Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (by JK Rowling)

There are some books which I read once and never again. Some which I reread after a period of perhaps nine or ten years. And some which I reread over and over, because they are such excellent stories. One such series is ‘Harry Potter’ by JK Rowling. The books were considered controversial in the 1990s, and the author herself attracts negative publicity from time to time. But I now consider the books to be classics, of a kind almost comparable to CS Lewis’s ‘Narnia’ series in their scope, and allegorical meanings, and in the quality of the writing.

So, having reread ‘Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets’ last month, it was time for the third book in the series, ‘Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban’. This has always ranked as my favourite book in the entire series; I was a tad surprised to find that it’s only four years since I last read it; less surprised to find that although it was only published in 1999 (how can that be twenty years ago?!), I have now read ‘Azkaban’ five times.

Unsurprisingly, I did recall the main storyline. The first time I read this book, it was an extremely tense one; having been fooled by the identities of the ‘bad guys’ in the first two books, it seemed pretty clear who was not to be trusted in this one. And it’s darker than the first two books. We quickly learn that there’s an escaped prisoner loose; even the non-magical Muggle world hear about him on the news. Harry’s life is fairly miserable at home anyway, with the caricatured awful Dursleys, and the utterly awful Aunt Marge. He does something which may lead to his being expelled from Hogwarts, and in despair decides to run away…

Naturally events conspire for Harry to be picked up by an unusual bus, and looked after by friends and acquaintances who care for him. But he overhears things that worry him… and it looks as though it’s going to be a difficult term at school, with increased lessons, and no permission slip to visit the local Hogsmeade area at weekends. Still, there’s always Quidditch to look forward to, and being with his friends is always preferable to being with his aunt and uncle.

The Harry Potter series works because they’re basically school stories, set in a magical world that is very close to the real world. They’re ‘world-within-a-world’ high fantasy, which is the kind I like best. There are magical creatures and techniques, but Hogwarts and the wizarding world co-exists with the real ‘Muggle’ world.

There’s some humour, and some very tense moments in this book, even though I knew what was coming. There’s good characterisation, too; some of the minor characters might be stereotypes or caricatures, and Hermione is, at times, a bit too exaggeratedly hard-working and moralistic. But Harry and his friend Ron Weasley, though very different from each other, are both believable and essentially very likeable.

We learn more about Harry’s parents in this book, in particular about some of his father’s friends and also his abilities. We discover that James wasn’t always well-behaved, and that Harry has inherited a lot of his traits. This book sees the beginning of the return of the ‘dark lord’ to power, although the way it happens was something I did not begin to guess when I read the book for the first time. Rereading, I realise there are many clues; it’s cleverly written, and once again I enjoyed it very much.

I would definitely recommend ‘Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban’ to anyone from the age of about eleven or twelve upwards. Best read after the first two books, however.  Note that some parts of this book could be disturbing to a younger or very sensitive child, as could the later books in the series. The film version of ‘Azkaban’ is well done, but I’m glad I had read the book before I saw it, as it’s quite fast-paced and a lot of the subtleties are lost.

Review copyright 2019 Sue's Book Reviews

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