“We don’t send people to Azkaban just for blowing up their aunts!”

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Chapters 1-3

We have officially arrived at Prisoner of Azkaban and I couldn’t he happier. Whenever I re-read the Harry Potter series this is when I feel like it really gets going for me. This is the first book I was truly invested in. The first that made me really care about the characters and not just want to find out who dunnit. The first two books are perfectly fine introductions to the series but Prisoner of Azkaban really brings the series to a new level.

It is probably my second favorite book. I generally say it is between this one and Half Blood Prince but if I had to really choose one I think I would have to go HBP. But second favorite is still a very high honor. Each book opens up the world a little more and this one takes things in a new direction by introducing us to Harry’s parents’ generation, both their friends and their enemies. Voldemort is more on the back burner in this one and history really takes center stage. We learn more about the circumstances of Harry’s parents death and are introduced to several new characters that are truly important to the rest of the series (Sirius, Lupin, Pettigrew, Trelawney).

As usual the book picks up with Harry at the Dursleys and we get the dreaded re-cap chapter (“Owl Post”). You know in case you just didn’t read the first two or need a reminder that Harry is a wizard. But I have to say for a re-cap chapter it did plant a lot of new threads for the book (see the “Foreshadow and First Mentions” section below). It is mostly things that seem irrelevant but as it will turn out, they aren’t.

Also as per usual, Harry’s time at the Dursley’s is cut short. This time it is because his Aunt Marge is visiting and she is quite possibly worse than her brother Vernon. She keeps comparing Harry to a dog, saying it is all in the breeding and that is why Harry turned out so rotten. In a fit of rage Harry accidentally inflates her like a balloon and then he runs away before the Dursley’s can punish him.

Harry is all prepared to live the life of an outlaw. He thinks he will be expelled from Hogwarts for sure this time (at least once a book Harry believes this will happen) but since he is Harry and the rules don’t really apply to him, he gets off very easy. When Harry makes it to the Leaky Cauldron, the Minister of Magic, Cornelius Fudge, shows up to personally make sure Harry is okay. Harry thinks this is odd but is happy to just be free and not in trouble so he doesn’t question it too much. Clearly there is something that Fudge isn’t telling him, like perhaps the escaped mad man is after him.

Something that happens a lot in the series, and especially this book, is that the adults in Harry’s life decide that he shouldn’t learn information about himself because it will be too hard for him to know the truth. In this book, almost all of the adults are aware that Sirius is likely “after” Harry and the history that he had with Harry’s parents. But none of them are willing to tell Harry because it will hurt too much. Or they are afraid he might want to personally seek revenge. Harry will continue to receive this treatment in later books, particularly by Dumbledore. It is difficult to have to make the decision about when a child is ready to learn certain things and the adults don’t always get it right in Harry’s case.

Foreshadow and First Mentions

  • Scabbers is already getting special attention. We first meet Scabbers in Sorcerer’s Stone but his existence is pretty much irrelevant in the first two books. He will be getting much more attention this book.
  • A nice detail in Chapter 1 is the sneakoscope that Harry gets for his birthday. It is a present from Ron and is supposed to warn you when shady characters are near. He says it doesn’t work because it is always going off, but little does Ron know its because of Scabbers.
  • The Monster Book of Monsters
  • Harry wants to go to Hogsmede but can’t get his permission form signed.
  • Harry thinks that something is staring at him just as he is rescued by the Knight Bus.
  • Stan Shunpike!

Miscellaneous

  • Harry’s Dursley situation. Improved? Worse? Hard to say. As we saw in Chamber of Secrets, being at Hogwarts has definitely made Harry a lot bolder with them. Whereas before he kept his head down, now he feels that he has a lot less to lose. He only has to stay with them a couple of months out of the year and he hardly ever makes it through the entire summer at their house. He is talking back a lot more. And not exactly hiding the fact that he thinks they are stupid. Now he is brave enough to bargain with Vernon in order to get what he wants.
  • I think this is the book in which we learn the meaning of the title the earliest (though Order of the Phoenix is about the same). Already in Chapter 3, we learn who the prisoner of Azkaban is – it’s Sirius Black, an escaped prisoner who was convicted of killing 13 people with a single spell. So dangerous that he is even being featured on the muggle news. Harry is told by Stan Shunpike of the Knight Bus that Black was Voldemort’s right had man. Basically he is set up to be one of the darkest wizards, second only to Voldemort, very early on which you know means there is more to the story.
  • Ron trying to use a telephone is one of those moments that I will be forever sad didn’t make it into the movie.
  • The Dursley’s have been telling people that Harry is off at a reform school, St. Brutus’s Secure Center for Incurably Criminal Boys.

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