Featured in the July 2019 issue of The Rowling Library Magazine.

20th Anniversary of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

653 words.

July 8th marked two decades since the release of the Prisoner of Azkaban.

It was a normal day, July 8th 1999, when Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban reached the bookshops in the United Kingdom for all the kids who were waiting for the third part in the Harry Potter saga. In the United States the first book had been published a few months before, and they were going to have to wait a bit more to receive Azkaban in their country.

However, the story of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban starts much earlier, right after Bloomsbury published the first book in the series. J.K. Rowling started to write the third installment at the end of 1997 – Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone had been published in June of that year, and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets was already finished. It took her almost eight months to finish Prisoner of Azkaban, as she recalls in her letters to Emma Mathewson (Bloomsbury Editor at the time), which are preserved at Bloomsbury:

Finally! I’ve read this book so much I’m sick of it, I never read either of the others over and over again when editing them, but I really had to this time…

The editing process continued until November, at least, when Rowling said

I am so sick of re-reading this one that I’ll be hard put to smile when it comes to doing public readings from it. But perhaps the feeling will have worn off by next summer…

Although it seems as she didn’t enjoy the process, she now remembers it totally different. In an interview with USA Today, which she did to promote the release of the movie adaptation of the book in 2004, she said the process of creating the third book was “the best writing experience [she] ever had.” And then added: “Of the five books that are published, writing Azkaban was the easiest, and in some ways I think it shows. I was in a very comfortable place when I wrote (number) three: Immediate financial worries were over, and press attention wasn’t yet by any means excessive.”

The book was then published on 8th July at 3.45 PM to avoid kids skipping school to get their copies. It was also the first time that the book was published at an exact time, a good idea to generate enthusiasm since Rowling was not available for signing (it was the first book that hadn’t her for the launch event). It worked: the publisher had prepared something closer to 5.000 copies to be released, but for that day it had to reprint 100.000 copies. Some bookshops even sold 100 copies in the first hour – now it may seem like a low number, but for when Harry Potter wasn’t the phenomenon as we know it, it was a lot.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban beat Hannibal, who was #1 on the best-seller lists, and in only three days it sold 64.000 copies, setting up a new record.

Four more books came later, and new stories were added, but until today, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is still one of the favourites for a lot of fans (Alfonso Cuarón’s adaptation helped with this idea too). It could be the introduction of the Marauders’ Map, Hogsmeade, Professor Lupin (best Defense Against Dark Teacher that Harry ever had), Sirius Black (and his innocence), or just a good story with a good plot twist at the end. 

Twenty years have passed since its release and the book remains as good (or even better) as it was when it was launched. Not so many books are resilient to the passing of time, but Azkaban is, as the whole Harry Potter series has proved. By the way, did you know that Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire was also published on July 8th, but a year later?