Adaptation Paper—Darkness in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, by J.K. Rowling, was published in 1999 worldwide. It has sold 30 million copies, translated into many different languages, and won several awards. J.K. Rowling’s name has become widely known due to the success and popularity of the Harry Potter series. Published in 1999, the third installment of Harry’s adventure started exploring darker themes as the-boy-who-lived grows from a boy into an adolescent. While the series is categorized as children’s books, they also strongly appeal to adults. The darker tones in Prisoner of Azkaban show the struggles that people encounter in life as well as how they can mature from it. The themes of good vs. evil, paranoia, murder, and right vs. wrong challenge both the child and adult mind. Prisoner of Azkaban is the first in the series to introduce more complexity into the story and paves the way for the following books to address darker themes.

Prisoner of Azkaban begins during the summer before Harry’s third year at Hogwarts in the home of his neglectful Muggle relatives. Harry is forced to act “normal” in front of his uncle’s sister, who comes to visit the family. Throughout the week that she stays at the Dursleys, she attempts to get a rise out of Harry and she succeeds on her last night after bad-mouthing his parents, but she ends up magically ballooning out after she angers Harry. Harry runs out of the Dursleys and encounters a larger black dog that causes him to fall and accidently call the Knight Bus. On the Knight Bus, Harry finds out that Sirius Black, a fugitive who appeared on the Muggle news, is an insane wizard who killed thirteen Muggles with a single curse. After staying the rest of his summer holiday at Diagon Alley, Harry meets his best friends, Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger, and heads to school on the Hogwarts Express. On the train, he encounters Dementors, dark figures who guard Azkaban, the magical prison that Black escaped from. The Dementors become a solid presence at Hogwarts and Hogsmeade as they search from Black, who is believed to be after Harry.

As the year passes, Harry gets more protection around him, but becomes paranoid after seeing multiple symbols of the Grim around him. Harry sneaks into Hogsmeade with the help of the Marauder’s Map, where he and his friends overhear that Black was the reason why Lily and James Potter are died. Harry becomes more angry and determined to face his fears, both in protecting himself from the Dementors and meeting Black. However, it all comes to halt when Black, as a dog, drags Ron into the Whomping Willow, and Harry and Hermione follow. While confronting Black, Harry finds out that Black is quite sane and did not betray the Potters, but Peter Pettigrew, who was believed to be died, was the traitor. After everything is revealed, Pettigrew, who hid as a rat for thirteen years, ends up escaping and Sirius gets caught. To save Sirius, Harry and Hermione travel back in time to help Sirius escape. The book ends at the Hogwarts Express with Harry receiving a letter from Sirius.

Although some might say that Prisoner of Azkaban deals with themes and ideas that go beyond a child’s mind, it challenges the inner adult in children. The book does deal with many dark themes, but it does not sugar coat the struggles that Harry has to deal with. Prisoner of Azkaban shows Harry changing from a boy to an adolescent. Harry starts learning more about fears and how to face them. In chapter twelve, “The Patronus,” Harry is taught by Professor Lupin how to defend himself against the Boggart-Dementor, he becomes more determine and learns more about himself. Dementors are one of the major presentations of darkness in the book. “They infest the darkest, filthiest places, they glory in decay and despair, they drain peace, hope, and happiness out of the air around them” (Rowling 187). Rowling said in many interviews that Dementors were created from her own struggles with depression. They manifest all the dark aspects of life and suck all the happiness away, which could intimidate children. However, Harry’s determination to protect himself from the Dementors show that children can also prevail over complex issues. Maureen Katz notes in her article that, “during what would be a fatal attack by the dementors, [Harry] holds one of his selves apart from the scene and conjures up a symbolic representation of his father, the ‘patronus,’ from the happiest memory he can imagine, fighting the Dementors and chasing them away.” The book also shows that adults trying to shelter children from the truth would not help them in the end. Throughout the book, the adults around Harry try to keep him from finding the truth about Black. Yet, Harry overhears the Weasleys and his professors talking about Black, and Lupin does not mention Black until Harry confronts him about it. Children are inquisitive and will find out about problems if they are determine enough, just as Harry did. Although the themes become darker in Prisoner of Azkaban, Rowling shows that sugar coating the truth and darkness of the life from children would only limit the inner adult inside of them.

Alfonso Cuarón became the director of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban after Chris Columbus, the director of the previous Harry Potter films left. Released in the summer of 2004, Prisoner of Azkaban was very successful even though it is the lowest-grossing Harry Potter film in the series. While it is not as faithful as the previous two films were to the book series, Cuarón’s Prisoner of Azkaban adapts the darker tones of Rowling’s series well. There are dark, gloomy lighting and tones throughout the film that only get brighter by the cheeky language and few bright-colored props. Cara Lane notes in her review that “In the Prisoner of Azkaban Hogwarts becomes a shadow of its former self; the light, color, and warmth disappear.” As Harry grows throughout the film, he learns that Hogwarts may not be as a bright and safe place as he assumed it was. Cuarón shows that life at Hogwarts is not as accessible as it was believed to be.

Prisoner of Azkaban is filled with many dark tones and artistic visuals that overlap each other. Cuarón focuses his adaptation on the darker aspects of the book, such as the Dementors. His presentation of Dementors is both simple in presentation and complex in mind. The CGI figures appear as tall, dark, hooded figures who float and create icy surfaces. Their complexity lays with what they invoke, the fear from people. Every time Harry interacts with the Dementors in the film and the book, they pull out all his happiness and leave his fears, mainly, hearing his parents’ last words. Cuarón gives a visual presentation of one of the frightening creatures in the Harry Potter world. His darker tones push the boundaries that the previous two films do not have. He shows that there is not just light in the world and that darkness does exist in different forms in life.

While Cuarón does change several parts of the book to adapt his darker themes, the film does incorporate some of the story line well. The book series do become darker in Prisoner of Azkaban, which Cuarón adapts into his version. As the book challenges the minds of both children and adults, so does the film. Josh Larsen writes in his article that the film “allow adults to feel the elation of youth while giving youngsters a taste of the burdens that come with being an adult.” The film incorporates the challenges that Rowling addresses in her book well by darkening its tone. Cuarón’s Prisoner of Azkaban does push more towards the darker themes than the book does. In the film, if it not raining, then it is an overcast sky, but in the book, there are glimpses of sunshine. The darker palate of the film does show the expression that Cuarón got from the book. Prisoner of Azkaban is a time of change for Harry in both the film and the book. Harry learns more about his family’s past with Voldemort as well as how his future will be. One of the scenes that do remain faithful to Rowling’s story is the confrontation in the Shrieking Shack. Even though Cuarón omits a couple of minor parts that the book has in that scene, he keeps the important aspects of it without going overboard. The film uses the challenges in the book to visually represent the literary work in darker themes that appeal to both adults and children.

Although the film does not change much of the main story line from the book, it is not too faithful to the whole magical culture the Rowling incorporates in the book and the original text. More often than not, Cuarón chooses his darker tones over parts of the books. The scenes that Cuarón takes from the book have some form of gloom or darkness embedded in them. The scenes that he cuts from the film have some of the brighter and unique magic culture in them. He does not show the Weasleys, Harry, and Hermione going to King’s Cross and the reactions from Muggles about Hedwig or the adults’ robes. Hagrid and Buckbeak’s story is a minor plotline in the film whereas the book shows the trio’s dedication to help Hagrid with Buckbeak’s trial. Another aspect that gets minimized is Quidditch, which is a large part of the magic culture in the books. Rowling often dedicates chapters to describe the game. In the book, Harry is a talented Quidditch player, and the games as well as his broomstick are extremely important to him. Harry becomes furious with Hermione after she tells Professor McGonagall about his new Firebolt and McGonagall confiscates it. However, Cuarón dedicates his one Quidditch scene to the Dementors attacking Harry. Cuarón does not show Harry receiving the Firebolt until the very end of the film, completely omitting the conflict between Harry and Hermione. The film shows that Cuarón was more focused on the darkest aspects of Prisoner of Azkaban, yet he was able to show a few of the important scenes of the book well.

Maayan Rosen

July 12, 2015

Word Count: 1,715

Word Cited

Cara Lane. “The Prisoner of Azkaban: A New Direction for Harry Potter.” Film & History: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Film and Television Studies 35.1 (2005): 65-67.

Larsen, Josh. “Harry Potter For (All) Ages. American Enterprise. Jul/Aug2004, Vol. 15 Issue 5, p52-52. EBSCO databases

Maureen Katz. “Prisoners of Azkaban: Understanding Intergenerational Transmission of Trauma Due to War and State Terror (With Help from Harry Potter).” Journal for the Psychoanalysis of Culture and Society 8.2 (2003): 200-207.

Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Scholastic, 1999


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