Harry Potter — the Third Book
Posted by Casey on October 3, 2007
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is my favorite of the Harry Potter movies. I liked the director’s touch a lot and was very disappointed when he didn’t do the next movie.
The book is also much better than the first two. The writing is more confident, stronger, less self-conscious, less forced. Practice makes perfect and Rowling certainly improved as a writer with this book. I didn’t lose interest part way through, as I did with the first two, which means she’s dropping more interesting crumbs of information that are resolved at the end of the book. It still tends to drag and she still has problems with pacing her scenes, but there’s enough strength of imagination and story to keep the reader from wandering off.
The difference between this book and the first two is she finally got away from consciously writing for kids. Now an argument can be made that the increasing sophistication level of the books mirrors the growth of the protagonist. The writing-to-appeal-to-kids seems a little forced in the first two books but I don’t think Rowling was trying to make the reading level equivalent to Harry Potter’s abilities at ages eleven and twelve. It’s hard enough writing a book and then consciously altering the writing style on top of that. I think Rowling finally got confident enough in her writing to let her natural style come out.
There are things that continue to drive me crazy about her writing. Her action and suspenseful scenes are paced the same as her non-action scenes and it pretty near kills the action and suspense every time. Her use of adverbs is laughable and unnecessary and sometimes just wrong. I’m appalled that they got by the editor. On the other hand, she may have had thousands of adverbs in her original manuscripts and these are the ones the editor missed crossing out. Just say no to adverbs. Really. They add nothing to the story (except a good laugh because a lot of them are Tom Swifties) and ruin otherwise good sentences.
Now on to the major problem I have with Azkaban. The fantasy slips. In a major way. For fantasy to be credible, an author has to build rules for how the magic works within the fantasy world and then follow these rules without exception. If the rules start slipping then credibility goes out the window and anyone can save the day (or do anything) by just snapping their fingers or waving a wand. If there are no rules for magic, then magic can solve everything in the story. The story has no real tension or suspense because there’s no chance of failure for the protagonist.
Rowling lets the readers know early on that Hermione is doing something that allows her to attend two classes at the same time. She then uses this same device to allow Harry to save the day. So far so good. Actually a good way to make a minor mysterious story element into the key for resolving the plot. The problem is, Rowling set up rules for this Time-Turner for Hermione to attend classes and then changed the rules when Hermione and Harry use it at the end of the book.
The Time-Turner allows Hermione to go back in time to attend a class at the same time as the class she just attended (I think that makes sense). The rules for Hermione is she cannot tell anyone what she’s doing.
Now, when Dumbledore allows Harry and Hermione to use the Time-Turner to save Sirius Black he says, “But remember this, both of you: you must not be seen. Miss Granger, you know the law–you know what is at stake . . . You–must–not–be–seen.”
So if the law is you can’t be seen when you use the Time-Turner, Hermione can’t be seen when she’s going back in time to attend class. But in the middle of the book, Ron says, “I heard her talking to Professor Vector, that Arithmancy witch, this morning. They were going on about yesterday’s lesson, but Hermione can’t’ve been there, because she was with us in Care of Magical Creatures! And Ernie McMillan told me she’s never missed a Muggle Studies class, but half of them are at the same time as Divination, and she’s never missed one of them either!”
Obviously, she’s not only seen but is fully engaged in those classes she attends using the Time-Turner.
And minutes after Dumbledore tells them they cannot be seen because it’s a law, Hermione tells Harry, “Professor McGonagall made me swear I wouldn’t tell anyone. She had to write all sorts of letters to the Ministry of Magic so I could have one. She had to tell them that I was a model student, and that I’d never, ever use it for anything except my studies . . . ” And Harry never thinks to ask, “But how did you do that without being seen?” since Dumbledore had been so adamant about it and Hermione keeps reminding Harry they can’t be seen while they save Sirius Black.
This is such a major slip in every way–plotting, world building, rules of magic–that it undermines the Time-Turner as a plot-resolving device. I’m surprised the editor didn’t catch it, since story continuity is something editors keep track of.
I hate to see such lazy attention to major plot points, especially in such a popular book. I’m afraid the quality of these books have suffered from the pressure Rowling was under to finish them and the publisher was under to get them to the readers. Putting creative writing on corporate time-tables that cater more to the consumer than the writer results in books that couldn’t possibly be as good as they would have been if Rowling had been given the time she really needed to fully engage her imagination for each book.