Josh’s Harry Potter (Re)Reading Adventure: “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban”

I was a little worried about coming back to Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban; I’m not a huge fan of the Time Turner narrative device (more on that below), and I’m a little strapped for time these days, which makes it difficult with the first of the really long books in this series.  But I was happily surprised to find myself totally engaged with the story this time around; I read the last 45% of it in one sitting and was absolutely enthralled the whole time.  I’d forgotten just how much bigger Rowling’s world gets in this book, and I happily relearned all about Hogsmeade, the Marauders, the Secret-Keeper tragedy, and the rest.  It was a fun read, and I’m more excited to get into the rest of the books than I was with the first or second installments.

Maybe my favorite part of the novel is the introduction of Remus Lupin as a character.  Not only is Lupin way awesome and a great example of what good teaching can look like, he is also one of the first adults in whom Harry places his full trust.  Hagrid, of course, is the other logical choice, but I think there’s a way in which Hagrid’s character gets written into a liminal space between adults and children; he never finished school and transitioned to adulthood, he speaks in his own, sometimes simplistic style of speech, and he is still fully awed by stereotypically boyish things (dragons, big spiders, pleasing his elders).  Lupin, on the other hand, is clearly a character who has gained the respect of the adult community (sans Snape) in the book, and his relationship with Harry is especially interesting because of that.  In the earlier books, we see Harry holding back information from one of the adults (Dumbledore especially) because there is a fundamental lack of trust there; either he worries they won’t trust him to do the right thing or he doesn’t trust them to do the right thing with his information.  There’s a moment in the 8th Chapter where Harry is sitting with Lupin drinking tea, and Harry considers talking to him about the boggart issue, and for a second he hesitates, but eventually Harry breaks down and the result is pretty positive for both characters.  We see Lupin acting as a mentor and friend and Harry comes away feeling much more secure in himself.  And the really interesting thing for me is that Harry initially doesn’t want to tell Lupin about the boggart stuff because “[h]e didn’t want Lupin to think he was a coward.”  The lack of communication doesn’t have anything to do with these trust issues that seem to plague Harry’s standard method of talking with adults; instead, we have Harry actively thinking about and valuing this other person’s opinion of him, and that’s a real change.

The one thing that didn’t work for me when I was younger and still doesn’t work for me is the time travel stuff at the end of the book.  It was really neat the first time I read it, but, like a lot of time travel narratives, it’s the kind of thing that doesn’t really hold up as well on a second or third readthrough.  Don’t get me wrong; the climax of Prisoner of Azkaban is really well constructed.  But I can’t help but feel as though the climax more closely resembles a masterfully won chess game than it does an emotionally convincing and developmentally satisfying narrative finale.  The emotional pieces at work (Sirius and Harry, the possibility of Harry’s dad and Harry) just feel a little contrived to me.  Harry moves so quickly from hating Sirius to being overjoyed that they’re going to be roommates–and as sweet as that sounds, it just feels a bit abrupt to me.  As for the Prongs confusion, my point is not that it doesn’t seem possible, but it doesn’t seem to carry enough emotional resonance to really carry the finale.  The Time Turner mechanism is such a great idea, and my criticism isn’t of that; my problem is that the neat structural possibilities of the Time Turner seem to steal the climax of a book that is so packed with emotional drama and character development.  I’m curious about this, not having seen/read an overabundance of time travel stories, but this kind of thing (the narrative getting hijacked by the cool plot possibilities of time travel) seems to happen a lot, which is why I’m often vaguely dissatisfied by these stories.

At the end of the day, Prisoner of Azkaban is a great book and a necessary piece to the holistic rising action of the overarching narrative of the series.  It’s quirky, it’s funny, and it gives us just a taste of just how emotionally wrenching things are going to get.  I can’t wait to get into the next one.

I am too sleepy to do favorite quote stuff at the end, but if you want to throw one of your own (or a favorite moment, character, etc) in the comments, I’d love to read it!

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