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Book Reviews

March 2000

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
By J.K.Rowling.

London: Bloomsbury, H/C, 317 p

1999. $19.95

This is the third in the Harry Potter series. The first two, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, have made the author an international bestseller, adored by the children who read her books, not to mention adults, while making her work controversial in the United States.

It's difficult to tell what is going to cause a fuss in the Bible Belt, but if you're worried about giving this to your child, I can only say that I have found all three novels quite innocuous and thoroughly entertaining. They are, if you can imagine it, a cross between Enid Blyton and Roald Dahl, with some touches of Diana Wynne Jones? Lives of Christopher Chant.

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Harry Potter is a student wizard at the Hogwarts School somewhere in England (you can only get there by a special train from King's Cross station in London, which comes to a platform that only exists for a limited period, for the students and their families). His parents were killed when he was a baby, under circumstances that are gradually revealed in the course of the three novels, and he has been brought up by his truly awful relatives, as a sort of male Cinderella. Naturally, he is only too delighted to escape them, at least for the school year, when invited to study at his parents? old school. There, he meets his friends Ron Weasley, son of a wizard family (the wizards have their own community and government, side by side with the regular, or Muggle, community), and Hermione Granger, an earnest, rather nerdy young woman who is the brains of the trio. He also befriends Hagrid the grounds-keeper, whose love of magical animals led to his expulsion from the school as a student and still gets him into trouble.

The wizard community has its own politics and all the teachers were students at Hogwarts, which means some lifelong grudges have remained.

This novel is darker than the first two, concentrating on the past and revealing more about the circumstances of Harry's parents? death. The man who was apparently responsible has escaped from Azkaban, the wizards? prison that is supposedly escape-proof, and is heading for Hogwarts. Is he coming back to finish the job he started twelve years ago, or is the situation more complex than it seems? Will an old school grudge between him and one of the Hogwarts teachers lead to disaster?

The first two novels were mostly fun, with their cast of bizarre, colourful characters and the absurd-sounding subjects being studied at the school. This one has a lot more character development and depth. There are some truly scary scenes, which will probably cause US censors to have a fit. For example, the Dementors, guards of Azkaban, are vampires that live on draining all happiness, all joy in life, from their victims, who usually end up insane. They don't care who they attack and at one point, the hero is in danger of having his soul literally sucked out of him.

It doesn't pay to miss anything in a Potter novel. Rowling is an exponent of the Chekhov creed that if a gun is on the wall in the first scene, it should have gone off by the last. Everything is relevant, if not in this novel then the next. In this novel, a ?gun? that has been unshot for the last two novels goes off! So pay attention!

A bit gruesome, but that's fine, children adore gruesome and at least this is more intelligent and well-written than some of the horror pap they normally read.

Sue Bursztynski

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