Study Guide

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban Themes

  • Fear

    Being thirteen is scary. School gets harder. Friendships become more complicated. And hair pops up in weird places. In Hairy Potter, oops, Harry Potter's case, these three things (which would be scary enough alone) are complicated by magic and mayhem.

    Tough school assignments include confronting boggarts, which manifest themselves as your greatest fear. (Our boggart takes the form of a Dunkin employee saying "Sorry, we're all out of Boston Cream.")

    Oh—we forgot one more thing: a cold-blooded killer's out for Harry, or so he thinks. Harry's biggest lesson at Hogwarts this year will be confronting his fears.

    Questions About Fear

    1. What does Lupin mean when he says what Harry fears most is "fear itself"? Is this assessment true? What is Harry's greatest fear?
    2. How is the theme of fear more apparent in this movie than in the two previous installments?
    3. How does Lupin teach his students to combat fear? How can his lesson be applied to real-life situations?
    4. How do the bad guys of the story use fear to their advantage?

    Chew on This

    Fear is more powerful than any magic, and in fact, magic itself can't conquer fear. It's only the attitude of the person facing their fear that can stop it. They must first have the confidence to fight fear before they can cast a spell.

    The unknown's scary. Sirius is more frightening the less Harry really knows about him. And the rumors make him seem more fearsome. But once Harry learns who the real Sirius is, he's no longer afraid.

  • Loyalty

    The Sorting Hat puts people into different houses based on the loyalties that lie within their minds. Hufflepuffs are loyal to food. Slytherins are loyal to no one but themselves. Ravenclaws are loyal returners of library books. And Gryffindors are loyal to courage, bravery, and determination. They're loyal to loyalty itself.

    It's no surprise that Harry, Ron, and Hermione are Gryffindors. They value loyalty above anything else, and they'd do anything for one another. Sirius Black was also in Gryffindor, as hardcore Potter fans know. If Harry'd known this during Prisoner of Azkaban, maybe a lot of the confusion about Sirius's identity could have been avoided.

    Questions About Loyalty

    1. Why is loyalty such an important quality to Harry Potter?
    2. How do Harry and his friends show their loyalty to one another?
    3. What does Sirius do to win Harry's loyalty? Does Sirius deserve Harry's loyalty?

    Chew on This

    Loyalty's hard to earn with Harry Potter, because he's dealt with a lifetime of betrayals.

    One consistent quality among all the bad guys in Harry Potter—regardless of their badness levels—is a lack of loyalty. Peter Pettigrew sold out his friends. Draco Malfoy is a little traitor. And the Dementors will suck the soul of anyone who gets in their way.

  • Family

    It's easy to take family for granted if you have one—even if you have a bad one. But Harry Potter, who never knew his parents, longs for the strong family connection that he's never found with the dastardly Dursleys.

    As an orphan, Harry's always in search of a father figure. He also holds out a shred of hope that his father might still be present in some form. But Harry's desire for family connection is one reason Harry initially despises Sirius more than any other "villain" character he has encountered so far.

    Harry's tired of being let down by people who should be caring for him. Seriously, parental units, step it up.

    Questions About Family

    1. What does Harry learn about his family? Does he learn anything that surprises him?
    2. How does what Harry discovers about his family, especially his father, change the way he sees himself?
    3. Who acts like a father figure to Harry?

    Chew on This

    Sirius and Lupin are valuable to Harry because they knew his father. They can tell Harry stories about his dad that Harry would otherwise never know.

    Although Harry will always be affected by his parents' death, he gets closer at coming to terms with it in this story. By living up to his parents' expectations, Harry will continue to hold fond memories of them in his heart.

  • The Supernatural

    Without magic, Harry Potter would be yet another English boarding school story. Those stories are literally old school, with boarding school segments in both Jane Eyre and David Copperfield dating back to the 19th Century. And no, we're not talking about the David Copperfield that made the Statue of Liberty disappear.

    Harry Potter isn't making any Hogwarts statuary disappear, but he does delivers on the magical elements, giving the traditional English boarding school stories a fantastic twist that really comes to life on the big screen.

    Questions About The Supernatural

    1. What new magical elements are introduced in Prisoner of Azkaban?
    2. How does Harry Potter take familiar magical elements—like werewolves—and adapt them into something unique to its world?
    3. How does Harry Potter use magical elements to complicate and enhance typical teenage themes, like growing up and finding your identity?

    Chew on This

    Magic is both good and bad. It can help Harry—the Time Turner or the Patronus charm—and it can hurt him—Dementors and Lupin's lycanthropy.

    It sounds cheesy, but Harry's true power comes from within. His growing self-confidence makes him a more powerful wizard.

  • Revenge

    Don't cross him; you might find yourself in a world of pain. No, we're not talking about Lord Voldemort (although that sentence could apply to him, too). In this case, we're talking about Harry Potter. Our protagonist. The hero of the story. The kid whose name is on the cover.

    When a centuries-old battle between factions of wizards is going on, even the good guys have to get their hands dirty. Morality is always a grey area, and we don't mean Gandalf the Grey. That's a different series.

    Questions About Revenge

    1. Why does Harry initially want to find Sirius Black? What does he want to do to him, and why?
    2. Why does Harry intend to turn Pettigrew over to the Dementors instead of getting revenge on him?
    3. How do other characters take revenge? Consider Hermione and Malfoy, or Malfoy and Hagrid, for example. What are their motivations for harming another person (or animal)?

    Chew on This

    Revenge doesn't necessarily make someone a bad guy in Harry's world. The motivations behind the revenge are what matters.

    Hermione is the only character that actually gets revenge in this book, and her plot isn't premediated. Sirius turns out not to want revenge against Harry. Harry doesn't kill Sirius. But Hermione punches Malfoy on the spur of the moment.