Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J K Rowling

Jonny Duddle cover

For this re-read of J K Rowling’s Harry Potter books, I bought the series as a single Kindle book (all the better to quote you with, my dear), a side-effect of which was I could see how far, percentage-wise, I was through the series as a whole. And it’s only with this, the fifth (and longest) book of seven, that I passed the halfway point. Halfway points are often major turning points in stories, and I’d say Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (first published in 2003) is no exception.

You wouldn’t think so immediately, though. For a large part of The Order of the Phoenix, the presiding feeling is one of frustration. Harry being so isolated at the Dursleys and getting no news of what’s going on in the Wizarding World; none of the kids being told what Dumbledore’s Order of the Phoenix is up to; nobody knowing what Voldemort’s up to; Harry being disbelieved by everyone at school; Dumbledore avoiding not only speaking to, but even looking at Harry; Hagrid’s unexplained absence; Ron and Hermione’s being prefects, leaving Harry on his own and feeling left out; Ron and Hermione’s constant bickering; the increased homework and revision the trio have to put up with as well as (for Harry) detentions, on top of the burden of their usual extracurricular school project of defeating the forces of evil; Harry’s inability to talk to Cho, or to understand her emotional state (plus the frustrations of early adolescence generally); Umbridge teaching only the theory, not the practice, of Defence Against the Dark Arts; her increasing stranglehold on communications in and out of Hogwarts, and her limiting of everyone’s freedoms, until “It seemed to Harry that Umbridge was steadily depriving him of everything that made his life at Hogwarts worth living: visits to Hagrid’s house, letters from Sirius, his Firebolt and Quidditch.” On top of all this, there’s Harry’s frustrating dreams, which are, he soon realises, only echoes of Voldemort’s frustration. The first half of the book starts to feel like a powder keg waiting for a match.

The first UK cover, art by Jason Cockroft

Another part of the frustration is that Harry is denied the usual sense of coming to his true home that has, so far, begun every book in the series, whether that home is Hogwarts or the Weasleys’. Instead, we get number 12 Grimmauld Place, current headquarters of the Order of the Phoenix, but still dominated by the character of the morally dark, pure-blood-elitist Black family who once lived there. Now it’s a sort of prison for the last scion of that family, Harry’s godfather Sirius, who turned his back on his parents’ elitism but now finds himself swamped once more in their prejudicial gloom, as though the house were a living symbol of a repressive childhood lingering into adulthood. (And the family’s house-elf, Kreacher, wandering around muttering darkly, is like the sort of inner voice instilled by such a childhood, and just as hard to get rid of.)

Talking of elitism, this book — and how could it be otherwise with a title such as The Order of the Phoenix? — is full of elites. There’s the Order itself, there’s “Dumbledore’s Army”, there’s being a Hogwarts prefect, and Umbridge’s Inquisitorial Squad that replaces them. People who see Thestrals (those who have witnessed death) form a sort of unnamed elite. There’s Death Eaters, the upper echelons of the Ministry of Magic, Aurors, the Wizengamot, the Order of Merlin, and the Griffindor Quidditch team (the last three being highlighted because major characters are ejected from them — leading to more frustration). All this serves as a reminder that Harry’s adult initiation into the Wizarding World, which ought to have been sealed by his winning the Triwizard Cup in the last book, is still somehow incomplete. The admission, in that book, by both Voldemort and Dumbledore, that young Harry had faced tasks even an adult might fail at, hasn’t taken hold — in large part because the Wizarding World doesn’t want to believe Voldemort is back, so ceases to trust Dumbledore. But even Dumbledore isn’t treating Harry as fully initiated. He’s still protecting him, both from danger and from the truth.

Brian Selznick cover

The frustration finally loosens its grip when this new generation starts to take action for itself. Denied proper Defence Against the Dark Arts instruction, they form Dumbledore’s Army to learn it for themselves; at Hermione’s suggestion, Harry gives an interview to The Quibbler (the wizarding version of The National Enquirer) about what really happened to him at the Triwizard Tournament; and then, at the end, the kids launch their own rescue mission into the bowels of the Ministry of Magic, like a full-on assault on the adult establishment.

In previous books, Harry being likened to his father — even mistaking himself for his father at one point — could be taken as a sign of his growing up, but here it’s his starting to notice how he’s unlike his father that reads like a sign of maturity — certainly, of individuation. And this book has an increasing moral complexity throughout, with almost all of the main characters revealing vulnerabilities and weaknesses, or having them highlighted to a greater degree than before: the fact that Sirius is trying to relive, through Harry, his lost youthful friendship with James Potter; Molly Weasley’s “mollycoddling”; Harry’s “weakness for heroics”, and his “saving-people thing”; his father being revealed as an arrogant bully; Ron’s klutziness being put on display before the whole school in Quidditch; Neville’s secret about his parents being finally admitted. I like to think another pair of weaknesses revealed in the final fight section is that not-so-clever Ron is trapped in the tentacles of a living brain, while too-clever Hermione is felled by a wordless spell. Even Professor McGonagall gets Stunned. We glimpse something of the weakness behind Voldemort’s power — his belief that “There is nothing worse than death” — and Dumbledore admits, at the end, his own weakness: the fact that he cared too much for Harry’s happiness to carry out the plan he’d initially conceived.

Olly Moss’s ebook cover

And that leads to the final part of Harry’s “initiation” I spoke of in my mewsings on the previous book. As well as tests and trials, and a public recognition, initiation requires education. In a traditional society, this means teaching a child, in its passage to adulthood, the myths of the tribe. (And of course this is the book where Harry & co. sit their exams, which is our modern-day version of this stage.) Here, Harry gets told the full truth about himself and Voldemort — or, the full truth as Dumbledore knows it, anyway:

“It is time,” he said, “for me to tell you what I should have told you five years ago, Harry. Please sit down. I am going to tell you everything…”

The link between Harry and Voldemort is, I think, one of the most satisfying aspects of the series. It’s not just that Harry is “good” and Voldemort “evil”, and that there’s some sort of prophecy that says one will defeat the other (as there is in my childhood’s equivalent of the Harry Potter series, David Eddings’ Belgariad) — though there is, in this book, a prophecy, it turns out — it’s that Voldemort’s evil actions by themselves created Harry as he is, so evil planted the seed of its own downfall. This becomes clearer as the series moves on, but on this re-read I can’t help wondering at how restrained Rowling has been in revealing just a little at a time to what is, by The Deathly Hallows, a thoroughly well-thought-out reasoning for why Harry is who he is.

Kazu Kibuishi’s cover, whose colour scheme reminds me of the 70s paintings of Bruce Pennington

Another thing that stands out about The Order of the Phoenix is that Rowling really starts bringing on the interesting female characters. We’ve had teachers (McGonagall), parent-figures (Mrs Weasley), and two minor villains (Aunts Marge and Petunia), as female characters before, but in this book we get a wider range and deeper characterisation. We get two new female “hero” characters, in the shape of punky Auror Tonks (who “never quite got the hang of these householdy sort of spells”, though her mum could “even [get] the socks to fold themselves”, making me think her mother may have been Mary Poppins), and Luna Lovegood (a sort of antithesis to Harry in his truth-seeker capacity, in that “she’ll only believe in things as long as there’s no proof at all”, which means she believes in all the Wizarding World’s versions of conspiracy theories). Even better, though, are the female villains, Dolores Umbridge — passive aggression personified, a living version of the “smiling no” by which you can spot a psychopath — and deliriously unstable Bellatrix Lestrange. Both of these female villains are so much more emotionally provoking than the series’ main male villain, Voldemort. Voldemort is coldly arrogant, but both Umbridge and Bellatrix have a way of needling their victims’ (and the reader’s) most emotionally vulnerable points. Perhaps that’s because we expect Voldemort, a sort of “Dark Father” archetype, to be remote, but the viciously nasty “Dark Mother” behind both Umbridge and Lestrange can’t help hurting that much more.

Despite its air of frustration — no, because of its extended initial frustration — Order of the Phoenix is the most satisfying piece of Rowling storytelling yet, particularly when that frustration breaks and the action’s unleashed. My favourite part of this book (and perhaps of the series) is the scene of that final unfolding, the Department of Mysteries. Harry & co.’s wandering through the dark, surrealistic bowels of the Ministry of Magic’s strangest division remains one of my favourite fantasy sequences, both in the book and the film. The rooms they pass through (in the book, anyway) are a sort of gallery of Symbolist scenes (reminiscent of the sort of non-commercial painting Michael Whelan does). This department of the Ministry is looking into the fundamentals of human existence, at such abstracts as Time, Death, Love, and Dreams, but Rowling captures them with a moody weirdness I’d really love to see more of — or perhaps it’s there throughout, it’s just so easy to miss amongst all the wizard-school-romp stuff.

Inside the Department of Mysteries

Some of Michael Whelan’s Symbolist-feeling works. More at Michael Whelan.com

From Order of the Phoenix on, the series is about the now-publicly-acknowledged war with Voldemort. The gloves (and the blinkers) are off… Or are they? We’re not at the final book yet, so we’re not at the final confrontation. What can possibly hold that final moment off? We’ll find out in the next book, Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince.


Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J K Rowling

Giles Greenfield’s cover for the UK hardback

The word “fire” in the title of the fourth Harry Potter book (published in 2000) immediately makes me think of tests and trials, the idea of something passing through flames and emerging proved and tempered. Books about youngsters who learn they have magical powers are often stories of initiation, as with The Dark is Rising, A Wizard of Earthsea, and Jenny Nimmo’s The Snow Spider (recently dramatised on CBBC). But Harry learned he had magical powers in book one, and this is book four, so why is this theme of initiation being highlighted now?

In a way, this is a point conceded by Goblet of Fire as, instead of providing a new task of initiation, it gives us a summary of the previous three books. Harry’s name is, unbeknownst to him, put in for the Triwizard Championship, and he finds himself thrust into the limelight — just as he was when he first arrived at Hogwarts, and found everyone knew his name because of his role in the downfall of Voldemort. As a result, he’s put through three tasks, which could be reminders of the three previous books, and so of tasks he’s already faced. First, he has to get a golden egg guarded by a dragon — just as, in the first book, he had to acquire the Philosopher’s Stone before Voldemort could use it. Second, he has to rescue “what you’ll sorely miss” from the depths — in this case, his best friend Ron Weasley from the depths of Hogwarts Lake, but in the second book it was his future wife Ginny Weasley from the depths of the Chamber of Secrets. In the third task he has to get through a dangerous maze — and a maze being a sort of prison, this recalls the third book, The Prisoner of Azkaban, not just metaphorically, but also because the maze contains, for Harry, a Dementor, or a Boggart-appearing-as-a-Dementor, both of which featured in that third book.

Art by Kazu Kibuishi

So what does The Goblet of Fire add to the mix, rather than just being a reminder of how far Harry has come? An important part of initiations isn’t just the trials you go through, but the fact that they’re acknowledged by the community as a whole. Initiation in whatever form — into adulthood, into an organisation — is a public announcement as much as it’s an inner transformation, and here we get a couple of acknowledgements (aside from his very publicly winning the Triwizard Championship) that Harry has made the grade. Dumbledore says to Harry:

“You have shouldered a grown wizard’s burden and found yourself equal to it…”

And this comes after, earlier in the book, Harry allowed himself his most open admission of his child-state so far:

“What he really wanted (and it felt almost shameful to admit it to himself) was someone like – someone like a parent: an adult wizard whose advice he could ask without feeling stupid, someone who cared about him, who had had experience of Dark Magic…”

The second acknowledgement comes from Dumbledore’s opposite, Voldemort, when he and Harry square off in a graveyard:

“And now you face me, like a man… straight backed and proud, the way your father died…”

Art by Brian Selznick

Tales of initiation often have a presiding Magus figure to lead the protagonist through the process and arrange the tests and trials. There’s Prospero testing Ferdinand in The Tempest, and Sarastro in a similar role in The Magic Flute; the “Valerie” section in Alan Moore’s V for Vendetta is one of the most powerful examples, for me, with V himself as the puppetmaster; and later, we get a more ambiguous version in John Fowles’s The Magus. Who is the figure presiding over Harry’s initiation? It ought to be Dumbledore, but it isn’t, because one point about Harry’s initiation in this book is that it comes too early. He’s too young to enter the Triwizard Championship, and he’s too young to face the very real dangers his initiation leads him into — but so much of the series is about Harry being thrust into situations too dangerous or testing for one so young, first of which is Harry’s parents being killed by Voldemort when he was still a baby. No, the presiding figure for Harry’s initiation is Voldemort, and if there’s a dark figure presiding over an initiation, any actual initiation that occurs is a by-product of the process, not an intention. Voldemort, after all, doesn’t want Harry to come into his powers; he wants to kill him. Harry’s successful initiation is a side-effect of Voldemort’s failure.

(And anyway, there’s another necessary element that makes for a full initiation, so it’s still not complete. That’s left for the next book, The Order of the Phoenix.)

It’s an interesting theme of the series, how evil and good can’t help being intertwined. The link between Harry and Voldemort — in the way Harry’s scar hurts when He-Who-Should-Not-Be-Named is doing, or thinking about doing, something particularly evil, and the way Harry dreams about what is actually happening to Voldemort — recalls, for me, Mina Murray’s link with Dracula in the second half of Bram Stoker’s novel. Both Mina and Harry are unfinished victims, and this unfinishedness has unintended consequences, giving them insights into their victimisers that leave their enemies just slightly vulnerable. Evil, which thinks only about itself, discovers its weakness in the fact that it can’t help being linked to others.

Art by Jonny Duddle

But, with all this talk about initiation, does Harry “come into his powers” at all? Is Harry any good as a wizard? It’s clear that Hermione is the most capable wizard. Ron is the most klutzy. Harry generally tends towards the Ron end of the scale, except in two ways. One is that, when faced with the darker extremes of magic, he tends to come through. He might not be able to levitate a pillow to its intended location, but when he’s in desperate straits — and when his anger, determination, or sense of what is right is activated — he can pull off some pretty advanced magic. He might not be able to mend his own glasses, but he can repel a horde of Dementors.

The other factor in Harry’s ability as a wizard comes not from his own powers, but the power of others. Time and time again Harry gets through a task or solves a problem by getting help from others. And this might seem, if you’re viewing him as the traditional type of man-alone hero like James Bond or Conan, as a weakness, but it’s quite obviously a tremendous strength. Voldemort is the loner, the one who’d rather kill other people than have to rely on them; Harry is constantly winning loyalties and friendships, all of which pay off. And at the end of this book, it’s precisely because Voldemort has killed so many people and Harry has killed none that Harry escapes with his life.

eBook cover art, by Olly Moss.

The theme of memory magic which I mentioned in my Mewsings on the second book as being important in the series is less so here — even though this is the book that introduces the most important aspect of memory magic, Dumbledore’s pensieve, with its ability to store and share memories — but the wider theme of how a community’s “memory”, its history, and even the way it interprets the present, can be skewed, starts to become a lot more prevalent in The Goblet of Fire. First we have Rita Skeeter, who wilfully twists everything that’s going on into a tabloidese version so removed from the truth it sounds unbelievable, only people do believe it (even Mrs Weasley gets turned against Hermione because of it). And then we have Cornelius Fudge, head of the Ministry of Magic, who we see actively recasting the rebirth of Voldemort into something more acceptable: the actions of a single madman, and therefore nothing to worry about.

Previously in the series I’ve highlighted dangerously neutral characters like Ollivander the Wand Vendor who seem to revere power over goodness. (And here we get Crouch Senior, who despite being vehemently opposed to Voldemort, is “as ruthless and cruel as many on the Dark side”, and who allowed the use of Unforgivable Curses on those merely suspected of being Death Eaters.) With Cornelius Fudge, though, we see someone with power (he’s Minister for Magic, after all), who’s unwilling to use it, as doing so would upset the status quo. He’s the archetypal “good man who does nothing”, a passive neutral whose passivity empowers those who are prepared to actually use their power.

Art by Jim Kay

Goblet of Fire, despite being the longest book in the series so far, is also the most tightly and satisfyingly plotted. And it features the darkest turn yet, with the moment Harry and Cedric appear in the graveyard feeling like a real switch into bleakness and evil. The book’s big revelation — that all of this was plotted by Voldemort — feels like it’s saying that, despite Harry’s getting through the previous three books and defeating Voldemort each time, it was all for nothing, because Voldemort won this time. All of Harry’s previous victories, then, can seem to have been falsified in this book, as can all the time we’ve spent with the wonderfully battered and cranky “Mad Eye” Moody, who would be my favourite character in the book, if only it hadn’t turned out not to have been “Mad Eye” Moody at all.

What happens after an initiation, a passage through fire? After initiation, one is a member of a group; after passing through fire, one is reborn. Both aspects are acknowledged, I like to think, in the title of the next book, The Order of the Phoenix.


Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J K Rowling

Art by Jonny Duddle

…So, maybe bathrooms aren’t that important in the Harry Potter series, as they don’t feature at all in the third book. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (1999) feels different in a number of ways from the first two books. The basic elements of a Harry Potter story are here — the eruption of magic into the Dursley’s ultra-mundane lives at the start, leading to a spectacular magical-form-of-transport escape (this time the Knight Bus), a visit to Diagon Alley (the Harry Potter equivalent of James Bond’s visits to Q before a mission), a new Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher first encountered outside of Hogwarts, Quidditch, Quidditch, and more damned Quidditch (too much Quidditch in this one), a dark character assumed to be the cause of the main evil but who turns out not to be (previously Snape, then Malfoy, now Sirius Black), an underground chamber (or at least one reached by an underground tunnel) where we get a long exposition before a showdown with the actual evil… But some of the other elements I listed as part of the Harry Potter “formula” in my entry on The Chamber of Secrets are getting a lot more tenuous. The magical item unknowingly acquired in Diagon Alley that turns out to drive the rest of the plot, here, is Ron’s rat. He’s been around for a lot longer, of course, but his oddity (his long-livedness) gets highlighted in Diagon Alley for the first time. Ron and Harry don’t, as they do in the last two books, venture into the Forbidden Forest to meet a dangerous-but-neutral magical creature and gain a vital clue, but Sirius Black has been living in the Forbidden Forest for most of the novel; he just comes out to meet them. And the usual resolution, where Harry pulls a magical object out of an item of clothing — a pocket, a hat — might in this case be fulfilled by Peter Pettigrew, who emerges from Ron’s pocket.

Cliff Wright cover

Perhaps most different to the previous two books is that this is the first in the series (the only one, I think) not to feature a personal appearance by Voldemort (or even a fragment of him). This easily might not have worked — normally, you’d expect each book in a series to up the stakes each time — but actually it allows for a much more satisfying and complex resolution, as it can’t all be explained away as the actions of pure evil, but of human beings in all their complexity of flaws, failures, and virtues. By not featuring Voldemort, the third Harry Potter book actually takes the series up a notch in terms of moral and emotional complexity.

I do think that this book — which is half again as long as either of the previous two — feels a bit baggy in the middle, with a lot less focus, and a few scenes on the soap-opera-ish side that add a little colour to the characters but nothing to the plot. Plus, it’s particularly Quidditchy, and Quidditch — whose matches are, in a way, echoes of the main story’s Eucatastrophic endings, with Harry snatching the Snitch out of nowhere to win the game, just as he pulls a Philosopher’s Stone from his pocket, or the Sword of Gryffindor from a hat — feel a bit manipulative in story terms, as it’s all about Harry feeling bad (when his team loses) or good (when he wins), but without gaining any knowledge or interesting experience en route. (Except for the usual mid-match attempts on his life, I suppose.)

But the ending, as I say, is the best so far — helped no end by being a double ending, as the final events are replayed by Harry and Hermione’s use of the Time-Turner, giving them a much-needed nudge towards another (but not wholly) happy ending. That’s satisfying on a plot level (and it’s done even better in the film, where they have a lot more fun with it), but there’s also deeper emotional satisfaction in Harry’s finding he’s gained a godfather and thinking at one point he’s seen his father.

Brian Selznick cover

There’s a lot more of a personal connection between Harry and the past events that drive this book, too. There’s always the connection of Harry wanting to get his own back on Voldemort for killing his parents, of course, but here we learn a lot more about Harry’s father and his friends at school, and how one of them betrayed him, and how another took the blame. We also learn that Harry’s father and his friends weren’t entirely “good”, as they played a prank on a young Severus Snape (who, in this book, is at his most venomous and mean) that could have killed him. For added poignance, we get to witness a moment whose significance it’s easy to miss, as it’s not underlined in the text, as Harry finds himself in a position very similar to that of Voldemort on the fateful night when his parents died. Voldemort wanted to kill baby Harry, but Lily Potter stood in the way; now, we see Harry wanting to kill Sirius Black (who he thinks is responsible for his parents’ death), only to have Crookshanks the cat leap in the way. It’s like a test of how different Harry is from Voldemort — or, maybe, it’s a living flashback. And Harry’s been having plenty of those, thanks to the Dementors bringing back in vivid detail his mother’s screams on the night she died.

Olly Moss ebook cover

I said in my entry about The Chamber of Secrets that memory and memory-related magic were important to the series, and it’s even more true in this book. Rowling finds all sorts of ways of bringing the past alive as a living force. It can be in characters who were thought to be dead coming back to life (Peter Pettigrew), Harry’s Dementor-driven flashbacks (traumatic memory as a source of weakness), or the counter to them, where positive memories can power a Patronus (memory as a source of strength). Harry and Hermione’s use of the Time-Turner to revisit their own close past and make a few changes is like another version of the series’ use of relived memories (the Mirror of Erised in Stone, Tom Riddle’s diary in Chamber, and Dumbledore’s Pensieve later on). Meanwhile, the malleability of memories and stories about the past are highlighted by Peter Pettigrew’s faking his own death to frame Sirius, but also perhaps in this book’s other memory-themed thread, Divination, where prophecies are a sort of memory of the future, and just as deceptive as memories of the past. (And just as powerful in their ability to reshape the world, too, as comes clear in a later book, where we learn Voldemort’s motive in seeking Harry that night — and thus bringing about his own demise — was down to his believing one particular prophecy.)

Recovering — and correcting — memories and stories of the past, in this book, are part of Harry’s role as a truth-seeker, which can lead not just to a sense of the truth revealed but to a righting of wrongs. Given the chance to kill Pettigrew, the man who brought about his parents’ death, Harry decides to hand him over so his story can be told, meaning not only will Pettigrew get his proper punishment, but Sirius Black can be absolved. As Dumbledore says, in one of his wise summings up at the end of the book:

“Didn’t make any difference?” said Dumbledore quietly. “It made all the difference in the world, Harry. You helped uncover the truth. You saved an innocent man from a terrible fate.”

Kazu Kibuishi cover

And it’s no surprise that a book with such a title as The Prisoner of Azkaban is full of prisons both literal and metaphorical, as well as escapes from them. There’s Harry’s escape from the Dursleys in a burst of magic (and a certain amount of wild-talent psychokinesis, too, which makes this now-teen resemble Stephen King’s Carrie, in a way — both get locked in cupboards by their parent/guardians, after all). There’s Sirius’s escape from Azkaban. There’s Harry’s being told to stay at the Leaky Cauldron and Diagon Alley till he’s released by the arrival of the Weasley clan. There’s Buckbeak’s escape from a sentence of death. There’s Pettigrew’s escape from a self-imposed imprisonment as Ron’s rat. Hogwarts becomes a sort of prison for Harry when he doesn’t have the signed form to let him visit Hogsmeade — until he escapes with the aid of his sneaky magical possessions, the Cloak of Invisibility and the Marauder’s Map. Hermione gets herself trapped in a self-imposed prison of too much schoolwork, till she sets herself free by admitting how much she’s expecting of herself (which is also part of the theme of mental illness that runs through the book, including Lupin’s self-injuring when he struggles with his wolf-side, Harry’s traumatic flashbacks, Sirius Black’s purported “madness”, and Hagrid’s despair at Buckbeak’s fate). Harry learns to escape a little from his own past, too, by learning to counter the traumatic memories the Dementors bring out in him. (And I can’t help likening Harry’s fainting fits before the dark-hooded Dementors to a wounded Frodo’s wooziness before the Nazgûl in Lord of the Rings.)

Along with this theme of imprisonment and freedom is one of punishment and retribution. As usual, it’s introduced in comic form in the Dursley section, with Harry having to pretend he goes to school at “St Brutus’s Secure Centre for Incurably Criminal Boys”, which leads Aunt Marge to ask if he’s “beaten often”. Uncle Vernon, meanwhile, on hearing the Muggle-friendly version of Sirius Black’s supposed atrocities, asks:

“When will they learn,” said Uncle Vernon, pounding the table with his large purple fist, “that hanging’s the only way to deal with these people?”

Back cover of UK paperback, art by Cliff Wright

While the series has had dark moments from the start, they become less comic and more oppressive in The Prisoner of Azkaban, with its decidedly Gothic tinges of trauma, betrayal, depression, and madness. This is all part of the series’, and its main characters’, growing up. (Their entry into adolescence — the start of their transformation from childhood to adulthood — is perhaps heralded by the four key figures from the past, Moony, Wormtail, Padfoot and Prongs, all being animagi, wizards who can transform themselves.) Harry is more outspoken against the Dursleys, and experiences a killing hatred in this book, something I don’t feel would fit in the previous two. Perhaps the ultimate sign of his growing up is that he at one point mistakes himself for his own father. Hermione, meanwhile, learns not to expect so much of herself, and indulges in a little uncharacteristic rule-breaking. Ron, um… Well, Ron learns to get over the loss of his rat.

(And it’s nice to see that, as Harry’s Patronus is a stag, he’s joining other YA protagonists covered on this blog — Stag Boy, A Monster Calls — in allying with the horned god Cernunnos.)