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.
The Prisoner of Azkaban is one of my very favorite HP books (the big three being the first one, this one, and Half-Blood Prince), in part because it was so funny. The bit with Padfoot, Prongs, etc. telling Snape off via the map is particularly memorable. This is also when the seriousness (no pun intended) of the book series slowly starts to pick up, though the end of GOF has such a spike that it overshadows the rise here.
Hi Stephen- It is interesting that several people have told me that this is thier favorite. The part where the map told Sirius off was great. I am almost at the end of Goblet of fire. I see what you mean.
i got shivers just from reading the excerpt!! maybe it's too strong for old fragile persons... i liked your observations re comfort books: i think i do quite a bit of that whether i know it or not...
Hi Mudpuddle- That is a very effective passage. Most people do engage in at least some comfort reading.
Children do like more of the same. However, this is where it starts to become grim, whatever humorous individual scenes there might be. Harry has started to learn that the wizarding world isn’t quite the wonderful place it seemed in the first book. Innocent people - Hagrid in the second book, Sirius in this, are sent to prison, but not just prison - a place of constant torture where you are drained by creatures that don’t care if you’re innocent or guilty. In Hagrid’s case, there was no trial, just a Minister of Magic who wanted to look as if he was doing something. I have heard that the Dementors represent depression. They are SCARY!
Another thing: it’s the last book in which nobody dies, so brace yourself. That said, it’s my favourite too. I found it quite powerful. We learned much more about Harry’s past. Harry learned much more about his past! There were new characters who would play an important role in other books.
I think you realise it’s your favourite after having read the lot, not at the time.
Hi Brian, Glad to hear that you ate enjoying the Harry Potter books. I must try out at least the first book to see if its for me. Agree that series books are popular because they are comforting and familiar. And it takes real skill for the author to keep the readers coming back, book after book. Clearly J K Rowling has created either with her characters, or the setting or the subject matter an enchanting world that has made so many people loyal to this series.
Hi Kathy - I think that the books really are appealing. If you tried the first I am curious what you thought of them. In ny opinion, Rowling shows some impressive skill here.
Hi Sue - Ad you point out, there are some grim plot points. With that, as I think about it, I think that the dark stuff did not have that much impact. I am actually well into The Goblet of Fire. I am finding that book to be a lot more impactful.
PS - I would say that adults also like comfortable books.
Hi Brian, I'm sure you're onto something here. A generation of kids now love the comfort of Hogwarts to return to, in spite of the scary things that happen to characters there. Time is now at the stage where some of the nineties kids who grew up with up reading it are now still loving the series fondly for just the reasons you mention. The comic elements must add to it too. I like the moment in PofA where Ron wakes up to see Sirius Black looming over him, and everyone mistakenly thinks he got the wrong bed. Looking forward to your continuation.
I do think there's a level of comfort with series books (unless they are edge-of-your-seat thrillers, which would continue to be jarring, uncomfortable reading). The beauty of series books is often the ability to get to know the characters at a deeper level, as they grow and mature, which does make us feel more comfortable with the characters, some of who may eventually become "old friends". Anyway, it sounds as if you enjoyed the third book in the magical HP series. Although I haven't read this book, I enjoyed your review. Your commentary, as well as the comments of your readers, is interesting and thoughtful, as always.
In my recollection, this was the last lighthearted book of the series. In the next book, things get more serious and Harry gets more worried and upset. I guess you have seen that now that you are reading it. I hope your enjoyment continues.
Hi Paula - Undoubtedly an entire generation finds these books to be comforting. I would say that a lot of older people do too!
Thanks Suko. It is interesting, sometimes characters, even when they are not that complex, can come to be like old friends.
Hi Judy - You hit it on the head. I am almost done with the forth book. Things have gotten much darker.
I appreciate your excellent reviews of this series, but I'm afraid as it goes on my interest in reengaging with the remaining entries is faint.
Thanks James. I am kind of a completist. So unless I really do not like a series I tend to forge ahead to the end.
I like where you say: reading these books is like visiting old friends. Comfort reading can be pretty enticing and enjoyable. I'm not sure I do a lot of it but sometimes perhaps. It sounds like the series is about to change .... so enjoy that.
Hi Brian. Good analysis. That's an interesting topic for discussion: the motives people have for reading. I think some people do like everything to be comfortable and familiar. I think that is what I enjoy about reading mysteries. They are my fun, chocolate-type comfort food for reading.
But, like you, I really like to stretch myself and get into uncharted territory as well. There's room for both.
Thanks Sharon. There is definitely room for both comfortable and adventurous reading. Perhaps I need to do a little more of the comfortable type.
Hi Sharon - Though this series does get darker, I think there is still a lot of comfort in it.
I remember liking this one because Voldemort wasn't in it. I mean, there were other reasons as well (I thought the magical bus was funny, for instance), but I also am not a big fan of inhuman megalomaniac supervillian characters - I prefer villains who are more human. The ones who betray their friends, bribe politicians, might commit murder or hire a hitman, and - when you get to book 5 (which admittedly I never finished) - there's one villain who enjoys using the power of the state and an excuse of following rules to exercise her sadism.
Hi Hila -. Human villians who do human things are easier to relate to.
I have just finished book 4. I will likely start book 5 today so I am looking forward to what you describe.
Like many others, this is my favorite of the series—there’s the comfort level, of course, Harry knows he’s a wizard, he has friends and a support system, is more comfortable in school, and there are so many cool aspects that make it a fun read before the darkness overwhelms the series. I love the time turner, and the hippogriff, and Hogsmeade, and the whole Weasley family—lots to love in this one.
Are you also watching the movies, or have you already seen them? As far as adaptations, they really are superb.
Hi Jane - There really is a lot of nice and neat stuff going on in this book. Buckbeak the hypogriff is one of the very cool things.
I saw all the films some time ago. I really liked them. They were quality adaptations.
Slowly, slowly you’re tempting me to get back to this series. I loved the quotes. She writes in such an evocative way.
Hi Caroline- Those are really well written quotations. As you know. This is my first time. But i see why you would want to do a reread.
I think a re-read of these books is long over due. That said, with the films on what feels like one channel or another constantly I feel a bit Harry Potter'ed out.
Hi Tracy - There is an awful lot of Harry Potter out there. For me, before now, I had only seen the movies once.
I think a lot of people think HP is really original. I'm not sure why. I enjoyed the first three books because of her originality. After that, it seemed too much like she was writing for her fans instead of for the "art." Granted, it wasn't perfect writing to begin with, and her talent developed with time, but I think books are better when they are not aimed mostly at pleasing the customers. But I guess that's where the money is.
Hi Rachel - It could be that she was just responding to feedback. I think sometime super successful writers are aiming for approval. I do think that she is very creative with her depiction of magical devices or situations even when covering the same general ground.
I thoroughly enjoyed your child like enthusiasm about the book dear Brain :)
my kids absolutely loved the movies based on this series
Either I enjoyed the magical world of Harry potter a lot
Wonderfully woven and so nicely displayed on big screen!
"Meeting old friends " sounds great to me as I easily get attached to the characters and finding them in next read or movie is pleasant surprise
Thank you so much for another very interesting review my friend!
Thanks Baili. I think that the books are worth the read for adults. I also liked the movies a lot.
One of my favorite things about this book is that chocolate helps one feel better after encounters with dementors or other unsavory things :)
Hi Stefanie - Yes! That is so cool!
I'm afraid this is where Harry Potter lost me - not so much because it was bad, because it wasn't, but because I seem not to have patience with series books. I feel I've been there, know those characters and now I want something different. I was the same with a very popular Australian YA series, Tomorrow when the War Began. It went to, I think, 7 books, but, as with Harry Potter, I stopped around the middle of Book 3!
My kids did tell me, as you too have heard, that HP Book 4 moved into new and, I think, darker areas. I look forward to hearing what you say when you move onto it.
Darn, that Unknown isn't unknown, but ME, Whispering Gums!
Hi WP - I also have been having trouble with some comments on Blogger sites today. I think that there may be something wrong with the system.
Though I often say that I have patience with books and series, these sequences of books thaf go on through six, seven and even more novels, are really long. A certain level of tedium is inevitable. I will be posting my thoughts on book four soon. It has gotten a bit darker.
Interesting take on this book, Brian!! It's one of my favorites in the series!! My other favorite is the first book.
I think you hit the nail on the head when you referred to this book as "a comfortable read". However, I see this aspect of the book a bit differently. I don't think it'a because of a lack of originality on Rowling's part. Yes, there's the aspect of familiarity. But I think that most writers of genre fiction who also create a series basically lay down the rules for their invented worlds in the first and second books, and then bring in new elements that build upon what they've already established. I see this as necessary in the creation of a series.
In the case of this particular series, it seems to me that Rowling has been slowly establishing the parameters of her invented world, book by book. We are first introduced to Hogwarts in "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Apprentice", but Rowling doesn't reveal everything about the school in that book. She keeps adding new elements in each subsequent book.
I found the Dementors terrifying, but LOVED how Harry dealt with them by using the Patronus charm! I also LOVED the introduction of the hyppogriff into the story! I wish I could ride one myself!! Lol.
Another aspect of this book I LOVED was the introduction of Sirius Black. He is a VERY important character indeed! And so is Lupin. I won't say more, in order to avoid spoilers.
Although I have read the series oly up to half of the sixth book, "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" (you know why I stopped there), I have only reviewed the first three books. I really need to pick up the fourth book again so I can refresh my memory and then post a review!
And yes, in the fourth book, things do get darker. I am a bit disappointed in Rowling for doing this. On the other hand, she might have done it because she wanted her plots to reflect the fact that Harry and his friends were entering adolescence, and young adulthood.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this novel!! You've made me want to watch the movies again, as well as go on with Book 4!!! <3 :)
P.S. I just re-read that quote. I got CHILLS. Rowling is DEFINITELY talented in evoking images with her prose!! :)
Hi Maria – I se your point that after two books that a universe is established and that an author is playing by a set of rules by the third book. I will say that I am now further along in the series and Rowling is adding new elements that I like. Both Black and Lupin are indeed playing important parts. I can see why you have some issues with the darker aspects of the plot. Such can be troubling especially when introduced to a beloved series.
The hippogriff was so neat as was the patronis charm!
That is a great quotation.
If you picked up the series again it would be interesting to see what you think about the later parts.
Have a great weekend!
I'd like to read Books 4 and 5 again this year, so I can review them. As for Book 6, I don't know if I'll be able to get through it..... we'll see. That said, I did get through "The Hate U Give", so maybe THIS time, I WILL be able to finish Book 6 of the HP series! Lol.
Hope you guys are enjoying your weekend!! <3 :)
I love this series and I am glad you are enjoying them. This one was a favorite installment, along with the Half Blood Prince. I really like the more mysterious characters, like Lupin and Sirius Black and Snape.
The Dementors were creepy and seeing them come to life on the big screen was a treat.
Like you say, the familiarity of it is like visiting old friends. Wonderful post as usual. Enjoy your weekend!
Thanks Naida - The mysterious characters are so fun to read about. I remember the Dementors being so well done in the films. Have a great Sunday!
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