Published in 1999, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is the third book in the Harry Potter series. And this happens to be the novel that really kicked off the Harry Potter craze in America. It was already big in Britain, but it became much more of a worldwide phenomenon after Azkaban (and for good reason, as we'll see). Case in point: check out the huge upswing in interviews that J.K. Rowling did to promote the novel.
This was the last time that a new Harry Potter book was released out of sync as well, much to the relief of newly obsessed American fans. See, for the first three novels, Britain got the books before the United States did. In this case, Azkaban came out in Britain in July 1999; Americans had to wait until September to get their hands on it. Can you imagine that delay occurring for Book 6? There would be rioting in the streets. Disproportionate numbers of Americans would be on planes to London. And there were already a lot of impatient fans all the way back in 1999.
It's also cool to see how the birth of the Harry Potter phenomenon coincided with the rise of the Internet. Crazy as it may seem, there was a time when the Internet wasn't all that big – no, no, we're not making that up. Back in the day, people used dial-up (slower than dinosaurs), AOL was all the rage, and pretty lame looking websites hosted on GeoCities and Tripod were the norm. So it's cool to note that Harry Potter websites, like the Leaky Cauldron, popped up in cyberspace around the time Azkaban was released. This was the first time a literature series really tapped into the Internet, and Harry Potter fansites, discussion groups, and communities, would start catching on like wildfire in coming years.
And since Harry Potter gained that much more publicity in this era, it also gained more scrutiny and more criticism. Around the time that Azkaban came out, some groups of far-right conservative Christians formed a protest groups, decrying Harry Potter as "immoral." Given the huge number of sales, it sure looks as though most people didn't take this kind of talk seriously. And at this point, Harry Potter is pretty much universally beloved. But it's interesting to note that there was actual controversy over these novels. Plus, the controversy itself indicated that Harry Potter was well on its way to becoming more than just a series of kid books – it was turning into a full-fledged cultural phenomenon.
Of course, that all took place over a decade ago. What can you expect if you're reading this book now, for the first time, or you're returning to it for a re-read? Well, you can probably expect to be surprised. This book is a change of pace from the first two – it's darker, it starts getting into those awkward teen years, and it really sets the stage for all the later novels in the series. This stage setting is quite literal, too – we're introduced to a huge number of important new characters and places in this novel. It's both fun and surprising to go back and discover how the stage was set in this novel, and to meet some now-beloved characters for the first time.
But this novel doesn't just serve as a prologue for all the action to come; it's also a fitting conclusion to the first story arc in the Harry Potter series. It's a sort of bon voyage to childhood. This novel spends a lot of time thinking about the past, and it thus takes the time to reflect some before plowing ahead into a whole new round of danger.
One other thing worth mentioning: if you're coming to this book after just having seen the movie, then you're definitely in for something of a shock. The movie captured the spirit of the novel, and a lot of its themes. (Check out our "Best of the Web" section for reviews of the film!). But, due to time constraints, it necessarily cut out a lot of major plotlines. You don't need to worry about having spoiled the book if you've seen the movie, at least.
Care because it's cool, guys. Really – the title character of a novel is a wrongly-accused escaped convict who used to ride a flying motorcycle. This novel also features hippogriffs, crazy creepy Dementors, epic flashbacks, people who morph into animals (and vice versa), time travel, Quidditch matches, and more mysteries than you can shake a (broom)stick at.
Aside from superficial reasons, this novel plays a really important role in the Harry Potter series. This is a major transition novel in the series – it effectively ushers us out of the more childish stage and into the more adult novels, featuring a mature and self-aware Harry. We meet a huge number of characters who are really important in the later books, and we get a much-welcomed crash course into the first war with Voldemort and into Harry's parents, James and Lily.
J.K. Rowling Interview Archive
Great archive of interviews that J.K. Rowling has done, from the release of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone to the present. We're linking to the 1999 page, which is the year Azkaban came out.
MuggleNet's Azkaban Page
Tons of information and media on Azkaban, the book. While you're there, have fun exploring the rest of the site – though beware of Harry Potter overload.
J.K. Rowling's Official Website
Rowling posts excerpts from her book and answers all sorts of fan questions.
The Harry Potter Lexicon – Azkaban Page
The HP Lexicon ranks is one of the best Harry Potter data dumps on the web; part encyclopedia, part archive, part magazine, this site has essays, articles, and timelines for all the novels. The Azkaban content is particularly nice, especially the timelines.
Harry Potter Lexicon Azkaban Timeline
We have to give a special shout-out to this Azkaban timeline, which tracks the events of the jam-packed night when Harry and Hermione travel through time. Have fun dissecting everything here, and then go check out the other cool timelines on the site.
Harry Potter Wiki
We think there's a wiki for everything nowadays, and Harry Potter is no exception. This one has tons of information on everything you could want to know about the series. Go to town browsing the links and cross-references in the Azkaban article.
NY Times Book Review of Azkaban
Wicked author Gregory Maguire reviews the Prisoner of Azkaban back in 1999.
Harry Potter Book vs. Movie Quiz
Think you know your Potter? Try out this fun quiz, which tests your knowledge of the differences between Azkaban the book and Azkaban the movie.
The Leaky Cauldron
Great Harry Potter news site, with information, media, and articles on all the books and films.
January Magazine Review of Azkaban
Nice book review from 1999.
Alcatraz: The History
Interested in learning about another infamous prison located on an island? Check out this great website on the history of Alcatraz (which sounds a bit like Azkaban, come to think of it – coincidence? We think not).
Time Travel in the Potterverse
MuggleNet's page devoted to the ins and outs of time travel in Harry Potter.
Review Roundup for The Prisoner of Azkaban (the Movie)
Great roundup of pretty much every review for the Prisoner of Azkaban movie. The site links to all the reviews too, so you can check out the full thing if you spot a publication or a critic you particularly like.
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)
IMDb page for the Azkaban movie – has lots of pictures, links, and trivia.
Entertainment Weekly's Harry Potter Portal
Check out all of EW's Harry Potter coverage over the years, which has been mainly devoted to the films.
Salon's Review of Azkaban
Nice review of the Azkaban movie over on Salon.
The Prisoner of Azkaban Theatrical Trailer
Great trailer for the 2004 movie version of Azkaban.
The Fine Bros Lost Parody: The Harry Potter Episode
If you were wondering where Voldemort was in this book, wonder no more. He was on the Lost island! Or his action figure was at least. Enjoy the action-figure insanity, which is admittedly funnier if you know something about Lost.
Azkaban Video Game Trailer
A trailer for one of the many Azkaban video games floating around.
Azkaban Cast Interviews
Interviews with various members of the Azkaban cast, as well as the director and producer.
An Enchanted Journey Part One
Part One of a behind-the-scenes documentary about the making of the Azkaban movie.
HP Unofficial YouTube Channel
Channel with a ton of interviews of J.K. Rowling and the cast of the Harry Potter films over the years.
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban Audiobook
Purchase and download the Audiobook from Random House Audio
The Leaky Cauldron Gallery
Huge Harry Potter gallery, with images from the films, publicity events, Rowling appearances, book covers, etc.
Same deal as the gallery on The Leaky Cauldron – more Harry Potter media than you can look at in a day.
Image of Alcatraz, the infamous prison off the coast of San Francisco.
Check out how this creepy wizarding prison bears a strong resemblance to Alcatraz, and not just in name.
Leaky Cauldron Book Cover Gallery
Check out images of Harry Potter book covers from around the world.