Book title: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
Author: J.K. Rowling
Genre/Audience: Fiction, fantasy; children, young adult
Worth the read?: As it’s the only book in the series I’ve read four times, what do you think?
There are many reasons Prisoner of Azkaban has always been my favorite Harry Potter book. I credit this largely to the fact that Prisoner is the only one that I read in elementary school (which was to prove a point to my teacher, and also because I had seriusly loved the third movie). But there’s more to my love for this book than just its location in my memory.
The third installment is, in effect, the last children’s book of the series, and in some places, Rowling is already pressing into the more mature audience. On this thin line between the vastly different worlds of writing, Rowling penned a well-balanced transitional novel filled with innocence, wonder, and imagination, but also danger, distrust, and a little bit of insanity. Considering, too, that the next book in the series takes a dramatic plunge into depression (more on that later, but for now, check out my first blog about Harry Potter), Prisoner’s mood serves as sort of a kiss goodbye to the series’ initial sense of innocent excitement.
Aside from just the mood of the book, there are several other reasons for my love.
For instance, by the third book, the reader is sufficiently aware of the makings of the magical world, and there is a lot less that needs to be set up (although, admittedly, there is still too much exposition for my liking). But now that we understand what’s happening, we are finally able to go deeper and experience new, exciting things—like the Knight Bus (“‘Choo fall over for?”), the Leaky Cauldron and Diagon Alley unaccompanied by adults, trips to Hogsmeade, and new classes at Hogwarts. There’s so much to be delighted by when reading Prisoner of Azkaban.
Additionally, three of my favorite characters in the series are introduced in this book. Remus Lupin, Sirius Black, and Buckbeak all hold deer places in my heart.
Buckbeak was, for the longest time, my favorite fantastic beast (until I finally learned more about the phoenix, and, in particular, Fawkes). His depiction on the cover of the book, as well as in the movie, is really stunning to me, and I’ve always been confident that he and I would’ve been the best of friends.
Sirius Black is not perfect, and I do think J.K. Rowling played too much with his dialogue in order to keep the suspense up as long as possible. Also, at one point in the Shrieking Shack, Sirius is definitely choking Harry—an act that, although certainly holding up the idea Sirius is after Harry, is also inherently in opposition to everything we’re told about Sirius moving forward. Either way, Sirius is an incredibly dynamic, ever-shifting character who, for the rest of the series, seems to grow and regress and grow and regress, but is not that the mark of life?
As for Lupin—he is by far the best Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher Harry has at Hogwarts (I refuse to count Barty Crouch Jr., although you could argue he was actually a terrifyingly impressive teacher). From my first-ever read, I rooted so desperately for Lupin to be the one professor to last, to make it through more than three terms. But Lupin, weary from day one, was never meant to stay for long. (They never are, those DADA teachers. Thanks Tom.)
Beyond just teaching Harry the second-most valuable spell (#1: Expelliarmus!) he’ll ever know, Lupin is Harry’s biggest supporter and an excellent paternal figure. I have no doubt that Lupin views Harry exactly the same way that Sirius does—that boy is as good as Lupin’s (why else would Harry one day become Lupin’s own son’s godfather?).
There are countless moments throughout the book that I could pick out for celebration and praise, but I’ll refrain, for fear of this post becoming too dreadfully long.
One critique for the book, which has implications in the entire series, is that Sirius made the last-minute decision to have the Potters use Peter Pettigrew as their Secret-Keeper for the Fidelius Charm. It’s odd for two reasons; first, Sirius says himself that he’d have died before giving up the secret; and, secondly, because they already suspected that someone in the inner circle had double-crossed and was giving information to Voldemort.
The first problem is the most perplexing to me. Sirius, willing to die rather than give up his friends, would have been the perfect candidate to be a Secret-Keeper. Pottermore even states that the secret must be given up voluntarily. Nobody could have tortured or otherwise forced the secret from him. And, if the concern was that Sirius would be pursued by Voldemort and would ultimately be killed, then they would have been in the same position as if Pettigrew had been hunted down and killed. Anyone to whom the secret had been divulged would have become Secret-Keepers, and I imagine that the number of people to know the secret should have been the same—except, of course, that Peter Pettigrew willingly told Voldemort. Sirius, 100 percent, should have always been the Secret-Keeper.
The second problem is pretty self-explanatory: if Sirius and the others suspected a spy, but Sirius knew he wasn’t it, then why in Merlin’s beard did he make the switch? Why would you ever trust another person when you knew you were safe and that your friends’ lives depended on it?
These, of course, are not problems to which I hold solutions. I’m certainly not the first to point them out, either. But I push them aside and pretend they don’t exist because every series has its weak points, and it just so happens that Prisoner of Azkaban holds two major ones—the Secret-Keeper and the Time Turner. Luckily for us, J.K. Rowling took care of the Time Turners in Order of the Phoenix.
Until next time, that’s all I’ve got for you, friends.
P.s. – bonus points for being able to locate and understand one or all of my cleverly-located jokes in this post 😉