Title: Harry Potter and the Prisoner 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.