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Canon discussion / Harry Potter Lexicon Minute

Canon Thoughts: Prisoner of Azkaban

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Canon Thoughts: Prisoner of Azkaban

In my series called Canon Thoughts, I’ve given my comments about books one and two of the Harry Potter series as well as about some of the early interviews which Rowling gave back in 1999 and 2000. I’ve also given my take on Crimes of Grindelwald. Now it’s time to talk about Prisoner of Azkaban.

Ah, what do I say about book three?

Many fans call this their favorite book of the series. I would definitely list it in my top three. So what makes this book so special?

First of all, the book is the most tightly plotted of the series. Later books are plotted very well, certainly, but those books are also at least twice as long. There’s a lot more time in books four, five, and six for tangents and descriptions of day-to-day life at Hogwarts. Don’t get me wrong, I love that part of the stories. It’s one of the reasons why the Harry Potter books are so much more enticing than the Fantastic Beasts films. We all want to live at Hogwarts. We want to take classes and try out for the Quidditch team and struggle with homework and eat in the Great Hall. We don’t really feel that way about the world of Newt and Tina. In fact, I really don’t like the Wizarding World of those films very much at all. Hogwarts? Give me my letter!

Prisoner of Azkaban, like the two books before it, has a lot of the extra stuff is removed and what’s left all feels important to the building mystery. A look at the Day to Day calendar of the book on the Lexicon website is very revealing. Nothing much happens between February 12 and just before exams in May. The same can’t be said for the later books, where every month is filled with activities and in which the book’s mystery is clouded by so many extraneous but fascinating events. I don’t see this as a flaw in the later books at all; but strong editing is a definite plus to the plot of book three.

This is particularly great because it gives us a very clear idea of book three’s function in the overall saga, in the plot of the entire Potter series. The purpose of book three is to fill us in on what happened twenty years ago because we can’t understand the events of the present without a thorough understanding of what happened with the Marauders and Snape during the first rise of Voldemort. The book introduces us to James Potter, Lily Evans, Peter Pettigrew, Sirius Black, Remus Lupin, and a young Severus Snape. We learn of their escapades in school and of the true story of what happened in Godric’s Hollow (although of course we won’t learn every detail of the story until the end of the series.) Back in 1999, when we were reading the books in sequence, we found ourselves suddenly realizing that the Harry Potter books are much more complex and deep than we thought, and we find ourselves wanting immediately to go back into the two previous books and read them over looking for all the many clues and foreshadowings that we missed the first time around.

The third book is where we all realized that we are in love with these books. And when Scabbers the rat transformed into a wizard, we were smacked upside the head with the revelation that Rowling is a lot more clever than we thought.

Book three was the last book to be released with no particular fanfare. I remember just noticing the book on a display in a department store as I happened to be passing and grabbing my copy. The first release parties didn’t start until book four was published.

It was after Prisoner of Azkaban that fandom became a thing, when MuggleNet and Leaky Cauldron and the Lexicon came into existence, when a new communications medium called the Internet appeared and allowed fans from all over the world to talk and share fanfiction and spin theories about where the story would go next. Potter fans at that time pretty much invented online fandom.

Fandom was built on conversations about Snape and Remus and James and Sirius at least as much if not more than about Harry, Ron, Hermione, and Draco. And it was all thanks to the third book, Prisoner of Azkaban. That was when the world opened up and we were completely hooked.

Sadly, the filmed version of the book, while fantastic in its own right, missed the entire point of Prisoner of Azkaban in the series. Pretty much all the backstory, so essential to the overall plot of the Harry Potter books, was ignored. It was with the third movie that most fans realized that the films would never live up to the beauty and depth of the actual books. We absolutely love the films — we loved being along for the ride, we loved going to the midnight premier showings with fellow fans, we loved the world made real before our eyes. But we were also deep-down disappointed and knew that people who only saw the films would forever miss the richness of Rowling’s creation. As the film series progressed, we never looked at them quite the same. They were wonderful and beautiful, but just a shadow of the real thing.

The real thing that was revealed to us for the first time when we read Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.

Commentary

Notes

In the Harry Potter Lexicon Minute podcast you’ll hear the voices of our editors sharing some of the many little things which delight us about the Wizarding World. In each podcast, just a couple of minutes in length, we’ll talk about anything from cool trivia and interesting canon passages to the latest Wizarding World news. We hope you’ll join us! And we’d love to hear from you as well. Feel free to use the comment section on the blogpost for each podcast to post your thoughts.

Special thanks go to Felicia Cano who gave us permission to use her amazing artwork of Hermione reading a book for the logo, which was created by Kim B.

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Music: "Winter Chimes" Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License
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