By Marcia Montenegro (page 2 of 4)

Written October, 2001


Book Three, The Prisoner of Azakaban (NY, NY: Scholastic Press, 1999)

Scary, dark imagery and references to death:

The third book is darker than the second one. References that are grisly, or refer to madness and death, are so numerous that only a few can be listed here. Perhaps the best example of this are the dementors, creatures that are never clearly described as to whether they are actual beings or are spirits or something else. Rowling gives us the dementors' job description: "They infest the darkest, filthiest places, they glory in decay and despair; they drain peace, hope, and happiness out of the air around them....If it can, the dementor will feed on you long enough to reduce you to something like itself...soul-less and evil," (187). Dementors feed on people's happiness, and their victims usually "go mad within weeks," (188, also 97). When Harry first sees a dementor, he sees this: "There was a hand protruding from the cloak and it was glistening, grayish, slimy-looking, and scabbed, like something dead that had decayed in water..." (83). The effect on Harry is frightening: "Harry's eyes rolled up into his head. He couldn't see. He was drowning in cold. ...He was being dragged downward, the roaring growing louder..." (83).

Harry's reaction to the dementors grows even more terrifying: he hears the screams of his mother as she is being murdered. This is portrayed vividly when Harry, playing Quidditch, hears his mother's cries that he supposedly heard as a baby when his parents were murdered: "Not Harry, please no, take me, kill me instead -....Not Harry! Please. . . have mercy. . .have mercy. . ." Harry tells Lupin, "I can hear Voldemort murdering my mum," (187). And later the book states, "His mother was screaming in his ears . . . She was going to be the last thing he ever heard," (384).

Lupin, a popular professor and a champion of Harry's, turns out to be a werewolf. Lupin tells Harry that when he was younger and hung out with Harry's dad and two other friends, they turned themselves into animals to keep Lupin company; this was against the rules (354). Lupin, who was dangerous during the werewolf episode, was smuggled away where he could not harm anyone. As a professor, he takes a potion that allows him to sleep off the werewolf transformation each month. However, in the story, Lupin turns into a werewolf in front of Harry and Ron. Although Harry and Ron escaped unharmed, Lupin ends up leaving the school because he could have bitten someone, turning them into a werewolf (422, 423).

These scenes seem too intense and too dark for the children who read these books. It is emphasized that these are just a few of the many examples of such imagery. Pages with references to death of people (some pages with more than one reference) are: 38, 40, 54, 65, 66, 73, 78, 107, 141, 159, 173, 179, 184, 187, 203, 206, 208, 213, 214, 215, 228, 239, 243, 361, 363, 354-65, 373, 384, 399. Pages 141 and 214 have three references to death each; pages 206 and 215 each have four references to death; and page 208 has six.

References to the occult and magick

Thought forms and Familiar Spirits:

Harry is taught by Prof. Lupin (a name meaning "wolflike") to conjure a Patronus, a guardian spirit, against the attack of the Dementors. This is a very vivid, rather drawn-out episode in the book (237-242) during which Harry confronts the dreaded Dementors and hears his mother's voice from the past as she was being murdered (239). Lupin tells Harry that this conjuring of the Patronus is "highly advanced magick" and that the Patronus is a sort of "a guardian" to protect Harry. When Harry does this later in the book, it turns out that Harry's Patronus is a silver stag (411).

What Lupin seems to be teaching Harry is how to conjure what in the occult is called a "thought-form," sometimes considered a familiar spirit, especially if it takes the form of an animal. A thought-form is a "quasi-independent constellation of psychic elements," conjured up to "act in accordance" with the will of one who conjures it, and which is "reabsorbed" into the person's consciousness when it has done its job (Farrar, 93, 240-41, 320-21). The thought-form is considered to be an astral entity, a spirit conjured on the astral plane by someone on the earth plane (Gonzalez-Wippler, 105). The astral plane, according to some occult and New Age teachings, is a dimension beyond the material plane which can be contacted in dreams, through rituals, or visited by the astral self. The astral plane is also considered to be "the working ground of the magician," (Gonzalez-Wippler, 98). [For further information, see Marcia's Occult Terms on her site under "Astral Projection"].

Guiley states that a familiar may be a thought-form "created magically and empowered to carry out a certain task on the astral plane," (Guiley, 120, 317). She adds that a shaman (practitioner of the occult, usually in an indigenous culture) acquires his familiar spirits when he is initiated, and these spirits manifest in "animal, reptile or bird" forms (Guiley, 120). As Lupin tells Harry, each "Patronus" is "unique to the wizard who conjures it," (237). The shaman may send out his familiars to battle for him (Guiley, 120), just as Harry sends out the Patronus to fight the Dementors.

Miscellaneous occult references:

There are references to divination tools such as runes, Arithmancy (similar to numerology), palmistry, and reading tea leaves. There are instances of people practicing "enchantments," and making charms that make one feel good (164, 294). Throughout the book, there is admiration of the practice of magick; it is impossible to reference all the instances since the admiration of sorcery and the occult is at the very heart of the books, and only grows stronger with each book.

Disobedience, Maliciousness, and Deception

Harry disobeys fairly often with no remorse. Harry is only concerned with the consequences that might affect him, such as when he "blows up" Aunt Marge, a malicious act on his part. "She deserved it," says our little Harry. "She deserved what she got," (30). The only reason Harry worries about this is that he fears breaking a wizard law might put him in Azkaban(40). But Harry needn't worry! "I broke the law," cries Harry to Cornelius Fudge, head of the Ministry of Magic. "Oh, my dear boy, we're not going to punish you for a little thing like that!" is Fudge's reply (43). Fudge continues, "It was an accident! We don't send people to Azkaban just for blowing up their aunts!" Apparently, breaking a wizard law is okay if one is blowing up one's aunt, or if one is Harry Potter. Somewhat jealously, Harry's friend Ron says, "I'd hate to see what the Ministry'd do to me if I blew up an aunt," (36). The whole thing is glossed over because Aunt Marge has no memory of the incident, so "no harm done," (44).

Harry is good at rationalizing his disobedience, as when he uses the forbidden Marauder's Map. "It wasn't as though he wanted to steal anything or attack anyone," writes Rowling about how Harry is thinking. He only wants to go to the magical village of Hogsmeade, a place he does not have permission to visit (194). Harry has no qualms at all about doing this, although it involves many acts of deception and disobedience on his part.

Harry breaks Ministry of Magic laws by going back in time. Going back in time is described by Hermione as "breaking one of the most important wizarding laws," (398) and can result in death for those who practice it (399). The real punch in this story is not that Harry disobeys, since he does this so often it is no longer surprising, but that he does so with the aid of Dumbledore (393). Just as Fudge let Harry off for blowing up Aunt Marge with nary a reprimand, so does Dumbledore ignore the laws of his own society by helping a student to break them.

Harry lies quite easily. He lies on the run from his attack on Aunt Marge (34), to Prof. Lupin (155), he suggests that Hermione lie (129), to Prof. Lupin again ("...Harry lied quickly," 246), to his friend Neville (276-7), and to Prof. Snape several times in a row (283-86). In fact, the text tells us about Harry that "Snape was trying to provoke him into telling the truth. He wasn't going to do it," (284). Harry takes a stand for deception! And what is the purpose of these lies? Most of them are told so that Harry can slip away, using the invisibility cloak, to Hogsmeade.

When Harry is caught going to Hogsmeade, Lupin rebukes Harry not for disobedience and deception, but because in going to Hogsmeade, Harry risked his life (290). Although this is certainly a serious reason not to have gone, nothing is said about Harry's methods of getting there. This is what might be called pragmatic ethics --- something is only wrong if it doesn't work or if it causes harm. This is a dangerous ethic, as humans are prone to rationalize anything they would like to do, no matter how evil it may be. There is no standard presented in this book, or the others, for the simple ethics of honesty and telling the truth for their own sake.


Harry is not quite the picture of a moral hero. In fact, Prof. Snape says it best when he states: "But famous Harry Potter is a law unto himself...Famous Harry Potter goes where he wants to with no thought for the consequences." (284). If Harry had remorse, apologized, or learned a lesson from his actions, it could serve as an illustration for children that one must act ethically and morally, even when it is difficult to do so. But these books do not teach that. Added to this are the references to and endorsements of some dark practices, such as the summoning of the Patronus.

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