Presented by “Harry Potter and the Reread Project”
As I wrote in the first part of my Prisoner of Azkaban reread post, JKR manages to portray the injustice within the Wizarding World’s justice system without endorsing it. It becomes clear that judgements are not made based on what is right and true, but based on one’s personal connections and the political demands of the current situation. Both Buckbeak’s trial and Sirius situation show this. At the end of the book, Harry and Hermione needing to completely circumvent the system to make sure that two innocent lives aren’t taken shows how flawed the system is and presents a clear condemnation of it.
What JKR doesn’t manage to do, on the other hand, is a well done portrayal of teenage girls who aren’t Hermione Granger. It’s a problem that, in my opinion, becomes more obvious in the other books, but it’s already there in Prisoner of Azkaban. There is, for example, a scene in which Alica Spinnet, Angelina Johnson and Katie Bell get all giggly about how good-looking, strong and silent Cedric Diggory is. That isn’t, in itself, a problem.
However, there’s definitely a pattern of female characters getting ridiculously silly and swoon-y because they’re impressed with a boy or man and, as we like to say here at FandomFollowing, it’s the pattern that’s the problem. In addition to that, Parvati Patil and Lavender Brown, the only other two girls from Harry’s year, are portrayed as almost stupidly naïve because they hang onto Trelawney’s every word while essentially every other character thinks that she’s a fraud. There is a serious case of “not like the other girls” going on with Hermione that only gets worse in Goblet of Fire.
Another problem that I have with Prisoner of Azkaban is that what happened to Ginny in the previous book is literally never mentioned in the book. How her being manipulated, possessed and forced to harm fellow students by Tom Riddle affected her or how she is dealing with any of it is never examined, not even in a throwaway line. But it’s not like Ginny simply doesn’t show up in the book or like Harry doesn’t talk to her. Both of these things happen, but whether or not Ginny is doing okay is a question that is never asked and answered. Of course, one could honeypot that Harry doesn’t want to embarrass Ginny or that he’s simply too busy or too careless, but in my opinion, it’s an annoying case of authorial carelessness.
On the other hand, there are a lot of things that I love about Prisoner of Azkaban. One of them is the introduction of the Marauders, although the characters we learn the most about are of course Remus Lupin and Sirius Black. I think what I like most about them is the fact that they’re both quite tragic characters to whom a lot of really horrible things have happened, but who both still trust their own judgement and understanding and who both care a lot about doing what they believe is the right thing.
And of course the story of four best friends who would do everything for each other until one of them turned traitor, got one of them killed and another one innocently imprisoned which left the fourth one more or less completely isolated in society until the imprisoned one broke out and revealed the truth which led to them almost killing the traitor is just incredibly heartbreaking.
I especially liked the dynamic between Remus and Harry because it was a mentor dynamic that had more of a personal touch than the mentor dynamic between Dumbledore and Harry. The latter one always seemed more like Dumbledore trying to steer Harry to do the right thing without actually caring overly much about his physical and emotional well being. Remus, on the other hand, clearly wanted to enable Harry to protect himself and while he lied to Harry about how close he had been with Harry’s parents, he was neither emotionally distant nor dismissive of him. Plus, the scenes during which Remus and Harry spent time together were so full of lovingly placed tiny details that hint at the true story, so to speak, of the Marauders, like Remus dropping his briefcase when Harry tries to talk about Sirius, which makes them a joy to reread.
I also like to think of Remus as a sort of foil to Snape: both of them had an unhappy childhood, both of them lost the people they cared about most, both of them were outsiders during large parts of their childhoods and both of them spent a lot of their adulthood in isolation. But unlike Snape, Remus turned into a kind and caring person and a pedagogically fit teacher who cares about his students well being. Of course, that doesn’t mean that he’s flawless. He believes that Sirius is a murderer and after Harry, but he doesn’t tell Dumbledore that Sirius is an animagus who could be coming through the secret passage between the Shrieking Shack and the Whomping Willow. He gives his reason for that right in the book, though:
All this year, I have been battling with myself, wondering whether I should tell Dumbledore that Sirius was an Animagus. But I didn’t do it. Why? Because I was too cowardly. It would have meant admitting that I’d betrayed his trusts while I was at school, admitting that I’d led others along with me… and Dumbledore’s trust has meant everything to me. He let me into Hogwarts as a boy, and he gave me a job, when I have been shunned all my adult life, unable to find paid work because of what I am.
Telling Dumbledore about Sirius as an Animagus would have likely cost Remus not just the first job he’s had for years, it probably also would have cost him Dumbledore’s trust. Said trust was what enabled Remus to actually participate in the Wizarding World in the first place. Dumbledore trusting Remus allowed him to go to Hogwarts and later got him a job there. Additionally, after two of his best friends were dead and the other one in prison for being responsible for their murders, it was also essentially all that he had left. Not wanting to lose that, especially because it was the thing that enabled him to get a paid job, is in my opinion completely understandable. Please don’t get me wrong: Me understanding why Remus behaved the way he did doesn’t mean that I think his behavior was anything but irresponsible and morally wrong. I just don’t that he is a bad person for behaving the way he did.
In addition to giving us an insight into not just Remus’ inner world and an idea about the living conditions of werewolves, the above quote also gives us an insight into Dumbledore’s modus operandi. Remus is a complete and utter social outcast, not just as a child, but also in adulthood due to his condition, but Dumbledore still enables him to participate in Wizarding Society. He does the same with Hagrid who would have essentially been thrown out of the Wizarding world if Dumbledore hadn’t allowed him to remain at Hogwarts and, one could argue, even with Snape.
Of course, one could argue that Dumbledore is simply being kind and working against the prejudices of the Wizarding World, but let’s not forget that as the books progress, Remus, Hagrid and Snape are sent on increasingly more dangeours missions. And let’s be honest: Remus, Hagrid and Snape would probably not have gone on these missions if they had been better integrated into Wizarding society and hadn’t felt like they owed Dumbledore something. Unlike the flaws within the Wizarding World’s justice system, though, this isn’t something that JKR condemns. To be honest, I’m not even sure if it’s something she’s aware of.
Of course, there are also things that I think JKR did right. One of them is the introduction of the Time-Turner and the sort of brilliantly tautological “they could only do it because they had already done it” – plot. I know some people might prefer more elaborately, scientifically explained time travel stories or paradoxes, but I’ve always found them to be more confusing than anything. I think this sort of whimsical explanation fits better with the kind of book series that Harry Potter is.
I also loved the scene in the Shrieking Shack in which Sirius reveals himself. It’s beautifully tense and filled with so many unexpected twists and turns, like the moment in which the Trio thinks that Remus has come to save them but instead hugs Sirius. Despite having read Harry Potter series about a dozen times and knowing exactly what was going to happen, I was unable to put the book down during these scenes.
In addition to this, I really liked the way the characters and the reader were being mislead and made to believe that Sirius was responsible for James’, Lily’s and Peter’s death and out to kill Harry. Of course, tiny hints that that wasn’t what had actually happened were there, like Scabbers being with the Weasley exactly the same amount of time that Peter was apparently dead.
At the same time, though, I think it’s important to acknowledge that this is essentially the same formula as the plot of the other two books: something sinister is going on, the main characters are (in case of The Prisoner of Azkaban only sort of) investigating it while being mislead until what is actually happening revealed at the end. Don’t get me wrong: it still works, at least for me, and in my opinion, it works best in Prisoner of Azkaban because the misleading plot carries a lot of emotional weight. But it’s still good that she moves on from this in Goblet of Fire.
I also think that the atmosphere that JKR created in Prisoner of Azkaban is really interesting. While the book contains just many light hearted and fun scenes, like the DADA lesson with the Boggart, Hogsmeade, the scene in which the Marauder’s Map insults Snape and the Quidditch matches, it feels a lot darker and mature than the previous two books. I think there are two reasons for this.
For one, this time the threat is more directly against Harry and from outside of Hogwarts. In Philosopher’s Stone, the person trying to get their hands on the stone is already inside of Hogwarts, just like the Chamber, the monster within it and the person opening the chamber are in Chamber of Secrets. But in Prisoner of Azkaban, Sirius isn’t within Hogwarts, but outside, trying to get into the castle and succeeding.
While Hogwarts hasn’t been the completely safe place it has been promoted as, it has at least been unbreachable from the outside in the previous books, keeping the characters inside safe from outsiders who wanted to harm them. This changes in the third book, shattering the illusion that Harry’s enemies would not be able to get into the castle. Of course, JKR intended this, as the scenes in which she describes the tense atmosphere at Hogwarts prove.
Nonetheless, I think the the Wizarding World’s justice system being corrupt and flawed is the more important aspect when it comes to the creation of the mature and darker atmosphere. After all, at the end of the book, Harry and Hermione don’t need to go up against Voldemort and his lackeys, they need to save others from the Ministry of Magic.
Of course, the fact that not everything is perfect has been noticeable before, but so far, the major flaw of the Wizarding World that was presented to readers and characters was the ideology that purebloods were the best kind of wizards. But Prisoner of Azkaban doesn’t end with Harry triumphing over people who believe in pureblood supremacy, he needs to triumph over his own supposed allies – specifically the Minister of Magic, who had been presented as one of the good guys so far. This is the first time that both Harry and the reader are shown that Voldemort is not the only thing wrong with the Wizarding World and it leaves the reader a tad disillusioned about this beautiful, magical, whimsical world.