Thursday, June 7, 2018

My Year with Harry: Prisoner of Azkaban

My new year started off with a bang - not unlike the ones heard during a game of Exploding Snap in the Gryffindor common room - when I decided to make it one of my 2018 resolutions to reread every book in the Harry Potter series. After a very successful return to the first novel, and an interesting series of revelations during the second, I was extremely excited to what had been my favorite novel from the series in my youth! 

personal history 

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban was published in the summer of 1999, and its movie followed five years later, in the summer of 2004. Without a doubt, this installment of Harry's adventures has always been my favorite, due to the compelling characters, the advancement of intrigue in regards to Harry's past, and a really spectacular film adaptation. 

I remember thinking about my age in terms of Harry Potter books as I grew up - comparing where I was at in my own life and drawing it up against the exploits of the Golden Trio - and this was one of the years where I began to give thought to things like, "Hermione is taking a million classes at once, and Harry spends every night practicing Quidditch until it's dark out... what am I doing with my life?" (To be fair, it's also the year I took fencing lessons, so at least I was doing something kind of cool with my free time.)

I must have read this over twenty times over the years, but have never really taken the opportunity to consider it critically, which I was almost a little nervous to do... I mean, what if I didn't end up liking it as much? The good news is, with a decent amount of personal removal from the narrative - being that I haven't read it in over a few years, and same with observing the film - I felt I was able to really appreciate it for what it was a little more upon the reread.

the reread 

And what I found it to be, was a solidly constructed, plot-driven novel, that demonstrates a successful beginning to the series' transition in writing style from the middle grade first installments, to the more YA-leaning later books. 

Specifically, the tonal differences are what start to demonstrate the audience shift. I talked a little about how dark Chamber of Secrets is in my last post on this subject, once you isolate the severity of the basilisk attacks, and understand how much danger a large group of vulnerable school children were obviously in. However, while I think Prisoner of Azkaban might not be able to reach Chamber's danger level in terms of scale and scope, it definitely makes up for it in angst, especially in interpersonal relationships. That conversation between the group of people in the Shrieking Shack, is probably one of the most emotionally fraught and plot-significant of the first half of the series.

In terms of characters, one thing I enjoyed most was the continued development of major players, who begin to take on greater depth and dynamism. In particular, I felt Hermione's character really started to come much more into her own in this book, which I think sets up well for her involvement in Goblet of Fire. The novel didn't just continue to prop her up as a the incredibly intelligent and somewhat remonstrative force she was in the first two books, but started to illustrate that more Gryffindor-esque side, someone who isn't afraid to go toe-to-toe for their beliefs, who breaks precedent in order to pursue radical goals, and most importantly, who is fully capable of smacking Malfoy in the face.

Some other thoughts I had: 

  • Prongs chose the worst animal as an Animagus, hands down. If your friends can all turn into a rat, a dog, and a wolf, why the actual hell would you choose a stag, of all things? The only information I can glean simply focused on how his Patronus took the form of a stag as well... but I don't know what that says about James. 
  • And furthermore, while on the subject of animals, why would any Hogwarts student choose a pet that's not an owl? I get it, Crookshanks ended up being very helpful, but as someone known for her intelligence and sense of pragmatism, Hermione's choice of a cat as a Hogwarts pet - even over her own professed interest in a more functional one, like an owl - is still a puzzle to me.
  • I think one of the key differences between the books and the movies - particularly where the innately endearing nature of Alan Rickman's trademark monotone are involved - is the highlighting of Snape's prolonged hatred for, and mistreatment of, any and all students who are not Slytherins. In any place of learning, a teacher demonstrating that level of consistent nepotism, antagonism, and lack of consideration for student safety or emotional well-being, would get a teacher fired five or six times over. 
  • Now that I started noticing them in Sorceror's Stone, I can't stop: there are still references to Hagrid being drunk again. Is this just more appropriate in British children's lit for some reason? Because beer is such a common place beverage - and drinking laws are more lenient - is this a more easily accepted behavioral pattern for someone supposed to be seen as an authority figure? 

favorite quotes

"Harry!" said Fred, elbowing Percy out of the way and bowing deeply. "Simply splendid to see you, old boy -" 
"Marvelous," said George, pushing Fred aside and seizing Harry's hand in turn. "Absolutely spiffing." 
Percy scowled. 
"That's enough, now," said Mrs. Weasley. 
"Mum!" said Fred as though he'd only just spotted her and seizing her hand too. "How really corking to see you-" 

"I solemnly swear that I am up to no good."

“You think the dead we loved truly ever leave us? You think that we don't recall them more clearly in times of great trouble?” 

the end 

In the end, while I never quite made it to that same level of adoration I felt when I was younger, I did appreciate viewing Prisoner of Azkaban through a more critical lens, in order to better observe its subtle nuances in tonal shifting and character development. It might just be that Hermione's more substantial placement in the novel was one of the reasons I remember liking it so much! 

I am incredibly excited to get to the books on the thicker end of the series, and am currently in the middle of Goblet of Fire, which is, to be honest, giving me a little more trouble than I bargained for.  We'll see how the rest of it goes, and hopefully I'll be able to check in again soon... and remember, I'll be reaching another movie point, so a Potter Party recap should be included in the next update! 

Is Prisoner of Azkaban your favorite? What would your Animagus form be? Let me know, in the comments below!

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