Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (1999) by J. K. Rowling

Re-reading Harry Potter books is always a delight because the more I grow as a writer, the more I am able to appreciate the careful planning and setups that the books, which are essentially mystery novels, employ. I re-read ‘Prisoner of Azkaban’ and at first I was not feeling it. In part probably because the author has been embroiled in a controversy about her possibly being transphobic. I am unsure whether she is as I am trying to better understand the conversation.

Nevertheless, one day I found myself uninterested in reading the other books I had open, which include ‘Dune’ and ‘India after Gandhi’. I wanted to read something fun and Prisoner seemed like a good option. I dug back into the book and soon I was in Harry’s shoes, wondering how Sirius Black was breaking into Hogwarts. Rowling is excellent at placing the audience in her character’s mind. It does not take long before the anxieties of a 13 year old wizard become the anxieties of a 26 year old writer.

Rowling also is excellent at leaving hints within her stories that always seem innocuous on their own but are usually revealed to be clear clues. I wish I could read these books as if for the first time, simply to see if as an older, more experienced reader, I can spot the clues better. The foil that the Wizarding world offers for these mysteries is excellent for often we are distracted by the magic and fail to see the mystery in action.

Furthermore, Rowling is particularly good at orchestrating scenarios that make the outcome she presents feel rewarding and yet inevitable. By this I mean that her plot and characters are so well rounded, that readers believe they are always acting sincerely to who they are and the situation they are in. For example, Harry is a proud boy, scared of seeming weak. As such, he keeps the sightings of a large dog, which he fears is the Grim, to himself, worrying that if he told people, they would mock him. One person he could have told is Lupin but had he done that, the story would have accelerated too quickly. The whole time I was reading the book, I could not help but feel like there were instances where the mystery could have been solved if just one character had communicated better. Yet I also knew that they would never do so because it would not be true to their characters.

This is not to say that there aren’t some questionable plot points in the series. I just find that on the whole it takes a fair bit of effort to spot them.

The book shines on many other fronts, as Harry grows, we see him observe the world better and the characters we have come to love from book one and two, get fleshed out even further. Book 3 is the first time Dumbledore does not have a perfect solution for Harry, where Harry is not simply defending himself or his friends but considering attacking and even the first time he begins to notice girls as someone he might be attracted to. Hermione remains ever-rational and strong, but at the cost of alienating all those around her while Ron continues to be petty and overly emotional, aspects which hurt his friendship now and will continue to do so in the future.

I particularly enjoyed McGonagall in this book, she has instances where she is kind and empathetic and others where she is as firm as a book’s binding. When she breaks free from her strict teacher persona to cheer Gryffindor or boo Slytherin during a Quidditch match, it feels particularly rewarding, as if we are seeing a hidden truth. Her witty remarks against professor Trelawney have the same effect.

All in all a very enjoyable and quick read.

I don’t know if Rowling is transphobic or if she is simply voicing views that are dated. she certainly does not seem to believe that Trans people are not the gender they claim to be. However I am unsure if she is saying that sex is immutable. Her issues on the whole seem to be with a policy that Scotland has passed around gender certification. Not having read the law I do not feel right commenting on it. But I am hard pressed to believe that Rowling comes from a place of malice or bigotry. I shall be talking to more people who are better informed on the subject matter in the future. Shall take it from there. If I find that Rowling is indeed spewing hate speech, then I shall stand against her as that is what Harry, Ron, and Hermione would do.

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