You may have noticed I’ve got a Book to Movies giveaway going on. So I thought I’d do a few more Book v Movie reviews, or at least discussions. Today is the turn of my favourite Harry Potter book – and movie, and I don’t think they are necessarily the same. I mean, you could enjoy one of the movies better than one of the books, and I do enjoy the movie of Chamber of Secrets better than I like the book, mainly due to the length of time it takes to get back to Hogwarts in the book, I think.
But… the Prisoner of Azkaban. This is the one where Harry starts to discover the deeper secrets about himself, his parents and that awful night when Voldemort killed them. The Dementors arrive – and clearly JK Rowling had the same nightmares of a shadowy black-clad being poking its head around the corner of the landing and looking at her as she lay in bed that I did. Or that’s the way I always thought of them. The film versions were just as scary, with that horrible mouth ready to suck your soul away. It’s interesting that I know absolutely that this was a childhood fear, yet I would hesitate to put something so scary into a Middle Grade book. Maybe I ought to reassess my benchmarks.
We get visits to Hogsmeade – a delight for the film – and a bit of Quidditch, but the Dementors interrupt the match and Harry loses his broom. The Dementors are there, of course, to protect Harry from the ever-present threat of the escaped convict, Sirius Black, who seems to be out to get him.
It’s hard to look back on this book as I was when I first read it. It was published in 1999 and I probably read it in 2001. Although I’ve read it a lot of times – and used it to practice my French, German, Spanish and try to make a go of it in Galician, thanks to a present from my brother (it’s amazing what languages you can understand when it’s been faithfully translated and you know the book in your mother tongue!). The originality of the secrets revealed in this book, and the wondrous mechanisms for delivering them; the more I skip through it the more wondrous I find them – Dementors, Lupin, the Patronus, Buckbeak, Hermione’s time-turner, Trelawney’s prediction, the Marauder’s Map – and the more I feel this really is the best book. I think it wins over later books especially because it was a tight story. One of my friends commented after books 6 and 7 that they could do with a good edit. I disagreed at the time, because I felt every little detail needed to be included. Now I wonder whether that’s the case. Azkaban is tight, and loses nothing through allowing us to interpret the additional detail.
The trouble is, memory is overlaid by the film, since the visuals of all these details that I love just spring into view as they are in the film. Now I’ can’t remember how I first imagined them. There are some books where you still remember how you first saw them (the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, although Strider and Viggo Mortensen are indivisible) and can maybe recapture your own version when you reread them. The film of Azkaban is not only faithful to the book (with the possible exception of the relationship of Hagrid’s hut to the rest of Hogwarts) but also faithful to my visual memory of the book. I suspect it’s my memory that is wrong – since I read Azkaban before the first film came out – although I was always happy with Hogwarts being at the end of Loch Rannoch, since that was where I’d put it in the first place! I know I chose different actors for Lupin and Sirius, but David Thewlis and Gary Oldman were both perfect in their roles, then and later, and I am delighted to have been introduced to two such talented actors (and for the help it gave their careers, although arguably they were doing fine beforehand). Oldman as George Smiley is superb.
The key thing about Azkaban is the twist, the overturning of preconceptions, and the realisation that things are not necessarily how they seem. Harry takes huge steps forward as a person in this book, and at just the right time for a third year student (in UK schooling). Harry’s choice at the end is important, for us as readers and viewers who do not want him to turn to the dark side, and for Harry himself when it comes to the final showdown in book 7.
I love this book, and I love this film. Maybe I should read the book again, just to savour it. If you haven’t read it yet, I wish you joy!
Don’t forget to enter the Books to Movies Giveaway and go bloghopping to other participants.