When J.K. Rowling released the first Harry Potter novel with Harry Potter & the Sorcerer’s Stone in June of 1997 in Britain, the book spawned an unlikely phenomenon to a new generation of readers. Its sequel, Harry Potter & the Chamber of Secrets was released a year later to more acclaim as American readers were starting to catch up on the series. With the series finally concluding in July of 2007 with the seventh and final book, Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows. There is often discussions among fans over what was the best book of the series. For many, it would be the third book released in July of 1999 in the U.K. called Harry Potter & the Prisoner of Azkaban.
The story revolves around Harry Potter’s third year at Hogwarts where a prisoner from Azkaban prison has escaped and is rumored to go after Harry. With the Ministry of Magic involved in protecting Harry as well as Hogwarts, Harry is discomforted by the presence of dark creatures called Dementors as he turns to his new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher named Remus Lupin to help him. Along the way, Hermione gains a new cat that causes tension with her and Ron as he’s dealing with his sick pet rat Scabbers while Harry turns to Ron and Hermione to deal with the Azkaban prisoner named Sirius Black.
The structure of the Harry Potter stories often begin with Harry living with his magic-hating relatives the Dursleys. Then fleeing to go into the magical world and then go to Hogwarts where he has to deal with whatever is going on and find out what is happening. Along the way, there’s twists and turns involving new characters and even old ones. While Prisoner of Azkaban follows the formula, the story also flashes back to events that relate to Sirius Black as he is later revealed to be not just an old friend of Harry’s parents but also Harry’s godfather who is also rumored to be Lord Voldemort’s most loyal servant.
When Harry learns about Black’s identity and what he was to his parents, it would only serve as motivation for Harry to prepare for Black as it would relate to the things he hears through the Dementors. Dementors are dark, black-hooded creatures that sucks the happiness out of those who are near them. For Harry, they become the thing he fears the most as he would end up hearing the voice of his mother in her final moments.
Harry turns to his new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher in Remus Lupin for help. Unlike his predecessors, Lupin actually knows about fighting against the Dark Arts as he would become a popular teacher among the students (except for the Slytherins). Yet, during a lesson where students have to fight against a boggart (a shape-shifter that turns into the one things a person fears the most). Students wonder what Lupin fears as it would relate to a secret that he’s carrying while more mysteries also include a potion that Professor Snape is making for him. Snape, however, loathes Lupin the same way he loathes Harry as it relates to the fact that Lupin was also a friend of Harry’s father. Lupin even reveals what he knew about Sirius Black.
While Lupin is a new character that is formally introduced to the series. Another new character that becomes important to the series is Sybill Trelawney, a Divinations teacher who claims to know what will happen in the future as she claims that Harry is doomed because of a Grim. Hermione however, doesn’t believe a thing Trelawney says as she is taking more classes than all of her classmates. Yet, Trelawney would play a part into the events that occurred in the third act when Harry would finally meet and confront Sirius Black.
Another new character, though unseen for most of the book, is Peter Pettigrew. A man who was also a friend of Harry’s father and Sirius Black who supposedly went after Black following the Potters’ death as he along with 12 were killed by a curse. This crime would put Black into Azkaban where days before Harry fled the Dursleys, he had been saying “He’s at Hogwarts” obsessively that led to his escape. Yet, Pettigrew would also play a part into the revelation of who Black is when Harry confronts his godfather.
The subplots in the book all relate to the main story. Among them is the tension between Ron and Hermione over their pets. With Ron looking after his ailing pet rat Scabbers, Hermione gains a new cat named Crookshanks who is going after Scabbers. Yet, their friendship would be troubled as Harry is caught in the middle though he sympathizes towards Ron more than Hermione. Yet, Hermione would focusing all of her duties on her classes while helping Hagrid out with his own situation. Hagrid’s storyline is more about him becoming the new Care of Magical Creatures teacher that starts off well until Draco Malfoy decides to get himself injured by a hippogriff named Buckbeak. Malfoy uses his own background and connections to try and get Hagrid in trouble. Instead, Draco’s father Lucius decides to have Buckbeak killed as Hermione tries to help Hagrid with the case.
One other major subplot that would concern Harry is him not being able to go to Hogsmeade, a village nearby Hogwarts as he was unable to get a permission slip from his Uncle Vernon. Even after what happened when Harry got angry at Vernon’s sister over her comments about his parents where she ended up being blown up like a balloon. Unable to get a signature from anyone, Fred and George Weasley would provide Harry with a magical map known as the Marauder’s Map. A map of Hogwarts that reveals where people are at Hogwarts and how to get to Hogsmeade. The map would also play into Harry’s confrontation with Black while its creation would also have some revelation into Harry’s own father.
What Rowling succeeds with Prisoner of Azkaban is creating a complex story that readers could follow along as well as characters that are more than just one-dimensional personas. Even to the smallest characters as they’re given a chance for the readers to know them. While the tone of the book is dark, it’s balanced with light-hearted humor and a trio of exciting Quidditch matches that Harry is involved in. Particularly with two new characters introduced to the series in Cho Chang and Cedric Diggory, the latter of which would become important for the next book.
The mixture of genres and Rowling’s complex approach to the story that would lead to Harry not only learning more about his father but also himself. Notably when Dumbledore would talk to Harry near the end about death and how his parents would never leave them. Even in the fact that they’re alive in him. It’s one of the reasons why Prisoner of Azkaban remains not just a favorite for Harry Potter fans. It’s also the benchmark for all Harry Potter that would follow since its release. It is the book that definitely broke the series from being more than just a book for young readers as it reached a wider audience. In the end, Harry Potter & the Prisoner of Azkaban is a landmark for what could be done with the fantasy genre.
Harry Potter Reviews: The Novels: Harry Potter & the Sorcerer's Stone - Harry Potter & the Chamber of Secrets - Harry Potter & the Goblet of Fire - Harry Potter & the Order of the Phoenix - Harry Potter & the Half-Blood Prince - Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows
The Films: Harry Potter & the Sorcerer's Stone - Harry Potter & the Chamber of Secrets - Harry Potter & the Prisoner of Azkaban - Harry Potter & the Goblet of Fire - Harry Potter & the Order of the Phoenix - Harry Potter & the Half-Blood Prince - Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows Pt. 1 - Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows Pt. 2
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