Revisited: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban


My family was a little late to the Harry Potter party when the books first came out in the late 1990s and I think we got into it right around the time Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban first came out. Interestingly, I was introduced to the Boy Who Lived by my father, who had discovered him through one of his colleagues. The series quickly became a family favorite, with all three of us tearing through the books just as quickly as we could, and then discussing everything that was going on.

But despite having not returned to the third Harry Potter book since its release in 1999, I found during my revisit that I actually remembered just about all of the key plot points. As such, what really struck me this time around was just how good J.K. Rowling was at recapping enough of the story to make each of the first three books a decent entry point into her wizarding world.

To be sure, the subsequent references did omit specific details and were more general than anything else, but there was plenty of information about who Harry was, how his parents had died, the mayhem caused by Lord Voldemort, and the previous books’ adventures to help readers get up to speed quickly. And while Rowling certainly worked the exposition into the stories well, I thought it was also an extremely savvy business move since it enabled people to get into the series in a number of ways. Readers who didn’t necessarily want to make a commitment to a seven-book series could get away with reading just five or six, and they might even go back to re-read the first two stories (this might actually have been what my dad did).

The other thing that stood out to me was Rowling’s skill in introducing characters who would become critical parts of future books. For example, Prisoner of Azkaban is the first time we read the names Cedric Diggory and Cho Chang, as well as Lavender Brown and Parvati Patil. Diggory, Chang, and Patil are all featured pretty heavily in the fourth novel, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, while Brown becomes more than a bit player during the sixth one, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.

I noticed this trend in later books as well, though then it concerned various plot points more than people. Still, it showed me that Rowling had really thought this whole saga out – or at least if she hadn’t, she had figured out an incredibly good way to weave some of these disparate pieces into a more connected whole.

Warner Bros.

As for the film version of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, I always remembered it being one of my least favorite movies, but as I rewatched it, I couldn’t figure out why. It contains so many iconic scenes!! From Severus Snape’s demand that all Potions students turn to page 394 to Remus Lupin’s lesson on boggarts that gives us “Snape” dressed as Neville Longbottom’s grandmother to the barring of Hogwarts’s door after Sirius Black breaks into the castle to Black’s calling out of the traitorous Peter Pettigrew, just about all of the scenes that come to mind when I think about Harry Potter are in this movie. Of course, this is also where key (to my mind, at least) parts of the book are left on the cutting room floor, such as the reason Harry’s Patronus charm takes the shape of a stag and the true creators of the Marauder’s Map, but those types of omissions were bound to happen with each book getting longer than the one before it.

Yet though I do have my quibbles with the differences made from the novel to the screenplay, there were two things that I thought the movie version did better – namely the portrayals of Draco Malfoy and Snape.

In the books, these two characters are pretty irredeemable. Simply put, they are, for the most part, arrogant assholes, and I was actually surprised by how much I loathed them. But hating the page versions made me more appreciative of the screen ones, played respectively by Tom Felton and Alan Rickman (RIP).

Malfoy and Snape are still pretty nasty on film, but Felton and Rickman bring a humanity to them that the source material lacks (until the later books). You don’t know exactly what their motivations are, but you do get a sense that there are more dimensions to them than a simple, flat hatred of anything they deem “lesser than.” In fact, I think it’s a testament to Rickman’s portrayal of Snape, in particular, that that was the role most people thought of when he passed away in 2016. His mannerisms, his voice, everything… he is Severus Snape. Always.

3 thoughts on “Revisited: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

  1. I also didn’t discover the series until the first three books had come out. PoA has always been my favorite. I like the movie, too, though it is a change of tone from the first two (new director), and of course it’s not as “deep” as the book. But the scene with Snape in Neville’s grandmother’s clothes is priceless. Alan Rickman was a gem.

    1. You and my cousin! Again, I don’t know why I looked down on it for so long -because it really is great – though I think it had something to do with my friend referring to Gary Oldman as “crazy crazy Gary Oldman” and it put me off, even though the hysterics actually do fit with the character. Plus, as I noted above, his portrayal is one of the things that I always think of now!

      As for the new director, this may not have been anything he really had a hand in, but I’m often struck by the landscape shift – Hogwarts itself looks different, but the grounds are also much hillier than in the Chris Columbus versions and personally, I don’t like them all that much. The costuming shifts pretty dramatically too, with the uniforms being a bit looser or almost non-existent as people run around in Muggle clothes (which also makes me question Mr. Weasley’s difficulty with them since one would assume they wear things like pants under their robes!).

      1. You are right about the visual shifts in the movie. I was also initially struck by how much time they spend not wearing the uniforms

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