"You look in excellent health to me, Potter, so you will excuse me if I don’t let you off homework today. I assure you that if you die, you need not hand it in." - Minerva McGonagall
If you haven’t read the whole series (or this book) I would highly recommend you DON’T read this review beyond this full stop.
I’ve been having a lot of trouble writing about the Prisoner of Azkaban. It’s my favourite one of the whole series and I find it very emotional – especially knowing the whole ending. It’s a very subtle book that still keeps me on tenterhooks right up to the very end even now. I remember being 14 when I read this the first time and my heart straining in my chest. The dementors were terrifying – probably the scariest things I’ve ever read about. They seem such a simple concept – dark creatures that sap all the happiness from you and can suck out your soul. The fear of never feeling happy again is terrifying – and having to relive all your horrors and fears for ever more. It makes me shiver now just thinking about it.
The dementors are controlled by the ministry and they guard the prisoners in the Azkaban prison. It really makes you wonder, how the government could use such evil creatures and keep them on their side. It feels very hypocritical and against just about every human right imaginable.
One of the main themes of Harry Potter is life and death – Rowling represents death as something which isn’t actually bad, or scary. Dementors thus do not kill – they merely suck out your soul and leave you a remnant of yourself. The belief, or message put across in Harry Potter is that – life – at whatever it takes – is not worth it, and to be alive without actually living is actually much worse.
Sirius Black has been incarcerated in Azkaban for thirteen years for a crime he did not do. Once, he was an intelligent, happy and good looking young man with so much future ahead of him. Prisoner of Azkaban is for me, a very vivid and emotional book because of the tragic injustice that happened not just to Sirius Black but to Lupin, James and Lily Potter, and Harry too.
Had Sirius not changed his mind and made Pettigrew the secret keepers for the Potters… they would still be alive and Harry would never have been the boy who lived. Sirius lost his freedom, his life and his sanity all in one swoop – everyone, even his best friend thought he was guilty and for thirteen years would have lived with that. So many lives had been lost as well as the Potters just because of one weak individual – Peter Pettigrew who made the choice between being loyal to the friends who had looked out for him all those years, and choosing to follow Voldemort because he had been too scared to refuse.
Another of Rowling’s themes is that of choice. It is the choices we make, that make us who we are. Sirius chose to be loyal to his friends and would have stuck by them to the end. Pettigrew was a coward, but in the end it was his choice to follow Voldemort – he was not forced to be a spy. Can you really blame someone for being scared though, can you expect everyone to be brave in the face of death? Perhaps not, but I think most of us hope that if we had to make a choice between betraying our friends who would die for us, that we’d make the right choice.
Lupin’s tragedy was that he lost all of his friends at the same time, but because he is a werewolf he became an outcast. The people who used to accept him for what he was were either dead or incarcerated – poor Lupin would have been all alone with nothing. What a heavy weight he must have been burdened with for all those years.
And finally – Harry’s own tragedy, something which he’s only recently been allowed to come to terms with. He only knows about his father through what other people tell him – which hasn’t been much. The book starts out with him defending his father and losing his temper. The rest of the book he is finding out more about the circumstances of his parents’ death and trying to piece things together. It’s a fairly emotional journey for Harry – and an important one too because by the end he also find that he does have a link to his parents – in the forms of his father’s true loyal friends. It also gives him a more personal reason to fight Voldemort.
Previously, Voldemort the reason his parents died, but he hadn’t known the whole story. Voldemort was more of a big evil bogeyman. After Azkaban Harry learnt exactly how it his his parents came to be murdered – and it was more then just Voldemort who was behind their death – it was someone who Harry had seen, touched, in part known – and been betrayed by personally. To me, this is different then hearing that your parents were killed by some big bad someone that no one believes exists any more. This time it makes it much more real to him. Lupin and Sirius can provide physical link to his parents and a sense of his own history and belonging.
Azkaban brings a certain darkness to the series that never leaves. Harry Potter is growing up into a teenager, accompanied by all the problems of teenagerhood and so the books also grow up with him. The first two or three books could pass as children’s books – but from book four – from the size and onwards – it moves towards a more mature readership. I grew up with Harry Potter – I wonder what it would have been like though for younger children just starting the series? You cannot judge it merely from the first book.
I’ve since started Goblet of Fire, which is not my favourite book – it just seems to bumble along and takes forever to get anywhere. However – I’ve been listening to the album by Patrick Doyle for the first time and starting to like it a bit more each time. So here is the tracks I’ve been listening to mostly recently:
I absolutely love The Weird Sisters. I love how they recreated the band for the film complete with a song about a Hippogriff. I’ve been boogieing around listening to this on my MP3 player.
I think this is my favourite. I admit to being a bit of a sap – when I listen to this one I can’t help thinking about everything that happens throughout the rest of the series – all the loves and losses that are to come. *sigh*
And well… this one just makes me smile and feel very triumphant and happy.
I’m looking forward to getting past Goblet of Fire and moving on to my second favourite in the series – Order of the Phoenix.