Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

This entry is part 3 of 7 in the series Harry Potter Books

Published: 1999
Author: J.K. Rowling

The book that changed it all…


Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is the most significant story in the seven-book series and almost, almost the best of the novels.  This is where everything starts to change, the mood turns darker and we learn more about Harry’s parents Lily and James Potter and the events surrounding their deaths.

Sirius Black, a notoriously dangerous criminal has escaped from Azkaban, the terrifying wizard prison first introduced in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, and seems to be targeting Harry.  The threat posed by the mass murderer Black however is nothing in comparison to that which Harry faces when he meets the Dementors – the Azkaban guards – who force their victims to relive their worst memories and suck the happiness out of any situation.  As always Harry is supported by his friends Ron and Hermione but he also finds a new ally in this year’s Defence Against The Dark Arts Professor, Remus Lupin, a man with a secret of his own.

If Philosopher’s Stone introduced us to the characters and premise and Chamber of Secrets developed them, then Prisoner of Azkaban is most definitely where the action starts to really kick in.  JK Rowling moves the story along at a cracking pace and again displays her humour and talent for comic invention.  The Knight Bus, for example, is a brilliant concept – a bus with four-poster beds, duvets and hot chocolate and seems like the only way to travel (other than the dreadful driving).  Even better than the comedy moments is the sense of fear created.  I cannot think of any characters in children’s literature more terrifying than the Dementors, every time I read the book I get a shiver down my spine when they appear for the first time on the Hogwarts Express.

The action is cranked up several notches with a number of outstanding passages both amusing and frightening.  The Boggart in the Wardrobe is a standout chapter with the third year students facing and defeating their fears.  The Quidditch Final is another showcase where the action whips along, giving the reader a real sense of watching a major sporting event rather than just reading about one.  The best action, however, comes in the book’s climatic chapters when Harry comes face to face with Sirius Black and the truth is finally revealed.  The tension doesn’t ease for more than fifty pages and there’s nothing for the reader to do but breathlessly keep reading, desperate to know what happens next.

Feelings aren’t left behind in all this action though.  Harry runs the gamut of emotions from fear to grief to elation to anger – often all confused and at the same time.  Ron and Hermione’s relationship develops and fractures from time to time – a little bit of romantic tension perhaps?

It was an incredibly brave move by JK Rowling to take the books in quite such a dark direction and it works brilliantly.  Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is a watershed and turns the Harry Potter series from a resounding success and a great read into an unmissable phenomenon with the reader left begging for more.

Previous and next posts in this series:<< Harry Potter and the Chamber of SecretsHarry Potter and the Goblet of Fire >>
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