Stuff We Love: The arresting illustrations of the Prisoner of Azkaban

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Oct 13, 2017

When in doubt, go to the library. Harry Potter's third year in the wizarding world at Hogwarts recently hit shelves with a new lushly illustrated edition by Jim Kay, the latest installment in the gorgeous series: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban: The Illustrated Edition (Harry Potter, Book 3).

J.K. Rowling's brilliant words, which already left us feeling like we might tumble headfirst into the page and become part of the magic, remain untouched. And although Kay's interpretation may not match exactly what we had imagined all those years ago when we first met Sirius and discovered Scabber's true identity, it's a glorious and vivid depiction all its own.

The story unfolds around the mysterious escape of infamous murderer Sirius Black, convicted of killing 13 people with a single curse and heir apparent to Voldemort himself. Now that he's broken out of the fortress of Azkaban, he seems to be headed for Hogwarts...

Kay has a particular gift for capturing the fantastic beasts of Rowling's imaginary realm, with the regal Hippogriff given a place of honor on a few distinct spreads throughout. A pack of seven — with sharp breaks, dappled hindquarters, and gorgeously rendered individual feathers upon their wings — makes for a stunning piece of storytelling.

There's Crookshanks chasing Scabbers, complete in his incompleteness with a missing digit, yellowed teeth, and wild eyes, and a delightful look at werewolves in the style of a Leonardo da Vinci notebook and stamped as if it were torn from some ancient text in the library's restricted section.

Not to be forgotten, Aunt Marge inflates in all her hairy-lipped, piggy-eyed glory, her shoes shredded around her enormous swollen feet and her clothing straining at the stitches. Professors Snape (who seems particularly oily here) and Trelawney are not at all as they were depicted on screen by Alan Rickman and Emma Thompson — and isn't that the point? Rowling's descriptions, even in their fine detail, still left so much to the imagination for all of us, including Kay, to come up with a fresh interpretation.

As has become Kay's custom, every page has hidden treasures. Separate from the full-page spreads, a mummy staggers across a corner, and the Dementors ominously swoop across the final endpaper. Even the backgrounds — the London skyline emerging from the darkness, with St. Paul's Cathedral a beacon of white, and the Knight Bus rushing past — are so arresting they require a moment of contemplation before you can turn the page.

And the Knight Bus! The stranded wizard's favorite mode of transportation practically burst from the cover ready to take us anywhere and everywhere (except underwater).
From here on out, Rowling's words explode from the page in denser and longer volumes, so we'll be curious to see how Kay tackles the challenge (or if future installments will be broken down into multiple volumes to keep bookshelves everywhere from breaking beneath the weight).

But for now, it's time to revisit Professor Lupin, the Shrieking Shack and the tale that plunged Harry Potter fans into the darker, twistier, stories to come.

You can acquire your own tome here.