Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
Series: Harry Potter 3
Reviewed date: 2012 Jan 13
The first two books were decent kids' books, but in the third, the Harry Potter universe is wearing thin. There are a number of aspects of this wizardly world that were forgivable at first, but have become uncomfortably grating on this reader's nerves.
Nobody as horrid as the Dursleys could survive even in the muggle world
Harry's aunt and uncle are petty, bigoted, and disgusting human beings. They hate anything to do with magic--bad blood--and so they hate Harry. Actually, they would hate him anyway. The Dursleys are so hate-filled and so utterly inept at anything that it truly would be impossible for Mr. Dursley to hold down his job. Nobody would work with that man for long. But yet Rowling depicts the Dursleys as financially comfortable, with a middle-class house and lifestyle. A more realistic depiction would be to show Mr. Dursley as a bum incapable of holding down a job, living off the government dole. That would solve two big problems: first, it would present a believable family situation. Second, it would give the Dursleys a more quantifiable reason to dislike Harry: he's a financial drain on a family struggling just to eat.
All muggles are useless
Rowling presents all muggles--those people without any magical talent--as useless. The wizard community lives secretly within the larger muggle world, but apparently views muggles as little better than animals. The wizarding world has no muggle friends. An entire Ministry of Magic exists to prevent the muggle world from finding out that magic even exists. Why? Well, apparently the wizards are afraid the muggles would react with fear, bigotry, and racism--probably they'd burn wizards at the stake. And perhaps, in Rowling's fictional world, they would. That's just how awful the muggles are.
That is not realistic. If people discovered that magic is real, there wouldn't be anti-wizard pogroms and concentration camps. No. It would throw the world into upheaval, sure. But most people would get on with their lives.
Here's a better idea: how about instead of muggles just lacking magical talent, make them actually incapable of recognizing magic. Anytime a muggle sees magic in action, the muggle brain automatically interprets it into something ordinary. There wouldn't need to be a Ministry of Magic to prevent the muggles from finding out about magic. Muggles would be physically and mentally incapable of noticing magic.
Then there could be a third category of people, who have no magical talent but can see and recognize magic. These people would be more rare, and perhaps they would often think themselves insane--they keep seeing magic happening, but everybody around them sees nothing. The Dursleys could be among this category. Some of their unpleasantness could be attributed to the stress of seeing and knowing about magic, but being both unable to participate and unable to convince the world of what they are seeing.
Harry Potter is a self-absorbed idiot
In each of his first two terms at Hogwarts, Harry has had run-ins with Voldemort. He nearly died. This time, Harry learns that Voldemort's right-hand man, Sirius Black, has escaped from the prison island of Azkaban and is hunting for Harry Potter. Harry is put under virtual house arrest at Hogwarts, for his own safety. Dementors are posted as guards all around Hogwarts.
So what does Harry do? He sneaks out of Hogwarts to buy candy at the village of Hogsmeade. He notices a strange dog hanging around Hogwarts--a dog that seems to have followed him from his home with the Dursleys. Ominous. And yet--yet--he steadfastly refuses to tell any of this to the teachers at Hogwarts. Why? I don't know. The teachers at Hogwarts have proven themselves to be looking out for Harry's best interests. Even the biased, spiteful professor Snape--who would love to get Harry expelled--would work to protect Harry's life. And Headmaster Dumbledore would be a trusted confidant. Harry knows his life is genuinely in danger. He knows the teachers and staff are trying their best to protect him. Why does he keep secrets from them, sneak around outside of Hogwarts, and basically tempt fate? Because he's an idiot, apparently.
Rowling decides to meddle with time travel, so she has Hermione sign up for way too many classes, which she can only attend by using time travel to be in two classes at once. Apparently time travel is strictly regulated, but it's OK to make an exception for a naive, bookish teenage girl who wants to take a few extra courses at Hogwarts.
The teachers at Hogwarts should be fired.
Professor Snape shows unbridled favoritism to Slytherin House; he berates and belittles students in the other houses. He carries a petty vendetta against Harry Potter, whom he continually tries to expel. Professor Lupin fails to cover the material adequately, and he turns out to be a werewolf--a danger to the students because he cannot control himself during the full moon. Professor Trelawney insults students and shows reckless disregard for their emotional wellbeing, and has no understanding or talent for the subject she purports to teach: divination. Rubeus Hagrid forces the students to approach dangerous hippogriffs, and one student gets gruesomely stabbed as a result. Each of these teachers is unfit to be in a position of authority over children. Dumbledore should be sacked too, for allowing these teachers to terrorize and endanger the students.
Quidditch is still dumb
News flash: quidditch is still a dumb sport. It gets even dumber in this book, when it becomes apparent that a great deal of the "skill" involved in quidditch comes down to who has the fastest, most expensive broom. It's not a game of skill at all, it's a game of which team can buy the latest model of broom.