Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, according to the front cover of my paperback copy, was the 1999 Whitbread Children’s Book of the Year. I find this interesting as it is the first of the series to finally introduce more adult themes into the saga, and begin to mature away from simple childish literature.
There are childish elements — of course — but overall we see our main characters poised on the edge of adulthood and battling newer issues from the adult world, like prejudice in the class system and useless political leadership.
Year 3 at Hogwarts opens with the Wizarding World on alert after the prison escape of dangerous Voldermort-supporting criminal Sirius Black and an early, tantalizing warning to Harry Potter not to “go looking for” Sirius, no matter what Harry hears. Intriguing! Harry soon finds out, through that cringe-worthy plot device of overhearing a conversation chock-full of detailed backstory and exposition, that Sirius was his father’s best friend, is godfather to Harry himself, and was imprisoned for the murders of James and Lily Potter and their school-friend Peter Pettigrew. Here lies one of the first issues that has bothered the internet world for many years. Peter Pettigrew’s name ought to be fairly recognizable in the Wizarding World, since he “died” heroically during the days of Voldemort’s downfall, and yet for two years that name would have been appearing on Fred and George Weasley’s enchanted map of Hogwarts and all who walk its halls, sharing a bed with their own brother that whole time, and they never picked up on it?
The other main sore point within the sub-plots of Prisoner of Azkaban is Hermione’s Time Turner. Time travel in any canon is a slippery slope, full of contradictions and very easy to call bullshit on. Use of the Time Turner here allows Hermione to attend three classes in the same hour block, so there are literally three Hermiones… but what happens to her duplicate selves? Hermione 1 goes to Divination, then uses the Time Turner to restart the hour to also go to Muggle Studies. H1 and H2 are now simultaneously attending a class… but as that hour wraps, she creates H3 by going back an hour to her attend Arithmancy lesson… Does one Hermione vanish into the ether of a time travel loop at the end of each hour? Or are her duplicates dropped into crates of water to be drowned and disposed of discreetly, like in that fabulous Hugh Jackman movie The Prestige? Also, does not one other student choose to study these subjects? How can the school possibly have offered these subjects over the years if all third year elective classes seem to be at the same time as each other?
Paradoxes and gripes aside, this is quite a good installment in the saga. Harry gains a father figure in Sirius, an uncle figure in Lupin, his first crush in Cho, and the levels of darkness across the whole series are lifted a notch with the escape of an actual Voldemort supporter. Harry leaves school at the end of term cheerful, even happy — something not to be repeated in any of the remaining books. This is definitely the last of the young books. We can soon look forward to the stars of our saga being kicked in their faces by puberty and tragedy, and not just in the form of hormones and growth spurts. Shit is about to get real.
O.W.L Report Card
Moments when Muggle technology could’ve saved the day:
How about some good ol’ fashioned due process and police forensics at the scene of the mass murder pinned on Sirius? They literally imprison him (without a trial, we later learn) on the grounds of “being there” and “laughing maniacally”.
Moments Hermione was the real hero in this saga:
She knew how to best relive the three hour do-over she and Harry take, so kudos for Hermione constantly paying attention to everything going on around her and using it later to necessary advantage.
Moments the movie did better:
Downgrading Ron’s injury during the Whomping Willow/tunnel to Shrieking Shack scene from a snapped leg (“stuck out at a strange angle”, chapter 17) to a mere dog bite. Did everyone see that handsome French gymnast snap his leg to a strange angle at the Rio Olympics? There’s no way, with that level of injury, that Ron could have been standing/talking /threatening teachers as the book described with a break as significant as that.
Also, the entire Knight Bus scene is pure movie magic, both entertaining and highly visual. Lastly, spending those ten seconds very early on showing the Gryffindor third year boys bonding and laughing together in their dorm room. I’ve heard lifelong friendships are usually forged at boarding school, if your ratty friend doesn’t get you killed by a dark wizard.
Final Grade: E for “Exceeds expectations” in the O.W.Ls