I had a very Rosemary reaction this evening. If you remember from the synopsis, she has a tendency to throw books against walls when she comes to passages she doesn't like. You think I made that up out of thin air?
Erin and I have a tradition of reading to each other before going to bed. Actually, I read to her, and she goes to sleep. Anyway, I was reading Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban out loud, and I got to a point where I couldn't read anymore. If I was reading on my own, I could have skimmed past this difficult bit and got to the good stuff, but as I was reading out loud to Erin, I actually had to set the book aside.
It had to do with Draco Malfoy, his henchmen Crabbe and Goyle, and his Slytherin entourage. They were disrupting Hagrid's first class and, when Malfoy gets injured by a hippogriff as a result (he was asking for it), he milks his injury for all its worth to try to make life as difficult as possible for Hagrid, Harry and Ron.
What stopped me reading was not Malfoy's acts themselves. I mean, Malfoy is a mini villain. It's his job, and he gets his comeuppance regularly. There are numerous examples of child villains throughout children's literature, but they're not as difficult to read. I think the reason lies in the cardboard nature of Draco Malfoy's characterization, and the characterization of his Slytherin comrades.
This, in my mind, is perhaps the greatest flaw of the Harry Potter series (that and the tendency to recap what's gone before). Draco Malfoy is first seen in The Philosopher's Stone as an annoying git with no redeeming features. By Prisoner of Azkaban, he's grown into an annoying git who's not above wishing people dead. Again, no redeeming features, and no depth. The Slytherins echo him in their attitude and their lack of depth. Henchmen Crabbe and Goyle don't even have first names so far as I can tell. After three books of this, it's wearing a little thin.
I refuse to believe that there are no redeeming features in Draco and the Slytherins (who might make a good punk band just from their names alone). I refuse to believe that there is no motivation for their actions other than the fact that they're just evil. The resulting flat and unsympathetic characterizations produces a dangerous combination of annoyance and boredom that makes getting through the passages Prisoner of Azkaban an arduous chore. It doesn't have to be that way.
Professor Severus Snape is a good example of an interesting Slytherin character. He's got a grudge against Harry Potter, and his blatant favouratism in class is also hard to read, but then we find out that he's a double-agent working against Voldemort on behalf of Dumbledore. Then we realize that there is considerable depths to be plumbed here, explaining his antipathy towards Harry, and his dour nature. All of this, of course, comes as a surprise to Harry and to the reader. It wouldn't be a plot twist without the surprise.
It has been noted that the Harry Potter series is written strictly from Harry Potter's point of view. Harry is a young boy and, thus, has a tendency of viewing the world in rather black and white absolutes. Thus all Gryffindors are good and all Slytherins are bad. As Harry matures, I hope that he will be pleasantly surprised by a number of Slytherins, and possibly even Draco himself, join Snape in showing their more human sides. If Ms. Rowling does this (and she has three books in which to do this), my healthy respect for her work will improve still more. But until then, I can't read the the Prisoner of Azkaban out loud.