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.

An omniscient narrator tells the Harry Potter saga. The novel resembles an oral folktale that praises the deeds of a hero who has survived tragic circumstances. Such storytelling is reminiscent of legends, myths, and fairy tales told by people from diverse cultures throughout time because of the common elements featuring heroes and villains. Such stories satisfy readers’ desire for adventurous and intriguing narratives. The jargon that Rowling has invented especially for her characters’ activities, their bureaucratic titles, and magical devices, such as the Sneakoscope, combines the mundane aspects of life with fantastical possibilities, permitting readers to feel a sense of belonging in Harry Potter’s world. Rowling’s figurative language and vivid descriptions make her characters more human and plausible, inviting readers to immerse themselves vicariously into the settings and action even though, in the novel, Hogwarts and its surroundings are limited to magical fictional characters. Readers feel as if they are stooping in the tunnel en route to Hogsmeade or are having chillbumps rise on their arms as they watch Scabbers become Peter Pettigrew.

Rowling’s choice of names for people, places, and beasts is her most effective stylistic device. She recognizes the power of names and chooses monikers that suggest aspects of characters’ personalities and quirks such as Sirius Black sometimes being a black dog, Sibyll Trelawney being clairvoyant, Remus Lupin transforming into a werewolf, or Draco referring to the Latin word for serpent. The names that Rowling selects are sometimes alliterative and often rhythmic, enhancing literary tones of anticipation and fear, particularly when passages are read aloud. Information is conveyed to readers through omniscient passages, dialogue, second-hand accounts of other wizards’ and witches’ comments, and news accounts on the television and in the Daily Prophet. The words used for spells also are self-explanatory or humorous such as “Alohomora” to open the window of the office where Black was held; this spell might be translated as including the Hawaiian word “Aloha,” meaning both hello and goodbye which appropriately sums up Black’s rescue and departure.

In Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Harry undergoes a traditional quest cycle: he begins action in the normal Muggle setting from which he flees because of abuse and a misunderstanding; he is then transferred to fantastical milieus, first Diagon Alley then Hogwarts and Hogsmeade, where he seeks forgiveness for his previous actions and serves as an apprentice, developing his talents and mastering his craft in an effort to atone for his mistakes; he resolves inner conflicts with despair as well as opposing external enemies like Peter Pettigrew, his archenemy Voldemort’s collaborator, in the Shrieking Shack; Harry forgives and attempts to exonerate Sirius Black and rescues him from further harm, returning from his adventure as a respected hero with bolstered self-confidence and esteem to resist further abuse.

Cliffhangers in each chapter intensify suspense, and Harry is sometimes in jeopardy for uncomfortable periods of time before plot resolutions. Readers feel emotionally and physically involved with the characters and their surroundings, thus heightening the tension of the narrative. Rowling reveals clues about the action throughout, and the repetition of events courtesy of the Time-Turner clarifies previous occurrences, permitting the readers to learn what really happened and to compare this with what they thought had happened.

The confrontation in the Shrieking Shack reveals each person’s point of view and their motivation for acting a specific way and to explain any grudges they hold. As characters define themselves, previous characterizations are no longer as valid. Black’s long, matted hair and gaunt figure do not make him seem like a fugitive after Harry learns what Black has endured to save Harry from Wormtail. Scabbers is no longer a pathetic rat that Ron wishes to dose with tonic to restore his vigor. Lupin’s threadbare clothing and exhausted demeanor are understandable. Rowling’s paradoxical depictions of characters and places as simultaneously humorous and horrifying, good and evil, creates an unsettled tone which results in readers distrusting their perceptions of people and events. The literary motifs of secrecy, disguise, illusions, and deception predominate in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Most of Rowling’s characters are outsiders and limited by their self- and peer-assigned definitions. These ostracized individuals discover and rely on inner strengths to express their individuality. In Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban such personal expressions and memories symbolize the truth. The literary depiction of duality emphasizes that people and actions are sometimes more complex than they initially appear and that good and evil are inseparable.

Rowling’s writing also has sensory details that alert readers to emotional cues. Colors such as black are used interchangeably to represent malice and friendship. Sirius Black is ultimately revealed to be kind, while the black-cloaked Dementors are unresponsive to logic and individual differences, viewing everything, figuratively, in shades of black and white with no gray areas for exceptions to rules. The white snow can be comforting or accompany evil. Temperatures also vary, with warmth usually representing good, although the summer heat accompanies Buckbeak’s execution and the incident in the Shrieking Shack. The Dementors figuratively chill Harry. Stormy weather accompanies tense scenes. Noises mostly spook Harry, alarming him, yet he yearns to hear his parents’ voices even thought they upset him. Tastes, such as sips of Butterbeer, usually indicate pleasure and relaxation. Smells can be disturbing, such as the cloying perfume of the Divination classroom. The fog and mists in that room and around Hogwarts can conceal both good and bad characters. The darkness inside and outside the castle contributes to the ominous tone of the novel, and Harry’s sleeplessness and nightmares add to the sense of uneasiness as the fugitive Black’s presence near Hogwarts is known and the Dementors cluster closer to Harry. Unconsciousness, whether sleeping deeply or blacking out from fear, represents people, primarily Harry and Lupin, removing themselves from emotionally intolerable situations.

Some scholars might interpret Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban as a cautionary tale because of the fairy tale elements, mythological allusions, and religious imagery incorporated in its literary style. For example, mythologist Joseph Campbell might have depicted the tunnels as an underworld where Black served as a guide to the heroic Harry. He would have suggested that Harry should contemplate what his fascination with stags and voices might mean to him. Psychoanalysts might apply Freudian ideas to understand Harry’s motivations and adventures, suggesting that recurring symbols and images such as tunnels revealed Harry’s anxiety about his maturation, sexuality, and repressed desires. Or, through the analysis of Jungian imagery, they might hypothesize that the decaying atmosphere of the Shrieking Shack represented Harry’s fears and introverted personality. Harry’s reaction to the Dementors might reflect his internal agony and conflict within his psyche about unresolved issues concerning his parents’ murder. These diverse literary interpretations emphasize the concept that imagination is the primary foundation of magic.

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