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About the Author

Joanne Kathleen Rowling was born on July 31, 1965, in Gloucestershire, England. The daughter of Peter and Anne Rowling, an engineer and laboratory technician, she developed her interest in literature and writing during her childhood in rural southwestern England. In addition to her parents buying books, mostly British children’s classics, and reading aloud to Joanne and her sister Diana, Rowling created fantasy tales about rabbits, one of her favorite animals, to amuse her sister. Rowling enjoyed roaming the countryside near her home, viewing historical sites and castles that sparked her imagination. She also played with neighbor children named the Potters. Their games often involved fantastical elements such as pretending to be wizards and witches much like Rowling’s fictional protagonist and his friends.

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Overview

The third novel of Rowling’s wizard saga revolves around themes of betrayal and forgiveness. Harry Potter realizes that people and creatures are often not who they appear to be, and those perceptions of friends and enemies are sometimes misleading. This novel’s complex plot and themes symbolize teenaged Harry’s maturation since the first Harry Potter book and reveal his increased self-confidence and control over his insecurities. In the beginning of the book, public hysteria over the escape of the notorious mass murderer Sirius Black from the wizard prison, Azkaban, results in heightened security at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Harry first hears of Black’s escape while watching news with the Dursleys. He is upset when Vernon Dursley refuses to sign his permission slip to visit Hogsmeade, the magical village adjacent to Hogwarts that only third year students and older can roam, unless Harry acts appropriately, in Vernon’s opinion, when his sister Marge visits. After an emotionally devastating encounter with Aunt Marge, Harry flees from his guardians’ home.

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Setting

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is primarily set at Hogwarts. In addition to places familiar to readers of the first two Harry Potter books, this novel introduces several new settings separate from Hogwarts as well as new sites within the castle. The village of Hogsmeade is the book’s most significant setting. Described as the only all-magical village in Great Britain, Hogsmeade seems exotic to Hogwarts students and readers because it is off-limits until young wizards and witches are thirteen years old. This rule is symbolic of the transition phase of children toward adulthood by becoming teenagers when they are age thirteen.

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Themes and Characters

Manipulation and redemption are two prominent themes in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Major characters present dual natures, reflecting both deceitful and empathetic traits. Some deceptions are benign and initiated to avoid confrontations or intrusiveness, such as Harry’s pretense to be Neville Longbottom when he does not want the Knight Bus’ driver and conductor to recognize him. Other impostors have malignant intentions, wanting to mislead people in order to take advantage of them and sometimes harm them. Although Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is primarily plot driven, the characters are essential in propelling the plot forward through their selfish motivations and machinations of each other and reactions to circumstances, both contrived and naturally occurring. Rowling’s characters are archetypes representing heroes, helpers, villains, and other essential roles. These archetypal characters represent extremes of good and evil, and the battle between those two forces is the basic theme of the Harry Potter saga.

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Literary Qualities

Rowling’s literary style in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban continues her traditional writing techniques found in the first and second Harry Potter novels. Her third novel, however, offers more complexities of plot, language, and characterization. Her characters and settings are multi-layered because of her use of mythological and historical allusions. Rowling utilizes recognizable symbols and motifs such as the full moon to create images that communicate her themes of love, despair, illumination, and forgiveness, and she skillfully foreshadows confrontations, such as the quarrel between Scabbers and Crookshanks early in the book. Her sense of humor balances otherwise tragic and bleak depictions. Rowling speaks to her readers by addressing timeless, universal human concerns such as social acceptance and public humiliation and ostracism.

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Social Sensitivity

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban features such social issues as crime, punishment, and justice. Black’s unfair incarceration and public disgrace are revealed during the novel’s climax. Peter Pettigrew, the actual culprit, has dishonorably avoided legal repercussions for his criminal transgressions against James and Lily Potter and the Muggles that he massacred with one curse. By allowing Black to be punished for his crimes, Pettigrew cowardly refused to be accountable for his decisions and actions.

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Topics for Discussion

1. Should Harry have used magic in reaction to Aunt Marge’s hateful comments about his parents? What were his alternatives? Should he have been punished by the Dursleys, the Ministry of Magic, or both?

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Ideas for Reports and Papers

1. Research information about the criminal justice system in Great Britain and the country where you live. Compare and contrast the two systems.

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Related Titles and Adaptations

The third book in the Harry Potter saga, following Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban has been released in audio adaptations: the British version is read by Stephen Fry, and the American recording is told by Jim Dale. A movie based on the first Harry Potter book was released in 2001. Many Harry Potter resources recommend a canon of related books written by C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Roald Dahl, Philip Pullman, Diana Wynne Jones, Patricia C. Wrede, Jane Yolen, Diane Duane, and L. Frank Baum (The Tin Woodman of Oz [1918] features large beasts called “Hip-po-gy-rafs”). Numerous books with similar themes, characters, and plots as the Harry Potter novels are often overlooked.

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