Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
When I was younger, the third entry in the Harry Potter series was my favourite and it remains so to this day.
This is the book where the series gets truly dark, while there are dark elements in the second novel this is the moment where it really comes to the forefront.
The book sees Harry return to Hogwarts for his third year of studies, this time around however, the school is gripped with fear and paranoia. The lunatic mass murderer Sirius Black has become the first man to ever escape from the wizard prison, Azkaban and is rumoured to be hiding out near the school.
What makes Black such a threatening villain in this novel is just how little we know about him. We learn he was sent to Azkaban for killing a large number of Muggles and that he was a death eater (a supporter of Voldemort) but that’s really it, everything else we learn about him is all second hand gossip, rumour and unanswered questions. How did he escape Azkaban? Is it really true he can turn into smoke? Did he escape prison in order to kill Harry? He doesn’t make a real appearance in the book until the very end of the novel which means Rowling has the whole book in which to build him up as an eerie, mysterious and terrifying figure.
It’s not only Sirius Black that Harry has to worry about however, in an effort to protect the school, the Ministry of Magic posts the Azkaban prison guards, the Dementors at the school and the nearby village of Hogsmeade.
These creatures are just as bad as the prisoners they guard, haunting, floating monsters who have the appearance of the grim reaper and feed on human misery. They physically suck out all the joy from those unfortunate enough to cross their paths, ultimately destroying their victim’s soul.
They are truly terrifying creatures and easily among the most disturbing of Rowling’s inventions.
The book does a great job of expanding on the wizarding world with its details of Azkaban and Hogsmeade, the only all-magic village in Great Britain which the Hogwarts students can visit at certain times during the year. While the locales of the town are expanded upon in later books, here we’re given a decent overview of the town’s main attractions and the insight into the lives of the magic community is very welcome.
Also introduced are several new characters including Remus Lupin, the new defense against the dark arts teacher and the hopeless Divination teacher, professor Trelawney who spends more time making botched predictions about Harry’s death than she does teaching. All of these characters continue the trend of Rowling creating unique, memorable and loveable characters who stay with the reader long after they put down the book.
The tone in the Prisoner of Azkaban may lack much of the humour of the other books in the series but the dark tone works perfectly with the increasing tension of the story. Rowling does a perfect job of telling a story that fits in with the greater continuity without forcing Voldemort in at the last minute as she did in the previous instalment. It’s a standout moment in the series and easily one of the best.
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