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Tony Grist

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The Prisoner Of Azkaban [Jan. 26th, 2007|09:46 am]
Tony Grist
This is the one where Hogwarts becomes a prison. 

Hitherto Hogwarts has been the place where Harry escapes to from the prison of the foul little house on Privet Drive. Now it becomes a castle under siege, guarded by creatures even ghastlier than the Dursleys. It is no longer the locus of fun. The locus of fun has shifted outside the walls- to the holiday village of Hogsmeade and- guess what- Harry is forbidden to go there.

Then there's that other prison:  the Guantanamo Bay-like hell-hole of Azkaban.  In the first two books evil has been concentrated in the person of Voldemort (the enemy, the other, the dark lord, out there) here Voldemort never appears except in discourse and the focus of evil is Azkaban and its disgusting Dementors who- disturbingly- are on our side.

 So, if we employ Dementors and send people who break our rules- like the innocent Hagrid- to a place where it's guaranteed they'll lose their minds if not their very souls- how exactly are we better than Voldemort? Dumbledore  refuses to let the  Dementors into the castle grounds, but they come anyway. Hogwart's defenders are weaker than we formerly imagined. Not only is Dumbledore unable to keep the Dementors out, he is shown to be answerable to the weak, foolish and arguably corrupt politician, Cornelius Fudge, who, in his turn, is under the thumb  of Voldemort's old ally, Lucius Malfoy.

So who can we trust? None of the authority figures is to be relied on.  Hagrid is a fellow victim, Lupin is an unknown, Snape is unreadable. And Dumbledore, splendid as he may be, has his hands tied.   In the final crisis, he sends two children out, unbacked and unprotected, to do the work he cannot- dare not- do himself. 

So this is escapist fiction, is it? Well it's still fun, there are still lots of jokes (I love Peeves; why can't Peeves be in the movies?) but this parallel universe of  unseen enemies, false friends, untrustworthy leaders and rampant injustice  is getting to be very much like our own.

So who is the Prisoner of Azkaban? Sirius?  Yes, obviously.  Harry? of course; he's been locked up for his own protection. The whole wizardly establishment, reduced to fighting evil with evil?  Yes, indeed. The smarter question might be, who isn't?
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Comments:
[User Picture]From: strange_complex
2007-01-26 12:18 pm (UTC)
*grin*

An excellent analysis!
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2007-01-26 01:27 pm (UTC)
Thanks.

I'm convinced now- I wasn't at first- that we're dealing with something more than a pop-cultural phenomenon here and that Rowling deserves to be treated as a serious artist.
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[User Picture]From: pondhopper
2007-01-26 01:06 pm (UTC)
Very astute thoughts!
And I love Peeves, too.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2007-01-26 03:32 pm (UTC)
Thanks.

Actually I think the films should probably cut more- the story gets so squashed up sometimes that it's hard to follow- but I still regret Peeves.
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[User Picture]From: lblanchard
2007-01-26 01:52 pm (UTC)
There were two keys (probably more, but these are the two that struck me) in the first book:

The motive power behind Harry's wand and Voldemort's is the same -- a phoenix feather (we later find out it's from Dumbledore's friend Fawkes)

Voldemort says to Harry in the confrontation at the end of Philosopher's Stone: "There is no good; there is no evil; there is only power." [that's actually a paraphrase]

One of the great things about Rowling's books is that as Harry gets older he is exposed to more and more of the ambiguities of moral choices -- he (and we) want to do good and to act rightly, but just what does that mean?

There are some times that I don't trust Dumbledore, either.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2007-01-26 09:40 pm (UTC)
It seems that the only real difference between Harry and Voldemort is in the choices they have made. If Harry had chosen Slytherin he too could have become a dark lord.

I'm guessing we will eventually learn the nature of the, seemingly very intimate connection between Voldemort and Harry
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[User Picture]From: lblanchard
2007-01-26 09:44 pm (UTC)
You'll get another look into the connection toward the end of the next book, which is much darker than Prisoner of Azkaban. In the film version of this, Ralph Fiennes plays Voldemort with balletic grace -- oh, the seductive power of evil!
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2007-01-26 09:52 pm (UTC)
Even darker? Wow!

I've made a start, but am still enjoying the jollities of the World Cup.

I saw the movie. To my mind the movies have too much plot. I remember Voldemort turning up at the end, but I can't remember why- or quite what happens.

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[User Picture]From: lblanchard
2007-01-26 11:11 pm (UTC)
Even the World Cup gets dark pretty quick. Those Veelas are something else, though, aren't they? They'll be back....
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[User Picture]From: dakegra
2007-01-26 02:00 pm (UTC)
I think PoA is my favourite of the books - they start getting significantly longer from thereon in - it's about the time when editors started getting wary of Ms Rowling's fame and stopped suggesting that she might like to, erm, trim them down a bit?

Still, all good fun. We have the audiobooks of the first four with Stephen Fry reading them. Excellent for the many long car journeys we make.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2007-01-26 09:45 pm (UTC)
It's too early for me to name a favourite but POA is certainly very good.
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[User Picture]From: frumiousb
2007-01-26 03:01 pm (UTC)
Yes.

This was the book that lifted the series (for me) out of good fantasy fun. In this book, Harry has to face that none of the adults can be trusted to protect him. They can aid in his protection, yes, but in this book Harry learns that he is basically on his own.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2007-01-26 09:59 pm (UTC)
It's fascinating to watch her progress as a writer. Each book represents a step forward in craftsmanship and ambition.
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[User Picture]From: sovay
2007-01-26 05:17 pm (UTC)
The Prisoner of Azkaban is my favorite of the books.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2007-01-26 09:59 pm (UTC)
It's certainly very good.
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[User Picture]From: four_thorns
2007-01-26 06:50 pm (UTC)
interesting analysis. i think you're quite right.

this parallel universe of unseen enemies, false friends, untrustworthy leaders and rampant injustice is getting to be very much like our own

goodness. wait til you get to book five...
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2007-01-26 10:04 pm (UTC)
Right!

I've just made a start on Book #4. From this point I think my progress will be slowing down a bit.
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[User Picture]From: lblanchard
2007-01-26 11:12 pm (UTC)
Of course you will. They get closer and closer to Atlas Shrugged in size...
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2007-01-27 10:39 am (UTC)
There are certainly gains. The leisurely opening of Book #4 is very well done.
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[User Picture]From: methodius
2007-01-27 09:34 am (UTC)
Wasn't the first Harry Potter novel published around the time that Tony Blair becomae Prime Minister?

Life imitates art.

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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2007-01-27 10:44 am (UTC)
I don't think it's too far-fetched to regard the Potter novels as a fantasy chronicle of the Blair years.

And of course the final book is going to be published in the year Blair steps down.
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