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Just finished watching the entire HP movie series (I've only read the first two books). The main plot line of the series is Harry Potter vs. Voldemort, and that is the driving story for all the episodes -- except for #3. #3 has some cool stuff in it -- time travel, dementors, etc. But it seems like you could pretty easily take it out of the series and the overall storyline would be totally fine. Probably the most important thing that came out of it was the introduction of Sirius Black, but he could have been brought in any number of ways or probably left out entirely.

Given how meticulous JKR was about crafting this story, has she explained how #3 is essential to the overall series, or why she mostly left Voldemort out of it?

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    Dear god, #3 was unequivocally the best film of the series! Unlike any of the other films' directors, Alfonso Cuarón took the license of interpreting the text in a symbolic fashion. The Prisoner of Azkaban is a meditation on milestones, life transitions, and growing up (note the motif of clocks and time throughout the film, and as DavidS' answer note the thematic emphasis on childhood ==> adulthood). Also: unclear on whether you are asking about the books or the film. – Lexible Apr 20 '15 at 17:17
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    @Lexible For real? #3 is the reason I stopped watching the movies. I find it to be as reprehensible as many Star Wars "fans" find the prequels. – Dave Johnson Apr 20 '15 at 19:02
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    @Lexible alfonso cuaron single handedly ruined the view of the wizarding world by making them look like muggles instead of wizards. Its very clear in the books Harry was not wearing designer clothes, in fact, even in latter books hes still wearing ratty hand me down socks and jeans that didn't fit, from the Durslys which shows that other then his school robes he only owned his hand me down clothes. – Himarm Apr 20 '15 at 21:17
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    I agree with it beeing the best HP movie, I enjoyed it the most as it wasn't so childish anymore. And the most important part regarding the main plot is Peter Pettigrew who betrayed his "friends" the Potters and let Sirius rot in Azkaban instead of him while he prepared for Voldemorts return in Goblet of Fire. – Thomas Apr 21 '15 at 9:06
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    I want to add my input (or, rather, my wife's). My wife has a degree in Comparative Literature and the theme of Harry Potter is not "Harry Potter vs. Voldemort". The theme of Harry Potter (and you see this throughout the books, whether it comes up in the movies or not) is summed up as: "Love is the greatest magic." It tends to be seen as "Harry vs. Voldemort" because Harry as a character portrays love while Voldemort portrays its opposite, usually some form of racism against non-humans, Muggles, or Squibs. – Paul Rowe Apr 21 '15 at 20:56
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Off the top of my head, Azkaban, apart from being the emotional "hinge" in the series that shifts it from child to adult themes, introduces -

  • Sirius Black. Crucial to later books.
  • Remus Lupin. Crucial to later books.
  • Revealing Scabbers to be Peter Pettigrew, whose escape triggers literally the next 4 books' worth of plot.
  • The Marauders plotline.
  • The Marauders' Map.
  • Animagi.
  • The whole Fidelius Charm plotline. Crucial to backstory.
  • Professor Trelawney and the notion of Prophecy in the HP universe. Crucial to later books and backstory.
  • Hagrid's new job, also important for the next books.
  • Dementors and Boggarts, reflecting the themes of depression and fear, respectively. Crucial to later books.
  • Hogsmeade and the Shrieking Shack. Crucial to later books.
  • Werewolves and the notion of segregation.
  • Griffindor finally winning the Quidditch cup. Big deal when reading them in real time :P
  • The Nimbus 2000 being destroyed.
  • The Firebolt.

These are just the examples that are referenced a bunch in later books or carry some sort of important story theme, like character development (the Nimbus 2000 being destroyed is a big deal to 13-year-old Harry). This list ignores all the intangible but crucial stuff, such as normal character development (for example, Harry's first romantic thought in the series occurs in a Quidditch match in book 3).

You also have to remember that the movies boil down (coughbutchercough) and simplify the plots of the books massively (especially past 2), so the importance of Azkaban is a bit tricky to see from a movie point of view. Many consider it their favourite HP book, and I'd recommend it, especially since it's a definite change in gear compared to book 1 and 2.

By the way, book 6 has no Harry vs. Voldemort moment either ;)

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    I don't entirely agree with your last sentence; Voldemort fights Harry and Dumbledore 'by proxy', i.e. his cave. (And of course he sent quite a few Death Eaters, but somehow that feels even more indirect to me.) – 11684 Apr 20 '15 at 19:56
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    I am going to strongly disagree that Azkaban is "generally considered most people's favorite HP book." – David K Apr 20 '15 at 20:49
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    Because of Sirius, it's also where Harry discovers more links to his parents lives. Until this point, he's had the Dursleys and his teachers. Lupin and Sirius are adults who genuinely care for him, act as godparents and were friends with Lily and James. (Harry also discovers that his Patronus is a stag, like his father's Animagus form.) For someone who spent so long being an orphan, it's a big deal - and a scene that is left out of the film is Sirius sending him a signed Hogsmeade visit permission slip, when he'd never had anyone to give him those things before. (1/2) – Luna Apr 20 '15 at 20:55
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    This sets up the relationships between Harry and other grown-ups in the Wizarding World, aside from the Weasleys and his teachers, and is effectively the first introduction to the Order of the Phoenix and the idea that he's not the only one fighting Voldemort and evil. (2/2) – Luna Apr 20 '15 at 20:56
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    @DavidK and DavidZ - lol, lotta Davids. I based that Azkaban comment on reading a lot of reviews of the series - lot's of people bring up Azkaban as their personal favourite. It'[s not my opinion, and it's hardly scientific, but especially when compared to 1 and 2 it seems very popular. However, I'll amend the wording. – DavidS Apr 21 '15 at 8:45
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Book 3's primary goal was the re-introduction of Peter Pettigrew (in consideration of the primary plot line between Harry vs. Voldemort). The fear of his "friends" finding out that not only was he still alive, but that he was the one who betrayed the Potters, lead him to seek out the only person who he believed could protect him, aka Voldemort. We see at the start of book 4 that's exactly what he did and he was instrumental in the revival of Voldemort.

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I think the reason it seems like it does not fit and is more "optional" is the structure of the series. The first three books and perhaps the fourth (if the rebirth of Voldemort was somehow moved into the beginning of the fifth book) are much more "stand-alone" and could be "consumed" individually. The later books are much more of a continuing story arc and do not stand alone well.

One could easily argue the same about the second book. Even the first book could theoretically be eliminated and moved into backstory in some of the later books, although it is much more of a stretch.

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