Yes, I read fast. Deal with me.
For a discussion of Christians reading the Harry Potter books at all, see the first review I did in this series. If you think reading about magic or fantasy is wrong, then please avoid these books. If you think otherwise, you’ve probably read them long before I have!
If you want a plot synopsis of this book, Wikipedia has a good one. Here’s a hint: Harry hates the Dursleys, then Hogwarts is awesome. There is Quidditch, a bad guy, and Harry saves the day at the end.
I stayed up until past midnight last night finishing this book. It was a real page turner! Rowling writes in a manner that the characters are interesting and perhaps more nuanced than they first appear. There is a lot to admire about the characters and their actions in this book.
In this book, I think that Hagrid’s chastising of Harry and Ron for not reaching out to Hermione is really good. They all treat each other in ways that aren’t very kind and Hagrid calls them on that. There is a real lesson in being a good friend. Hagrid is also a champion for outcasts, being an outcast himself. His care for Buckbeak in the face of Malfoy’s mistreatment of him is a good reminder that Jesus calls us to care for those who are outcast.
Just like in The Chamber of Secrets, Harry has a great discussion with Dumbledore at the end and, while Harry wants to see his dad badly, Dumbledore affirms that Harry’s dad shines through in his son’s care for his friends.
I also think that there are several good plot lines about the difference between the way someone appears and who they are. (PLOT SPOILER AHEAD) The big one, of course, is Sirius Black. He is seen as an evil guy until the very end of the book, but at the end his redemption as a character is really neat. The same can be said for Remus Lupin, the Defense Against the Dark Arts professor for this year. He gets judged for being a werewolf, but that character flaw does not stop him from being a redeeming character.
At the end, Harry is also willing to give up his life if need be for his friends, and that is great. I think that Harry’s commitment to Dumbledore, to Hagrid, to Ron, and to Hermione could be a great line of discussion between parents and mature kids. I think it is great that Harry stood up for Sirius Black as well as for Buckbeak, and protected innocent people (and hippopgriffs!) from injustice. He even stops Black and Lupin from killing Peter Pettigrew when they want to take justice into his own hands, which is admirable.
There is another lesson in here that, while I thought about putting it in “the bad,” in reality ends up in the good. Harry is very frustrated that Dumbledore won’t help him try to exonerate Lupin, Black, and Buckbeak. Dumbledore, being a wise mentor, helps Harry see that there are times that whatever the truth is, people may not believe it. Just because it is true does not make it credible, and Harry has to come to grips with that and not let it stop him from doing whatever good he can.
I also like that at the end of this book, there is a feeling of goodwill. Voldemort is not breathing down anyone’s neck.
My big concern with this book is that Harry runs away from home and suddenly gets whisked away without any consequences in the book for his actions. He is again treated horribly by the Dursleys, and while it might be understandable that he can’t take it anymore there is no redemption of that action.
Also, Harry breaks a LOT of Hogwarts rules in this book without really much punishment, other than from Severus Snape. Every 5 pages he and Ron are doing something to break the rules. The only redemption to this is that it appears that Dumbledore is aware of it all and does not disapprove, so perhaps it could be said that Harry is not in rebellion.
I liked this book. It wasn’t super dark, the characters grew in significant ways, and Harry learned a valuable lesson about appearances not being what they are cracked up to be. This is my favorite of the first three in the series, and I will certainly let my older 2 kids (14 and 12) read it.