Wednesday, July 15, 2015

harry potter book club: the prisoner of azkaban

It's finally here!

I'm so sorry for the delay in posting this. It has been a crazy month and I haven't been able to really sit down and pour out all of my thoughts. This is my favorite book in the series, so I'm feeling the pressure to thoroughly articulate my love for it in this review. I'm not really sure if it's my favorite because it's amazing all on its own, or if it's my favorite because of the impact these characters and storylines have on the rest of the series. I also can't forget to say a very belated birthday to Matthew Lewis (Neville Longbottom) and Dobby, whom I previously said I would be dedicating this review to. If you missed our review of book 2, The Chamber of Secrets, hop on back and read it!

Let's get started.

Practical Magic
This is one of my favorite beginnings. Call me juvenile, but I find it rather gratifying that Harry inflates his horrible aunt and runs away. All things considered, Harry is incredibly tolerant of the Dursleys. Him losing his temper with them and getting the heck out of Privet Drive is kind of a highlight for me. His subsequent stay at The Leaky Cauldron is the absolute best because it's how I would love to spend every summer of my life. Wandering Diagon Alley, exploring the shops, buying loads of magical odds and ends and doing homework outside Florean Fortescue's Ice Cream Parlor. That's the dream.

It strikes me again in this book that the Ministry's rules for underage magic use are kind of stupid. In the last book, Harry received an official warning of expulsion because Dobby performed magic at the Dursleys. Seems like their system could use some work. Harry technically should have been expelled for ballooning his aunt, but being the Boy Who Lived has its conveniences I suppose.

The Secret Windows
Rowling does a wonderful job of creating little portals in each book that link directly to the ultimate purpose and plot of the series as a whole. She includes little hints and character previews that I never noticed the first time around. One of my favorites to read was that of Cedric Diggory, who won't really be introduced until the next book. You can already tell that he's easygoing and likable. He tries to declare a rematch when he catches the snitch after Harry's dementor fall because he feels terrible about winning under such circumstances, and he's one of the first people to congratulate Harry on obtaining the new Firebolt as a replacement for his poor smashed Nimbus (was anyone else absurdly sad about that?). He's a classy fellow.

I'm constantly asking myself as I read these books -- are these links intentional? Perhaps she's retroactively creative, and takes little pieces from past books and makes them relevant to the future. Could she have already known the ultimate significance of the vanishing cabinet that was smashed in book 2, or was that just a coincidence? I'm constantly questioning both Rowling and Dumbledore. How much do you really know? Either way these tidbits are genius, and they make rereading this series all the more exciting. Now that I know the ending of each book, looking for the clever ways that she hints and foreshadows the truth is very fun.

The Slow Regard of Hermione
Hermione spends the majority of this book on her own, due partially to the stress of taking a bajillion classes and due mostly to her constant fighting with Ron. Harry is more or less stuck in the middle, but he's basically on Ron's side by default. They're 13 now, so this book is kind of the prequel to their teenage angst. Be passive aggressive, be stubborn, don't communicate. The keys to being a proper teen.

The fact that Hermione is keeping big secrets from the boys and is more or less alone for most of the book creates the best tension, though. She manages to keep her Time-Turner a secret and chooses to protect Lupin's secret as well (possibly out of spite). Her intellectual absence from the bulk of the story keeps the boys, and occasionally the reader, in the dark about a few things. It makes you realize how integral Hermione really is to the trio. There is a lot of fan appreciation for the concept that the trio are representations of Hogwarts Houses, despite the fact that they're all in Gryffindor. Ron is the Hufflepuff and Hermione is the Ravenclaw. (It's a little unfair there's no nod to Slytherin, unless you argue that Harry is both Slytherin and Gryffindor - there has to be someone in Slytherin that isn't awful).

There are multiple moments in which Hermione completely shocks, inspires, and impresses absolutely everyone. She mocks a professor, storms out of Divination, smacks Malfoy across the face. I love Lupin's appreciation for her intelligence, and I love when she startles Sirius by calling him "Mr. Black" in the Shrieking Shack. By the end of the book you realize she was completely on point the entire time, from trusting her cat to totally calling it that Sirius sent Harry that dang Firebolt.

The Cat's Meow
Let's be honest, Crookshanks is the bomb. Cats rule the magic world. Because there's also McGonagall, who is an Animagus cat, and no can argue that she's legit. Crookshanks, with his flat face and bottlebrush tail, can instantly tell the true character of another person/animal. He befriends Sirius Black even when he's in dog form, and curls up protectively on his chest when he's being threatened by Harry. Crookshanks saw right through the scrawny Scabbers and plotted his demise from day 1, despite the continual interference from the clueless trio. Crookshanks knows best, guys. Even Ron figures that out by the end, allowing Crookshanks to purr his approval of Ron's new owl.

I've gotta point out that this book features a great display of animal intelligence. Hedwig somehow finds Hermione on her vacation in France before Harry's birthday (how are these owls so incredible at finding people?) and as Hermione puts it, "I think she wanted to make sure you got something for your birthday for a change." Hedwig then shows up at the Leaky Cauldron right when Harry does, because she's the smartest and best owl in the universe. Then there's Buckbeak. I love that hippogriffs are so proud, and that they bow to display their trust in a person. Plus, any creature that pecks the crap out of Malfoy is a hero in my book.

I don't know about you, but I would have loved to see how Hagrid's Care of Magical Creatures class would have progressed without Malfoy's interference. It's such a bummer, because that first class was seriously cool. I think he could have been an incredible teacher if he maintained that confidence. As always, poor Hagrid. In any case, when I first read this book, I was equally relieved by the life saving of both Sirius and Buckbeak. They make an epic runaway pair.

Random Aside
I just have to mention the Quidditch Cup. And the fact that McGonagall actually takes a break from scolding Lee Jordan to shake her fist at Malfoy. Brilliant. For some reason I always tear up when they win and I just want to be there to see Oliver Wood's face. Silly, stubborn, absurd Oliver Wood. I think I love him.

Magical Artifacts
The Time-Turner kind of boggles my mind. Was this another Dumbledore dupe? I feel like Hogwarts leadership wouldn't just hand such a powerful device over to a third year student just because she wanted to sign up for every class available. Hermione mentions that McGonagall had to beg the Ministry and send a ton of letters for permission, but that's an awfully big advantage they're giving to her. Why wouldn't they just rearrange class times to allow Hermione to attend a few more crucial lessons? Certainly that would have been easier than throwing a 13-year-old into the dangerous throes of time travel. 

Unless Dumbledore needed someone who knew how to use it. Needed someone who was smart, good, driven and responsible to utilize the Time-Turner with Harry in case it needed to be used for the good of Sirius Black. For the good of justice.  I SEE YOU DUMBLEDORE. I see your little smirk when Buckbeak mysteriously disappears. Those twinkling eyes don't fool me.

P.S. WHY don't they use the Time-Turner more often? There are so many bad things that happen at Hogwarts. You could go back and hit Malfoy again, just for fun. Who knows, maybe they use it all the time and we just don't see it happening.

The Marauder's Map is undoubtedly the greatest achievement teenage boys have ever accomplished. I'm not really going to get into the questions of how they actually managed to create such a powerful and intuitive tool (and how they first discovered that tapping the witch statue's hump and saying "dissendium" opened a secret passageway) but I will ask this: how did Fred and George Weasley never notice that Ron was sleeping with a boy named Peter Pettigrew in his dormitory for two whole years??

This is a popular fan question, and it's a hilarious one to consider, but my best answer would be that Fred and George weren't really using the map that much at this point. They knew its secrets, and probably only utilized it when sneaking around. I doubt they ever used it to look at the Gryffindor dormitories. They were more concerned with which teachers were roaming the halls, and how best to manage mischief around the castle and beyond. They obviously felt confident enough in their own abilities to pass the map on to Harry, so chances are it had been a while since they had scoured it daily.

Moony, Padfoot and Prongs
have the power to rip my heart out every time. Anyone who knows me well knows that Sirius Black is my favorite Harry Potter character of all time, but I also adore Lupin. His presence is so gentle in this book even though he holds the key to so many of its mysteries. There are interesting subtleties in both Lupin and Sirius that I paid special attention to this time around. For instance, every time Harry mentions hearing the deaths of his mother and father when the dementors draw near, Lupin physically reacts. He pales or flinches or his hand slips off his desk. Harry has no idea that he's speaking and sharing these dementor-driven haunts with someone who lived life with his parents and loved them dearly. 

Lupin has an incredible line in this book that always hits me: 

Don't expect me to cover up for you again, Harry. I cannot make you take Sirius Black seriously. But I would have thought that what you have heard when the dementors draw near you would have had more of an effect on you. Your parents gave their lives to keep you alive, Harry. A poor way to repay them -- gambling their sacrifice for a bag of magic tricks.

I think the greatest struggle I have with this book is understanding why Sirius, Lupin and James would ever trust Peter Pettigrew with their lives. Perhaps he was a wonderful liar, or they simply overlooked the possibility of treachery because he worshiped them. Maybe it would be like thinking Neville was working for the Dark Lord; the thought just never occurred to anyone, why would it? It's difficult to really understand because we know so little of their time together as friends at Hogwarts, but it boggles my mind that they would never question such a sniveling, cowardly boy's loyalty. It's crazy to me that Sirius and Lupin both suspected each other before they ever suspected Peter. I wonder how that distrust started, and what possessed Sirius to put so much faith in Wormtail instead. Dumbledore himself had offered to be the Secret-Keeper for the Potters; why not go to him?

Of all the villains in the series, Peter Pettigrew is the most foul. We haven't come across Bellatrix or Umbridge yet, and they're both horrid as well, but I simply cannot stomach the vile cowardice of Peter Pettigrew.

The Shrieking Shack
I could probably talk for an hour just about the Shrieking Shack scene, which contains so much what-the-crappery. But I was especially interested in the subtext of the slow realization that Sirius is innocent. Right at the beginning, Ron yells at Sirius, "if you want to kill Harry, you'll have to kill us too!" The next line says that something flickered in Black's shadowed eyes. I wonder what that flicker was? Surprise, or possibly respect? Ron is hardly an imposing presence, but I'll bet you anything Sirius would appreciate and be impressed by such boldness from the scrawny best friend of Harry Potter.

Also, when Sirius is attacked by Harry, he says, "No, I've waited too long --" I have always thought that line was referring to the regret he felt regarding Harry... that he had waited too long to reach out to him and tell him the truth. But now I think he's saying I've waited too long to fail now! in reference to killing Pettigrew. He's pretty vague throughout this whole encounter and obviously a bit rusty at human interaction after being imprisoned for 12 years, but I now wonder what his thoughts at that point are. He obviously is obsessed with killing Pettigrew, but he has also shown that he cares very much about Harry. Which drive is stronger?

It was also very hard for me to not shout at Harry about Trelawney's prophecy. As silly as that woman is, she literally told Harry hours earlier that Voldemort's servant would escape that night. So yes, Harry, it kind of is your fault...but I suppose it's better to not be a murderer, and to have Wormtail owe you a great debt. That's a kind of special magic, like the love of Lily. As Dumbledore says, "the time may come when you will be very glad you saved Pettigrew's life." When Dumbledore speaks, ya'll listen up.

The Good, the Bad and the Snape
Snape. SNAPE. This might be my favorite book for the sole reason that Snape goes absolutely batty and embarrasses himself. It's pointed out a few times by various characters, but Snape simply cannot deal in this book. He's beside himself as soon as Lupin arrives. He just cannot let go of his school grudges. Even Lupin implores him, "you fool - is a schoolboy grudge worth putting an innocent man back inside Azkaban?" The answer is yes, Lupin, and he would love to put you there, too.

We all know what it's like to have those formative moments as a young person. It's difficult to let those things go, especially if you were particularly mistreated or bullied. But keep in mind that Snape is behaving this way 16 years after school ended, and after a war. His great nemesis James Potter was murdered 12 years ago. He's gone. The power with which Snape clings to his hatred of James and Harry is pretty astounding.

While many may feel differently, I think Snape reveals himself here to be petty, immature, vindictive, and kind of insane. He shouts constantly at Hermione, spits all over the place, and won't listen to reason - even from Dumbledore. I kind of agree with Cornelius Fudge by the end, which is a first. "Fellow seems quite unbalanced...I'd watch out for him if I were you, Dumbledore."

The Ending
Does anyone else cry through pretty much the entire end chapter? Of course, Sirius being innocent doesn't do a whole lot of good when there's no proof. Pettigrew escapes. Even the power of the Time-Turner doesn't allow for them to reverse his escape (although I can't help but cringe every time Hermione stops Harry from interfering - just GET THE RAT!).

I find it to be rather interesting that in both this book and the last, one of the trio is out for the count. In Chamber of Secrets, Hermione misses out on all the action. She's petrified and never gets to see the Chamber of Secrets or experience that part of the adventure. Likewise in this book, Ron is the one restricted to the hospital wing while Hermione and Harry save lives and time travel. What a bummer!

The real heart-wrenchers for me, though, are when Sirius invites Harry to live with him and Harry says yes and Sirius smiles - a smile that transforms him back into the man that James knew. When Sirius tells Harry that he has been watching his Quidditch matches, and that he flies as well as his father did. When Harry is trying to protect Sirius from the dementors and keeps saying to himself, "I'm going to live with my godfather. He'll be alright. I'm going to go and live with him." When Harry thinks he sees his father across the lake. When he realizes his father is actually himself, and that his Patronus is a stag. When they rescue Sirius and barely have time to say goodbye. When Sirius says "you really are your father's son, Harry." When Lupin resigns, and Harry begs him to stay. When Dumbledore says, "Prongs rode again last night" (and pretty much Dumbledore's entire ending dialogue). When Harry mourns for the home he almost had with Sirius - because it would have been the next best thing to having his father back. And lastly, of course, when Sirius sends a new owl for Ron, with a letter and a note giving Harry permission to visit Hogsmeade on weekends. Gah. I just can't. It's too much.

Extra Questions:

  1. Do you think Dumbledore is ever really in the dark? Both Lupin and Dumbledore say that he never knew about their Animagi powers while they were at school, and he seems genuinely surprised about Sirius's innocence - he even provided the Ministry with the proof that Sirius was the Potters' Secret-Keeper. But the convenience of the Time-Turner, and his little smile when Buckbeak is missing, and his vague amusement and twinkling eyes all make me want to call his bluff.
  2. What would your boggart transform into? I'm genuinely curious about this for myself. I have no idea what would pop out of that old cupboard, which makes it all the more terrifying. It would probably be a shark. A floating shark, dear Lord.
  3. Does Sirius deserve Snape's lifelong wrath? The prank Sirius pulled was neither funny nor safe, but nothing truly terrible happened and Sirius spent 12 years in Azkaban as an innocent man. Is Snape's grudge against all three of them still justified?
  4. How many Quidditch deaths do you think they're hiding from the public? This game is so dangerous. They play in horrific weather, they have no way to stop people from coming on the field dressed as dementors/actual dementors, they don't seem to have any hex protection in place...

I think that might actually wrap up this month's discussion of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban! It's going to be impossible for me to review these books as they continue to get longer. I have so much to say, I can barely stop talking. I'm nerding out hardcore, I think. I need to reign myself in.

In any case, THANK YOU for reading along! Share your thoughts below, but be careful of spoilers if it's your first time reading through this series, because there are bound to be a few. If you have read them/seen them before, please try to only respond regarding plot points from this book and avoid series-wide spoilers. Thanks!

Next up will be Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, and the review will be posted here on the blog on September 1st in honor of the first day of school at Hogwarts. That should give us all time to read, reflect, and review.

See you then!


  1. I think the ending of this book is actually one Rowling's best wrap ups. It's bittersweet because Harry doesn't get the happy ending he wanted BUT Sirius and Buckbeak are saved. Dumbledore's speech at the end is one of my favorites, especially the quote about Prongs riding again. It's such a skilled mash-up of laying out a lot of really important foundational knowledge but still giving the reader a series of aha moments--we'd been in the dark almost the ENTIRE book about what was really going on.

    Lupin is seriously one of my favorites. I think you put it well when you said he was a gentle presence. With one exception (to be discussed in later books), he's a very calm, wise, rational presence in Harry's life, someone who we know cares very deeply. I had never noticed his physical reactions to comments from Harry about his mom and dad before--so well designed. Lupin's realization in the Shrieking Shack that Sirius is innocent is one of the most endearing moments for me--even after 12 years of suspecting that Sirius is a murderer he instantly understands. I think the movie does a great job of that scene (I think they hug??) in giving us a glimpse in to the depth of their friendship. And then I feel sad all over again that they lost their best friend.

  2. It just shocks me that they'd really suspect each other in the first place...but I definitely feel like this book is all about James. His presence (or lack thereof) in all of their lives -- Harry, Lupin, Sirius -- is so tangible. I feel like typically the focus is always on Lily, and the loss/sacrifice of Lily, and that Harry has her eyes, etc. but this book really highlights James and his story. His friends, his stag, his rebellious spirit, his traits both physical and personal that have transferred to Harry. I love that about this book, and it makes me cry for all of them.

  3. The Shrieking Shack scene is insanely brilliant. I came into Harry Potter fandom through a back door (watched the movies first, and initially watched them begrudgingly). The Shrieking Shack scene in the movie (even though it does leave some things out) is what really got me intrigued. It's like a crazy, magical high school reunion. The lesson is that everything has consequences--high school friendships, broken promises, the way you treat people you don't really care about. It all comes back.

  4. That really surprises me, Tess! I definitely would have you pegged as a HP lifer. This book is very endearing for that reason - that high school reunion feel, as bizarre as it may be, and watching the different generations interact. You're right about the lesson, too. I don't think Sirius ever learns from his treatment of others; he's still a boy in many ways.