Dear Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

They grow up so quickly, don’t they?

A couple hundred pages, a.k.a. two years later, and Harry is already leaving the Dursley house.

It was like yesterday when he was in the cupboard under the stairs, nearly starving to death, and yelled at.

The first two times as Harry had to leave the house to go to his new school, he was forced to do so. Kind of, at least. First Hagrid showed up, told him all he had to know at the time, and then Harry left for school. In the second book, he is tortured by the Dursleys until Ron and his brothers show up and free him. In both of them, Harry is very passive, and things happen to him. Now, in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, he takes the initiative. That’s a very welcome change. He not only tries to make a deal with his uncle but also runs off, as the situation gets worse every second. Granted, to leave this monstrosity of a human being floating in the air is a bit rude, but let’s be honest: it was satisfying as hell.

Talking about leaving: isn’t it funny that each time you hold out your wand on the side of the street, a huge bus comes along to take you wherever you want? There seems to be nothing you can think of, that does not exist in this world. Amazing.

Another fantastic part of this world is the Ministry of Magic. We’ve heard of them before, of course, but with each book, we learn a bit more. Most information, however, is still missing. We just get very few facts, and those are a bit wishy-washy. Arthur works for them, sure, but where? How many are there? How powerful is their influence on society? Do they intervene with things happening in the muggle part of the world? What is the purpose of this Ministry? There are a lot of questions to ask about it. In my opinion that is a great thing. This way, as I said, we learn a bit more in each book. A few more details here, a few more departments there. Right now, this organization is this shadowy figure in the dark. The puppet master, if you will. A horrific image that Cornelius Fudge kind of completes.

I love Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban — largely because I have so many different emotions when I read it. About the characters within it and what happens to them. Plus: the Dementors are easily one of the best villains — creepy, terrifying and unforgiving. Give them a lightsaber, and you have the perfect army of Sith. The Emperor would be pleased. Because of all of that, I hate the movie. It’s such a bad adaptation. They try, they do, but it’s just not enough.

Let me give you an example: one of the most satisfying things in the book is the time Harry spends in Diagon Alley. Alone. By himself. Doing what he loves. After everything he has gone through with the Dursleys, he deserved it. But in the movie, they don’t show this — why? You can easily add a few minutes. Just show me a montage of things he does and that he enjoys himself.

In the book, the first encounter with the Dementors is well done. The kids are on the train, a mysterious figure is with them, and suddenly the scenery changes completely. I appreciate that J.K. Rowling describes a lot of the things happening during the Dementors attacks through feelings. How does it feel when they are near you? Because in one way or another the basis of these emotions, everyone knows. We had them ourselves. But to amplify them in such a way that it hurts and use them as the weapon of this magnificent creatures is incredible. Oh, all the potential. What could one do with an army of Dementors? Unbeatable. Invading countries, controlling them and, finally, conquering the world — shaping it in one’s image. Sigh. Sorry, let’s move on…

One thing that we see again and again throughout the series is that Snape is portrayed as the evil genius behind all of it. Most of the time it’s just a misunderstanding and you kind of root for him a bit. But then he does something, not evil, but something nasty and you hate him again. I think it’s great how Rowling handles the character. And, as with the Ministry of Magic, we get a few more details with every book. About his past, his relationship with Potter and why he is who he is.

As we are talking about teachers already, there are a few new ones in Prisoner of Azkaban. First, we have Lupin, a great addition to the team and a very competent one as well. It is great to see him teach Harry to defend himself against the Dementors. Though, I don’t understand why Lupin is suddenly too weak to be a werewolf? His whole life he’s been one, and the moment he steps into Hogwarts it becomes a problem? Or is it just because he wants to suppress his other side because he doesn’t want to hurt the children? Lupin is also a great example of Dumbledore’s incompetence.

He is just standing there, watching Lupin as he slowly becomes a mere shadow of himself. Dumbledore could have arranged something. Maybe bring him to a lovely farm, far away from the school for three to four days a month? Regarding Harry, you could ask the same question. Why isn’t Dumbledore doing anything? He is supposed to protect him! For a wise old wizard, his behavior is very unsatisfactory. And by the way: what does he do all day? He doesn’t teach any classes. Is he just sitting in his office and talking to the other teachers and headmasters on his wall. Do something! Anything!

Then we have Trelawney. The thing is, in the book she is OK. There has to be some divination in a magical world, I guess. And the character is fine. Kind of (involuntarily) funny. The conflict with Hermione and the prophecies about Harry’s death all work. Two of the students are big fangirls of her, which perfectly contradicts the others. It’s fine. But in the movie — oh my god, what did you do? She is a caricature and doesn’t fit into it. It’s ridiculous.

On the one hand, you have Lupin, who is portrayed accurately, and then you have this crazy woman with her weird hair, the glasses and all that. You know who I would have cast? Sally Field. And let her figure out the character on her own. I want to see that. Make a TV show about the books; then you have time to do all those things we miss in the movies. And cast Sally Field.

One last thing about the teachers. Hermione is obviously very dedicated to her studies. Taking every single class, working with a time traveling device and working herself right into a burnout. The teachers have one job: keep your students safe. Again, why does Dumbledore allow it? I understand that you want her to try, but after a few weeks or by the day the holidays come around, they have to see that she cannot handle the pressure. At least hug her once a day and tell her she is not alone in all of this.

Now that I wrote this, I can also understand why Hermione is so overprotective of Harry and Ron. Like a mother. She doesn’t have a perfect relationship to her friends in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. She barely sees them. How would she know what is going on? Instead, she is running instantly to McGonagall, telling her about the Firebolt. Harry and Ron are too naive, and she is too protective — if they would just work together, they would be an unbeatable team. More about that in the next books…

Talking about the Firebolt, how amazing are those Quidditch matches? And the commentary of Jordan is hilarious. Another thing the movies just cannot do right. Jordan is outstanding. I want a Jordan spin-off. Just Quidditch games, his commentary, and McGonagall rebuking him.

This article is getting a bit long, so let’s just briefly talk about Hogsmeade. This little town just outside of Hogwarts is charming. You have the fun side of it, where students can buy some magical items (like George and Fred) and drink butterbeer. On the other, you have this darker, gritty version of it. With haunted houses, and dirty bars – which we will see in the next books. In my opinion, the thing about the permission to go there is a bit forced. It’s just there to create conflict. Maybe detention or something similar would have worked better to keep Harry in the castle.

One funny thing about the movie is that they seem to change the castle and the surroundings with every single one. Just read the books and do it right the first time. You can tease things, that will come later as Rowling does. Another missed chance.

It’s time to talk about the finale. The first time I read it, it was great. Very suspenseful. A lot of twists and turns. You didn’t know who is on which side. Who should you trust? The second time it’s a bit dragged out. All the talking and adding another character to the bunch — just get to the point already! Don’t get me wrong; it is well done. But it works just the first time. When you know the outcome? Not so much.

I’ll skip the time traveling part, which is done right in the book as well as in the movie. You understand what’s going on and how everything works.

Instead, I want to talk about the confrontation with the Dementors at the lake. How do you imagine the lake as you read the books? Think about it for a minute and compare it to the movie.

I’ll start with the film as well because I want to end this part on a positive note. How is it done there? Harry is in the middle of the woods it seems, on the shore of a small pond (shout out to Amy) a few Dementors around him. Then there is this little stag puking a wave of white light, and they are gone. Doesn’t sound very majestic, does it?

And in the book? A big lake, hundreds of Dementors closing in on Harry. A sea of black robes hovering over the ground. Harry, desperately trying to form his Patronus. Then, suddenly, from the far side of the lake, a majestic stag comes running around the shore. A large stag, glowing of white light. The Dementors flee the scene. The stag continues moving, and Harry sees his “father”. That’s how I imagine it — please tell me if I am wrong and the stag in the book is also just standing there. Nevertheless, I love this scene. It is full of hope and Harry seeing his father, the stag running around, saving him. Even now I get goosebumps.

At the moment, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is the best book of the series. Maybe not because it’s the best, but because I am invested in the characters and their stories. And that’s what it is all about, isn’t it? Maybe this opinion will change, once I reread the other books as well. We’ll see.

If you want me to bash the movie a bit longer, you can continue reading this final paragraph — otherwise, skip it, and we’ll see each other next time.

Do you know the concept of setup and payoff? You establish something, remind the audience again a bit later, then have a revelation at the end of the movie. Well, in this film, they just did the revelation part — setups are overrated, aren’t they? My example would be the potion Snape makes for Lupin. In the end, he says, he had forgotten to take it, but was it established in the first place, that he has to take this effing potion? And since we are asking questions: how does Hermione get this cat? And why did they alter the way Harry gets all the information from the Weasleys? I mean, Arthur just gives it to him. They don’t have time for all of that and the things I mentioned above, but they add a fluffing chorus, instead of letting the Sorting Hat have his moment?

But I have to say, seeing Harry on the Hippogriff was incredible. Although, I imagined it a lot bigger. The shots they made of them, flying over the landscape — very impressive!

Just in case you missed them, here are the links to my first two Harry Potter articles:
Dear Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone
Dear Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

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