Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling
Published in 1999
Genre: Fantasy, contemporary fantasy
“Harry Potter was a highly unusual boy in many ways.”
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban takes everything that was good from the first two books and pours it all into one fantastic read. There are fabulous creatures, a malevolent force seeking to do Harry harm, Quidditch matches, Ron hurting Hermione’s feelings, it’s all there and in full force.
Perhaps it is the retrospect with which I can view this book because it is my second time reading it and I’m legally an adult now, but I found myself sympathizing with Hermione quite a bit more than my first time. On more than one occasion, I wished I could grab Harry by the face and scream “SHE’S TRYING TO KEEP YOU OUT OF TROUBLE. STOP DOING THINGS THAT WILL GET YOU INTO TROUBLE AND SHE WON’T HAVE TO TELL ON YOU.”
Unfortunately, the best I could do was smile when Harry and Ron finally realized she was only trying to help, even though it took the entire book. It’s also probably for the best because I’m pretty sure grabbing a 13 year-old by the face and shouting at them is frowned upon even in the world of wizards.
Harry and his friends begin to move more into the world of adults and heavier subject matter in this book. There is quite a bit more explanation and focus on the history and events surrounding the death of Harry’s parents, which I find to be one of my favorite parts of the HP universe. We saw a little bit with Tom Riddle and his flashback revealing a young Rubeus Hagrid, but it is explored more here.
*SPOILER ALERT* Much of the book deals with Harry trying to figure out the relationship between Sirius Black, the eponymous escaped prisoner, and the death of his parents. He is mislead, as is most of the world, to believe that Sirius was the cause of Voldemort being able to find and kill his parents. It isn’t until the final confrontation at the climax of the book that we learn the true events and that it was indeed Peter Pettigrew who betrayed the Potters.
Rowling balances the mystery and nostalgia well due to the clues left throughout the story regarding the relationship between Professor Lupin, Peter Pettigrew, Sirius, and James Potter. The Marauder’s Map (awesome alliteration again) was written by Moony, Wormtail, Padfoot, and Prongs which were the nicknames given to the four animals each was able to turn into: a werewolf, rat, large dog, and stag. Lupin, being a werewolf, was kept in solitude during his transformations and his friends all learned how to turn into animals despite the difficulty and illegality of using such magic in order to keep him company.
Breaking the rules in order to make their friends happy definitely seems like something that Harry, Ron, and even Hermione would be willing to do, so I believe the parallel here works very well. It reminds the reader that these adult characters were once raucous students too and that our three heroes are part of something bigger because they have found such a similar relationship.
Rowling dips our toes further into the pool of adulthood with the introduction of dementors, the guards of Azkaban that are terrifying specters that appear as floating black cloaks. I read somewhere that the dementors were Rowling’s personification of depression and if that was indeed her aim, I would say she succeeded.
The descriptions of the effect that the dementors have on people are right in line with symptoms of depression: feelings of hopelessness, helplessness, thoughts going to their darkest possibilities and remembering the tragic and terrible moments of our lives. dementors feed off of the happiness and feelings of humans around them and when they distribute the dementor’s kiss, effectively sucking out the soul, all that is left behind is an empty shell of a person.
This aptly describes how low a person with depression can find themselves feeling and the inclusion of the dementors, especially in this book, truly aided the story in exploring more mature elements. I also thought it rather clever that eating chocolate helps to recover from an encounter with the dementors since chocolate is often considered a comfort food and helps to raise blood sugar and mood.
Along with the heavier subject matter, there is more responsibility thrust on the trio, especially for Hermione. I found Rowling’s use of the time-turner to be well executed. It could have easily become a deus ex machina(*cough*the broomsticks in the flying key scene from book one*cough*), which is a storytelling device that seemingly comes out of nowhere and makes whatever dire circumstances are present no longer dangerous.
The time-turner and its use in the story avoid falling into this trap by being alluded to throughout. Hermione is taking a ridiculous amount of classes, many of which conflict with each other in her schedule because they take place at the same time. Ron comments on this multiple times throughout the book and it lends credibility to the device’s reveal in the third act of the book.
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is my favorite entry in the series so far because of the more mature themes that are addressed and the execution of the storytelling. Like any good story, there are places that could lead the narrative astray or areas that laziness would ruin, but Rowling executes her tale with such charm that we might all start calling her Professor Flitwick…who teaches Charms at Hogwarts…get it?
Verdict: 4 Chocolate Frogs out of 5
Recommended for: Hippogriff lovers, anyone, everyone, you, me, Rubeus Hagrid, lovers of managing mischief, and those who enjoy chocolate.
Not recommended for: Draco Malfoy (seriously Draco, just stop reading. You’re not getting anywhere), Harry’s Nimbus 2000, Scabbers, Aunt Marge, Professor Snape, or the Dursleys.