Reading by Ear: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

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

For a while, I thought my favorite Harry Potter book was Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. I say “thought” because, as a wee lass, I was very interested by the Marauders and Sirius and Lupin in particular. (Very interested. It wasn’t my first ship, but it was pretty close…) But during this rereading (relistening?) to the series, I’ve concluded that Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is my favorite, for reasons I will go into in that audiobook’s review. But although it’s been dethroned (which is a good thing, since an ex-friend of mine still has my copy), I think it might be my favorite of the first three.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban opens with an inflated aunt; after the abuse Aunt Marge throws at Harry Potter, it’s hard to blame him. Fearing expulsion or possible arrest, he runs away from home—but his punishment never comes, since all of wizarding England is terrified that the escaped murderer, Sirius Black, is out to kill Harry and might even find a way to get inside Hogwarts to get at him. Despite his best efforts to have a normal school year for once in his life, Sirius Black is out to finish the job—because, you see, Black was apparently Voldemort’s right hand man…

I was actually really surprised to find such a normal school year in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. You see, while the threat of Black is always there (which we’re helpfully reminded of all the time by the obsequious Professor Trelawney, who sees death everywhere), he himself doesn’t turn up until late in the book. Lupin is presented as the most competent Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher ever, rather than being set up as a part of Sirius’ life from the word go. (I suppose the lycanthropy helps.) And Quidditch takes over the book at several points, which I didn’t remember—I’m not a sports person at all, so I think I managed to just plain forget about it. After the chilling Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, it just feels warm and friendly, even at its darkest; not that the dark spots aren’t dark, but they’re family-oriented. This does mean that the plot feels like it’s just plodding along at points—it’s interesting but lacks focus until, of course, the climax.

I love Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire because it opens up the world so much, but Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban makes way for that broadening of perspective by going into the past. I’ve always loved the backstory of Harry Potter, sometimes even more than the actual story. In fact, it’s the same story—Harry’s story is just the culmination of his parents’ story, which is the story of the generation that fought against Voldemort the first time. We don’t understand much of this early in the series, because we’re seeing things through Harry’s eyes, and he doesn’t understand the struggle he is destined for extends beyond the personal damage Voldemort has caused him. We learn more about it as he ages, but it’s different to come back to the first three novels and knowing the significance of, well, everything. It’s the first hint we get of this broader story, and I want more already.

Competent, quiet Lupin is introduced here, and I’ve never been so appreciative for his general personality before; you need someone like that to balance out James and Sirius. And it’s really great for Harry to finally have a male role model that’s not as distant and unapproachable as Dumbledore can be; you can see how starved he is for familial affection, since he hasn’t been more or less incorporated into the Weasleys yet. But I have to say that this novel made me hate Snape. In fact, I think I prefer film!Snape to book!Snape. Previously, book!Snape was just an annoying teacher who hated Harry, but ultimately did the right thing. And I know everyone thinks Sirius is bad news, but the way he nurses this childhood grudge and perpetuates it on not only Harry, but Hermione, who has jack to do with any of this. At the very least, film!Snape is ultimately protective of his students and seems to enjoy teaching—book!Snape just feels so bitter about his position in life, especially at this point, before the rise of Voldemort (which you helped by stopping Sirius and Lupin, so smooth move). In conclusion, I hate Snape. Change my mind, books, I dare you.

Jim Dale continues to grow on me, though I still yearn for Stephen Fry with all of my being and the theme song is incredibly grating.

Bottom line: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is the closest thing to a normal school year Harry’s had so far; this means that the plot feels like it’s just plodding along until Sirius Black shows up at the end. But the world opens up by the introduction of the Marauders to the story, which is really the first part of showing us the first half of the story—Harry’s is just the culmination of it.

I rented this audiobook from the public library.

6 thoughts on “Reading by Ear: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

  1. Stephen Fry totally does the best job out of the two 🙂 I had two surgeries last year and had to spend 6 weeks lying in bed after wards – 3 weeks at a time after each one. And I just worked my way thourhg all the Stephen Fry Hary Potter audiobooks I could get my hands on. Amazing.

    This one was my favourite too until the later ones came out. Now my favourite is either The Goblet of Fire or the Deathly Hallows, I can’t decide.

  2. This was the book where my neutral feelings for Snape calcified into loathing. He’s just such a jerk!, and he made me extra angry by being a jerk to Lupin, who was at that time my favorite character. He gets even worse in the fourth book, as I recall, because he makes fun of Hermione’s teeth and bullies the hell out of poor Neville, poor Neville! who never did him nothing. Hrmph. That rotten Snape. I don’t care what his excuse is, that man just sucks.

    I’m so surprised that you think the plot plods along! Prisoner of Azkaban is my favorite of the books exactly because I think it’s so tightly plotted. All the different threads of plot come together and are important in the end. I love it.

    • EXACTLY. I’m actually thinking of doing a video with a Snape-loving friend to discuss Snape’s faults and virtues; it will begin respectfully, but I can see it devolving into me just hating him.

      Really? Intriguing! I think Quidditch may have really distracted me here…

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