee would have allowed this. At this point, surely it’s not a prank but just a wizard bullying a Muggle? And this is encouraged by Bill and Charlie too who are adults – young adults, but still! Mr Weasley does try to explain why this is outrageous and harmful to Muggle-wizard relations but the twins insist they didn’t give them the Ton-Tongue toffee because he’s a Muggle but because he’s a bully. However, there’s still imbalanced power dynamics at play here where them using magic will always have more power than Dudley who can use none.
  • I’m surprisingly sympathetic towards Percy’s reports on cauldron thickness which is presented so dismissively by Ron. He’s pushing to tandardise cauldron thickness so that there aren’t leakages – it might sound boring as much of bureaucracy does but it is still for people’s benefit! Leaky cauldrons can be dangerous depending on what sort of potion you’re making. Reminds me of pre- and post-Brexit complaints about the EU’s bureaucracy getting in the way of business but again, it’s largely to look after people, no? Food standards, vehicle safety, workplace benefits, etc.?
  • Right so Bill’s job at Gringotts seems to involve travelling across Egypt – perhaps other parts of the world – to break into ancient tombs in order to bring treasure back to the British bank? Ummmm not historically and currently problematic at all! They don’t even have the decency to stuff the stolen goods into a museum and then charge Egyptians to go see it. (Yes, Tower of London with the Kohinoor Diamond, I’m talking about you)
  • Why isn’t Molly Weasley going to the World Cup!? Even if she just thinks Quidditch is boring and would rather not, she doesn’t even get a day off just to relax and do things for herself. Instead, she’s going to run errands and buy everyone’s school things. Housewives are taken for granted so much!
  • Being caught up with being critically analytical (and keeping in mind J. K. R’s transphobia), I realise I don’t make enough space for the joy and delight these books still fill me with – the imaginative wonder they evoke when a tent consists of three rooms or a vast field is full of magical tents to watch the World Cup. These scenes take me back to when I read these books for the first time, filled with the same excited enchantment that Harry is.
  • What are the ethics about memory charms used against Muggles? Mr Roberts seems very suspicious about everything with the campground he’s managing – and why shouldn’t he be? He brings up some very good points! But the wizards are happy to Oblivate him ten times a day to keep him off the scent. It’s not just a question of ethics but also of potential harm. What sort of impact does it have on his brain? It’s the magical folks who are going into Muggle territory but still they feel this sense of ownership which sees their needs as more important – very cultural imperialistic.
  • Another instance of men in dresses being the butt of jokes – Archie, an old wizard is wearing a flowery nightdress to dress up as a Muggle and refuses to wear the trousers a Ministry official is handing him. Why can’t men wear dresses? Especially since robes don’t seem to require you to wear clothes or trousers underneath? Another man wearing a dress is funny moment comes when Ron complains about his dress robes with lace at the edges. They look like a dress and he tries to make them look more “manly” by getting rid of the lace. *big sigh*
  • So Seamus is Irish but he attends Hogwarts which is British. Is there an Irish magical school? What sort of politics come into play there – especially during and after the Troubles and with Britain’s history of colonising Ireland?
  • Winky is fully indoctrinated into the House Elf cult/community. She thinks it’s shocking that Dobby is getting ideas above his station and expects payment for his work. She believes house elves shouldn’t have fun and that their only job in life is to do as they’re told.
  • Fudge makes a casual anti-Bulgarian comment: “These Bulgarian blighters have been trying to cadge all the best places …” and doesn’t even learn the Bulgarian Minister’s name or how to pronounce it – British arrogance is alive and well in the wizarding community too. He doesn’t bother because the Minister of Magic can’t speak English apparently 🙄 He is then outraged to discover the Minister can speak English just fine but was just entertaining himself with Fudge’s failed sign language. God forbid you actually learn the language or have a translator at hand. Speaking of which, are there no translation spells in the magical world!? That would make life so much easier!
  • Veela are beautiful women who turn ugly when they’re angry? Why can’t they be angry and powerful and hurl fireballs while still looking gorgeous? Anger doesn’t turn women ugly – all women should be (and probably are) enraged by the world surely.
  • Veela impact those who would be attracted by their gender presumably – Hermione isn’t affected but the boys are. It would have been so interesting to have lesbian witches make a fool of themselves too. But not in this cishet magical world.
  • Mrs Roberts lies at the intersection of Muggle and woman – while the whole family is being levitated like puppets by the Death Eaters, she’s the one they humiliate by spinning around and exposing her underwear, an example of gender-based violence that Witch, Please spoke about. Additionally, Draco implies that Hermione is most in danger of the gang even though she’s a witch.
  • This is the book where you see Hermione’s consciousness being raised against the injustice meted out to house elves (page 106 in my copy). It took her actually meeting Winky and seeing how badly she’s been treated to understand the injustice. Of course, Ron who’s been conditioned by magical world everyday bigotry thinks house elves are happy and the system needn’t be questioned. The way wizards treat house elves is truly shocking. They talk to them like they’re worthless (quite literally less valuable than the witches and wizards they serve).  Mr Crouch frees Winky despite everything she’s done for him – how is she supposed to take care of herself?
  • I do understand Ron’s frustration at not being able to buy anything nice and new and owning everything secondhand and rubbish – I’ve felt that pain growing up! In fact in terms of poverty, I think I’m similar to the Weasleys because we had some attendant privileges (owned the home we lived in so didn’t have to worry about being evicted) but not others (the social and cultural capital, a large house, a stable job with steady money)
  • Hermione’s political awakening about house elf oppression includes setting up S.P.E.W. and all the research and steps she undertakes: pages 154-55, 188,89, 200-01, 319-24. This is met by pushback against everybody she tries to politicise. Nobody takes her activism or house elf rights seriously: pages 201, 223, 310.
  • Mad-Eye Moody, the only explicitly physically disabled character in the series (from what I remember) is introduced in such a strange terrifying way.
  • Dumbledore says that Beauxbatons, Durmstrang, and Hogwarts are three of the largest magical schools in Europe which seems to imply there are other smaller, not as prestigious schools on the continent. Does that mean every country DOES have a magical school? Or even that one country has several? Maybe Seamus is in Hogwarts because that was the most famous school in the area. Apparently Lucius Malfoy wanted to send Draco to Durmstrang because of their attitude towards the Dark Arts but Narcissa didn’t want him so far away. This seems to imply that much like with universities, you may be able to attend foreign magical schools. Then why don’t we see any in Hogwarts? Do they have their own version of a xenophobic Home Office which makes immigration as difficult as possible?
  • How is Moody allowed to discuss the Unforgivable Curses in such a cavalier way in a classroom with two people – Harry and Neville – who have been directly and traumatically impacted by it? If there was ever a need for a trigger warning, this is surely it! Yes, this is fake Moody but he has Dumbledore’s permission – or so he claims.
  • I like the irony of Ron being appalled by foreign food – shellfish stew or French bouillabaisse – while helping himself to black pudding – something I’ve been utterly traumatised by in this country!
  • The narrative introduces Fleur as beautiful and haughty … and not much else? Hermione doesn’t seem to think much of her and we’re seeing Fleur through the lens of her snide comments. (Harry’s unobservant gaze is quite unhelpful)
  • Based on all the podcasts I’ve been listening to, I’ve unconsciously been observing Parvati more than I ever did previously. I liked that she’s trying to establish her own sense of style and individuality even within the otherwise conformative structure of Hogwarts by wearing a butterfly clip on her plait … that McGonagall makes her take off as soon as she spots it.
  • Hagrid is the only example of a man cooking in the series and he seems to be terrible at it. Hermione finds a TALON in her beef casserole???
  • Rita Skeeter, a woman we’re supposed to abhor, is described in very high femme ways – something which the books seem to have a problem with. Fleur, Rita, Lavender, Parvati, Umbridge – all easy to dismiss or demonise for different reasons and all the most feminine characters in the books. Hermione seems to be one of the acceptable ways of being a woman – doesn’t care too much about traditionally feminine pursuits and values other things over them. Why not both?
  • Only girls seem to be obsessed with the Yule Ball. Harry rejects a girl for being taller than him. 🙄🙄🙄🙄🙄🙄 Oh the lovely gender lessons this series offers to more critical eyes.
  • There are a lot of references to goblin rebellions and riots littered through this book. Binns making history so dull becomes a way for them to not question what they’re learning and what their society takes for granted. I’m not sure whether it’s the case in the Hogwarts structure, but in the real world, I’m starting to think that history is deliberately made boring so as to push a certain narrative unquestioned.
  • The Yule ball and compulsory heteronormativity – everyone’s with someone from another gender. And is anyone partnerless? Are you banned from the ball if you go by yourself?
  • McGonagall wears tartan dress robes and thistles around her hat – just Scottishing her way all over the place! Her nationality is definitely something I didn’t pick up on before living here and understanding the context and references.
  • When they discover Hagrid is half-giant, Ron’s prejudice/conditioning shines through – he says they’re vicious, like killing for the sake of it, can’t live among witches and wizards. Harry doesn’t care while Hermione suspected as much and thinks it’s the same sort of bigotry werewolves are subjected to “They can’t all be bad.” Rita’s article outing Hagrid and attitudes towards giants and half giants is on page 370-71 – which also makes The Daily Prophet seem much more like The Daily Mail. Is there just one source of news and views in the entire British magical community?
  • Unicorns prefer a woman’s touch it seems. What would it do with trans women and trans men and non-binary folks? The Gayly Prophet interpret Hagrid as a trans woman and use the fact that unicorns seem to like him as one of their reasoning. I’ve also come across a Tumblr post about genderqueer students and unicorns and how they’re amenable on some days and not on others – depending on the person’s gender on that given day.
  • Even the fact that the Ministry of Magic has a department for the regulation and control of magical creatures is so human-centric. Why are the witches and wizards in-charge of regulating and controlling Other Magical People (hat-tip for the term to The Gayly Prophet)? Do centaurs have their own version of Department for the Regulation and Control of Witches and Wizards?
  • Hagrid’s dad wasn’t sure he would get into Hogwarts since he’s half-giant. I would love fanfic about Hogwarts being populated by not only human students but Other Magical People too – all coming together to exchange ideas and experiences and magic systems across cultures.
  • The way Moaning Myrtle is represented is so sad too. It’s through Harry’s really narrow perspective. She’s helpful and just wants some friendship and compassion and kindness, but he’s always looking to escape her. She’s obviously lonely and just looking for someone to hang out with but she isn’t equipped with the best social skills and that’s what feeds into the cycle. A lot of the ghosts in Hogwarts would benefit from some therapy, I think. Nearly Headless Nick, Rowena Ravenclaw, the Bloody Baron – all with different kinds of mental health issues they’ve carried with them through death.
  • Why doesn’t Harry know more about Merpeople? They live on the Hogwarts grounds and yet there’s no awareness about their culture and customs. Harry doesn’t know if they eat humans or whether they’re murderous or not. This isn’t born out of everyday bigotry as a lot of Ron’s comments are, but just sheer ignorance. I want more people in the magical world to know more about the different cultures – not just focusing on the witch and wizarding accomplishments and histories and beliefs. Same with language as well. Dumbledore speaks Mermish and Barty Crouch Sr speaks to goblins but where did they learn all these different languages? They sure as hell aren’t teaching it in Hogwarts.
  • Out of the four hostages, Ron is the only boy. Fleur’s most precious is her sister and the other two boys have their romantic interests there. I love that Harry’s most precious is his male best friend.
  • Are there no female Death Eaters except Bellatrix? Narcissa doesn’t seem to be a Death Eater because only Lucius is there. Of course a fascist wizard supremacist authoritarian cult would also be misogynist – as most fascist supremacist authoritarian movements are – but this is a really stark distinction.