One of the fun things about reading is becoming immersed in a story: the world, the characters, the excitement of an adventure that you would never (or often could never) go on yourself. One aspect that certainly helps is being able to relate to the characters. This isn’t essential – I’ve read and been engrossed in stories where the protagonist is nothing like me – but it does help considerably in terms of feeling like you’re in their shoes (assuming they wear shoes).
Originally, that was fairly easy with the Harry Potter series, though it got less so as the series went on. I first noticed it when reading Order of the Phoenix, but with this re-reading I’ve been more aware of the early seeds of that divergence. I’ve commented before about not being able to understand Harry’s actions, and Prisoner of Azkaban offers a dramatic example of this.
(Warning: hereafter be spoilers!)
After the dramatic confrontation in the Shrieking Shack, Harry goes from complete hatred towards Sirius, to delight at the thought of living with him (admittedly, largely because of the “instead of the Dursleys” aspect) within a few minutes. One minute he’s trying to decide if he’s got it in himself to kill the man (allegedly) responsible for his parents’ deaths, the next their bosom buddies. It just feels a bit false to me. That and the fact that he doesn’t make the same connection with Remus despite having spent much more quality time with him.
I think another thing that also feels a bit odd about PoA is the comparative lack of Voldemort. He’s the primary antagonist of the series, and he manages to be the primary antagonist of most of the books, except for this one and Half-Blood Prince (which are struggles against Mouldy-short’s followers). Ultimately, the villain of PoA is… Peter Pettigrew*, who it has to be said is a pretty weak antagonist. Thus, the weight of the story seems to be Harry connecting with friends of his parents, which is good stuff (there’s a lot of good stuff in PoA – time turner, anyone?), but it feels oddly disconnected from the overall arc of the series.
Oh, and in relation to last time, another thing the film version misses out on is Snape foaming at the mouth. Alan Rickman makes a good Snape (though he’s about 30 years too old), but doesn’t give the same sense of being unbalanced.
* You could count the Dementors as the villain, but – terrific baddies that they are – they’re lacking in face/personality. They’re the horde of minions. Except taller, thinner, and less yellow.