What a lumpy book.
This book’s about as lumpy as Tommy Pickles’ head, which is too bad, since I chose to reveal my “Harry Potter is Rugrats” theory last book. This time, I can’t decide between a comparison with the Fairly OddParents (Ron and Hermione as Timmy’s bickering fairy godparents who are fifty centuries older than he is) or The Simpsons (Sideshow Bob’s gonna freakin’ murder Bart Simpson; also, I bet Mr. Dursley would strangle Harry).
But I’ll save complaints for later. Let me first
Praise the Novel! Analyze its Themes!
Which I will gladly do.
Prisoner of Azkaban is the rocky start of adolescence, which makes perfect sense and makes for some great moments. Very quickly we tackle the sensible question “if his foster parents are so awful, why doesn’t Harry leave?” The older he gets, after all, the more this question will stick out. (It also compels me to ask the somewhat worse but more amusing question, “Who makes for better family: the Dursleys, or an escaped murderer?”) Azkaban doesn’t ollie out; it tackles the question with drama and scenes that make me go “dang.”
This book really raises the emotional stakes. Don’t forget, Harry’s also being chased by an escaped murderer, and then stalked by death itself.
For the first time, the beginning of a Harry Potter book is a highlight, if not the favorite part of the book for me. Interspersed with the familiar friendship and warmth are creeping darkness and, on top of that, Harry’s “dark side.” He’s no longer a sparkplug; he is a creature of rage. He’s frustrated, rightfully so. Also, more and more he’s scared out of his wits because he has to face the series’ most iconic enemies: the dementors.
They Are Here! And they’re surprisingly interesting to me. And I don’t know what their deal is. And I like the idea that they are pure fear and their enemy is pure happiness — that’s a great way to cross over from “kiddie” stuff to “edgy” stuff.
Way back when, I just assumed — as I’m sure everyone who doesn’t know the series too too well assumes — that they were Voldemort’s conspicuous minions who just do what he tells them. And, well, that might still be true, if that’s a twist in a later book…but it’s not true yet.
The part of the book where I went “this is what it’s really about” was Harry’s first Quidditch match, the one in the rainstorm. Seeing death and despair…falling and drowning… It felt like the dark heart of the book.
Then there was a bunch of other stuff, like Hagrid’s story, otherwise known as To Kill A Hippogriff (sorry not sorry). It started as a retread of the ol’ “Draco Malfoy is an idiot” story, but hey, that’s true to life, isn’t it? Bullies rarely learn. Besides, he mostly drifts out of focus after that.
Also out of focus is Voldemort — also refreshing. It’s about time Scabbers got more time in the sun.
I got déja vu when I hit the phrase “I solemnly swear that I am up to no good.” I always assumed that was a line from some old-school rap. I wonder where I remember it from? Probably from that time I was taken to the movie theater to watch Prisoner of Azkaban, an experience I have 99.9% forgotten.
SPOILERS and Ruthless Criticism
It feels like with this book, the ideas are bumping against the format. I mean, I was jonesin’ for a prison break, a journey to the countryside (and no I don’t mean Honeydukes). But there would be three big problems with that:
1) Each book spans a year of Hogwarts life. Therefore, the adventure needs to be spread out and well-integrated with Harry’s misadventures as a student.
2) Harry can’t just up and leave Hogwarts to go to Azkaban or he’d be expelled.
3) You can’t follow another character into Azkaban because Harry’s the only POV, so our only look into others’ lives comes through dialogue and flashbacks.
Sociopather’s Stone and Chamber of Secrets went so well with these restrictions, but for Prisoner of Azkaban it went in and out, working well or hardly working. When Harry heard the professors talking in Honeydukes, it felt seamless to me, even though on the surface he was just hearing an exposition dump.
On the other hand, when we get to the tense meeting in the Shrieking Shack, it’s…it’s not painful to read, it just feels like it was painful to write. Reading it was like walking through a slush pile: I know that the battle will be brief and misguided and that the truth, the real important stuff, is coming. But first I have to get past Harry’s reaction, Ron’s reaction, Hermione’s reaction, their pets’ reactions, the reaction of Black to Lupin, the reaction of Snape to Lupin, the starting-and-stopping mini-climaxes and smaller reveals, the back-and-forth of “HE KILLED MY FATHER!”…it’s just so much. But because of the confines of the book, could it really be written any other way?
The answer: yes. It could have been written with fewer ellipses. These things get out of control in the last, like, twenty pages, leading me to believe that Rowling rushed this somewhat. I can’t blame her; the series was a phenomenon and several people in suits were waiting.
This is where I was planning to put in a screencap of the most ellipsis-filled page and say “LOOK AT THIS. LOOK AT IT!” only…I turned my book in to the library again, by mistake. Oh well. We’ll have to give Rowling an #EpicRoast some other time.
A Mystery With Too Many Moving Parts?
Here’s a rough summary of my reaction to the core mystery:
– Oh, this is intense.
– He’s on the train. He’s on the train, Harry. You’re not gonna suspect the guy sleeping in your booth? Even for a moment?
– He’s a werewolf. He’s a werewolf. He’s a werewolf. He’s a werewolf. He’s a — okay, Hermione knows, finally we get that wink at the readers who guessed it…
– He’s evil. He’s evil.
– He was evil but he changed his ways. He was evil but he changed his ways!
– Oh, I know. It’s the rat tonic. Voldemort got this random shopkeeper to feed a rat some suspicious tonic with no name.
– Oh, I know. It’s the cat. Voldemort got this random shopkeeper to put him inside a horrible devil-cat.
– Oops! I didn’t know anything after all! Ooooops!
– Wait, Sirius Black chose to transform into a dog that looks exactly like a death omen? (How plot-convenient/What an edgelord). TRY NOT SCARING THE GRANDSON WHOM YOU LOVE NEXT TIME, MAN. What, you don’t know the hide-behind-a-bush spell?
– Well, that was sweet but convoluted.
– Guess I can’t write about the Clone Hermione theory.
I do still wish Harry or his friends had an early moment of suspecting that Lupin and Black were either allies or the same person.
…Oh yeah, speaking of, the top that spins if someone’s being tricky is the most useless piece of shit foreshadow-red-herring I’ve seen in a while. Doesn’t it appear twice and then never again, and never do anything useful? Lupin didn’t need anything to make him look suspicious on the train! He can do that all by himself!
Time Travel, And Also, Maybe Hogwarts Should Invest in a Fence?
I get that Sirius Black, though he was an Animagus all along, could sneak into Hogwarts because nobody knew but his closest friends. But it’s pretty wacky that he was able to get on campus because he swam there. That school is just wide open.
You may have magic-proofed the school, but what about the school grounds? Is it worth it to maintain access to giant squids if you’re also, like, twenty miles away from Wizard Alcatraz?
Remember that car that they left in the Forbidden Forest and allowed to become sentient? That thing could go out into the ocean and…wait I forgot, it can fly. They’re lucky it didn’t evolve the capacity to fly south for the winter. Hogwarts needs to close.
I didn’t say anything about the time travel, did I? There’s nothing I can say about this that fifty million trillions others haven’t. It’s weird, and it’s not gonna be brought up ever again, except maybe in Cursed Child, but everyone hates that play so who cares. Anyway, those scenes of Harry and Hermione watching their past and waiting to leap also felt like a slog to write, like Rowling was going for the motions thinking, “Oh gee whiz, this is so boring. Got to get to the good part…keep writing, keep writing…mild flourish of humor, keep writing…”
Hermione: Now that I’ve finished, I get Hermione’s role in the story (at odds with Ron over little and big things, friendship falling apart), but for a long time I felt that her role was weird, like she existed to be impenetrable to Harry and Ron. Why does she like this cat so much? She’s gotta be an idiot if she thinks it’s a good idea to have him out on the train. If the cat attacks Ron, she’s the one getting sued. I hope these characters never get married in the last chapter of Deathly Hallows. I really hope that one specific thing just never happens.
Fortunetelling: Even wizards look down on fortunetelling, eh? Even they think it’s faulty, eh? They’ll trust the centaurs in Psychiatrist’s Stone to some extent when they say Mars is bright tonight, though? Interesting. I have to wonder if Rowling did this to try and get religious fundamentalists off her case. Like that would ever happen.
Scabbers: I’m glad Scabbers got the send-off he deserved. I don’t regret ranking him my first-book favorite character for a minute.
That guy slept in Ron’s bed. He lived in his pocket. It’s like that show Grandpa in My Pocket, except ten times worse. What, you don’t know Grandpa in My Pocket?
Snape: This guy is just a clown.
People think this man is cool, right? Well, he’s not. Over and over again in this book, and indeed in this series, Rowling tells us through sniffles and tears, “DRACO AND SNAPE ARE BUFFOONS! STOP THINKING THEY’RE COOL!”
Besides, if you made out with Snape, you’d have to feel his greasy hair. It says so right there in the first book — “greasy.”
I’m hyped for Goblet of Fire. I heard that’s where Harry goes to the Chuunin Exams. Hopefully we’ll leave the confines of the school, which will let the narrative breathe (and help us not resolve it in such a weird and lumpy way).
All the same, this was An Interesting Book, and I may like it more with time. I got really wound up in the details and the craft, and the weirdness. So wound up, in fact, that I didn’t take time to appreciate the fact that…yyyeeeeeah, we got some bodies on the floor, dude! (It was a flashback, but still!)
Favorite scene: The first Quidditch match
Favorite character/s: Uh…Lupin…..he deserves it
Book ranking: Stone > Chamber > Azkaban
Is there anything I should add to the list of favorites up there? You can let me know in the comments!