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Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban    by J. K. Rowling order for
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
by J. K. Rowling
Order:  USA  Can
Raincoast, 1999 (1999)
Hardcover, Audio

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

What is it about Harry Potter that has captured the imaginations of three generations of readers? My sons identify with Harry (and Ron), enjoy the magic, would love to have a go at Quidditch, and are engaged by the fast-paced action.

I read a few pages of the first book,Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. I found it slow and put it aside. After hearing a variety of raving recommendations I had the sense to dive back in, made it past the first chapter and emerged again three books later. I like the characterization, the action and the imaginative detail, such as the talking portraits that guard Common Rooms and the flying car with a mind of its own.

All three generations of my family root for the underdogs in the Harry Potter books - and there are so many of them. Harry, suffering at the hands of the odious Dursleys, has much in common with Roald Dahl 's protagonists - in particular, his matter of fact acceptance of this lifestyle as a norm. And there is something of a Cinderella story here too. Harry is, unbeknownst to him, an important figure in Magic society, he's badly treated by his ugly Muggles cousin Dudley - and there's a broomstick or several in there too.

But it's not just Harry who is mistreated. Life is not fair in Harry's world, and no-one seems to expect it to be. They deal with it. Hagrid, with his endearing empathy for all things monstrous, was unfairly expelled from Hogwarts. He was even imprisoned briefly at Azkaban but is not at all bitter about it. Then there is Sirius Black in Prisoner of Azkaban - still a fugitive at the end of the story - and, of course, the charming Professor Lupus who is rejected for his differences.

Kids relate to Harry Potter - his trials at the hands of adults and bullies, his friendships, the times when he is misunderstood by all around him, and his passion for Quidditch. They enjoy the suspense, the action and the fantastical creatures and surroundings at Hogwarts. In addition to all this, adults can appreciate some of the subtler nuances - the political maneuvering at the Ministry of Magic, the one-up-man ship of the slimy Professor Trelawney in Prisoner of Azkaban, and the fact that even the eminently dislikeable Professor Snape is not altogether bad.

In Prisoner of Azkaban, Harry is in his third year at Hogwarts Academy. The infamous prison guards of Azkaban patrol the grounds, despite the protests of Headmaster Dumbledore. A murderer is on the loose, students being attacked and Hagrid's pet Hippogriff Buckbeak is about to be executed. The bravery of Harry and his friends save the day as always. Along the way, the author lifts a little more of the veil hiding the truth about the deaths of Harry's parents. Oh, and of course, the Gryffindors finally win the Quidditch trophy.

For both my father and myself, the series is reminiscent of an old favorite, Kipling's Stalky & Co., though the latter is aimed at a more mature audience. Stalky & Co. is set in a 19th century English boys' boarding school. Three partners-in-crime are involved in all kinds of pranks and escapades (often at night and off the school grounds). There is regular conflict with their teachers, mediated by a wise headmaster. Sound familiar yet? If it does, unearth your dog-eared copy of Stalky & Co. and enjoy it again. If not, you have another reading pleasure in store with Stalky, McTurk and Beetle.

The Harry Potter series is already a classic. So, whether you're 9 or 90, don't miss Prisoner of Azkaban. And if you haven't read Philosopher's Stone and Chamber of Secrets, rush to the bookstore or library and enjoy them first.

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