Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J. K. Rowling is the third book in the series. In this entry, Harry is back for his third year at the magical boarding school of Hogwarts. His friends Hermione and Ron are also back, along with many other students and professors from the previous two books. This time, the supposedly evil Sirius Black has escaped from the magical prison of Azkaban. Black is supposedly an ally of the malevolent Lord Voldemort and is believed to be trying to kill Harry. Thought the book both Sirius and other terrifying creatures creep around the edges of Hogwarts. Harry and his friends also discover multiple secret passages and underground tunnels to help keep them occupied.
Like the previous two books, I enjoyed this novel a lot. However, Rowling breaks little new ground here. Once again, we have the Dursleys, who are Harry’s abusive but comical relatives; once again we have the train trip to Hogwarts; once again we have the Quidditch matches, a sport played on Broomsticks; once again we have the old characters, both good and evil, acting as they did in the previous books. I could go on with this. I do value originality, thus, I thought that the lack of it in this book did detract a bit. However, I liked this book a lot and I had fun reading it. I think that the fact that I did have a pleasant reading experience despite the lack of originality says something about the concept of familiar reads in general.
Comfort and familiarity can be very appealing in a novel. Books that feel comfortable and familiar tend to settle into routines. Rowling has created a universe full of fun and pleasant things to read about. This book, like the previous two, also has an intriguing plot as well as characters that, though they tend to be simple, are interesting to read about. This book is also very funny. Though the book follows a formula, within the bounds of the formula, Rowling employs all sorts of creative touches. This combination, that of familiarity, with a retention of strong qualities, is what makes Harry Potter, and many other series, popular. Reading such books is like visiting old friends. Such reading might not reach the same heights that more original books do; nevertheless, I think that these comfortable books do serve an important function.
I was going to observe that I do not read a lot of comfortable books. However, when I think about it, my reading of Anthony Trollope’s series, despite that author’s complexities, is in some ways comfort reading.
An example of the effectively intriguing situations that Rowling builds in these books occurs when Harry and his friends first encounter “The Dementors.” These are ghoulish and threatening prison guards that have been sent to recapture Sirius Black,
Standing in the doorway, illuminated by the shivering flames in Lupin’s hand, was a cloaked figure that towered to the ceiling. Its face was completely hidden beneath its hood. Harry’s eyes darted downward, and what he saw made his stomach contract. There was a hand protruding from the cloak and it was glistening, grayish, slimy-looking, and scabbed, like something dead that had decayed in water...
But it was visible only for a split second. As though the creature beneath the cloak sensed Harry’s gaze, the hand was suddenly withdrawn into the folds of its black cloak. And then the thing beneath the hood, whatever it was, drew a long, slow, rattling breath, as though it were trying to suck something more than air from its surroundings. An intense cold swept over them all. Harry felt his own breath catch in his chest. The cold went deeper than his skin. It was inside his chest, it was inside his very heart...
Harry’s eyes rolled up into his head. He couldn’t see. He was drowning in cold. There was a rushing in his ears as though of water. He was being dragged downward, the roaring growing louder...
And then, from far away, he heard screaming, terrible, terrified, pleading screams
I think that Rowling is very good in describing such scenes.
My verdict here is that this is still a worthy book for fans. It is hard to fault anyone for liking it a lot. In fact, I liked it a lot. The settling down into routine may not maintain itself, however. Based on the films as well as what I have been told by others, I believe that some of the upcoming books take a turn into some new and creative directions. Even if I did not expect such a turn, I would continue on with this series.