Thursday, January 02, 2014

ReRead Rollout: "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban," by J.K. Rowling

The Protagonist: Harry Potter, recently on the run from Privet Drive after turning his uncle's cruel sister into a meat balloon.
His Angst: His parents are still dead, and now the wizard responsible for turning them over to the Dark Lord has escaped from prison!

New Characters:

Professor Lupin: The new Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher. Despite his ill health and shabby clothing, he's a talented and well-loved teacher by all except the Slytherins, who are The Worst.

Sirius Black: A supporter of Voldemort who took out thirteen people (including 12 Muggles) before he was apprehended. Also betrayed Lily and James Potter - strange, since he and James used to be BFFs in school.

Buckbeak: A proud and glorious hippogriff who finds himself at the centre of a scandal after he bites Draco Malfoy.

Professor Trelawny: Professor of Divination - she teaches wizards about predicting the future. Kind of a crackpot.

Peter Pettigrew: Another BFF of James Potter, and the one wizard who stood up to Sirius before being blown to pieces.

Angst Checklist:
  • Prejudice
  • Wizard Prison Reform
  • Let's have the Most Evil Creatures in the World Guard the Most Evil Wizards in the World, What Could Possibly Go Wrong With That?
  • Getting Caught in the Middle of a Fight Between Friends
  • The Proper Care and Feeding Of Your Fugitive Murderer
  • Time-Travel Paradoxes
  • Vengeance
  • Overcoming Phobias
The Word: Harry Potter starts his third year at Hogwarts while the wizarding world is in a panic - Sirius Black, an infamous Voldemort supporter who reportedly murdered thirteen people before he was brought to justice, has escaped from the magical prison of Azkaban. Even worse, many believe Sirius escaped in order to track down and kill Harry for incapacitating his dark master. As a result, the Minister of Magic has hired loathsome, happiness-sucking Dementors to beef up Hogwarts security, and their presence provokes intense fear in Harry.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is considered by many Harry Potter fans, including myself, as a transitional point in the series. The first two books had delicious moments of terror and darkness, but they were definitely aimed at younger readers and their stakes were relatively small. Survive the trials of junior high school, oh and also don't get killed. While Azkaban sticks with this pattern for the most part (Harry worries over his exams, his Quidditch skills, getting caught in the middle of Ron and Hermione's arguments), it also starts to wedge open the Hogwarts door and widen the story's scope beyond the walls of one magical boarding school. We now have wizard prisons and wizard politics, not to mention double-crosses, grudges and plots that have been in motion since before Harry was even born.

As well, Azkaban introduces the idea that authority figures (other than Snape, obvs) aren't always altruistic or effective, and thus disobeying them is sometimes necessary. None of the Ministry's efforts to protect Harry from Sirius Black succeed, and many of them are actually worse than ineffective - the Dementors not only induce blackouts and anxiety in Harry, but spread panic throughout the rest of the school. As well, both Professor Lupin and Hagrid's hippogriff Buckbeak are ultimately betrayed and cast aside by close-minded wizards in power.

Yes, kids, sometimes life isn't fair. It's a pretty tough message, but one I think the novel handles wonderfully. While Azkaban isn't nearly as dark as later books become, it does an excellent job of setting the stage for these larger and darker stories.

But how does Prisonor of Azkaban do on its own? Excellently. Azkaban mixes in the darker themes without sacrificing the recognizable early tone of the series. It's also well-plotted and, like the previous two books, ends with a fantastic twist that'll have you reading it again to catch all the clues and details. It mixes in a lot of delightful magical nonsense but still infuses it with human drama - Harry's angst over his parents, reckless adventurer Ron clashing with goody two-shoes Hermione, Harry learning to overcome his fear of the Dementors - which has always been, in my opinion, the number-one draw of the Harry Potter series.


1 comment:

  1. Thalita Carvalho6:07 PM

    I love this book, it's so great that we have so many interesting characters introduced in here. I agree with you that it is transitional and surely prepares the ground for what comes next.