Setting

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1540

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...

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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.

Hogsmeade is home to a variety of magical people and creatures who own, manage, or patronize local businesses. The stores offer exotic treats such as soothing Butterbeer and revolting candies for Hogwarts students, faculty, and staff to savor. Other businesses sell magical jokes and tricks or deliver messages by color-coded owls. Located within an hour's walking distance of Hogwarts (in the valley below the cliff on which the castle sits), Hogsmeade symbolizes freedom for Hogwarts students. Children and adults interact in the village without the formal restrictions expected on campus. Special Hogsmeade weekends are scheduled for students to buy Christmas gifts or to relax after grueling weeks of study and tests.

Although the village has appeared in previous Harry Potter books, it is very significant to plot development in this novel. Harry is not allowed to go to the village because of concerns regarding Black. But eventually, through the use of the Marauder's Map and Invisibility Cloak, Harry identifies the correct statue (a hunchback which foreshadows future physical discomfort for Harry) to enter and travel through underground tunnels to reach the basement of Honeydukes, the candy store in Hogsmeade. While concealed, Harry overhears conversations at the Three Broomsticks between adult wizards about Black's alleged betrayal of his parents which infuriate Harry who vows vengeance. Harry's clandestine trips to Hogsmeade also alert him to the vigilant search for Black. Harry sees posters, almost reminiscent of something from an old Western movie, warning people to be inside by sunset. He also is chilled by the sight of Dementors patrolling Hogsmeade.

The Shrieking Shack is the most important Hogsmeade structure in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Harry and Ron tour the village, walking up the hill to view the dilapidated building, surrounded by weeds, which local legends declare is the most haunted place in Great Britain. According to tradition, years ago villagers overheard screams late at night from the two-story house. Harry and Ron's visit to the Shrieking Shack foreshadows their later confrontation with Black, Snape, and Peter Pettigrew. On the boys' first trip to the building, they encounter Draco Malfoy and his cronies, Crabbe and Goyle. Hidden by the Invisibility Cloak, Harry torments his archrival by throwing mud at him. Unfortunately, the cloak slips, and Harry's head is revealed, exposing him not only to Draco's taunts but possible punishment for disobeying orders to stay on campus until Black is recaptured. Harry's quick return through a tunnel to Hogwarts culminates in a conference with Snape and Lupin in which Harry learns more about his father's years at Hogwarts and realizes that Lupin is his ally while confirming that Snape is his adversary.

The book's climatic scene occurs in the Shrieking Shack. After comforting Hagrid before Buckbeak's execution, Harry and Hermione follow the black dog when it drags Ron into the tunnel with an entrance near the Whomping Willow. They emerge into the first floor of the Shrieking Shack. The inside is dusty and worn much like the weather-beaten and mistreated exterior. A path in the dust, much like a slug's slimy trail, shows where the dog pulled Ron towards and up the stairs. Harry and Hermione, desperate to save their friend, bravely proceed upstairs to the bedroom where Ron is being held captive. Immediately, they confront Black who pleads for mercy to tell his story. They are shocked by Lupin's kindnesses to Black. Snape's arrival, courtesy of Harry's dropped Invisibility Cloak, further complicates a situation as messy as the Shrieking Shack. Learning that the shack's image as a sinister place had been designed to protect Lupin from curious villagers during his werewolf phases, Harry and his friends realize that the building is a facade much like the false faces presented by characters such as Scabbers (a.k.a. Peter Pettigrew). Although the Shrieking Shack does not initially seem nurturing, it actually is a shelter for good characters and a means for exposing evil characters, reinforcing the theme that appearances can be deceiving.

The secret passages leading from Hogwarts to Hogsmeade are crucial for connecting the two settings. These tunnels are utilized for both devious and clandestine missions. Innocuous journeys to Hogsmeade occur above ground, usually on a straight path, and in the light. The tunnels, in contrast, are buried beneath the earth, twisting, and dark. They are often narrow, forcing people to bend over to move through the ground, indicating their flexibility to pursue their objectives. The tunnels resemble veins, bringing essential characters to crucial sites much like veins transport oxygenated blood to major organs. The passages could also be compared to the birth canal, delivering individuals to a new level of being and understanding.

In contrast to the subterranean tunnels, the Divination classroom in the north tower of Hogwarts lifts students above their earthly concerns. Hogwarts pupils rise to the turret on a spiral staircase and through a trapdoor to reach a heavily perfumed and poorly ventilated room. Dim lighting and thick vapors contribute to establishing this classroom's sense of obscurity and students' confusion about lessons regarding fortune telling and predictions. Unlike this confined space, the Hippogriff paddock permits students to become part of the outdoor landscape and rise above it if the Hippogriffs are willing. Adjacent to Hagrid's hut, the Hippogriff paddock provides a controlled environment for students to practice their skills at communicating with a magical creature. The paddock is a setting that rewards students like Harry who follows the rules and punishes students like Draco who disdain guidelines. If Buckbeak had been executed, the paddock would have been a tragic place. Instead, it represents the possibilities of resolving problems through ingenuity and resourcefulness.

Azkaban is only described through recollections by various characters who have either visited or been incarcerated there. Located on an island in the cold North Sea (somewhat like the notorious American prison Alcatraz near San Francisco), Azkaban isolates its dwellers from the comforts of normal wizard life. Although escape from the island prison seems impossible, Black outwits the Dementors. Azkaban symbolizes despair for wizards, especially law-abiding wizards who are fearful of being falsely accused and convicted. The indirect contact with Azkaban enhances our perception of the prison as lonely and foreboding.

The lake near Hogwarts has been referred to in the two previous Harry Potter books. In the third novel, the lake becomes a battleground when Harry is surrounded by his worst fear, Dementors. On the opposite shore, Harry believes he sees his father's Animagus, a stag, which bolsters him to fend off the Dementors. The lake is a buffer zone between the sanctuary of Hogwarts and the hostility of Harry's enemies. It serves as a demilitarized zone where Harry is paradoxically somewhat protected but vulnerable to sudden destruction. Harry's favorite outdoor setting is the Quidditch field which is a hostile arena in this novel. Harry's playing abilities are hampered by the appearance of a group of Dementors and by Draco and his friends masquerading as Dementors in an effort to unnerve Harry. Harry finds comfort in Lupin's office, although it had also housed Harry's former nemesis Professor Quirrell and the inept Gilderoy Lockhart. The History of Magic classroom is a metaphorical stage for Harry to practice his techniques to cope with Dementors after not being permitted a turn in the faculty lounge, a setting whose interior was not featured in previous books. The Great Hall nourishes the students and serves as an overnight campground where they gather to sleep, whisper, and eavesdrop when Black is known to be nearby.

Another new setting introduced in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is the Knight Bus which transports Harry from the Muggle to magical realm. A triple-decker bus which travels wherever its passengers desire to go, the Knight Bus resembles a motor home or hotel on wheels. The Knight Bus is significant to plot development because Harry hears rumors about Black presented as fact on the Knight Bus. Other modes of transportation are significant to characterization and plot development. On the Hogwarts Express, Harry meets Lupin and sees his first Dementor. The horseless carriages that convey students from the Hogsmeade station to Hogwarts reinforce Harry's connection to Lupin before school starts. Because he boards at the Leaky Cauldron, Harry, and readers, becomes more familiar with that business' contents and clientele which provide clues about wizard culture and history. The Gryffindor common room and dormitory shelter Harry but also prove vulnerable when Black breaks in one night. Professor Flitwick's seventh-floor office, with the thirteenth window right from the West Tower, serves as Black's prison cell and salvation because it is high enough that Harry, Hermione, and Buckbeak can fly Black to freedom.

Literary Qualities

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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, 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 their 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 reader 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 explaining 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 could 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 images such as tunnels revealed Harry's anxiety about his maturation and sexuality and his repressed desires, or through the analysis of Jungian imagery, hypothesizing 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.

Social Sensitivity

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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.

Harry's ability to recognize Black's innocence and offer him redemption indicates his moral character. Also, Harry's merciful treatment of Pettigrew despite his heinous behavior exemplifies Harry's sense of fairness and tolerance toward others. Harry patiently avoided assaulting Marge Dursley with magic until she insulted his parents, an unforgivable act. Perhaps Voldemort is the only culprit that Harry would be unable to interact with without bias because of the atrocities he has committed on Harry's parents and friends. Rowling injects her personal philosophy that most people are innately good unless they have suffered extreme emotional or physical abuse. She stresses that her stories depict the consequences of evil and how innocent people are often victimized unfairly.

Moral messages are embedded in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Harry is a role model for courageous and responsible behavior and decision making, even when faced with highly-charged and confusing situations and volatile personalities. Harry encourages people to cooperate and work together instead of excluding others. He strives to form his own opinions instead of relying on gossip or uninformed and unsubstantiated news stories. Although pressured by peers and adult wizards to embrace certain viewpoints, Harry is capable of distinguishing right from wrong and does not conform merely to appease others. Such integrity helps Harry become a moral mentor for his friends and readers, establishing standards for acceptable behavior. He resents favoritism between teachers and students and tries to treat people equally. Harry recognizes the importance of choices and sacrifices and understands the importance of helping others rather than pleasing himself.

Accountable for his actions, Harry justifies bending rules only when such extremes are necessary for the greater good of the Hogwarts community. He worries about both humans' and animals' welfare, investing energy into helping Hagrid defend Buckbeak, then assertively rescuing the condemned beast from his execution. Harry's respect and compassion for individual uniqueness and his sense of social responsibility helps readers to discard any harmful prejudices they might have themselves. Harry recognizes that knowledge is more powerful than magic. Accepting his imperfections, he urges his classmates to become better people and is loyal to his friends even when they disagree with him. Harry often bravely pursues a course of action despite the threat of ridicule, risks of losing treasured possessions, or possibility of encountering hazards. In contrast, Draco Malfoy purposefully incites trouble for others such as when he insults Buckbeak then seeks punishment for both the creature and Hagrid as compensation for his resulting embarrassment. His faking an injury indicates his lack of character and self-esteem. Other social issues addressed in the third Harry Potter novel include popular acceptance and rejection of predictions, horoscopes, and fortune-telling. Privacy and secrecy are also important social topics, particularly the question of when is it permissible to violate individual rights for the public good. The Dementors provoke depression and guilt, both significant social problems as well as rage and vigilantism which are Harry's impulsive reactions toward first Black, then Pettigrew.

This Harry Potter novel broaches the topic of the role of legislation and institutions to regulate human interactions and behavior. Much like parallel authorities in contemporary society, in the wizard world, agencies of public servants make laws. Rowling has not clarified if any of these professionals are elected and if wizard voters choose representative groups to pass legislation. Some wizards are law enforcement officers who identify, pursue, and arrest suspected law breakers. Courts and judges decide suitable punishments, including incarceration in the wizard prison, Azkaban, and/or the Dementor's kiss, which effectively removes a person's spiritual, emotional, and intellectual essence without physically killing them. The concepts of freedom and happiness permeate Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, and Harry gains new appreciation of time and his inner strength to protect himself and others from false accusations.

Bibliography

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 117

Beahm, George. Muggles and Magic: An Unofficial Guide to J. K. Rowling and the Harry Potter Phenomenon. 2d ed. Charlottesville, Va.: Hampton Roads, 2006.

Blake, Andrew. The Irresistible Rise of Harry Potter: Kid-Lit in a Globalized World. London: Verso, 2002.

Eccleshare, Julia. A Guide to the Harry Potter Novels. London: Continuum, 2002.

Gupta, Suman. Re-Reading Harry Potter. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003.

Heilman, Elizabeth, ed. Harry Potter’s World: Multidisciplinary Critical Perspectives. New York: Routledge, 2002.

Nel, Philip. J. K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter” Novels: A Reader’s Guide. London: Continuum, 2001

Smith, Sean. J. K. Rowling: A Biography. London: Michael O’Mara, 2001.

Whited, Lana A., ed. The Ivory Tower and Harry Potter: Perspectives on a Literary Phenomenon. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2004.

For Further Reference

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Del Negro, Janice M. Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books (October 1999): 68. This review of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban summarizes the novel's plot and recommends the book because "Rowling's characterizations are succinctly evocative and often slyly funny, ensuring that readers develop a fondness for her players, care what happens to them, and come back for more."

Hainer, Cathy. "Third Time's Another Charmer for 'Harry Potter." USA Today, (September 8,1999): 1-D. Positive review of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban which "scores another home run." Provides hints about plot twists.

Maughan, Shannon. "The Harry Potter Halo." Publishers Weekly (July 19, 1999): 92-94. Comments on how the Harry Potter novels have encouraged young readers to purchase other hardback editions of children's literature and increased library patronage. Discusses the cultural phenomena of Harry Potter and the saga's impact on literacy and bookselling prior to the release of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban in the United States. Lists recommended novels similar to the Harry Potter books.

Mitnick, Eva. School Library Journal (October 1999): 128. This review of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban praises the novel, stating "Isn't it reassuring that some things just get better and better? Harry is back and in fine form in the third installment of his adventures at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry." This reviewer admires the complexities of Rowling's plot and "nonstop" pacing and "stunning climax," concluding that "This is a fabulously entertaining read that will have Harry Potter fans cheering for more."

Parravano, Martha V. Horn Book (November- December 1999): 744-745. Recommends the Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban because "all the elements that make the formula work are heightened." Notes the cultural impact of the Harry Potter saga, suggesting that "All current reviews of Harry Potter books should probably be addressed to some future audience for whom Harry is book rather than phenomenon; at the moment, reviews seem superfluous" and stating "For the record, then, O future reader, this latest installment in Harry's saga is quite a good book."

Publishers Weekly (July 19, 1999): 195. This review of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban asserts "Rowling proves that she has plenty of tricks left up her sleeve in this third Harry Potter adventure" because of the "genius of Rowling's plotting. Seemingly minor details established in books one and two unfold to take on unforeseen significance, and the finale, while not airtight in its internal logic, is utterly thrilling." Concludes that "Rowling's wit never flags" and the "Potter spell is holding strong."

Schafer, Elizabeth D. Beacham's Sourcebooks for Teaching Young Adult Fiction: Exploring Harry Potter. Osprey, FL: Beacham Publishing, 2000. A comprehensive, interdisciplinary analysis of the Harry Potter books which elaborates about literary components of the series. Includes a detailed chapter development analysis and discussion questions and suggested activities and projects for Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Provides citations for diverse resources, including reviews and web sites, about Rowling and the Harry Potter series.

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