comfort reads

Comfort Reads: Revisiting Harry Potter (Part 3)

Welcome to Comfort Reads: where I talk about re-reads and what I’ve learned on second (or twelfth) encounters.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling

some facts & opinions5

  • publication year: 1999
  • movie release date: 2004
  • age of my first encounter: 9
  • favorite moment left out of the film series: Gryffindor wins the Quidditch Cup. The film shows the first match of the year, when Harry falls off his broom in the match against Hufflepuff, but they leave out the rest of the Quidditch matches. I love these scenes in the book because they detract from a lot of the darker themes taking place. The Gryffindor team’s struggles to win the Quidditch Cup appear throughout the series and I love the way the first two books built up to the moment when they finally managed it.
  • favorite magical object/creature introduced: the Marauder’s Map. Not only is it fun watching Harry creep around the school, the Marauder’s Map is one of his big connections to his father’s group of friends. The Map also becomes important in later books, providing clues and helping Harry evade expulsion from Hogwarts at various points.
  • best supporting character: Hermione. She’s always been my favorite character; as a bookish girl myself, I related to her, particularly the ways her thirst for knowledge gets her into trouble. I loved the side plot of her taking extra classes with the help of the Time Turner. I wish I had a Time Turner so that I could just endlessly take extra college courses I missed. I would just get a bunch of degrees in different subjects if I had the chance.
  • best professor appearance: Remus Lupin. I have always loved his character, his personal struggles, and his connection to Harry’s father. He’s also probably the best Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher the kids every have, aside from possibly Snape in Book 6. I particularly enjoy his talks with Harry and the way he helps him conquer the Dementors.
  • best Dumbledore quote: “You think the dead we loved ever truly leave us? You think that we don’t recall them more clearly than ever in times of great trouble? Your father is alive in you, Harry, and shows himself most plainly when you have need of him.”

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban truly sealed my fate as a Potterhead. It became my favorite of the first three nearly instantly for multiple reasons: the addition of new details to explain the wizarding world, Harry’s internal conflict when he learns more about how his parents died, and the addition of new male role models in his life all play a role in how much I still enjoy reading this book.

The story of Sirius Black, wrongfully imprisoned for 12 years, truly shows just how much perception is everything, not just in the wizarding world but in ours as well. Reading this book when you know his innocence makes it even more clear that what people think you are can often make you into exactly what they expect. Sirius looks like a criminal because he’s half-starved and on the run, but also because he’s believed to be a criminal. I think it’s worth noting as well that it would have been easier for the world to assume Sirius was a killer than Wormtail. Not only is Sirius a more powerful wizard, but he comes from a long line of those who prize pure wizarding blood over anything else. When we find out in Books 5 and 6 that his family has connections to all the old wizarding families, many of whom turned out Death Eaters, and then that his own brother became a Death Eater, it becomes even more clear how easy it was for people to assume Sirius was guilty.

The introduction of the dementors is hands down my favorite aspect to this book, especially on re-reading. Lupin’s explanation of dementors really struck me on this re-reading, despite the number of times I’ve encountered it before.

“Get too near a dementor and every good feeling, every happy memory will be sucked out of you. If it can, the demeanor will feed on you long enough to reduce you to something like itself…soul-less and evil. You’ll be left with nothing but the worst experiences of your life.”

This is perhaps the first instance that I’ve found what I think of as “mental health metaphors” in the series. When it comes down to it, dementors are physical, magical manifestations of Depression the mental illness. The feelings described by characters under their influence line up with some of my worst days battling depression over the last decade or so: the feeling of hopelessness and despair. When Harry relives his darkest moments, it reminds me vividly of my darkest days of depression, where the worst things people have said to me played like a loop in my head.

Throughout the book, Malfoy mocks Harry’s intense reaction to the dementors, not just because Malfoy’s a git, but because society doesn’t allow for intense expressions of emotions, especially dark emotions, especially in men. Even Harry degrades himself for his reaction until Lupin points out that it isn’t Harry’s fault: he has a particularly dark past, which just means he has even more to overcome.

But the metaphor doesn’t stop there. Harry doesn’t give in to the fact that he may have to experience this awful feeling whenever the dementors get too near. Instead, he gets help from Professor Lupin, who shows him the difficult piece of magic used to repel dementors. By drawing on the happiest of your thoughts, you can repel the darkness, but, as Lupin reminds Harry, it’s not easy—many fully grown wizards can’t produce a Patronus. It takes Harry several tries to come up with a happy memory that’s big enough to produce a Patronus—reminding us that, really, Harry hasn’t had a lot of happy memories in his life, and also mirroring how difficult it is for a depressed person to conjure up happy thoughts.

For some reason, reading Harry overcoming the dementors at the end of the story filled me with so much hope. He had so much to fight off, but he managed to come up with a happy enough feeling to overcome it all. In that moment he tells Hermione, “I knew I could do it this time because I’d already done it.” Extending my metaphor a little bit, Harry realizes he can overcome the darkness because he already has the lightness inside him. In many ways, this particular book is a powerful one, in that it shows kids struggling in life that they can fight back and overcome their worst fears and darkest thoughts.

What are your thoughts on Prisoner of Azkaban? Can you think of any other “mental health metaphors” in the series? Let me know in the comments, and stay tuned for Book 4 next week!


3 thoughts on “Comfort Reads: Revisiting Harry Potter (Part 3)”

  1. YES! This book is what made me love the series. I felt kind of “meh” about it before I got to this one. I like how Harry beats the dementors, too. I had depression when I was a kid. I was too young to see the connection between dementors and depression when I first read Prisoner of Azkaban, but now that I’m an adult, I appreciate the mental health references. Also, Lupin is one of my favorite characters.

  2. I loved this book too! The first was my favorite, but this was a close second. I recently watched the third move for the first time though and wow was I right to avoid it. So disappointing!

    1. I actually saw this video on YouTube arguing that it was a great film and the director made purposeful camera choices and I just…I get where this person was coming from, but the fact is that PoA was a terrible adaptation from book to film. I’ve been rewatching the films as well and I think they start to get better around the 5th one (although a lot is obviously left out still). Thanks for reading!

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