Harry Potter Plot Graph with Analysis
This graph lays out every plot thread of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban as they appear chronologically from left to right. Each plot development is arranged in the correct relative position (to all other developments and to the page number in the book, listed at the sides in 50 page increments).
The image here is only a preview – you can download the full resolution version by clicking here (.jpeg, 5MB, 6300×10,400 pixels).
One or two brief notes about the graph for those interested (below I go on to discuss the graph in-depth). The plot threads I have identified, and the various progressions, could be done slightly differently depending on how you looked at things, but overall I would say they are a pretty much set-in-stone representation of how the plot develops. There are some ‘plot developments’ that don’t appear on the graph, but are important, because these particular developments are too ‘small’. For example someone mentioning the Quidditch Cup in the corridor – that would not appear on this graph.
Plot threads that don’t appear, which do appear in the book, as I see it, have been illustrated in Plot Progressions below the key. The idea of Voldemort and his looming threat that forms part of the background texture of the novel, as do Harry’s endless clashes with Malfoy, which of course continue throughout the series, and are perhaps one of the most memorable plot threads in all the canon.
If you have any feedback, or spot any typos or mistakes, please don’t hesitate to get in touch by email or by leaving a comment below.
Further Plot Analysis
Early Conflict Resolution – the Promise to the Reader
As you can see in the novel there are two plot lines concluded before page 50: Harry’s Homework and Underage Magic.
The novel’s opening conflict is essentially Harry’s inability to do his homework due to his foster parents having locked his homework supplies in a cupboard; strangely enough, Harry is keen to get on with his homework – we truly do want what we can’t have, it seems.
In a lesser novel, this opening conflict might have been dropped, forgotten, left dangling and un-concluded, once it served its purpose as the Segway into the novel. In The Prisoner of Azkaban, however, it is wrapped up neatly on page 42, where we see Harry at last able to sit in peace, in the sun, outside Florean Fortescue’s Ice Cream Parlour, getting on with his work (the plot line is concluded in a single sentence).
Another plot arc introduced early and resolved quickly is Underage Magic. After blowing up ‘Aunt’ Marge like a balloon, Harry runs away from home. He is full of anguish since for using magic as an underage wizard he will surely be expelled from Hogwarts, or worse, arrested by the Ministry of Magic and sent to Azkaban. Soon after running away, Harry runs into Cornelius Fudge. On page 38 Fudge offhandedly tells Harry he has nothing to worry about, and that the event is all taken care of: conflict over.
These early resolutions are given perspective when we see that the next concluded plot line does not occur until page 195 when Gryffindor with Harry’s help win the Quidditch Cup. This is natural, as we don’t expect grand resolutions to occur in any story until much later.
However, were there to be no resolutions until that much later in the narrative, the reader would be waiting a long time, and therefore might doubt in fact whether there will be any resolutions at all – Can the reader trust the author on faith alone, they might ask themselves, to form a satisfying narrative?
In essence then, these early minor plot conclusions are something of a promise to the dear reader. These resolutions say (from the author), ‘I am going to respect your wishes for a well-structured narrative, and I have the skill to form such a narrative, and these myriad conflicts that have been introduced will, in due course, be (at least mostly) resolved in a satisfying manner.’ The early resolutions allow the reader to relax in confidence that they are in the hands of a confident story teller, and they are also crucial to the overall narrative’s success.
Even to me it seems like such a small point – but that’s also why it struck me: it’s the kind of thing an amateur novelist might miss. Already the author’s mind would be away with grand schemes such as Voldemort and the mysteries of Sirius Black, and Harry doing his homework seems suddenly so irrelevant.
Structure – Plot and Freytag’s Pyramid
There are a near-infinite number of ways of looking at a narrative’s structure – Freytag’s Pyramid is one (popular) option.
Freytag’s Pyramid is not an exact replica of a plot – only a novel itself can achieve that lofty goal – but it is a way of looking at plot. So then, did J. K. Rowling look at Freytag’s Pyramid, when she plotted The Prisoner of Azkaban? Probably not, no – but then again you don’t need to study Newton or Einstein’s theories of gravitation in order to feel the effects of gravity. The way classic plots function almost approximate those immutable laws, such as gravity, and there are some broad generalisations that can be applied to classic story-telling in the history of the western civilisation.
There is no doubt: Plots are incredibly complicated. In truth, plot is the sum of nearly every word written in a novel. Freytag’s Pyramid is a lens, therefore, that allows us to zoom out, to think about structure in a more general sense. It is a tool, a conceptual tool, and it is one choice of many, not to be confused with being either a right or a wrong choice.
More experimental novels, such as Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway, may not follow the pattern that is outlined in Freytag’s pyramid. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, I would say, follows it fairly well, and that is, of course, why I am going on using Freytag’s Pyramid to look at it.
Here it is, in all its glory:
You can see why it’s called a pyramid.
Harry Potter starts with clear exposition: ‘Harry Potter was a highly unusual boy in many ways. For one thing, he hated the summer holidays more than any other time of year. For another, he really wanted to do his homework …’
I know, who ever wanted to do their homework? This book is weird.
The inciting incident is (I don’t think there’s necessary an absolutely correct answer here) the beginning of the Dementor plot, when Harry blacks out on the Hogwarts Express. There is a lot of other build-up, we’re introduced to many important plot threads, such as the firebolt, the concept of Sirius Black, in the news and gossip, but the actual event of Harry fainting when the dementor appears on the train kicks off the plot proper – at once we know something is truly awry.
The rising action is the cumulative effect of everything that happens for most of the novel, right up until the climax. Right away we can see more and more plot threads are layered in:
From here we see the story moving forward. What you will notice in the full graph is that there is never a dull moment in the novel. At every point, practically every page (and on many pages, multiple plot points are moved forward on a single page) plots are developing, things are happening, events are changing, and we get the inescapable sense that we are moving forward (profluence) toward some inevitable climax.
The climax of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban occurs when Harry, Ron and Hermione reach the Shrieking Shack. Not only do we perceive (albeit incorrectly) that Harry and the other’s lives are in danger (from Sirius), but during the exchange of dialogue a number of plots are (1) resolved and (2) different plot threads are merged (Scabbers is Peter Pettigrew, who is an animagi, just like Sirius, and Harry’s dad James, and so on).
From here we get the falling action, where plot threads are beginning to wind down as we learn the true nature of Sirius Black, that they were all animagi and the Grim was in fact Sirius watching over Harry, and that Hermione has been able to attend so many classes because a young girl was for some reason given a time travelling device by her teacher – getting lots of good grades really is that important.
We reach the resolution stage of Freytag’s Pyramid where all of the threads are now being resolved: Sirius is rescued, Pettigrew escapes (to be continued …) and Buckbeak is rescued!
With the grand conflicts resolved, life seems to be returning to relative normality (for a prodigal wizard kid) and then minor, or more character-ful plots are neatly tied up, such as Hermione giving back her Time Turner, their exam results coming in, and a lovely touch: Sirius Black signing Harry’s Hogsmeade Permission Slip which is perhaps the longest plot thread that runs through the entire book.
Maybe that’s what the Prisoner of Azkaban is truly about: at its heart, it is the quest for a wizard child to be able to go on school trips.