After my inability to pace along with Binge Mode while revisiting The Chamber of Secrets, I'm proud to report that I've gotten myself somewhat under control now. While revisiting Harry Potter & The Prisoner of Azkaban, I completed my listen of the book after two of Binge Mode's four episodes devoted to it were released! It's still pretty easy to blast through these audiobooks in 2-3 days because of how short they are, but this should become less of an issue now that we're moving into much longer book territory.
All that to say: These audiobooks really are as engrossing and incredible as I imagined they would be when I started The Sorcerer's Stone. I've already said it, but Jim Dale is a master narrator. Once I start one of these, I just can't put it down -- or take my earbuds out, I guess. I'm really happy I went the audiobook route for this journey and, again, would recommend it as highly as possible.
My overall sentiment for Stone was joy; for Chamber it was duty; and for Prisoner of Azkaban it's going to be kinship. Interestingly, since I think this word is most often associated with blood relatives or familial ties, I mean it in this case exclusively in its secondary meaning -- a sharing of characteristics or origins. I mean to use kinship here as a substitute for affinity, or brotherhood, or possibly friendship.
The final episode of Binge Mode this week discussed the Prisoner of Azkaban movie, which I'll mention a bit later on. Their main theme was isolation, and I considered ripping them off in a way -- isolation is a great theme for this book. But despite the book's semi-tragic climax, I can't help but think it ends in a semi-hopeful manner for our main guy Harry Potter and his friends.
Throughout Prisoner of Azkaban, many of the bonds we've grown most comfortable with are tested. Ron and Hermione have an extended rift due to Hermione's cat, Crookshanks, seeming to live and breathe with the primary goal of destroying Ron's rat, Scabbers. When Scabbers disappears for a while and Ron blames Crookshanks, this rift blows out into a passive-aggressive battle in which Ron and Hermione barely talk. Meanwhile, Hermione tells Professor McGonagall that Harry received a Firebolt broom from an unknown sender, which prompts McGonagall to take it away for examination since, you know, everyone thinks that a mass murdered is hunting Harry down. This furthers the Hermione x Ron rift into a Hermione x Ron x Harry rift that lasts long stretches of the book.
Our three primary characters don't even really make up until the book's climax is about to begin. The lengthy action-packed sequence of events that takes place over the course of a mere three hours at the end of this book either introduces us to or reinforces for us multiple important relationships, multiple premium examples of kinship in the WIzarding World:
- The literal, familial kinship between Harry and his father, James
- The kinship between Harry and his godfather, Sirius Black
- The kinship between Professor Dumbledore and Professor Lupin
- Between Professor Dumbledore and the trio of Harry, Ron and Hermione
- Between Sirius, Lupin and James
- Whatever the opposite of kinship is between Professor Snape and Sirius, Lupin and James
I'll expand on these one by one, but want to start by addressing this sequence of the book as a whole. Over the course of a few chapters and only three hours of time within the book, so much shit happens. Harry, Ron and Hermione go to Hagrid's hut to reassure him before his hippogriff, Buckbeak, is killed; they then overhear Buckbeak being executed; they then watch as Ron is dragged by a large dog into a secret passageway beneath the Whomping Willow; they follow them through the passageway to the Shrieking Shack, discover that the dog is Sirius Black in his Animagus form, and learn that Sirius is friends with Lupin; they learn all about the Marauder relationship between Sirius, Lupin, Peter Pettigrew and James Potter; they knock out Snape and are told the lengthy story about how Sirius didn't betray Harry's parents, but Peter did; they discover Peter's identity as Ron's rat, Scabbers; they leave the Shrieking Shack and Harry thinks that Peter will go to Azkaban while Sirius goes free and he'll go live with him permanently; Lupin turns into a werewolf and Harry and Sirius are attacked by Dementors; a Patronus saves them and Harry wakes up in the hospital wing to find that Sirius has been captured and is about to have his soul sucked out of him, and only Dumbledore believes in their version of events; Harry and Hermione go back in time and relive those three hours to ultimately save Buckbeak and Sirius, but in a fashion that will involve Sirius living his life on the run forever.
That's a lengthy recap, yet it's about a short of a recap as I can imagine providing. Rowling's writing here is straight-up masterful, too, especially during the portion that we spend in the Shrieking Shack with Harry, Ron, Hermione, Sirius and Lupin, during which we learn sooooooo much stuff about the past experiences of the older characters and about what really happened on the night nearly 14 years ago when Harry's parents were killed. The first three books in this series are chock-full of foreshadowing for later events, but Rowling also relishes in exposition via dialogue; at the end of Stone and Chamber, we are treated to one-on-one Harry x Dumbledore conversations where Dumbledore conveniently wraps a moral bow on the lessons we've learned. Also in those stories, the villains are quite long-winded in the explanations of how their plans have been so great and how Harry has fallen right into them. This conversational exposition is the type of relatively simple writing that is expected in books that are written for children, but it's in Prisoner where Rowling ups the ante on this type of writing.
Throughout the conversation, a mix of emotions are blocking each character from effectively communicating their points to the others; Sirius is full of rage at being imprisoned for murders he didn't commit, and has waited over a decade to get his revenge on Peter Pettigrew, so he's extremely difficult to have a chat with; Lupin and Sirius each understand so much more than the kids in the story that their direct conversation, early on, isn't expositional enough to let us in on the full story. And the distractions of Lupin's secret existence as a werewolf, plus the disturbance of Snape, keep us side-tracked from the details we want most -- the backstory between Sirius and Harry.
This level of tension-building is Rowling's biggest accomplishment in these chapters. Even though I could have recited most portions of that plot recap before re-reading this book, the tension was still pervasive and the emotion at breakthrough points was still engrossing. When Harry finally understands the story and finally believes Sirius, it's expertly written:
‘Believe me,’ croaked Black. ‘Believe me. I never betrayed James and Lily. I would have died before I betrayed them.’
And at long last, Harry believed him. Throat too tight to speak, he nodded.
Harry's speechlessness at this point matches my own tight-throated response to the emotion of the moment. Not only has Harry learned so many more precious details of his parents' lives, but he's also discovered the rarest thing on Earth for him -- family. Sirius, as his godfather, is the closest thing Harry comes to true kin in this journey, aside from his friendships with Ron and Hermione.
Now, a bit about those kinships I mentioned earlier.
Harry and James. In our piece of Dumbledoresplanation during Prisoner, he delivers his annual gem of a line: "You think the dead we loved ever truly leave us? You think that we don’t recall them more clearly than ever in times of great trouble? Your father is alive in you, Harry, and shows himself plainly when you have need of him." Dumbledore here is speaking to the Patronus that Harry produces to drive the Demontors away while they're attacking himself and Sirius. When Harry was being attacked, he thought he saw his father produce that Patronus -- but when he goes back in time, he realizes that it was himself he saw earlier, and this knowledge is enough to make him capable of producing a Patronus strong enough to stave off hundreds of Dementors. The Patronus that Harry makes is a stag, which is the animal that his father would turn into as an Animagus; this connection between Harry and James is the latest discovery in what makes them so alike, aside from common physical characteristics and some personality traits.
Harry and Sirius. The end of this book is allowed to be so crushing because of how sweet the ending would have been if Lupin never turned into a werewolf. Pettigrew is going to jail ... Sirius' name will be cleared ... Harry is going to gain a family member ... Harry is going to live with Sirius instead of the Dursleys ... finally, true family for Harry. It all falls apart, ultimately, at least the part of Harry being able to live with Sirius. He will still become one of the most important people in Harry's life for, sadly, too short a time; but it's heavy praise to Rowling that she's able to turn a character we all thought was a mass murderer responsible for the past death of characters we care about into a character whose kinship with Harry we can feel at the end of a single conversation. Also: Sirius' gem of a quote in this book ("The ones that love us never really leave us") pairs magnificently with the Dumbledore quote from above. Go off, J.K.R.
Bonus! Hagrid and Buckbeak! Good dog.
Dumbledore and Lupin. Not only does Dumbledore allow Lupin to come to Hogwarts as a small boy despite his condition as a werewolf, but he also brings him back as a teacher years later. Lupin says in the Shrieking Shack that Dumbledore's trust has "meant everything to him," which is something we find as a common thread with many characters -- Hagrid, we know, and of course Snape, as we'll learn later. This kinship made Lupin a crucial member of the fight against Voldemort before his downfall, and he will be again in just a short time as well.
Dumbledore and the Harry, Ron, Hermione trio. A common trope in not just the first few Harry Potter books, but in coming-of-age books in general, is that adults refuse to listen to or believe the stories of children or younger people who the audience knows to be correct about any given topic. This is regularly the case in this series, and it's especially the case during Prisoner, when Snape either doesn't believe or doesn't want to believe that Sirius may be innocent when he arrives to the Shrieking Shack. Corny Fudge, the Minister of Magic, also has no interested in believing Harry, Ron and Hermione's story when he talks to them before Sirius is set to have his soul removed from his body. The simple fact of not being willing to listen in these cases is exacerbated by other factors. Fudge has no reason to want anything other than Sirius' capture and sentencing, since the Sirius saga has been such a public embarrassment for him. Separately, Snape's grudge against Sirius and Lupin blinds him. And, to be fair, the evidence against Sirius is quite substantial, against the word of three 13-year-olds. However, our premium dude, the most powerful wizard of all time except for the time he accidentally hired Voldermort as Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, Dumbledore is almost always willing to listen to and believe our trio. Of course, Dumbledore's premium connection is to Harry, who he understands must be the person to eventually end Voldemort's reign; but his openness and kinship extends to other great young wizards in Ron and Hermione as well, enough so that he fully trusts these three (or, in this specific case, two) to execute critical things like going back in time to save Sirius and Buckbeak.
Sirius, Lupin, James and (formerly) Peter. The kinship between the Marauders is evident from the moment we are first introduced to the map they made. "Messrs. Moony, Wormtail, Padfoot, and Prongs, purveyors of aids to magical mischief makers, are proud to present The Marauder's Map." Without knowing anything about these folks, it's keenly aware that they were a group of tight-knit troublemakers, close enough to dedicate a considerable amount of thought and energy into helping future troublemakers make trouble. Moony (Lupin), Wormtail (Peter), Padfoot (Sirius) and Prongs (James) continued to be best friends into adulthood until the betrayal by Peter against James, Lily and the rest of the fighters battling against Voldemort. In current time, the kinship that remains between Sirius and Lupin is evident when Lupin embraces Sirius "like a brother" after learning the truth about Peter's betrayal in the Shrieking Shack; that they pick up nearly where they left off over a decade ago is an example of true kinship.
Anti-kinship between Snape and the Marauders. I don't think anti-kinship is a real thing, but whatever -- the opposite of kinship is Snape's relationship with the Marauders, who bullied him throughout his entire time at Hogwarts. The awful ways in which Snape was treated by these boys, including one "prank" that nearly killed him, constitutes a grudge that lives on in Snape until this day. It's a mark of Snape's loyalty to Dumbledore and overall fortitude that he takes one on the chin by brewing complex make-a-werewolf-kinda-safe potion for Lupin all year long, and it's hard to blame him too much when he is blinded by this hatred in the Shrieking Shack. To be fair to Snape, it doesn't really seem like anyone has ever apologized or even acknowledged the type of bullying he went through -- a point that Jason on Binge Mode makes a few times -- which sucks. Despite this anti-kinship between Snape and James specifically, it's interesting to see how that plays out in Snape's semi-kinship with Harry. As much as Snape loved Lily and vowed to help protect Harry, it's hard for him to ignore how much Harry reminds him of James.
That's a long enough rant for this book, IMO. I would like to touch on the movie a bit. When I watched this movie this week, I straight-up hated it. It's oddly slapstick-ish in its comedy, which is weird -- like, Harry's face getting slapped against the glass of the Knight Bus, the Aunt Marge getting blown up scene, and several other instances -- just feel really lame in a trying-to-be-funny way. On the other hand, certain filmmaking choices, especially in the camera work, are very good. And I mostly like the scene between all of these characters in the Shrieking Shack; as Mallory points out in Binge Mode and I nearly yelled out while watching, it's a great moment when Snape's instinct is to shield Harry, Ron and Hermione for a moment there. Also, while I understand the filmmaking choice to forego all the Quidditch in this book, it's still a bummer to not see Harry catch the Snitch and engineer a half-Patronus that charges Malfoy down. Also also, you cannot forgive the fact that this fuckin' movie ends on a freezeframe shot of Harry riding a Firebolt like 90,000 feet away from the castle.
While I wait for The Goblet of Fire, which I've already cheated and started on by watching the movie, I'm either going to read It's Your Ship: Management Techniques from the Best Damn Ship in the Navy (this is ... out of left field a bit, but I will explain later) or listen to Jake Gyllenhaal narrate The Great Gatsby. Truly a mystery what comes next!
Harry Potter & The Prisoner of Azkaban is available on Amazon in e-book, hardcover, and paperback editions, as well as in a hardcover illustrated edition. It's also available on Audible; if you click this link, you can get a free trial of Audible that includes two free audiobooks. Even if you cancel your trial, you'll get to keep these two books. Also: clicking on any of the Amazon links in this post, and purchasing something from them, provides a small percentage kickback to the author of the blog you just read.