HARRY POTTER AND THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN
by J.K. Rowling
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
The very best children’s novels can be read and enjoyed by children of all ages because they treat the readers as equals rather than talking down to them. This is a lesson which many British authors, ranging from J.M. Barrie and A.A. Milne to J.R.R. Tolkien and Brian Jacques, have understood and embraced. The latest author to learn this lesson and the advantage of it is J.K. Rowling, whose Harry Potter books have become a phenomenon on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean.
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is the third novel in the series and covers Harry’s third year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Rowling provides the reader with all the necessary information so familiarity with the series is not required for the reader to enjoy the book or understand what is happening.
Harry is a thirteen year old orphan living with his aunt and uncle when the novel opens. Although Harry is learning to be a powerful sorcerer, following in the footsteps of his parents who were killed by the evil wizard Voldemort, his relatives are not fond of Harry or his lifestyle and their treatment of him borders on the abusive. However, the novel doesn't really take off until Harry returns to Hogwarts.
At the school, in addition to dealing with the typical problems endemic to a British public school, Harry also must deal with the fact that an escaped criminal, Sirius Black, wants to kill him. Black was one of Voldemort's lieutenants and has determined that he will wreak vengeance on Harry.
Rowling deals with this and other weighty topics in a manner which is appropriate for children, but which faces the issues in a manner which allows Harry to grow and learn. Even while Harry and his friends are dealing with life and death issues, they also have the opportunity to enjoy the pleasures of childhood, whether it is the competition of the game of Quidditch or journeys into the nearby town of Hogsmeade, a town which is seemingly designed for children.
Rowling incorporates humor to lighten the mood when it gets too heavy. The scene at Harry's first Divination class is wonderful and Harry's run-ins with a variety of supernatural monsters and rivals demonstrate how to use intelligence to overcome obstacles and fears rather than relying on brute strength.
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is a clear indicator of why this series of books has gained such popularity in England and the US. The characters are intelligent and the novel is written with a sense of humor and skill which make the book a pleasure to read.
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