I finished reading the third book in June but July and August have flashed by – largely taken over by a move to Scotland. My plan to read a book a month is definitely looking grim but I’m still determined to squeeze in the next four books into two months.

Book cover of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J. K. Rowing

Here are some of the thoughts I had while reading the third book:

  • There is so much casual fat-shaming of Dudley in this book – something I hadn’t even thought about before Witch, Please and The Gayly Prophet pointed it out.
  • Harry calls Hedwig his only friend in his house – his only family – which is heartbreaking in itself but it also makes her death in the last book so much more gutting. Relatedly, Harry is constantly described as small and skinny for his age which I glossed over in earlier reads but this time was taken aback by the thought that his size is probably a result of the Durlsey’s abuse where he is starved and made to live in a cupboard. What impact has this had on Harry physically? Mentally? Emotionally?
  • When I read the book as a kid and young person in India, the Weasley’s poverty felt more theoretical than real to me – surrounded as I was by such abject levels of poverty and having grown up without much wealth. I just figured this was the British version of poverty – like many people back home, the pictures of the UK and the US and the West in general we received was full of so much prosperity that I couldn’t really come to terms with their poverty. However, after moving to the UK and after the episode with Ali, I’ve realised that even in British terms, the Weasleys are definitely not extremely poor. They might be poor by the standards of the magical world but their lifestyle is not extreme poverty, my friend.
  • In Ron’s letter to Harry, he writes, “I hope the Muggles didn’t give you a hard time.” That language is a tad dehumanising even though it is the Dursleys he’s speaking about. The letter also includes the phrase “Don’t let the Muggles get you down.” I’d forgotten that this sentence appears in the books – because I have a T-shirt with the same thing on it. Usually, I associate the sentence with specifically Dursleyish Muggles – close-minded and prejudiced and bigoted – and to an extent I still do. However, Jack once pointed out that my shirt promoted anti-Muggle prejudice. Even though he was joking, I now realise how much anti-Muggleness is baked into the structure of the British magical world. I’ve read defenses which point to the Muggles persecuting the magical folk a few hundred years ago – but that leads to a new form of violence. Everyday bigotry – both malicious and benign – do work to dehumanise a group of people and allow fascists like Voldemort and Grindelwald to become prominent in the witching world – and Modi and Trump in the real world. I realise that I now hesitate before saying the phrase wizarding world ever since The Gayly Prophet hosts implied how patriarchal it was and they refer to it as the witching world instead. Even Hagrid calls the Dursleys the Muggles but not Hermione – who, coming from the same cultural background herself, presumably cannot bring herself to use such dehumanising language.
  • This language would have been much easier to defend had it only referred to the Dursleys since they’re so completely terrible. I find the description of the Dursleys so much more recognisable now that I’m in the UK – Petunia is nosy, Vernon is pro-capital punishment – bet they both hate immigrants, think people on benefits are running a scam, and voted for Brexit. Aunt Marge seems even worse than the Dursleys. She approves of teachers beating up children and asks Petunia to write to Harry’s school to use more force – something which even Vernon seems a bit alarmed will set Harry off. She disparages Harry’s parents right in front of him – thinks unemployed people are scroungers (a sentiment the Dursleys share, I’m sure).
  • Again, I was only able to pick up on Stan’s regional working class accent and its implications after moving to the UK and after the episode with Ali. The politics of accent in the UK is also interesting. As someone in India, most British media I watched earlier seemed to portray a singular version of the British accent with others only present to be mocked. Now however, I think shows are trying to be more inclusive of the accents they feature since this has such class, regional and national implications which influence real-life interactions as well. As Jack always complained in Leeds, hardly any of the English people understood his Scottish accent.
  • Stan disparages Muggles and their intelligence too but that just seems to be the norm that he’s buying into without any real malice. Although he does sign up with the Death Eaters so who knows, he might have been a raging bigot all along. Though there might be a link there between benign prejudice being turned into murderous hatred.
  • Is the Knight Bus as a working class magical mode of transport? Is it just the only one? Are there people who cannot afford Floo powder or houses with chimneys?
  • Problems with the justice system is an underlying issue throughout the book. Azkaban is inhumane and a terrible way to reform criminals. Moreover, even innocent people are sent to Azkaban on scant or no evidence at all. Both Hagrid and Sirius have spent two months and twelve years in there respectively. There’s parallels with real-life oppressive prison systems in India and the US. Sirius is deeply traumatised by his twelve years in Azkaban and suffers from depression for the rest of his life. In Azkaban, he blames himself for his best friends’ murders and, thanks to the Dementors, is trapped alone with his darkest thoughts. The justice system is so flawed and broken even in Buckbeak’s case where Lucius Malfoy’s influence and word is the deciding factor. I wonder how much of a role corruption and nepotism plays in Azkaban too. Dumbledore is happy to break the rules by helping Sirius and Buckbeak escape because the rules are unjust in this case. As much as you’re suspicious of Dumbledore, he does seem to be trying to create a more compassionate world – in Hogwarts first and subsequently the wider world.
  • The Dementors are shown as truly evil creatures but it also sounds like the witches and wizards have weaponised them as a form of state control. What are Dementors like in the wild?
  • Fudge suggests that Harry just book a room in The Leaky Cauldron for three weeks – where’s the money coming from?! Of course the fact that Harry can afford it reflects his economic privilege. Unless the government is paying for it or it’s free thanks to Tom, the landlord’s, generosity?
  • There seem to be very limited gender roles for women in the magical world – Mrs Weasley and Hermione and Ginny giggling over a love potion Molly made when she was in Hogwarts; some country witches in The Leaky Cauldron talking about their shopping while wizards were talking about an academic journal called Transfiguration Today – the structure seems to be pretty patriarchal in a way which delineates what men and women can be interested in.
  • If Dementors are a metaphor for depression, it makes sense that Harry was the worst affected in the train and Ginny and Neville were also very pale while Ron and Hermione were shaken but didn’t seem traumatised. The former three have had terrible experiences with abuse and trauma (Harry’s childhood, Neville’s parents, Ginny’s possession) while the latter two have relatively safe childhoods.
  • Accessibility at Hogwarts is terrible! The Divination classroom is accessible only by a ladder into the ceiling. They do make accommodations when Firenze the centaur begins teaching the class in Order of the Phoenix and the school provides him with a ground floor classroom. Which is great for Firenze but what about students with disabilities?
  • Hermione is a much better teacher for Neville than Snape is. He terrorises while she patiently explains. Peer education is a great pedagogical practice but Snape penalises her for it by first asking her not to help and then taking away points from Gryffindor for Neville successfully learning from her (to save his toad no less! Snape was going to test out Neville’s potion – which he thought might have turned out poisonous – on Trevor!)
  • Lupin is also a good teacher. He has practical activities to begin with, teaches patiently, explains the process and what should happen before it happens. Thanks to this, Neville is wildly successful in his class because that’s just what he needs! A different teaching method and not a bully! Even Lupin’s exam is great – activity-based and practical – an obstacle course which includes dealing with the creatures they’ve been studying all year.
  • Filch is casually described as a failed wizard. 🙄 Some casual anti-Muggle, anti-Squib prejudice there with hints of ableism if you take magic as a metaphor for ability. As if people without magical powers can’t have full lives full of value and dignity. The fact that Filch doesn’t is a failure of imagination.
  • Boggart Snape in a dress scene makes me uncomfortable now given Rowling’s transphobia. Also it again reflects such limited and strictly-defined gender roles. Why is a man dressing in women’s clothes funny? Are there no gender-queer or gender nonconforming magical folk?
  • Draco is such a classist ass. He asks Rom whether he wouldn’t rather live in the Shrieking Shack because he heard everyone in the Weasley household sleeps in the same room. What’s wrong with a family sleeping in the same room?!
  • The magical world has such entrenched ideas about any creatures who aren’t wizards and witches. Lupin has been a much-loved teacher all year but as soon as Ron discovers he’s a werewolf, he instantly dehumanises him in a mixture of fear and disgust by exclaiming, “Get away from me, werewolf.” To Lupin! A kind compassionate man! I suppose Ron doesn’t know him very well yet but Hermione didn’t share this prejudice even though she had discovered his lycanthropy ages ago – presumably based on knowing Lupin through his classroom interactions. Even Snape refers to him as a werewolf but that isn’t as shocking since he hates the Marauders.
  • Being a werewolf sounds like having a chronic illness which is more manageable with recent medical discoveries. The wolfsbane potion makes it easier for Lupin to manage the symptoms – a potion which wasn’t around when he was younger. Even then, Dumbledore made accommodations for a young Remus, without having a potion to keep him safe. He provided Lupin with access to education and society – something which being a werewolf – and a disabled person – doesn’t seem to allow. Being a werewolf – like being disabled – impacts all your chances at a good life if you can’t get education or paid employment.