Jim Kay’s Wizarding World 3: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Design of Dementors for the right rear pastedown endpaper of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.

Azkaban is on an island somewhere in the North Sea, but being unplottable, it cannot be found on a map.  The Minister of Magic officially administers rhe prison, but who takes responsibility for daily operations is a mystery.  No episode in the Harry Potter series is actually set in Azkaban, so it never seems as real as the Chamber of Secrets or the Ministry of Magic.  What readers hear repeated over and over is information everyone in the wizarding world knows about the debilitating aura of the Dementors who guard it.   After a few weeks in their presence, most prisoners perish   Hagrid survived  a two-months’ incarceration in The Chamber of Secrets, but would not (or could not) say anything about his experiences.

Jim Kay makes Azkaban almost as terrifying as Tyrion Lannister’s sky cell in the Eyrie by situating the prison in a somber landscape on the book’s preliminary pages. The front end papers depict a graveyard of ships off a beach outlined by monumental jutting rocks with the prison tower looming behind.  On the half title, heavy seas dash an unmanned ship against the island. The next two double-page spreads zoom in on the tower.  The first shot is a view of the prison entrance from the ship’s deck; the second pans up the prison’s stone walls.  It was not a felicitous design decision to set the list of Rowling’s works, the title page, the extensive copyright information, and dedication on these four pages of sublime drawings. All the type obscures the drawings’ grandeur and the type is largely illegible with the highly textured images as background.  But it is consistent with the greater use of ghosted patterns and figures here than in the first two volumes.  Some like the embossed paper napkin are relatively unobtrusive, others like the chocolate bar wrapper are distracting enough that the words cannot do their work.Thus far Kay has taken advantage of the artistic freedom J. K. Rowling and the publisher have given him.  With the third volume of the set completed, readers can expect certain things.  The Hogwarts faculty picture gallery has been expanded with three portraits, complemented with more informal views of the characters elsewhere in the story.  Professor Trelawney’s huge glasses, strongly marked features, and prominent front teeth are comically exaggerated for having been painted from below.  When she falls into a prophetic trace later in the story, her face appears eerie and mannish.  Greasy locks of hair frame Severus Snape’s unsmiling face and his crossed hands are surprisingly full of tension. Lying near the hand darkened with soot is a sprig of lily of the valley, the emblem of Snape’s love for Harry’s mother.  On the following page,the potions master looks much uglier as he grimaces at Neville’s toad.   A third illustration of Snape in chapter nineteen, which looks down on him as he casts a spell, makes him look quite formidable.  By changing his appearance in every illustration, Kay keeps readers uncertain as to which is the true Snape.  Remus Lupin, shown in his study before leaving Hogwarts in disgrace, looks down at the floor.  It is a startling contrast  to his first appearance in chapter five, with his back to the reader and his startled face reflected in train compartment’s door.

Illustrations of magical creatures are among the delights in Harry Potter’s  first two volumes and Kay provides some more wonderful ones in Prisoner of Azkaban.  Of the “scientific” illustrations, the Grindylow, which supposedly comes from Aquatic Wonders of Yorkshire: A Wizard’s Field Guide, is a gratifying mixture of the scary, gross, and humorous.  Hagrid’s hippogriffs, noble hybrids of eagle and horse, are given three illustrations.  There’s one of the spirited herd crossing the paddock and an endearing one of Buckbeak  asleep on Hagrid’s bed, its head resting on a plate of dead ferrets.  The book’s most important illustrations of magical creatures turn out to be three men who can transform themselves into animals.  All of them belonged to James Potter’s Hogwarts posse and the pictures contain visual clues pointing to their dual natures. The sinister plate of the Werewolf is drawn in the same sepia tones as Remus Lupin’s portrait.  The animage Sirius Black’s thinness, unfathomable dark eyes, and messy, bristly, black hair is unsettling when he is portrayed as a dog, although the gigantic picture of Sirius spread over four pages was an experiment that did not quite work for me.  When Kay finally draws Sirius as a half-starved man with an uncanny resemblance to Rasputin, he makes it difficult for the reader to be sure whose side he is on. Peter Pettigrew presented a somewhat different challenge because the secret that he did not die thirteen years previously must be concealed until late in the story. Throughout Prisoner of Azkaban, Pettigrew is present like Sirius, but not in his human form.  Until Remus spots Pettigrew’s movements on the Marauder’s Map, only Hermione’s cat Crookshanks knows that there is something peculiar about Scabbers, the Weasleys’ mangy, ancient pet rat.  Kay misdirects the reader’s attention by drawing the rat and cat scampering across the pages like a couple of Keystone critters.  Given the fact that the chase was dead serious, perhaps these drawings were a little too cartoony in style.  If Crookshanks had dispatched Scabbers/Pettigrew, imagine how the plot of The Goblet of Fire  would have been altered…  Deep blacks and purples in The Prisoner of Azkaban could be associated with the difficulty of reading character from faces, with treachery, with the sins of the fathers being visited upon the children.   Certainly yellow, blue and orange are prominent in illustrations where the future members of Dumbledore’s army are coming into their own, as when Parvati masters the Ridikulous charm or Harry and Hermione fly Buckbeak to the tower where Sirius is being held.  The scene by the lake where Harry is confronted by the Dementor is painted in  impenetrable blacks, but a snaky, Slytherin green similar to the one used in the background of his fight with the basilisk.  Even the unfortunate accident where Harry blows up his hateful Aunt Marge is bright with color, as if to emphasize that the Dursleys, no matter how awful they may be, are not the real enemies.What’s out of balance in The Prisoner of Azkaban is the weight given to the dark, sometimes nearly illegible illustrations of the past represented by James’ circle, and the colorful light-filled ones of the future, represented by Harry and his friends.  The glimpses readers catch of the school days of James, Sirius, Remus, Peter, Severus, and Lily revolved more around competition, cruel tricks, and one upsmanship instead of harmless fun, like visiting the pet store in Diagon Alley.  Nor are readers treated to enough scenes like the one in Madame Rosmerta’s pub, where the drama comes from the interaction between the figures, rather than isolated moments of horror or fear.  Another major disappointment  was the exciting sequence where Hermione takes Harry back in time to save Buckbeak and Sirius.  In terms of the number of illustrations the episode was allotted, it ended up being all about Harry’s conjuring of the Patronus, not Hermione proving herself the cleverest witch of her generation as well.For many Potterites and literary critics, The Prisoner of Azkaban is the best of the set. Will many readers be disappointed that the children did not get the attention they deserved because Kay was rushing to meet the draconian deadline of a volume a year?  I suspect there was added pressure on him to produce enough dazzling drawings for the British Library’s exhibition “Harry Potter: The History of Magic.”  At least the powers- that-be have realized that Kay deserves more time to work his magic on the fourth installment–but we’ll have to wait until 2019 to see the results.

Jim Kay’s Wizarding World 2: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets begins with an assault on the reader, who is suddenly confronted by a large pair of green eyes staring out from the hedge.  Does the reader want to escape the gaze?  Or put out the eyes of the spy?The startling pink-rimmed eyes belong to Dobby the house elf, the first, least, and bravest of Harry’s protectors in The Chamber of Secrets.

It’s the first of many images of wide open eyes (and references to eye sockets) in a story stalked by an unseen beast whose gaze kills.  The terror it arouses is foreshadowed at the end of the Philosopher’s Stone in the illustration that shows the reflection of Professor Quirrell lifting up a fold in the back of his turban.

At the climax of Chamber of Secrets, Harry senses with eyes wide shut the stone serpents’ empty eye sockets tracking his movements in the dark.  Then Tom Riddle disarms him and twirls his wand while they talk to break his spirit.  Even after Harry learns that Ginny was the pawn in Riddle’s scheme to destroy him, he refuses to deny that Dumbledore is the greater wizard of the two, a statement that summons the phoenix Fawkes to the chamber Slytherin built.  What Riddle has forgotten is that Fawkes will be able to blind with the basilisk with its beak and cure any wound inflicted with its tears.  Reinvigorated by the phoenix’s bravery, Harry is able to give the basilisk a mortal blow with Godric Gryffindor’s sword and to thrust the monster’s fang into Riddle’s diary, unknowingly destroying the first Horcrux.

At their best, Kay’s illustrations capture an uneven story’s  grandeur.  One of the volume’s functions is laying down material that will drive the complex plot forward in the series’ successive installments, not unlike Pullman’sThe Subtle Knife or Tolkien’s The Two Towers.  The shifts between low comedy and heroism are not always managed skillfully from scene to scene and some of that awkwardness is reflected in the pictures.

It’s quite noticeable in the illustrations of Dobby, a crucial supporting character who unites servility with bravery.  Like Hagrid, he speaks in an awkward dialect that demotes him to a caricature.  Dobby is first compared to “an ugly rag doll” and Kay obliges with a picture of the house elf perched on the edge of Harry’s bed.  His pink slab of a lower lip, enormous pop eyes, huge ears fringed with fine bristles, and filthy feet with long untrimmed nails do not make him appealing, although the resemblance to a cute Frank Oz creature is unmistakable.  At the fantasy’s end, the equally unattractive portrait of Dobby cradling Harry’s filthy sock to his face (here pristine) gives the reader permission to laugh at the moment Dobby is freed from slavery.  His toughness, loyalty, and misdirected ingenuity is captured best in the vignette of him intent on the destruction of Aunt Petunia’s pudding with the pillow case riding above his buttocks.   His appearance is funny but without being as hideous or ridiculous as in the other two pictures.

Creating portraits that blend the admirable with the risible was perhaps one of the biggest challenges the text presented to Kay.  Moaning Myrtle has a mug right out of a cartoon when a better model would have been Shirley Henderson, who played the ghost in the film with a crafty yet infantile expression.

More satisfying is the second of the two portraits of Mrs. Weasley, holding up a flower pot of Floo powder, her red hair in need of a good hair cut under the crumpled green witch’s hat.  Kay was perhaps a little cruel in his depiction of an older woman’s body, who has had seven children, but Mrs. Weasley’s warm, unguarded expression makes her individual and likeable without sacrificing the realistic edge.

Kay proves he can do gross in the sketchy picture of Ron vomiting slugs followed by a full-page spread decorated with more slugs making trails of bright yellow bile.  The artist’s attempts to create something like cinematic special effects are more mixed than magical.  Harry’s figure on his maiden voyage on Floo powder should look as if it were speeding out of control instead of frozen in one moment (if indeed that’s possible).  When Harry bursts through the window in Tom Riddle’s diary, he seems to have fallen into an Abstract Expressionist painting instead of a memory strategically selected by his nemesis.

The October 2016 publication date for The Chamber of Secrets must have obliged Kay to repeat himself, not having the time to realize more of those important but potentially difficult scenes like the magnificent aerial view of St. Pancras,  Hagrid making his way down Knockburn Alley, or the tense interview between Aragog, Harry, Ron, and Fang.  For my money, the three following illustrations help establish the mood (and play to  Kay’s strengths) than do the two pictures of Dudley stuffing his face or the crowds of garden gnomes, Cornish pixies, and spiders.Architectural subjects are one of Kay’s fortes.  Yet it is easy to understand  why he chose to draw a frieze of high relief figures romping in medieval bathrooms instead of the entrance the Chamber of Secrets.  Moaning Myrtle’s bathroom may be in desperate need of remodeling, but that sink cannot have survived intact after a thousand years’ of abuse by school children with magical powers! More to the point, where is Dumbledore’s office, a scene tailor-made for Kay, which I would have been willing to trade for the four new blocks of Diagon Alley?  Why no stupendous view of the Chamber, with its columns, serpentine decorations, and ominous statue of Salazar Slytherin with the weedy beard down to his feet?  The spread with the basilisk’s gigantic moulted skin with small figures of Ron, Harry, and Lockhart in the middle distance is nothing more than a teaser.

Nor is it clear why there are no pictures of the two most important actors-Ginny Weasley and Tom Riddle.  Perhaps Kay was unable to find the right models in the time.  As wonderful as the pictures of Sir Patrick brandishing his severed head astride his skeletal steed, a rueful Hagrid, or the label for Skelegro are, they are no substitute for seeing how Kay would visualize the handsome, charming and utterly ruthless sixteen-year old shimmer in and out of focus.  Those missed opportunities ultimately diminish the Chamber of Secrets.

I wish the publisher had done away with most of the black pages, which are the equivalent of movie music that tells members of the audience what to feel.  Sections with the pages specially patterned with shadowy outlines of snake scales, spider webs, lime green triangles, and imitation foxing are no substitute for the chance to see Fawkes fly off with Harry, Ron, Ginny, and Lockhart, after those tantalizing pictures of soaring birds (and magical cars) in the novel’s opening chapters.  If it were up to me, I’d give Kay the time he needs to draw the illustrations The Prisoner of Azkhaban  that will bring the story to life.