Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, the third book in J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, was released in 1999, with a movie based on the book following in 2004. Because of the huge international nature of the series, there is not just one publisher for this book. In the UK, you can get your copy from Bloomsbury. US readers will be buying from Arthur A. Levine/Scholastic, and Canadians from Raincoast. The book is illustrated by Cliff Wright in the UK and Mary GrandPré in the US.
A bit about plot!
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban takes place during Harry’s third year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. A huge aspect of this book is Harry—and, by extension, Ron and Hermione—getting into and out of childhood scrapes. In order to get them into even more trouble than they had been capable of in the previous two books, Rowling provides the three friends the Marauder’s Map of Hogwarts via the Weasley twins. This map, only to be used when one is up to no good, shows every room in Hogwarts and how to get into most of them, as well as everyone in Hogwarts as they move about. Hermione, due to her scholastic zeal, is given a Time Turner so she can add hours to her day and take all of the classes offered to her year. As always, Harry’s invisibility cloak is useful in getting Harry into places he is not allowed to be, like Hogsmeade village. Looming over everything is Sirius Black’s escape from the prison Azkaban, the wizard who was arrested for the deaths of Lily and James Potter. It is believed that Black is after Harry as the ‘Potter who got away.’ In true Rowling fashion, every scrape connects with every scrap of information beautifully, so that these adventures build a foundation that Harry uses to solve the problem of Sirius Black at the end of the book.
The end of childhood
For me, this book is special because it’s the last book where Harry really and truly is still a child. He’s a precocious child, of course, but most of the troubles he finds in this book have far fewer consequences than when he gets in trouble later on in the series. Instead of focusing so heavily on life and death situations as the later books do, Harry runs away from home on the Knight Bus, gets to school by stealing a flying car, wanders around Hogwarts with the help of the Marauder’s Map, and sneaks into Hogsmeade under his invisibility cloak. While all of these acts of discretion build to the confrontation between Peter Pettigrew and Sirius Black, in and of themselves, they are childish pranks. Sirius’ kiss by the Dementors is averted with the arsenal of tools and skills Harry and Hermione have amassed over the last three years. This becomes the crowning achievement of their childhood rather than the end of it.
The beginning of the next book, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, ushers Harry into adolescence by forcing him to act older than he is as a fourteen-year-old competing with seventeen-year-olds in a potentially life threatening tournament. The series takes a much more serious, darker tone after this, as what little childish innocence Harry has left is stripped away from him.
Why should you read this book?
Although you’ve most likely either already read this book and/or seen the movie, if you haven’t yet, I recommend it. This book is a fun, innocent romp through childhood, which is aided by the fact that Rowling is still being contained in small ‘child friendly’ length books. For me, this is the book where Rowling’s worldbuilding and writing style really solidify before she expands in Goblet of Fire, which is almost twice as long. I found the weakest points of the first two books to be slightly clumsy writing. In Prisoner of Azkaban, that’s gone, what with a writer who herself is coming into maturity. As part of that maturity and shorter length, this book has a very tight, cohesive plot, perhaps the tightest of the series. Overall, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is a great read, and my favorite of the series.