An Elegantly Woven Tapestry
Plotlines in Prisoner of Azkaban
by Amy Z
In a way, it's true that there is no single central plot in Prisoner of
Azkaban, because one candidate (Quidditch) lacks gravitas and another
(Sirius v. Harry) proves to be an illusion. But in terms of what plotline
drives the book, I would say it's the latter. We "know" from very early
on that Sirius Black is trying to kill Harry, and we know there will be
a confrontation at the end--and there is. The only reason that we look
back and say "that wasn't the main storyline" is that there's a twist.
And that's why the story doesn't wrap up in the Shrieking Shack, even though
that scene seems like it's going to be the climax.
Beyond that, there is another focal point: the whole backstory of
MWPP (and S). One of the many things
I love about the book is that while Harry is going about his life--lighter
things like wanting to go to Hogsmeade and playing Quidditch, heavier things
like hearing his parents and coping with Dementors--there is another drama
mostly invisible to him (and to us, until the second reading): that
of Lupin, Black,
Snape, and, if you think about it,
We think the story is about Black
trying to kill Harry, so the plot seems focused on that; but that's not
what the story is about. It's about Sirius in a whole different way,
and it's as much about Pettigrew, and right on out of the pages of this
volume to Voldemort.
The more I think about the plotting of PA, the more impressive it seems.
JKR has all these threads going, and they're interwoven in amazing ways:
the most-important-to-Harry thread (Quidditch)
the emotional thread (Dementors/J&L).
It is interwoven with Quidditch, without which Harry wouldn't keep hearing
his parents' voices.
the drives-the-plot thread (Sirius trying to kill Harry),
interwoven with the seemingly trivial thread of Harry
trying to get into the village (key because of the Sirius plot, and
because it introduces the Map)
the true Sirius story (evidence throughout that Sirius is trying
to save Harry--also, things like the Firebolt,
brilliantly tied to the Quidditch thread but also establishing Sirius's
character and the Sirius-Harry relationship, once we learn the truth)
the false and true Crookshanks/Scabbers/Pettigrew storylines
Hermione's schedule (and accompanying crabbiness), which is a minor and
humorous storyline but becomes central to the plot by the end
the Buckbeak thread, which also seems to be mostly about
Draco but becomes central by the end
the character of Trelawney and Divination --
all the set-up about whether to take Divination seriously
the character of Lupin--which is
probably a lot of setting-up for stories yet to be told in OP and (knock
the character of Snape,
who hits a low in this book but whose backstory
is also set up for the revelations of GF, especially poignantly if he
turns out post-GF to have been the spy who tipped off J&L.
Everything balances. The storylines that seem trivial either turn out to
be central (Crookshanks v. Scabbers) or serve to bring in storylines
that are essential (Quidditch, e.g., brings in Sirius-as-godfather,
and the Dementors/J&L issue). The real character dramas are largely
below the surface (interactions among the MWPP generation). It's amazing.
copyright 2001 Amy Z