Finally, a Harry Potter entry! Long overdue, considering the fact that if I were ever to do a list of my five favorite stories of all time, the Harry Potter series would rank number one.
I am, of course, far from the only deeply devoted Harry Potter fan, so it’s rare to call anything about it underrated, but compared with the phenomenal world-building, action, and character relationships that define the series, the head-spinning, mystery-style plots are often overlooked.
Prisoner of Azkaban is the most intricately crafted example, and yet, most discussion of its ending centers around the one less-than-understated detail, the new teacher by the name of Remus Lupin turning out to be *gasp*
Being considerably better versed in Latin and world mythology now than I was at nine years old, I can’t entirely argue with that complaint, but Lupin’s condition is just one small wrinkle in a much bigger, extra-twisted tapestry of a plot. Here’s my best effort at a painstakingly abridged refresher course:
Harry’s supposed to be hiding from an escaped prisoner, Sirius Black, who was friends with his parents before betraying them and causing their deaths, and who now intends to kill Harry too. Harry keeps seeing omens of death, particularly an enormous black dog, and also has to deal with his best friends, Ron and Hermione, fighting over Ron’s ailing pet rat, Scabbers.
Ron gets attacked by the dog, which turns out not only to be solid but to be the magical alternate form of Sirius Black.
Then the moon rises, Lupin transforms into a killing machine, and there’s some time travel,
It sounds ridiculously complicated and potentially tedious and/or confusing in its ultra-condensed form, but the true beauty of this twist (or, more accurately, series of twists) is that it came before Rowling developed her reputation for paving-slab-sized tomes. As mentioned above, I’m one of the many people who would happily follow her through any number of pages, but that doesn’t mean I’m not dazzled by the way all the layers of Prisoner of Azkaban are somehow all perfectly, easily explored in a scant four hundred-odd.
Every single scene in the book sets up the finale, from the subtle mentions of Peter and Scabbers’s matching missing digits to the break-in when Sirius not-so-mistakenly goes after Ron instead of Harry in the dark, giving every reveal that perfect “I should have known!” effect. Scabbers’s reveal as the surprise villain is made even more perfect by the fact that he’s been part of the series since book one.
And when it’s finally time to explain things completely, there are no rambling expository chapters. The monologues are short, emotionally loaded, and punctuated with necessary action and a Back to the Future-esque scramble to set things straight.
If you skipped that spoiler alert because you’ve read Prizoner of Azkaban just once or seen the movie, I highly recommend going back to read or re-read it; it’s such a perfect, textbook example of the complex variety of twisted plots.
And if you skipped it without already knowing how the book ends, all I can say is that I am so, so sorry.