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Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (Harry Potter 3)

by J.K. Rowling

About.com Rating 4 Star Rating

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Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban takes place during Harry's third year at Hogwart's School of Witchcraft and Wizardy and during Harry's first year as a teenager. In the first two books, Harry defeated the evil wizard Voldemort on two separate occasions, but this third book is strangely absent of the series' main villain. Instead, Harry must face a darker enemy within his own soul, that of despair.

The plot starts when Sirius Black, a convicted mass murderer, escapes Azkaban prison and may be after Harry. As a precaution, Harry's government enlists the help of dark forbidding creatures known as dementors to guard the school. The dementors watch the Hogwarts' grounds ready to attack Sirius Black if he attempts to enter. But the dementors may not hold to just attacking Black. Whenever a dementor draws near, a person is filled with haunting memories and despair so great that they believe they can never be happy again. With the ever present threat of Sirius Black dwelling in the background, Harry must live in a darker world than he has ever known, facing dementors at every turn and being continuously stalked by his own grief and fear.
Harry's emotions, magnified by his teenage angst, begin to consume him as he learns the secrets of Sirius Black Who is this killer; why is he after Harry; and what connection did Black have with his parents? Harry learns of the darkness that lies within his own self as he begins to desire revenge, a desire that only furthers his falling into despair. And Harry's emotional tolerance strains with each dementor that passes, forcing him to relive memories of his own parents' deaths.

The story that J.K. Rowling presents to her readers in this third volume is brilliant. She touches on a number of compelling themes. For instance, the death penalty and its place in society is a constant conversation throughout the book. Sirius Black, if caught, is to be given the death penalty by the dementors that will suck out the criminal's soul. This parallels another storyline in which a magical creature attacks a student and is sentenced to death for the crime. Should Buckbeak, the magical creature, die just because a human taunted him into attacking? Does a villain as dark as Sirius Black deserve a punishment worse than death? Rowling stands her ground with a firm no as played out in the different characters' actions.
A wonderful addition to the book is R. J. Lupin. The new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, Lupin exemplifies Rowlings' overarching theme of defeating despair with hope. For the first lesson, Lupin teaches all of the students how to fight a boggart, a creature that lives in closets, cupboards, and other dark places. The boggart takes the form of terror, turning into whatever the person it faces fears the most. Lupin teaches the children that the only way to fight such terror is with laughter and happiness. If a boggart tries to frighten you, turn it into something that will make you laugh.

Lupin also gives Harry some private lessons on how to fight the dementors. Keeping with the same theme of fighting fear with laughter, Lupin teaches Harry to fight despair with happiness. The only way to stop a dementor is to think of the happiest thought you can conceive and then let it fill your entire being.
The third Harry Potter book is all about emotions and learning to control them. Fear and anger are emotions that can only lead to more despair and hurt, while laughter and happiness bring about hope. Harry's struggle in this book is to find the hope in the darkest of times, to go on enjoying life even when there seems little to be joyful about.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is probably the first book of the series that will truly appeal to an adult's intellect. No longer locked up in just a fantasy world, this new book explores the depths of emotions that haunt and enchant all mankind.

Adult readers will also appreciate the plethora of themes throughout the novel. Besides emotional and political themes, Rowling explores the preciousness of time, the unpredictability of the future, and the bonds of lasting friendship and courage.

The characters are well developed, the mystery is hard to guess, and the themes are honest. An excellent book with a page-turning plot, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban earns four stars and a standing ovation.

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