Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, by J K Rowling

Title: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of AzkabanPrisoner of Azkaban
Author: J K Rowling
Year of Publication: 1999
Length: 435 pages
Genre: magical realism / young adult
New or Re-Read?: Many times re-read
Rating: 5 stars

This, for my money, is where things started to get really.damn.good.

It may just be my overwhelming love for the Marauders, and for the Marauders-era in general — and this is where all of that begins. We find out so much more about James, Sirius, and Remus in this book, about them being Animagi, about the lives they led while they were at school. All the revelations at the end just delight me. And this is, hands down, where I started falling in love with Sirius. I love a scruffy bad boy, for one thing, but there’s also just something about how his wicked, sarcastic sense of humour peeks through even when he’s half-mad with rage. Plus, I love the moment when he screams at Peter, when his undying loyalty to his friends becomes so apparent.

I have so many thoughts on Sirius, really — along with Bella and Rodolphus, he was a primary feature of my fanfic writing days. His story is among the most tragic in the series — young and strong and passionate, with everything stolen from him when he was just 22. His whole development is arrested before he really has the chance to become an adult, he spends his formative years fighting a war — against his own family, mind — and he spends the next 12 years trying not to go crazy in the most inhumane prison ever invented. All the flaws we see in him later on… Well, I sort of feel like he can’t help it. He never had a chance.

The moment in this book that absolutely breaks my heart is when Sirius asks Harry to move in with him. It’s just aching. They both want that so badly — and they both need it. Sirius could use someone to take care of, to make him responsible rather than reckless, and Harry could use a father figure, someone to confide in and to trust. Just thinking about how much better things could’ve gone for them both is so sad.

There’s so much in this book that’s so good: the Quidditch matches, the Marauders’ Map, seeing Hogsmeade for the first time, finally seeing Defence Against the Dark Arts taught capably, the introduction to Divination both false and true… Actually, in general, I think we see more of the students actually in class in this book than we do in the previous two. And I really love that, because it gives me so much more to play with in terms of figuring out how the magic of this world really works. I love the cleverness behind all of it. I love knowing how the metaphysics work.

This book also does time travel astonishingly well. This book is what I always use as an example when I’m trying to explain the Novikov self-consistency principle to someone — the idea that if you go back in time, whatever you’ve done has already happened, so you’re not really changing history so much as fulfilling it. It’s all to do with closed loops, and Prisoner of Azkaban is a sterling example. It’s flawless, really, all the intricacies of what they have to do when. I also enjoy that we see the strain of time-traveling on Hermione. It does make me wonder, though — other folk who’ve gotten 12 O.W.L.s, who’ve taken the maximum number of classes — how did they do it? Surely Hogwarts doesn’t hand out Timeturners all that often.

I think what’s really great is that this is where the books start getting so much more complex. The plot is less directly linear, even before the time traveling. There are layers, nuances, subtleties. I also think it’s no coincidence that this is where we get introduced to boggarts and Dementors. Fears become more palpable in this book, more real. It isn’t a fairy tale any more. There’s psychological truth to the characters now, and less caricature, less stereotyping. And the threats are becoming a lot more real — which is a little strange, considering Voldemort himself doesn’t appear in this novel. But the victims of the past are starting to have faces, and there’s no longer the sensation that the good guys are automatically going to triumph. After all, they don’t, entirely, here. What victory they have is secret, uncelebrated. Peter Pettigrew gets away unpunished. Sirius is still a wanted man. Danger is still out there, looming, lurking, waiting to come to fruition.

Overall, this is among my favourite of the Harry Potter books. It’s probably tied with Deathly Hallows, right behind Order of the Phoenix. The first two books are delightful, but this? This is where the story gets legitimately magical.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, by J K Rowling

  1. Liz

    How did I miss you posting this a few days ago? Anyway, Prisoner of Azkaban ranks high for me as well, for much of what you say. The moment when Harry’s chance of getting away from the Dursleys is stolen is one of the saddest moments in the whole series.

    Before Sirius is cleared of guilt, just the idea of him and his supposed betrayal of James and Lily stirs the anger and darkness in Harry’s heart for the first time. He didn’t remember his parents and all he heard were the stories of the great Lily and James Potter. The Dementors/boggarts cause him to access long forgotten memories of hearing his parents die, and the loss of them, especially as he is getting older and reaching teenagerdom, is starting to take hold more deeply than ever. And as a boy whose best friend is at this point in his life the most important person in the world to him, overhearing that his father’s best friend was the one who sold him to Voldemort (even though it turns out to be false) is devastating.

    It’s not coincidence that Rowling’s writing becomes more complicated when Harry turns thirteen. He’s a teenager now, and being a teenager is rough. It’s hard enough trying to fit in and be accepted without having a supposed escaped murderer out to get you.

    • I think one of Harry’s biggest challenges in growing up — and it’s a subtle thing throughout the series, never something J K calls much attention to — is that he has no one to teach him how to be a man. Every male figure in his life is either too distant (Dumbledore), outright hostile (Snape, Vernon Dursley), or just plain isn’t offered the chance to stick around and be a good example (Sirius, Lupin). I mean, the closest he could come is Arthur Weasley, but he’s got six sons of his own to worry about, and he’s just not around as much. Harry really only has the shadow of his father to guide him — part of why he gets so shook up in OotP. It’s sad.

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