Azkaban 2: Boggarts and Broomsticks

I’m now over 300 pages into Prisoner of Azkaban and have too many thoughts. So here we are some main points from this installment:

The boggarts are interesting but arguably problematic creatures. When Lupin first introduces them, we’re told they take the form of whatever the person they’re facing fears most. So at first glance, they’re mere shape-shifters. But when Lupin uses a boggart to teach Harry to face the dementors, it takes on the dementor’s powers, too. That’s a much bigger deal, and it bothered me that Rowling didn’t deal with the ramifications of that concept. Are there limits to the powers the boggart can assume? If not, then Lupin was grossly negligent in allowing any students to face the creature without knowing for certain what their fears would transform it into. For instance, he stopped Harry from facing it initially because he thought Harry’s fear would transform it into Lord Voldemort. But what if another student had had that as his or her main fear? Would the boggart have gained Voldemort’s power? Logic would suggest surely not, but I don’t know how to reconcile that conclusion with the boggart gaining a dementor’s power. I felt like Rowling conceived of them as just shape-shifters, but threw in the power assumption for a more convenient plot development (how to get Harry practice on a dementor) without really dealing with the possibility that such power could make the boggart one of the most powerful creatures in existence. It would be an easy fix, but as is, she hasn’t fleshed that out into a fully realized idea. Or am I missing something?

I find the strained relationships between Harry/Ron and Hermione, particularly between Ron and Hermione, to be interesting yet difficult. It’s a believable twist, particularly at that age, to see their bonds of friendship loosen and reforge over various spats. And if you squint, you can see the faint beginnings of Ron and Hermione’s future relationship. But it’s also sad, after quickly becoming so accustomed to them as a trio, to see them briefly split up and see Hagrid informing the boys of Hermione crying over it. I was relieved when the news of Buckbeak’s sentence finally brought them back together. Speaking of Hermione, the reveal behind how she’s taking so many classes has definitely dragged on way too long. Harry and Ron are shown wondering about it, but something always comes up to delay the explanation. As individual instances, those delays are believable. But those are also just a handful of interactions that we’re seeing; these people are seeing each other every day. Yet we’re most of the way through the school year without reaching a point where Harry and Ron just demand an explanation for how she’s appearing in three places at once? That’s just too unrealistic.

I’ve always heard much about how incredibly detailed Rowling’s writing is. I assume that comes later; the first description of Hogwarts in Sorcerer’s Stone was just “a vast castle with many turrets and towers,” and we still haven’t gotten much more since. Again, that’s fine, as she’s steadily evolving the stories from a children’s series to something more mature. But even in the absensce of too much detail, there are a good deal of colorful stories added throughout that add spice and depth to her world, and it’s fun that you often can’t tell which of them will become significant. For instance, Neville losing his list of passwords was easily written off as just another example of poor Neville’s ineptitude. But instead, it becomes a major plot point, leading to a Sirius sighting. (I do feel constantly bad for Neville; the guy hardly ever catches a break so far.)

Lupin is awesome. I loved his save of Harry in Snape’s office. Lupin’s combination of kindness and competence makes him arguably unlike any other teacher we’ve seen so far, yet the mystery around him could still make readers uneasy (plus the fact that his name itself is a rather obvious clue about his other side). It’s fascinating, knowing the basic ending from the movie, to see how the various clues about Sirius, Lupin, and Peter Pettigrew are sprinkled throughout the book. I feel confident I would have figured out the Quirrell/Snape reveal in Book 1. I think I would have figured out in Book 2 that Tom Riddle opened the Chamber of Secrets, but probably not that he was Voldemort or that he’d been acting through Ginny. But the twists in this book? I don’t know. I think I would have guessed most of Lupin’s reveal, and probably known something more was up with Sirius when he didn’t attack the boys in their bedroom, but I can’t see myself piecing it all together if I didn’t previously know.

The most recent chapter I’ve completed was the Quidditch final. I’ve said a few times how my favorite parts of the books thus far have often been the less exciting character moments. But the Quidditch final was all action and as good as anything yet in this book, perhaps Rowling’s best action of the series thus far. You’re pretty sure you know what the outcome has to be, but it’s pulse-pounding and extremely exciting anyway. Rowling helped herself in that regard by finally having Harry lose his first match earlier in the book, which was a nice touch and created at least a little uncertainty. The action gets an extra edge, and a humorous side, with the commentary from Lee Jordan (that hero), who’s obligatorily introduced again as “the Weasley twins’ friend Lee Jordan.” The Firebolt has also been developed well throughout the book. I like how brooms in the wizard world seem to mirror our own technology trends. Harry starts out the series being given the best broom ever, but by Book 2, it’s outdated and Draco’s is better. In Azkaban, that too is outdated, and Harry again has the best broom ever. It’s an amusing, believable take on the way the latest fads immediately become yesterday’s news. I’ve wanted so badly to see Draco punished for his lies about Buckbeak, and even his impersonation of a dementor to throw Harry (he is punished for the latter, but it’s not the same as Harry being threatened with expulsion for every malfeasance). But he still gets his comeuppance in other ways, like being decked by Hermione (awesome) and losing to Harry when it mattered most.

So now I’m down to the last quarter or so of the book, and I’m expecting quite a ride to finish. With that in mind, I’m saving the rest for this weekend when I can read it all in one sitting.

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