Okay, so, I’m going to start my new blog series on ‘Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban’ today, and thanks to everybody who voted in the poll. Since it’s a fairly short book with a lot of small chapters, I’ll try to cover 2-3 chapters a week, and maybe finish in eight installments or so.
I’ll try to avoid going through the plot details in as much depth as I did with ‘A Wizard of Mars’, and try to spend a bit more time looking at plot structure, interesting use of language, and my own reactions. So, let’s get started!
Chapter 1: Harry starts off, as always, at the Dursley’s, completely miserable for the summer, and sneaking around doing Hogwarts homework under the covers in the middle of the night.
In the wee hours of the morning on Harry’s thirteenth birthday, he gets a bunch of deliveries and letters from wizardly owls, even though he didn’t send his own owl, Hedwig, out with any letters. The Weasley family won a bunch of gold in a Wizard’s lottery, and went off to visit Ron’s big brother Bill in Egypt. Ron sent Harry a pocket Sneakoscope which can tell him if someone around is untrustworthy. Hermione’s on holiday too, in France, and sent him a broomstick care kit for his Quidditch broom. Hagrid sent him a ‘Book of Monsters’ (which acts like a living monster itself,)
And there’s an official letter from Hogwarts about the train to catch for next year’s classes, the required reading – and a permission form to be signed by a parent or guardian for a third-year student to go off to the village on select weekends. Harry really wants to be able to go, of course, but he doesn’t kow how he’ll be able to convince his uncle or aunt to sign off.
But he feels glad that it’s his birthday for the first time in his life.
Chapter 2: There’s something on the Muggle news about a dangerous escaped convict, named Black. (Foreshadowing!)
Uncle Vernon’s sister, Aunt Marge, is coming, and though she hasn’t been to visit since the first book proper started, (leaving aside the prolog from when Harry was a baby,) she’s apparently as bad as all the other Dursleys put together when she does pop up in Harry’s life. Uncle Vernon has a big list of ways that Harry’s supposed to stick with his program and not let Marge know that he’s a wizard or other than the loser that Marge always thought he was, and Harry agrees, on the condition that Vernon sign the permission slip. Vernon isn’t happy, but agrees to sign if he thinks Harry’s behaved perfectly.
When Marge comes, she really is very mean to Harry, and more than a bit sadistic about it, telling him off for not liking his tone when he tells her what she wants to hear a bit too transparently. But when she starts to talk about Harry’s parents dying in a car crash, and probably being drunk and so on, calling Harry a liar when he tries to correct her story, Harry finally flips out, casts a spell on Marge to ‘blow her up’ – not like an explosive, but like an inflated balloon. And he runs away from the Dursley’s, carrying Hedwig and his trunk.
Chapter 3: Out in the Muggle night, Harry is worried that the Ministry of Magic will be after him for using wizardry ungerage in the Muggle world. He’s also aware that he doesn’t have any Muggle money, though there’s a little gold at the bottom of his trunk.
He more or less blunders aboard the Knight Bus, driven and operated by working class wizards and a wizard’s artifact that Muggles don’t notice, and pays a fare for the trip to London. He gives his name as Neville Longbottom, apparently out of worry that there’s an arrest warrant out under his own name. While on the bus, he learns more about Sirius Black, the escaped prisoner, who turns out to be a dangerous wizard and an old supporter of ‘You-Know-Who.’ The Ministry of Magic had to alert the Muggles to the fact that he was out there, but didn’t give the whole story, of course.
When the Bus gets to Diagon Alley, Harry is found by Cornelius Fudge, the Minister of Magic himself, who hustles him off to a private conference. To Harry’s surprise, the Ministry has cleaned up his ‘accident’ with Aung Marge completely, and Fudge has arranged things so that Harry can stay in the Leaky Cauldron in Diagon Alley until holidays are over, and then stay at Hogwarts through the Christmas and Easter holidays as usual, but then he needs to go back to Privet drive for next summer. Fudge also seems surprised that Harry is worked up about the underage magic thing, and tells Harry not to worry, that he’s not going to get punished.
So, the plot has started to build up a little steam by this point. Although it’s not explicitly stated, there are a number of clues that what Fudge is really concerned about is keeping an eye on Harry, quite likely in terms of his safety against any possible attack by Sirius Black – that’s why he wants Harry among wizards at all times, in London or up North, (Hogwarts is up in the North, right?) When Harry tries to get Fudge to sign his permission slip in place of his family, Fudge just replies that it’s better that Harry doesn’t go to the village this year.
I found the language to be simple on the whole, but very engaging – which is what it should be, for a middle-grade series. Rowling does a great job of establishing different voices, not only in dialog, but in the various wizardly news dispatches and letters, and the accents and vernacular for Stan and Ernie, the driver and conductor of the Knight Bus, are funny without getting too ridiculous.
I remember that I read at least this far in the book last time I was on an airplane, but it was fun catching up. Tune in next week for my thoughts on chapters 4-6!