Thursday, January 27, 2011

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

If you were to ask me what my favorite Harry Potter book was, I think my gut reaction would be Prisoner of Azkaban. After reading and watching it again, I don't think that's entirely the truth. What is true is that this book features my absolute favorite character of the series, and that character is Remus Lupin.

My love for Remus can be simplified down to two reasons. For one, he's an underdog (no pun intended): poor, not particularly well respected, and has a rather large problem to deal with through no fault of his own. For another, he doesn't look down on the children at all. He's the perfect kind of teacher that we all loved growing up, the one who encouraged us to be the best we could be and made us really feel good about ourselves for trying even if we didn't succeed right away.

For the story as a whole, I can't say it's my favorite. I have one major issue with the ending, and another major issue with something they left out of the movie version. The story formula departs from the previous books. It's no longer a whodunnit, instead we're told straight from the beginning that Sirius Black is after Harry and we're brought through a lot of twists and turns until we get to the end. This is really far more a transition book than a stand alone story; we learn a lot about the events leading up to Voldemort's defeat and the end sets us up for some key events in the next book.

While Rowling lays out plenty of evidence for the true answer ahead of time, much like in Chamber of Secrets, we are once again left in the dark until the very end. While there are mentions of werewolves and animagi littered throughout the book, and of course the Marauder's Map, there's nothing really there to tie them all together until the climatic scene. The movie actually does a better job of providing us with a clue by showing Peter on the Marauder's Map ahead of time. It makes such sense that I was surprised when it didn't happen in the book. I also think the movie does a better job of simplifying the scene in the Shrieking Shack. It's long winded and a bit of a mess in the book whereas in the movie it touches most of the right notes with a great feeling of suspense.

One thing I noticed on this re-read is that Fred & George giving Harry the Marauder's Map is a bit too convenient. They want to help Harry so that he can sneak out into Hogsmeade, I get that much, but would they really need to give him the map for that? Couldn't they have just told him about the secret passageway? It would seem to me the map's real convenience is letting you know where everyone is at any given time, something that Fred & George could still use when conducting their own mischief.

Another thing I noticed, and maybe this was obvious from the get go but I just missed it before, is the obvious way that James and his friends tie into Harry and his friends. James is Harry, Ron is Sirius, Hermione is Remus, and Neville is Peter. There are some obvious differences between all of them, but she seems to go out of her way to make the comparison. It's the Neville/Peter comparison out of those I find the most interesting, as their stories end very differently.

I also still can't determine whether Snape knows who Mooney, Padfoot, Prongs, and Wormtail are. He definitely knows that Lupin is a werewolf, obviously, but does he know about the others being animagi? It would seem like he doesn't.

For the most part, most differences between the book and movie are related to the usual time constraints, though there are some very strange and blatant changes. Harry uses magic at home in the very first scene, which contradicts with the possibility of him getting in trouble for blowing up Aunt Marge in the next one. There are talking shrunken heads on the Knight bus and in The Three Broomsticks, apparently just for comedic effect. But the most aggravating part is that they leave out any mention that Mooney, Padfoot, Prongs, and Wormtail are Remus, Sirius, James and Peter. In fact, there is absolutely nothing in this movie to explain that James Potter was an animagis at all. It completely takes away the meaning behind Harry's patronus turning into a stag. It's also such a simple thing that could have been explained in one or two lines of dialogue. We wasted time on a made up bit where the boys are eating some kind of candy that makes them sound like animals, but we can't get actual real important plot details included? It's just silly.

The biggest problem I have with the book, and it's made even worse in the movie, is the fact that Sirius must remain on the run at the end.

"The words of 13 year old wizards won't convince anybody"

This infuriates me. Maybe things are different in Britain, but in America, there is a clear dividing line between the ages of 12 and 13. Child things are pretty much always marked "12 and under." It's an acknowledgment that as we hit our adolescent years, we are gaining much in the way of maturity as well as growth. To say that no one will believe a 13 year old is complete rubbish and an insult on the part of Dumbledore. It makes a little more sense in the books - Snape is claiming that Sirius put a spell on them, but in the movie we receive no explanation at all except "You're just silly little kids, no one is going to believe you." We're also told in the book that no one will believe Lupin because he's a werewolf, which is sort of like saying no one would trust the word of a leper in our world. It all feels way too much like "because I said so" rather than any real justifiable reasoning.

One more little nitpick and then I swear I'll quit: Harry gets awfully excited to go live with Sirius rather quickly. I understand that the Dursleys are miserable people and he wouldn't want to be around them anymore, but Sirius has spent over a decade in a jail that specializes in driving its residents crazy. He may not be the actual person responsible for Harry's parents' deaths, but he's also really excited to kill off someone else and thought it was justifiable to drag Ron around and break his leg just to get to Peter. The man's clearly got a screw loose.

Overall, there's a lot of fun in this book. The quidditch matches are kept interesting, it's really great to see them finally learn some real defense against the dark arts magic, and the scenes between Lupin and Harry in the books and in the movie both really make me happy. The places in Hogsmeade and the hippogriphs are all excellent editions to this fun magical world. It's just a little disappointing to find out that the book is not as strong as I remember it being.

I'm taking a short break to read Stephen King's On Writing before I dive into Goblet of Fire, which is of course a very long read in and of itself. So I imagine it may be a bit before I get to the next entry in this series. I have to admit, there's a part of me that's going to miss these short and sweet reads!


  1. +JMJ+

    This used to be my favourite, too. When I reread this last month, however, I started nitpicking as well. =P You're right, for instance, that the big face-off in the Shrieking Shack is drawn out to excruciating lengths. And that Peter Pettigrew should have shown up on the map much earlier.

    Interesting point about the four friends from the older generation being reflected in the four friends of the new generation! I can't say that I think Rowling goes out of her way to draw the parallel, though, as she never really lets Neville into Harry's tight inner circle (even in the later books, when Neville starts coming into his own), which has always been disappointing for me.

    Hmmmm. Remember when you left me that comment about Percy being better suited to Slytherin? I would say the same for Pettigrew! What in the world did the Sorting Hat see in him that made it put him in Gryffindor??? He was clearly an opportunist all the way.

    As for Lupin being mistrusted and hated for no other reason than his being werewolf . . . For me, it ties into a very strong anti-racist streak in Rowling's writing. The wizarding world has its own prejudices against people who can't help what they were born with--the viciousness towards "mudbloods" being the prime example. Lupin's curse is like an extension of that.

  2. There's a line in there where Harry looks at Peter thinks of Neville. It's almost as if she's deliberately making a comparison to say this is what happens when one of this nature finds his courage, and this is what happens when he doesn't.
    Peter does sort of find his courage, but it's extremely too late. It also happens in Deathly Hallows and I don't remember exactly what it is, but he does allow Harry and his friends to escape, right? Therefore repaying Harry for sparing his life? I suppose you can debate on whether that's true courage or not. Overall, though, you're correct. He's definitely much better suited to Slytherin.

    I'd also argue that Remus is better suited for Ravenclaw, especially when you consider how hesitant he was to pursue a relationship with Tonks, then hesitant to have a child with her, etc. I have a LOT of complaints about the choices she makes with him in later books.

    Which makes an interesting point. She's trying to promote anti-racism by pointing out the mudblood issues, the werewolf bias, the treatment of the house elves... and yet nearly everyone is almost exclusively friends with people in their own house. I can understand that in the beginning that would naturally be where your friends come from, but does Harry truly befriend anyone outside of Gryffindor? The closest I can think of is Luna, and he seems to have more pity for her than anything else.

  3. +JMJ+

    I obviously completely forgot about Harry's drawing a parallel between Peter and Neville. Do you remember whereabouts in the novel it is?

    And yes, you remind me that I found the loyalties to one's House kind of extreme after a while. Almost tribal, really. And Rowling's obvious bias for Gryffindor reminds me a bit of Voldemort's bias for Slytherin (although that makes sense, as he was actually in the house--LOL!). When he says, in the last book, that only Slytherin colours will be allowed after he takes over, I thought of Rowling practically making the whole series about Gryffindor! But I'll have to suspend this rant until your post on The Deathly Hallows is up . . . =P

    As for some characters being more suited to other Houses . . . There were times I thought Hermione should be in Ravenclaw and Neville in Hufflepuff. Of course, in the end, I thought Neville was more of a Gryffindor than Harry (whom I still think would have made an interesting Slytherin). And how cool would it have been to have had our four heroes from the four different Houses? But yeah, that's just me messing with her vision.

  4. Well, shoot. I pulled out the book and went looking through all the obvious places - when Harry finds out the "truth" about Sirius, the next scene where he looks in the photo album, the climax in the shrieking shack and the moments afterward until Pettigrew disappears, and it's not there. I was so convinced I saw it. I guess it's just the way they reference Peter being chubby and picked on a lot.

    If there's anything to be said about these books, it's that they make excellent discussion pieces. :)


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