Harry Potter and The Prisoner of Azkaban

by J. K. Rowling, 1999

Let me be honest with you. I am SOO disappointed in "Harry Potter and The Prisoner of Azkaban"! The very first of Rowling’s books had me wondering why Harry Potter had become a household name. The second book showed me signs of why, but this third… It’s as bad as the first one! It really is a pretty lousy read.

"Harry Potter and The Prisoner of Azkaban" makes the same mistake as the first book in the series. It opens with 70 pages of dull, digressive accounts of Harry’s life with the Dursleys (his uncle, aunt and cousin). Totally uninteresting stories about Aunt Marge, the Knight Bus and idle days in Diagon Alley. Get on with it!! It is indeed a very slow start, the chapters taking place at the Dursley family home serving as a resume of Harry’s life, looks, likes and dislikes. Yawn!

When things finally start to pick up a bit – that is when Harry hooks up with the wizard family, the Weasleys – Rowling doesn’t deliver the goods. Her narrative is very long-winded and if she skipped the unnecessary stuff the book would only be half as long and a much better read. The book is 100 pages longer than its predecessors, and really, there’s no need for that. On the other hand it is darker than the previous books and that is VERY becoming, although this is the first volume in which Harry doesn’t come face to face with Lord Voldemort. Actually the dark sorcerer is nowhere to be found. Instead his opponent is Sirius Black, an escaped prisoner from the wizard prison Azkaban, who happens to be Harry’s godfather, and is believed to have helped Lord Voldemort kill Harry’s parents.

The problem with Rowling is that she doesn’t master the art of limitation. The book is full of long, boring monologues and descriptions with only little action. She drowns her readers in descriptions of classes, Quidditch and exams, and when we’re almost certain that we can’t breathe anymore, she throws in a few hints at Sirius Black. It’s not good enough! Nothing happens like forever and I for one was bored to death! When finally something does happen 350 pages into the book, Rowling DRAAGS it out in chapter upon chapter in the Shrieking Shack. YAWN!!

Another thing is, that Rowling tries to be funny and there’s nothing worse than people trying that without succeeding. The book is never really funny, because Rowling doesn’t know when to stop. Even most of the Weasley twins’ jokes are a little overdone this time. Those twins are usually what gets me through the Harry Potter-books, but not this time! Besides, Rowling has started to favour Fred over George and although I have a good idea why, it’s not becoming. The brazen Fred actually seems a bit mean without the thoughtful George at his side.

Rowling has a real problem when depicting her protagonists. Harry is now a teenager, but he doesn’t act like one. He’s still either a little boy or a grown-up, never a teenager. His friend Ron Weasley is almost nondescript in the book and Harry’s other friend, the pushy Hermione, is acting totally out of character. In "Harry Potter and The Prisoner of Azkaban" Hermione is suddenly starting to show a rebellious side and although it is nice to see a female protagonist actually DO something, it is totally out of character and not believable.

On the other hand the book introduces the very sympathetic Professor Remus Lupin. I really like his character although his secret is so very evident. You don’t need to be a Hermione to figure out what sort of a person he is! Sirius Black is also an interesting character and not at all what he seems to be.

Still, the book is too long with too little action and what annoys me the most is, that Rowling doesn’t seem to care about details in her own story. In HP2 Rowling wasn’t capable of keeping track of her own timeline and here in HP3 it is clear that she can’t keep track of other inventions of hers, either. For instance she’s not really sure how many students the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry holds. It says that the house of Slytherin has about 200 students and that they compose ¼ of the student body. So Hogwarts ought to have 800 students, which is quite odd, as they only seem to accept 40 students a year and you can only attend Hogwarts for 7 years. As far as I know 7 x 40 = 280, so where did the remaining 520 students come from??

And why is it that when Buckbeak is to be executed, he’s tied to a tree, but when Harry and Hermione go back in time, he is tied to a fence? And how come the twins got their O.W.L.s at Hogwarts in June, when O.W.L.s aren’t announced until August when students receive them at home by owl? Like in previous books there is plenty of weird stuff like this in "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban"!

Yes, I know I’m a stickler for detail, and that’s probably why I like the Head Boy Percy Weasley so much!! Percy is actually depicted okay in the book, and I like the fact that he’s got a girlfriend now. In that way Percy is the most normal guy in the book as all the other teenagers in "Harry Potter and The Prisoner of Azkaban "don’t seem particularly interested in the opposite sex.

All in all the book is a drag. It’s too long, it’s boring and it feels as if Rowling has forgotten about her main story, the battle between good (Harry Potter) and evil (Lord Voldemort). You can’t help wondering why she needs almost 500 pages to introduce the character of Sirius Black, because after all that is what "Harry Potter and The Prisoner of Azkaban" is all about. The little progress that this book lends to the overall story could have been covered in 5 pages, so why use a hundred times as many? Sorry, I don’t get it and I have to give "Harry Potter and The Prisoner of Azkaban" only two out of five stars: **

@ Lise Lyng Falkenberg, 2002