Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J. K. Rowling

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J. K. RowlingHalfway through this book I determined to surprise everybody, including myself and be completely positive about this book.

After all many of my previous problems have been dealt with. Snape proves himself to actually be vindictive this time rather than just acting responsibly and getting labeled by the story heroes. Harry and Ron have mostly grown out of their inability to follow direction or obey rules. (Until Harry starts running off to Hogsmeade despite apparent death threats — this happens after the halfway point of which I spoke.)

There are the silly excuses for Harry not being punished when he blew up his aunt — which would have ended the series in the first couple of chapters, or taken it in a fascinating new direction that could have been very interesting — and the fake tension of Sirius Black escaping from Azkaban. There’s also the complete lack of disregard for children’s safety that seems to permeate every aspect of the series, from the Quidditch games to the Dementors guarding the school (seriously, I though letting children fly around at ridiculous heights with no safety harness was irresponsible, I’d like to know who thought that having the Nazgul wander around the local school grounds was a good idea).

I decided to let those things slide, they’re just inherent parts of the story being told. The irresponsibility of the adults is part of the… charm, I guess you could call it.

Then I got to the one part of the story that completely ruins everything. As soon as you introduce time travel into a story you have to rethink the entire story and what is going on. You have to remove your own mind from it’s locked-in fourth dimensional linear time perception and look at time from above, seeing the whole picture. That isn’t possible, by the way. Very few time travel stories work and that’s because they establish very firm rules for how and why and when time travel works.

The problem with this one is that now we know that this world has the ability to travel in time. It may only be for a few hours and there are limitations but the entire plot of the series no longer works.

All the ministry needed to do, all those years ago was wait for Voldemort to strike somewhere, turn back the clock a couple hours and then be there waiting for him. The attack that killed the Potters and most of the bad history of the world would not have happened. I know there’s a throw away line about the time turner being dangerous and terrible things can happen to wizards who time travel but if that’s really the case then why did they give the power to a thirteen year old girl, however responsible and trustworthy she might be.

Most of the story fell apart at that point. Not just for the book but for all the books. This is a fatal flaw, one that needed to be thought out more cleverly.

There are some really good things in this book, too, that try really hard to cast smoke and mirrors on the giant hole that is the plot and the sleight of hand almost works. Snape has finally descended to the ranks of the nasty, Professor Lupin is the first competent Dark Arts teacher we’ve seen (which isn’t saying much) and is a genuinely likable person. I actually wanted him to continue at Hogwarts at the end — of course he can’t because these books are about Harry not having any adult support except from Dumbledore who mutters asinine cryptic phrases in the place of wisdom in an attempt to keep from ever doing anything himself.

This brings up something else I’m wondering. Who hires the idiots that teach at this school? Presumably Dumbledore, being the headmaster, is at least in on the discussion. However we end up with confused hacks like Trelawney who, admitted by Dumbledore, has only been correct twice and one of those times during the course of the novel — why was she hired for the job? Or the bumbling, Dark Lord sycophant and the arrogant fraud that taught the Dark Arts class in the last two books.

I’ll get back to good things.

Harry’s inability to think of memories that make him truly happy is quite sad, especially coming from the family that he lives with. The Dursley’s are comical and slapstick cartoon characters but they would be a horror to live with and that fact is made poignantly apparent when Harry realizes that Sirius Black might take him away from them. When this becomes impossible and his only true adult friend is driven away because of politics at the end his despair becomes palpable. These are real emotions that Rowling has built up to with panache.

The plot, story, characters, and writing seem to improve with each volume to the point that the books seem to be growing up with the characters (and readers, many of them) which I think may have been a small part of their popularity. Many of Harry’s thoughts echo those of every preteen, even ones raised in loving families.

I’ll stop there before I talk about the undue embarrassment caused by the shrieking letters and the blatant expectation that children who are shy or introverted are somehow less than those that are confident and comfortable, or how…

I’m done. You’ve probably already read it, so you know if you love it or not. This was by far my favorite of the series so far — despite my complaints it was leaps above the previous two books.

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