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Harry Potter and the Prizoner of Azkaban

by J.K. Rowling
Series: Harry Potter #3
448 pages, Fantasy
Reviewed by Kristi

Highly entertaining, but the adults in this book are pretty poor role models.

Plot

As Harry returns to Hogwarts school for his third year of magical training, the wizarding world is troubled by the escape of convict Sirius Black, who reportedly once killed thirteen people with one curse, and who now seems to be intent on making Harry his next victim. To make matters worse, dementors, the guards of the wizard prison, have been stationed around the school for the students' protection, but they have the horrible side effect of causing anyone who comes near them to relive their worst memories. On these occasions, Harry relives the murder of his parents which took place when he was a year old. Will Harry and his friends survive the coming year?

Morality

Harry begins this volume in the series by stating quite plainly that his morality is conditional. When told by his Uncle Vernon that he is to be on his best behavior when Vernon's sister Marge visits, Harry's answer is "I will if she does." Nice to know that his morality is conditional upon how other people behave.

Harry's behavior worsens as he proceeds to manipulate the situation. He blackmails his uncle, who wants Harry to lie to Aunt Marge about where Harry goes to school. Harry agrees to lie, but only if Vernon will sign a permission slip that Harry wants filled out for school. Apparently lying and blackmail are both acceptable as long as Harry gets what he wants.

Soon after this, Harry lies to the conductor of the Knight bus, giving his name as "Neville Longbottom."

In a conversation which Harry eavesdrops on, Arthur Weasley, father of Harry's best friend, says that sometimes you have to join forces with those you would rather avoid - in this case the evil guards of the wizard prison Azkaban - in order to accomplish things.

When Harry wants to go on a field trip to the local wizarding village Dean Thomas, a fellow student, offers to forge a signature on Harry's permission slip, an offer Harry only rejects because he's already told Professor McGonagall that he didn't have the form signed.

Ron lets Harry copy his Astronomy homework.

At one point, Ron says, "Why didn't you lie, Hermione? You should have said Neville did it all by himself."

Harry also lies to Professor Lupin, the school's new Defense against the Dark Arts teacher.

Harry comes into possession of a map, stolen by the Weasley twins, which can only be made visible when Harry taps it with his wand and says "I solemnly swear that I am up to no good." It can only be made blank again when he tells it "Mischeif managed."

The bad behavior of the students in this installment of the Harry Potter saga is surpassed only by the despicable behavior of the teachers. One teacher in particular hides from the students and parents a dangerous condition he carries. Worse than this, he hides knowledge of the way a convicted murderer may be entering the school, even after the convict has been seen holding a knife in Harry's dormitory (Harry's father is supposed to have been one of Lupin's best friends.). The reason for this negligence? Revealing the way the convict may have been entering the castle would require Lupin to admit some boyhood deceptions which would prove embarrassing. After all he does and fails to do in his role as an authority figure, he continues to be painted as a sympathetic and likeable character throughout the series.

Spiritual Content

When Harry buys his new school books, he purchases "Unfogging the Future. Very good guide to all your basic fortune-telling methods — palmistry, crystal balls, bird entrails." Throughout most of the book, Harry's Divination classes are portrayed as a bit of a joke, and his teacher as a fraud, but at one point she goes into a catatonic state and gives a real prophecy. According to the headmaster, this brings her total to two.

The Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher shows Harry a creature they will be studying, a grindylow, or water demon.

Violence

A student is mauled by an animal. We are told about "blood blossoming over his robes" and that it splattered on the grass.

When facing a creature called a boggart in their Defense Against the Dark Arts class, students are forced to confront their worst fears. One of the students' worst fears is a bloodstained, bandaged mummy. Another sees a severed hand, which is then trapped in a mousetrap. A third sees a bloody eyeball.

The students study red caps, nasty little goblinlike creatures that lurked wherever there had been bloodshed...waiting to bludgeon those who had gotten lost. They also study kappas, water creatures "itching to strangle unwitting waders in their ponds."

An escaped convict slashes a painting outside Harry's dormitory. This might not seem so violent, except the paintings in the castle are alive, and the "Fat Lady", inhabitant of the frame, flees to hide in another painting.

Ron awakes to find Sirius Black standing over him with a knife, and Ron's bed curtains have been slashed.

We are told that the school caretaker, Filch, once threatened two students with disembowelment.

One of the "good guys" intentionally injures Ron in an attempt to get at someone else. A mythical creature is described as eating something that oozes blood.

Drug and Alcohol Content

Aunt Marge drinks to excess, but this is not portrayed as an admirable quality.

The owner of the Leaky Cauldron pub offers the Minister of Magic beer or brandy, but the Minister takes tea.

Hagrid, the school gamekeeper, gets extremely drunk, despite saying in an earlier book that he would never drink again. When Hermione tells him he's had enough, he goes outside and dunks his head in a bucket of water to clear it.

The Hogwarts students drink a beverage called butterbeer, which we learn in the next book is probably mildly alcoholic.

Sexual Content

In a magical bookstore, Harry see the following book on divination: "Broken Balls: When Fortunes Turn Foul". While the obvious conclusion is that the author is referring to broken crystal balls, there is a possible double entendre.

Crude or Profane Language or Content

Harry's Aunt Marge uses the word "b***h" in reference to dog breeding, but it's also painfully clear that she's referring to Harry's mother. She also uses the word "d**n". Marge belches.

Hagrid uses the word "d**n". Belch powder and dungbombs are among the joke products available to students.

At one point during a lesson, a figure resembling the male Professor Snape appears in woman's clothing.

"G*d", "shut up", "cr*p" are all used. We're told that Ron calls Professor McGonagall a lot of names after she refuses Harry's request to visit the local village without a permission slip from his guardians.

Peeves the Poltergeist curses. Lee Jordan, commentating a Quidditch match, swears so badly that a teacher tries to pull the megaphone away from him.

The local joke shop sells a range of candies for people with "Unusual Tastes", such as "blood-flavored lollipops" (presumably for vampires) and "cockroach clusters".

Conclusion

Prisoner of Azkaban has long been a favorite of many readers of the Harry Potter series, as it introduces some enjoyable new characters such as Remus Lupin. Unfortunately, the misdeeds of the students in this book are matched only by the horrendous conduct on the part of the grown ups.

Fun Score: 5
Values Score: 2.5
Written for Age: 13+

Review Rating:

Average rating: 5 stars
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