Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (Turtleback School & Library Binding Edition)

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Thirty full-size portraits of the actors we've come to love, including Daniel Radcliffe [Harry], Rupert Grint [Ron], Emma Watson [Hermoine], and Robbie Coltrane [Hagrid]. Acclaimed British actor Michael Gambon steps into Dumbledore's robes, and Gary Oldman makes a properly sinister Sirius Black.

During his third year at Hogwarts School for Witchcraft and Wizardry, Harry Potter must confront the devious and dangerous wizard ...

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Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (Harry Potter #3)

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Thirty full-size portraits of the actors we've come to love, including Daniel Radcliffe [Harry], Rupert Grint [Ron], Emma Watson [Hermoine], and Robbie Coltrane [Hagrid]. Acclaimed British actor Michael Gambon steps into Dumbledore's robes, and Gary Oldman makes a properly sinister Sirius Black.

During his third year at Hogwarts School for Witchcraft and Wizardry, Harry Potter must confront the devious and dangerous wizard responsible for his parents' deaths.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
J. K. Rowling continues to bewitch readers everywhere with the third book in her magical Potter series, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Harry's ongoing exploits, along with those of his contemporaries, teachers, and relatives, are as imaginative, entertaining, and mysterious as ever. For during Harry's third year at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, he must face his greatest challenge yet: a confrontation with Sirius Black, an escaped convict and madman who is rumored to be in cahoots with Harry's archenemy, the Dark Wizard Lord Voldemort. This alone would be daunting enough, but Harry's task is made even more trying when he discovers that Sirius is suspected of being the one who killed Harry's parents.

For Harry, the Hogwarts campus has always been a sanctuary, but when Black escapes from the horrifying clutches of Azkaban Prison, all clues suggest the madman is headed for Hogwarts and Harry himself. As a result, the school starts to feel more like a prison than a sanctuary as Harry finds himself constantly watched and under guard. What's more, the terrifying Dementors -- the horrifying creatures who guard Azkaban Prison -- are lurking about the campus looking for Black. And their effect on Harry is a devastating one.

Still, life at school offers plenty of distractions. Harry really likes the new teacher for Defense Against the Dark Arts, Professor Lupin, who might be able to teach Harry how to defend himself against the Dementors. But Professor Snape's behavior toward Lupin has Harry wondering what secrets the two men are hiding. Harry's friend Hermione is also acting very strangely. And, of course, there is the tension caused by the ongoing Quidditch competition between the Gryffindors and the Slytherins and the never-ending bullying of the Slytherin leader, Draco Malfoy.

One of Rowling's greatest strengths is her ability to stack mystery upon mystery in a way that keeps the pages turning without frustrating the reader. Her clues are always fair and bountiful, but it's easy to lose track of them in the midst of all the high suspense, spell-casting action, and unexpected plot twists. That's okay, because Rowling ties it all neatly together at the end in a way that will leave readers snapping their fingers and muttering, "Oh yeah. Forgot about that one. How clever!"

Publishers Weekly
"If I had not been what I am, what would I have been?" wonders Lou Arrendale, the autistic hero of Moon's compelling exploration of the concept of "normalcy" and what might happen when medical science attains the knowledge to "cure" adult autism. Arrendale narrates most of this book in a poignant earnestness that verges on the philosophical and showcases Moon's gift for characterization. The occasional third-person interjections from supporting characters are almost intrusive, although they supply needed data regarding subplots. At 35, Arrendale is a bioinformatics specialist who has a gift for pattern analysis and an ability to function well in both "normal" and "autistic" worlds. When the pharmaceutical company he works for recommends that all the autistic employees on staff undergo an experimental procedure that will basically alter their brains, his neatly ordered world shatters. All his life he has been taught "act normal, and you will be normal enough"-something that has enabled him to survive, but as he struggles to decide what to do, the violent behavior of a "normal friend" puts him in danger and rocks his faith in the normal world. He struggles to decide whether the treatment will help or destroy his sense of self. Is autism a disease or just another way of being? He is haunted by the "speed of dark" as he proceeds with his mesmerizing quest for self-"Not knowing arrives before knowing; the future arrives before the present. From this moment, past and future are the same in different directions, but I am going that way and not this way.... When I get there, the speed of light and the speed of dark will be the same." His decision will touch even the most jaded "normal." (Jan.) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Rowling proves that she has plenty of tricks left up her sleeve in this third Harry Potter adventure, set once again at the Hogwarts School for Witchcraft and Wizardry. Right before the start of term, a supremely dangerous criminal breaks out of a supposedly impregnable wizards' prison; it will come as no surprise to Potter fans that the villain, a henchman of Harry's old enemy Lord Voldemort, appears to have targeted Harry. In many ways this installment seems to serve a transitional role in the seven-volume series: while many of the adventures are breathlessly relayed, they appear to be laying groundwork for even more exciting adventures to come. The beauty here lies in the genius of Rowling's plotting. Seemingly minor details established in books one and two unfold to take on unforeseen significance, and the finale, while not airtight in its internal logic, is utterly thrilling. Rowling's wit never flags, whether constructing the workings of the wizard world (Just how would a magician be made to stay behind bars?) or tossing off quick jokes (a grandmother wears a hat decorated with a stuffed vulture; the divination classroom looks like a tawdry tea shop). The Potter spell is holding strong. All ages. (Sept.) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Children's Literature - Rebecca Joseph
In this most interesting Harry Potter adventure yet, Harry returns for his third and most dangerous year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. A mass murderer involved in the death of Harry's parents is on the loose and is after Harry, and the terrifying guards of Azkaban come to guard the school. Determined to catch the murderer, Harry, aided by his friends Ron and Hermione, learns more about the facts leading to his parents' tragic deaths and must face his deepest fears. This book keeps readers on the edge of their seats and makes them yearn for the next installment in the Harry Potter saga.
Children's Literature - Jan Lieberman
This book is as daring and thrilling as any fantasy can be. Harry must confront the evil wizard responsible for his parent's death. Foes may wear disguises and appear harmless. Harry, with help from his friends, must use all his wits to discover the truth. In between quidditch games, studying, and coping with being an emerging teen, Harry has to battle the forces out to end his life. This third book flies by with breath-taking adventures and in-depth character development that helps us understand the complex cast with greater appreciation. I'm panting for Book Four.
In the not-too-distant future, Lou Arrendale is one of the last of his kind, an autistic man who benefited from early intervention training as a child but was born too late for the genetic treatments now done on infants. Lou enjoys his job and does well in a workplace that provides a supportive environment. He has an apartment, drives a car, and fences once a week. His days have a regular and comforting routine to them, especially when he contemplates ideas such as the speed of dark and whether it is faster than light. When it appears that there is a way to "cure" autism in adults, a new manager tries to take away the supports, pressuring Lou and his coworkers into getting the treatment. Uncertain that he wants the treatment, Lou worries whether he will be the same person. Much of his background includes a kind of autistic culture where "'normal' is a dryer setting," and he has learned to like who he is. At the same time, he wonders what it would feel like to be "normal." In the end, what matters is not what Lou chooses but whether he has the choice to say yes or no. Moon, herself the mother of an autistic child, captures the singular perspective of the autist in her portrayal of Lou yet makes it clear that people with autism are not all alike-and that the so-called "normal" people have more in common with the autistic than perhaps they would like to admit. Some characters, such as the psychiatrist who treats Lou as a low-functioning child and the insensitive new manager, seem over the top, but sadly, as the mother of a child with Asperger Syndrome, which falls in the autism spectrum, this reviewer can confirm that they are all too real. The story is engrossing and beautifully writtenwith wide appeal for young adults. Those who like books such as Flowers for Algernon will devour it. Thoughtful and thought provoking, the book raises serious issues and questions of importance for everyone while telling a poignant and hopeful tale. VOYA CODES: 5Q 4P J S A/YA (Hard to imagine it being any better written; Broad general YA appeal; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12; Adult and Young Adult). 2002, Del Rey, 352p,
— Donna Scanlon
ALAN Review
Those thousands of fans already familiar with this series will not be disappointed; Rowling is surprisingly inventive in her small details and startling in her plot twists. And what is particularly pleasing is that Harry grows in this novel, as the thematic concerns of the series grow in complexity. In this, the 3rd Harry Potter book, Harry returns to Hogwarts for his third year. He is shadowed by the knowledge of Sirius Black, a close associate of Lord Voldemort and one-time intimate friend of Harry's parents. Lord Voldemort has escaped from the prison of Azkaban and is undoubtedly looking to avenge himself upon Harry. While struggling with this shadow, Harry also deals with the presence of the Dementors, the guards of Azkaban. The Dementors are looking for Sirus Black because they want to suck all joy and happiness out of those they find, and Harry, because of his past, is particularly susceptible to their powers. Supported by close friends Ron and Hermione, our hero Harry faces Black, fights for the House Cup, and in the end, comes to a new knowledge of his parents that he had never dreamed possible.Here the good and the evil are not so starkly drawn, and may even at times blend in disturbing ways. If the final unraveling of the mystery is a bit clumsy, handled by lengthy and stilted exposition rather than her usual brisk action, Rowling is still wonderfully adept at creating engaging characters and a narrative line that pushes forward at a remarkable pace. Genre: Fantasy. 1999, Arthur P. Levine, Ages 9 to 12, $16.00. Reviewer: Gary D. Schmidt
Library Journal
Well-known sf writer Moon (Heris Serano) is also the mother of an autistic teenager. In her latest book, she movingly depicts an autistic adult struggling with a momentous decision. Lou Arrendal functions on a fairly high level: he has a job with a pharmaceutical company and leads a quiet, independent life. Telling Lou's story from his perspective, Moon depicts his thought processes and his interactions with his co-workers, therapist, and others around him, clearly revealing some of the social obstacles that an autistic person faces. Lou's difference from "normal" people is highlighted by his obsession with the "speed of dark," a puzzle dismissed by everyone else as trivial. When an experimental treatment offers Lou a chance to reverse his autism, he must choose between remaining himself or possibily becoming a different person. Unlike Daniel Keye's classic Flowers for Algernon, Moon's work shows little of Lou's life after the treatment and spares readers from the tragedy of Lou's losing what he had at the novel's beginning. Recommended for larger fiction collections and academic libraries with disability studies and autism collections.-Corey Seeman, Univ. of Toledo Libs., OH Copyright 2003 Cahners Business Information.
School Library Journal
Gr 4 Up-The third book in J.K. Rowling's wildly popular Harry Potter series (Scholastic, 1999) is spiritedly brought to life in this audiobook narrated by English actor/singer Jim Dale. In this installment, Harry's life seems to be in danger when Sirius Black, a wizard convicted of multiple murders, escapes from prison and appears to be heading towards Hogwarts to seek revenge against Harry for causing Voldemort's downfall. Dale, who also recorded the audio versions of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (Jan. 2000, p. 73) and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (April 2000, p. 76) gives a tour de force reading performance as he chronicles Harry's third year at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. With his mastery of verbal inflection, expressive voice, and terrific accents, Dale deftly shifts from general narration to numerous character voices without disrupting the flow of the story. In fact, his tone is so warm and inviting that listeners don't feel the tapes nearly 12 hours length; instead, they will eagerly anticipate listening to more. Adding Dale's vocal talents to Rowling's already well-written and engaging story makes this a quality audiobook worthy of inclusion in all audio collections.-Lori Craft, Downers Grove Public Library, IL Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
Talk Magazine
Rowling writes fantastically (one growling book has wo be stroked to get it open) and yet with 20'th century verit

Talk Magazine's 10 Best Books of 1999

Fantasy & Science Fiction
Readers are welcoming back old friends, hissing at the recurring villians, cheering Harry's Quidditch team (Quidditch is a kind of aerial basketball played on broomsticks with five balls), and completely enthralled with the new mysteries that arise. And let me add here that Rowling is one of the few authors who, while playing fair, has still taken me by surprise with who the villian is in each book.
Midwest Book Review
J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban will involve a wide age range, with Jim Dale's performance adding life to the unabridged presentation telling of Potter's encounter with an old family enemy. Tensions builds in an excellent book on tape which is just as hard to quit as the print version.
Kirkus Reviews
Military-SF novelist Moon (Against the Odds, 2000, etc.) offers a touching account of an autistic man who struggles to cure his condition without changing his self. Lou Arrendal, a computer programmer at a large corporation, lives alone but has a pretty tight group of friends and belongs to a fencing club. He is also autistic. Although Lou works in a special section of his company (Section A) that's comprised entirely of autistics, he spends much of his free time with "normals" and is secretly in love with Marjory Shaw, a normal at the local university. Quite a few of the autistics in Lou's support group resent his spending time with her, seeing it as a form of betrayal and self-hatred. Lou's supervisor, Peter Aldrin, has an autistic brother, understands their problems, and has been extremely sensitive to the his Section A employees. But his CEO, Mr. Crenshaw, can't see past the balance sheet and is eager to shut the section down and get rid of the autistics altogether. And he may have found a way. A new drug is said to cure autism, and Mr. Crenshaw wants Section A to take it. Most of them are wary-they suffer from a condition, not a disease, and have good reason to suspect Crenshaw's motives. Lou is unsure as well, but before he can make up his mind, he faces more immediate threats. Someone has begun stalking him-slashing his tires, then planting a bomb in the car's engine-and the police make him hide out while they investigate. To Lou it makes no sense at all and confirms his low opinion of the normals. Does he really want to be like them? Or can the exceptions (such as Marjory) make the change worthwhile? Sometimes a life and death struggle is not the hardest kind. Well-written,intelligent, quite moving. Moon places the reader inside the world of an autistic and unflinchingly conveys the authenticity of his situation.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780606323475
  • Publisher: Demco Media
  • Publication date: 8/27/2013
  • Series: Harry Potter Series , #3
  • Format: Library Binding
  • Pages: 435
  • Sales rank: 704,719
  • Age range: 9 - 12 Years
  • Product dimensions: 5.00 (w) x 7.60 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

J. K. Rowling

J.K. Rowling was a struggling single mother when she wrote the beginning of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, on scraps of paper at a local cafe. But her efforts soon paid off, as she received an unprecedented award from the Scottish Arts Council enabling her to finish the book. Since then, the debut novel has become an international phenomenon, garnering rave reviews and major awards, including the British Book Awards Chidren's Book of the Year and the Smarties Prize. Ms. Rowling lives in Edinburgh with her daughter.

Performer Bio: The New York Times hailed Jim Dale as "The Toast of Broadway" in his title role in the musical Barnum. He has a long list of credits on the stage and in film and was nominated for an Oscar for writing the lyrics for Georgy Girl.


As the often told story goes, J. K. Rowling was on the brink of poverty, receiving welfare when her first Harry Potter book catapulted her into a stratosphere of stardom rarely enjoyed by any writer. While accounts of Rowling's destitution have been greatly exaggerated, her story is still something of a rags-to-riches tale not unlike that of her most famous creation.

Yes, Rowling did briefly receive government assistance after returning to her home country of England following a stint in Portugal, but that ended when she took a fairly well-paying teaching job. Rather than financial hardships, the period between a 1990 train ride from Manchester to London -- during which Rowling first conceived of a "scrawny, black-haired, bespectacled boy who didn't know he was a wizard" -- and the publication of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone was marked by setbacks of a more personal nature. Her mother passed away. She divorced her first husband, leaving her to raise her daughter alone. The writing career she'd always desired was becoming less and less viable as her personal responsibilities mounted.

Then came Harry, the bespectacled boy wizard she'd first dreamed on that fateful train ride.

The success of the first Harry Potter novel (given the slightly less lofty title of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone in the U.S.), in which the orphaned, seemingly ordinary boy discovers that he is not only a possessor of incredible powers but already a celebrity among fellow wizards, was far beyond anything Joanne Kathleen Rowling ever dared imagine. International praise poured in. So did the awards. Rowling won England's National Book Award and the Smarties Prize for children's literature. The series spawned an equally successful and hotly anticipated series of films starring the young megastars Daniel Radcliffe and Emma Watson and featuring such venerable British actors as Maggie Smith, John Hurt, John Cleese, and Alan Rickman.

Rowling is responsible for introducing several new words and terms into the English lexicon, such as "muggle" (a civilian lacking in wizardly powers) and "Quidditch" (a fast-paced sport played while riding broomsticks). Perhaps most satisfying of all for the mother and teacher was the way she single-handedly ignited the literary pursuits of children all over the globe. Kids everywhere couldn't wait to get their hands on Harry's latest adventure at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, which is no small feat, considering that the novels tend to be exceptionally lengthy for books aimed at such a young audience (Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is just a few pages shy of a whopping 900 pages!). Rowling has said that she conceives of her novels as "real literature," despite the fact that they are written for young people. Perhaps a testament to the literary merit of her books is the fact that they are nearly as popular with teenagers, college kids, and adults as they are with the grammar-school set.

With the massive popularity of her Harry Potter novels, Rowling has achieved similar fame and fortune -- for better and for worse. According to an article in a 2004 edition of Forbes magazine, Rowling's wealth was estimated at 576 million English pounds. In U.S. currency, that made her the very first billionaire author. The downside of that success is the unwanted attention she receives from Britain's notoriously relentless paparazzi. As Rowling lamented to Jeremy Paxton of the BBC, "You know, I didn't think they'd rake through my bins, I didn't expect to be photographed on the beach through long lenses." Rowling has also come under fire from Christian groups who object to her depiction of wizardry and witchcraft and certain critics who contest the "literary merit" of her work. Of course, one must always keep in mind that no one ever achieves Rowling's level of celebrity without having to listen to the griping of naysayers, none of which has impeded her continued success seriously.

Although Rowling could surely sell countless copies of Harry Potter books for as long as she is able to put pen to paper (and she does write much of her work in longhand), she initially conceived of the series in seven installments and has, of course, realized that plan with the publication of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. "There will be no Harry Potter's midlife crisis or Harry Potter as an old wizard," she once told the Sunday Telegraph. As for what life after Harry Potter might entail for Rowling, she has suggested quite a number of possibilities, including ideas for adult novels and possible tie-ins to the Hogwarts universe involving periphery characters. Whatever Rowling chooses to do, she has forever guaranteed herself a place alongside Roald Dahl, Lewis Carroll, and L. Frank Baum as one of the most beloved children's authors of all time.

Good To Know

Rowling's parents met on a train, coincidentally from King's Cross station to Scotland. Diagnosed with multiple sclerosis when Rowling was 15, her mother died in the early 1990s. Rowling has a sister, Di, two years younger than she, who is an attorney.

Rowling's publisher requested that she use initials on Harry Potter covers, concerned that if they used an obviously female name, the target audience of young boys might be hesitant to buy them. Rowling adopted her grandmother's middle name, Kathleen, for the "K".

Rowling made a special guest appearance as herself on the hit cartoon show, The Simpsons.

With great success often comes great controversy. Rowling's Harry Potter books landed on a list of banned books because of their depiction of wizardry and witchcraft. However, Rowling regards her place on the list as a feather in her cap, as past lists have included works by such literary giants as Mark Twain, John Steinbeck, J. D. Salinger, and Harper Lee.

Rowling ran into a bit of potential trouble in the wake of stepped-up airline restrictions. While traveling home from New York, she refused to part ways with the manuscript of her still in-the-works final installment of the Harry Potter series during bag inspections. Fortunately, she was allowed onboard without further incident.

In 2001, two Harry Potter tie-in books were published: Quidditch Through the Ages by Kennilworthy Whisp and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them by Newt Scamander. For those wondering who the mysterious Misters Whisp and Scamander are, well, they are actually both J. K. Rowling. The author donated all proceeds of her pseudonymous books to the charity Comic Relief.

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    1. Also Known As:
      Joanne Kathleen Rowling (full name), "Jo"
    2. Hometown:
      Perthshire, Scotland
    1. Date of Birth:
      July 31, 1965
    2. Place of Birth:
      Chipping Sodbury near Bristol, England
    1. Education:
      Exeter University
    2. Website:

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 2

Harry went down to breakfast the next morning to find the three Dursleys already sitting around the kitchen table. They were watching a brand-new television, a welcome-home-for-the-summer present for Dudley, who had been complaining loudly about the long walk between the fridge and the television in the living room. Dudley had spent most of the summer in the kitchen, his piggy little eyes fixed on the screen and his five chins wobbling as he ate continually.

Harry sat down between Dudley and Uncle Vernon, a large, beefy man with very little neck and a lot of mustache. Far from wishing Harry a happy birthday, none of the Dursleys made any sign that they had noticed Harry enter the room, but Harry was far too used to this to care. He helped himself to a piece of toast and then looked up at the reporter on the television, who was halfway through a report on an escaped convict:

"... The public is warned that Black is armed and extremely dangerous. A special hot line has been set up, and any sighting of Black should be reported immediately."

"No need to tell us he's no good," snorted Uncle Vernon, staring over the top of his newspaper at the prisoner. "Look at the state of him, the filthy layabout! Look at his hair!"

He shot a nasty look sideways at Harry, whose untidy hair had always been a source of great annoyance to Uncle Vernon. Compared to the man on the television, however, whose gaunt face was surrounded by a matted, elbow-length tangle, Harry felt very well groomed indeed.

The reporter had reappeared.
"The Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries will announce today -"

"Hang on!" barked Uncle Vernon, staring furiously at the reporter. "You didn't tell us where that maniac's escaped from! What use is that? Lunatic could be coming up the street right now!"

Aunt Petunia, who was bony and horse-faced, whipped around and peered intently out of the kitchen window. Harry knew Aunt Petunia would simply love to be the one to call the hot line number. She was the nosiest woman in the world and spent most of her life spying on the boring, law-abiding neighbors.

"When will they learn," said Uncle Vernon, pounding the table with his large purple fist, "that hanging's the only way to deal with these people?"

"Very true," said Aunt Petunia, who was still squinting into next door's runner beans.

Uncle Vernon drained his teacup, glanced at his watch, and added, "I'd better be off in a minute, Petunia. Marge's train gets in at ten."

Harry, whose thoughts had been upstairs with the Broomstick Servicing Kit, was brought back to earth with an unpleasant bump.

"Aunt Marge?" he blurted out. "Sh - she's not coming here, is she?"

Aunt Marge was Uncle Vernon's sister. Even though she was not a blood relative of Harry's (whose mother had been Aunt Petunia's sister), he had been forced to call her "Aunt" all his life. Aunt Marge lived in the country, in a house with a large garden, where she bred bulldogs. She didn't often stay at Privet Drive, because she couldn't bear to leave her precious dogs, but each of her visits stood out horribly vividly in Harry's mind.

At Dudley's fifth birthday party, Aunt Marge had whacked Harry around the shins with her walking stick to stop him from beating Dudley at musical statues. A few years later, she had turned up at Christmas with a computerized robot for Dudley and a box of dog biscuits for Harry. On her last visit, the year before Harry started at Hogwarts, Harry had accidentally trodden on the tail of her favorite dog. Ripper had chased Harry out into the garden and up a tree, and Aunt Marge had refused to call him off until past midnight. The memory of this incident still brought tears of laughter to Dudley's eyes.

"Marge'll be here for a week," Uncle Vernon snarled, "and while we're on the subject" - he pointed a fat finger threateningly at Harry - "we need to get a few things straight before I go and collect her."

Dudley smirked and withdrew his gaze from the television. Watching Harry being bullied by Uncle Vernon was Dudley's favorite form of entertainment.

"Firstly," growled Uncle Vernon, "you'll keep a civil tongue in your head when you're talking to Marge."

"All right," said Harry bitterly, "if she does when she's talking to me."

"Secondly," said Uncle Vernon, acting as though he had not heard Harry's reply, "as Marge doesn't know anything about your abnormality, I don't want any - any funny stuff while she's here. You behave yourself, got me?"

"I will if she does," said Harry through gritted teeth.

"And thirdly," said Uncle Vernon, his mean little eyes now slits in his great purple face, "we've told Marge you attend St. Brutus's Secure Center for Incurably Criminal Boys."

"What?" Harry yelled.

"And you'll be sticking to that story, boy, or there'll be trouble," spat Uncle Vernon.

Harry sat there, white-faced and furious, staring at Uncle Vernon, hardly able to believe it. Aunt Marge coming for a week-long visit - it was the worst birthday present the Dursleys had ever given him, including that pair of Uncle Vernon's old socks.

"Well, Petunia," said Uncle Vernon, getting heavily to his feet, "I'll be off to the station, then. Want to come along for the ride, Dudders?"

"No," said Dudley, whose attention had returned to the television now that Uncle Vernon had finished threatening Harry.

"Duddy's got to make himself smart for his auntie," said Aunt Petunia, smoothing Dudley's thick blond hair. "Mummy's bought him a lovely new bow tie."

Uncle Vernon clapped Dudley on his porky shoulder.

"See you in a bit, then," he said, and he left the kitchen.

Harry, who had been sitting in a kind of horrified trance, had a sudden idea. Abandoning his toast, he got quickly to his feet and followed Uncle Vernon to the front door.
Uncle Vernon was pulling on his car coat.

"I'm not taking you," he snarled as he turned to see Harry watching him.

"Like I wanted to come," said Harry coldly. "I want to ask you something."

Uncle Vernon eyed him suspiciously.

"Third years at Hog - at my school are allowed to visit the village sometimes," said Harry.

"So?" snapped Uncle Vernon, taking his car keys from a hook next to the door.

"I need you to sign the permission form," said Harry in a rush.

"And why should I do that?" sneered Uncle Vernon.

"Well," said Harry, choosing his words carefully, "it'll be hard work, pretending to Aunt Marge I go to that St. Whatsits -"

"St. Brutus's Secure Center for Incurably Criminal Boys!" bellowed Uncle Vernon, and Harry was pleased to hear a definite note of panic in Uncle Vernon's voice.

"Exactly," said Harry, looking calmly up into Uncle Vernon's large, purple face. "It's a lot to remember. I'll have to make it sound convincing, won't I? What if I accidentally let something slip?"

"You'll get the stuffing knocked out of you, won't you?" roared Uncle Vernon, advancing on Harry with his fist raised. But Harry stood his ground.

"Knocking the stuffing out of me won't make Aunt Marge forget what I could tell her," he said grimly.

Uncle Vernon stopped, his fist still raised, his face an ugly


"But if you sign my permission form," Harry went on quickly, "I swear I'll remember where I'm supposed to go to school, and I'll act like a Mug - like I'm normal and everything."

Harry could tell that Uncle Vernon was thinking it over, even if his teeth were bared and a vein was throbbing in his temple.

"Right," he snapped finally. "I shall monitor your behavior carefully during Marge's visit. If, at the end of it, you've toed the line and kept to the story, I'll sign your ruddy form."

He wheeled around, pulled open the front door, and slammed it so hard that one of the little panes of glass at the top fell out.

Harry didn't return to the kitchen. He went back upstairs to his bedroom. If he was going to act like a real Muggle, he'd better start now. Slowly and sadly he gathered up all his presents and his birthday cards and hid them under the loose floorboard with his homework. Then he went to Hedwig's cage. Errol seemed to have recovered; he and Hedwig were both asleep, heads under their wings. Harry sighed, then poked them both awake.

"Hedwig," he said gloomily, "you're going to have to clear off for a week. Go with Errol. Ron'll look after you. I'll write him a note, explaining. And don't look at me like that" - Hedwig's large amber eyes were reproachful - "it's not my fault. It's the only way I'll be allowed to visit Hogsmeade with Ron and Hermione."

Ten minutes later, Errol and Hedwig (who had a note to Ron bound to her leg) soared out of the window and out of sight. Harry, now feeling thoroughly miserable, put the empty cage away inside the wardrobe.

But Harry didn't have long to brood. In next to no time, Aunt Petunia was shrieking up the stairs for Harry to come down and get ready to welcome their guest.

"Do something about your hair!" Aunt Petunia snapped as he reached the hall.

Harry couldn't see the point of trying to make his hair lie flat. Aunt Marge loved criticizing him, so the untidier he looked, the happier she would be.

All too soon, there was a crunch of gravel outside as Uncle Vernon's car pulled back into the driveway, then the clunk of the car doors and footsteps on the garden path.

"Get the door!" Aunt Petunia hissed at Harry.

A feeling of great gloom in his stomach, Harry pulled the door open.

On the threshold stood Aunt Marge. She was very like Uncle Vernon: large, beefy, and purple-faced, she even had a mustache, though not as bushy as his. In one hand she held an enormous suitcase, and tucked under the other was an old and evil-tempered bulldog.

"Where's my Dudders?" roared Aunt Marge. "Where's my neffy- poo?"

Dudley came waddling down the hall, his blond hair plastered flat to his fat head, a bow tie just visible under his many chins. Aunt Marge thrust the suitcase into Harry's stomach, knocking the wind out of him, seized Dudley in a tight one-armed hug, and planted a large kiss on his cheek.

Harry knew perfectly well that Dudley only put up with Aunt Marge's hugs because he was well paid for it, and sure enough, when they broke apart, Dudley had a crisp twenty-pound note clutched in his fat fist.

"Petunia!" shouted Aunt Marge, striding past Harry as though he was a hat stand. Aunt Marge and Aunt Petunia kissed, or rather, Aunt Marge bumped her large jaw against Aunt Petunia's bony cheekbone.

Uncle Vernon now came in, smiling jovially as he shut the door.

"Tea, Marge?" he said. "And what will Ripper take?"

"Ripper can have some tea out of my saucer," said Aunt Marge as they all proceeded into the kitchen, leaving Harry alone in the hall with the suitcase. But Harry wasn't complaining; any excuse not to be with Aunt Marge was fine by him, so he began to heave the case upstairs into the spare bedroom, taking as long as he could.

By the time he got back to the kitchen, Aunt Marge had been supplied with tea and fruitcake, and Ripper was lapping noisily in the corner. Harry saw Aunt Petunia wince slightly as specks of tea and drool flecked her clean floor. Aunt Petunia hated animals.

"Who's looking after the other dogs, Marge?" Uncle Vernon asked.

"Oh, I've got Colonel Fubster managing them," boomed Aunt Marge. "He's retired now, good for him to have something to do. But I couldn't leave poor old Ripper. He pines if he's away from me."

Ripper began to growl again as Harry sat down. This directed Aunt Marge's attention to Harry for the first time.

"So!" she barked. "Still here, are you?"

"Yes," said Harry.

"Don't you say 'yes' in that ungrateful tone," Aunt Marge growled. "It's damn good of Vernon and Petunia to keep you. Wouldn't have done it myself. You'd have gone straight to an orphanage if you'd been dumped on my doorstep."

Harry was bursting to say that he'd rather live in an orphanage than with the Dursleys, but the thought of the Hogsmeade form stopped him. He forced his face into a painful smile.

"Don't you smirk at me!" boomed Aunt Marge. "I can see you haven't improved since I last saw you. I hoped school would knock some manners into you." She took a large gulp of tea, wiped her mustache, and said, "Where is it that you send him, again, Vernon?"

"St. Brutus's," said Uncle Vernon promptly. "It's a first-rate institution for hopeless cases."

"I see," said Aunt Marge. "Do they use the cane at St. Brutus's, boy?" she barked across the table.

"Er -"

Uncle Vernon nodded curtly behind Aunt Marge's back.

"Yes," said Harry. Then, feeling he might as well do the thing properly, he added, "all the time."

"Excellent," said Aunt Marge. "I won't have this namby-pamby, wishy-washy nonsense about not hitting people who deserve it. A good thrashing is what's needed in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred. Have you been beaten often?"

"Oh, yeah," said Harry, "loads of times."

Aunt Marge narrowed her eyes.

"I still don't like your tone, boy," she said. "If you can speak of your beatings in that casual way, they clearly aren't hitting you hard enough. Petunia, I'd write if I were you. Make it clear that you approve the use of extreme force in this boy's case."

Perhaps Uncle Vernon was worried that Harry might forget their bargain; in any case, he changed the subject abruptly.

"Heard the news this morning, Marge? What about that escaped prisoner, eh?"

As Aunt Marge started to make herself at home, Harry caught himself thinking almost longingly of life at number four without her. Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia usually encouraged Harry to stay out of their way, which Harry was only too happy to do. Aunt Marge, on the other hand, wanted Harry under her eye at all times, so that she could boom out suggestions for his improvement. She delighted in comparing Harry with Dudley, and took huge pleasure in buying Dudley expensive presents while glaring at Harry, as though daring him to ask why he hadn't got a present too. She also kept throwing out dark hints about what made Harry such an unsatisfactory person.

"You mustn't blame yourself for the way the boy's turned out, Vernon," she said over lunch on the third day. "If there's something rotten on the inside, there's nothing anyone can do about it."

Harry tried to concentrate on his food, but his hands shook and his face was starting to burn with anger. Remember the form, he told himself. Think about Hogsmeade. Don't say anything. Don't rise -

Aunt Marge reached for her glass of wine.

"It's one of the basic rules of breeding," she said. "You see it all the time with dogs. If there's something wrong with the bitch, there'll be something wrong with the pup -"

At that moment, the wineglass Aunt Marge was holding exploded in her hand. Shards of glass flew in every direction and Aunt Marge sputtered and blinked, her great ruddy face dripping.

"Marge!" squealed Aunt Petunia. "Marge, are you all right?"

"Not to worry," grunted Aunt Marge, mopping her face with her napkin. "Must have squeezed it too hard. Did the same thing at Colonel Fubster's the other day. No need to fuss, Petunia, I have a very firm grip ..."

But Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon were both looking at Harry suspiciously, so he decided he'd better skip dessert and escape from the table as soon as he could.

Outside in the hall, he leaned against the wall, breathing deeply. It had been a long time since he'd lost control and made something explode. He couldn't afford to let it happen again. The Hogsmeade form wasn't the only thing at stake - if he carried on like that, he'd be in trouble with the Ministry of Magic.

Harry was still an underage wizard, and he was forbidden by wizard law to do magic outside school. His record wasn't exactly clean either. Only last summer he'd gotten an official warning that had stated quite clearly that if the Ministry got wind of any more magic in Privet Drive, Harry would face expulsion from Hogwarts.

He heard the Dursleys leaving the table and hurried upstairs out of the way.

Harry got through the next three days by forcing himself to think about his Handbook of Do-It-Yourself Broomcare whenever Aunt Marge started on him. This worked quite well, though it seemed to give him a glazed look, because Aunt Marge started voicing the opinion that he was mentally subnormal.

At last, at long last, the final evening of Marge's stay arrived. Aunt Petunia cooked a fancy dinner and Uncle Vernon uncorked several bottles of wine. They got all the way through the soup and the salmon without a single mention of Harry's faults; during the lemon meringue pie, Uncle Vernon bored them all with a long talk about Grunnings, his drill-making company; then Aunt Petunia made coffee and Uncle Vernon brought out a bottle of brandy.

"Can I tempt you, Marge?"

Aunt Marge had already had quite a lot of wine. Her huge face was very red.

"Just a small one, then," she chuckled. "A bit more than that . . . and a bit more . . . that's the ticket."

Dudley was eating his fourth slice of pie. Aunt Petunia was sipping coffee with her little finger sticking out. Harry really wanted to disappear into his bedroom, but he met Uncle Vernon's angry little eyes and knew he would have to sit it out.

"Aah," said Aunt Marge, smacking her lips and putting the empty brandy glass back down. "Excellent nosh, Petunia. It's normally just a fry-up for me of an evening, with twelve dogs to look after. . . ." She burped richly and patted her great tweed stomach. "Pardon me. But I do like to see a healthy-sized boy," she went on, winking at Dudley. "You'll be a proper-sized man, Dudders, like your father. Yes, I'll have a spot more brandy, Vernon. . . ."

"Now, this one here -"

She jerked her head at Harry, who felt his stomach clench. The Handbook, he thought quickly.

"This one's got a mean, runty look about him. You get that with dogs. I had Colonel Fubster drown one last year. Ratty little thing it was. Weak. Underbred."

Harry was trying to remember page twelve of his book: A Charm to Cure Reluctant Reversers.

"It all comes down to blood, as I was saying the other day. Bad blood will out. Now, I'm saying nothing against your family, Petunia" - she patted Aunt Petunia's bony hand with her shovel-like one - "but your sister was a bad egg. They turn up in the best families. Then she ran off with a wastrel and here's the result right in front of us."

Harry was staring at his plate, a funny ringing in his ears. Grasp your broom firmly by the tail, he thought. But he couldn't remember what came next. Aunt Marge's voice seemed to be boring into him like one of Uncle Vernon's drills.

"This Potter," said Aunt Marge loudly, seizing the brandy bottle and splashing more into her glass and over the tablecloth, "you never told me what he did?"

Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia were looking extremely tense. Dudley had even looked up from his pie to gape at his parents.

"He - didn't work," said Uncle Vernon, with half a glance at Harry. "Unemployed."

"As I expected!" said Aunt Marge, taking a huge swig of brandy and wiping her chin on her sleeve. "A no-account, good-for-nothing, lazy scrounger who -"

"He was not," said Harry suddenly. The table went very quiet. Harry was shaking all over. He had never felt so angry in his life.

"MORE BRANDY!" yelled Uncle Vernon, who had gone very white. He emptied the bottle into Aunt Marge's glass. "You, boy," he snarled at Harry. "Go to bed, go on -"

"No, Vernon," hiccuped Aunt Marge, holding up a hand, her tiny bloodshot eyes fixed on Harry's. "Go on, boy, go on. Proud of your parents, are you? They go and get themselves killed in a car crash (drunk, I expect) -"

"They didn't die in a car crash!" said Harry, who found himself on his feet.

"They died in a car crash, you nasty little liar, and left you to be a burden on their decent, hardworking relatives!" screamed Aunt Marge, swelling with fury. "You are an insolent, ungrateful little -"

But Aunt Marge suddenly stopped speaking. For a moment, it looked as though words had failed her. She seemed to be swelling with inexpressible anger - but the swelling didn't stop. Her great red face started to expand, her tiny eyes bulged, and her mouth stretched too tightly for speech - next second, several buttons had just burst from her tweed jacket and pinged off the walls - she was inflating like a monstrous balloon, her stomach bursting free of her tweed waistband, each of her fingers blowing up like a salami -

"MARGE!" yelled Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia together as Aunt Marge's whole body began to rise off her chair toward the ceiling. She was entirely round, now, like a vast life buoy with piggy eyes, and her hands and feet stuck out weirdly as she drifted up into the air, making apoplectic popping noises. Ripper came skidding into the room, barking madly.


Uncle Vernon seized one of Marge's feet and tried to pull her down again, but was almost lifted from the floor himself. A second later, Ripper leapt forward and sank his teeth into Uncle Vernon's leg.

Harry tore from the dining room before anyone could stop him, heading for the cupboard under the stairs. The cupboard door burst magically open as he reached it. In seconds, he had heaved his trunk to the front door. He sprinted upstairs and threw himself under the bed, wrenching up the loose floorboard, and grabbed the pillowcase full of his books and birthday presents. He wriggled out, seized Hedwig's empty cage, and dashed back downstairs to his trunk, just as Uncle Vernon burst out of the dining room, his trouser leg in bloody tatters.


But a reckless rage had come over Harry. He kicked his trunk open, pulled out his wand, and pointed it at Uncle Vernon.

"She deserved it," Harry said, breathing very fast. "She deserved what she got. You keep away from me."

He fumbled behind him for the latch on the door.

"I'm going," Harry said. "I've had enough."

And in the next moment, he was out in the dark, quiet street, heaving his heavy trunk behind him, Hedwig's cage under his arm.

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Table of Contents

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Interviews & Essays


Paul Witcover:
You're known as a science fiction writer, but even though
The Speed of Dark is set in the near future, the world you depict is not
too different from the world of today. Certain technology, such as
genetic engineering and nanotechnology, is more advanced than at
present, but the society in which Lou Arrendale and the other characters
live and work seems contemporaneous. How much of a change of pace
was this novel for you? Is it science fiction? And if so, what makes it
science fiction?

Elizabeth Moon: This was definitely a change of pace. Occasionally
an idea or a character blindsides me and knocks me right out of what I
intended to do next. Whether it's science fiction or not depends on the
reader's definition of science fiction. Although it's set in the future (or
near future), the issues facing the characters are indeed those of today.

PW: What is autism? Is it a genetic condition? A mental illness? The
result of an infection? Physical trauma? I've even heard infant
immunizations blamed.

EM: Autism is a pervasive developmental disorder. The diagnostic
criteria are found in DSM-IV (the Diagnostic & Statistical Manual of
Mental Disorders published by the American Psychiatric Association),
but this source is very much out of date for treatment and prognosis.
Most children with autism are clearly born with it, and the best current
evidence suggests that something begins to be different in autistic fetuses
well before birth. It is not known whether maternal infections or trauma
can cause this "difference." It usedto be considered a mental illness
(which is why you find it described in the psychiatric literature), but
it's not currently given that classification. Since it occurs at higher
frequencies in families with other cases of autism and related
neurological conditions, genetics certainly plays some role in many, if not
most, cases of autism. Some people will blame anything, however
unlikely, and in the face of contrary data; there is no evidence that infant
immunizations cause autism.

PW: What are some of the warning signs that parents should be aware
of? Where can people go for more information or help?

EM: The autistic spectrum includes a range of developmental disabilities
that are similar but not identical. Classical autism presents as
developmental delay, often global, but particularly affecting sensory
integration; fine-motor coordination; language, both receptive and
expressive; and social interaction. The amount of delay varies widely.
What a parent will notice first, most likely, is marked delay in language
acquisition, marked delay in normal social interaction, and very
restricted activities/interests compared to other children the same age.
The autistic child may not talk at all, or speak only to echo what he just
heard, or repeat that jingle. He may ignore TV to sit by the bureau
flicking the handles of drawers over and over. He is likely to do the same
thing hour after hour, day after day: stacking blocks, winding and
unwinding string, some other repetitive activity. Autistic individuals have
great difficulty learning to "read" the social cues the rest of us use—tone
of voice, facial expression, etc. A child whose autism is milder, and
undiagnosed until school age, will usually demonstrate very uneven
abilities—excelling in one subject, and flunking in another—and will
also have the associated difficulty in reciprocal social interactions.

PW: Milder . . . Is this where Asperger's Syndrome comes in?

EM: Asperger's Syndrome, which is related to autism in many ways,
does not involve language delay—Asperger's kids may talk early and
fluently—but does involve delays and difficulties with social interaction
similar to those in autism. As with classical autism, there is a wide range
of severity. If a child talks "on time" but does not develop reciprocal
social skills—can't hold a conversation with turn-taking, doesn't play
with others—that's also cause for concern.
All small children do things that autistic children do, all the lists of
behaviors you may have seen in magazine articles, but normal children
also do much more. If they repeat advertising jingles ad nauseam, they
can also demand more cookies, ask questions, play pretend games with
friends, argue about bedtime. Normal children may also have strong
idiosyncratic interests. I was horse-crazy, and made endless parades of my
toy horses. They may flap their hands, spin the wheels of toy cars, act shy
and refuse eye contact, or be unusually sensitive to texture or taste, all
without being autistic . . . if the rest of their development is coming
along at the usual rate, if these "autistic" behaviors aren't the only ones
they have. Children do vary in their acquisition of social skills; they all
have to be "civilized" into the normal give-and-take of social interaction.
What matters is not any particular behavior, but the overall pattern of
Since language delay has several causes, all of them important to a
child's future, any delay in talking should be checked out. The child may
have a hearing loss or any of several other problems—autism is only one
of the possibilities—but the sooner the cause is identified and therapy
begun, the better.
Parents today have many resources. If they have a concern about
a child's development, any of the basic books on infant and child
development will give them some guidelines. Day-care and nurseryschool
teachers, who have seen hundreds of children, are also helpful
resources—they know when a given child is or isn't making
developmental milestones. Doctors vary in their understanding of
autism; some may be reluctant to make the diagnosis early because when
they went to school it was a very bad one. But most family practitioners
and pediatricians are at least familiar with the diagnostic criteria, and can
help families determine if autism is a possibility.

PW: Lou Arrendale is an extraordinarily vivid creation. There have been
books and movies that feature autistic people before, such as Rain Man,
but I can't recall another treatment that gets inside an autist's head as
deeply as you do here. I know you have an autistic son; how much of
Lou is based on your son and your experiences in raising him?

EM: Our son was certainly the starting point and the inspiration—
eighteen years of 24/7 experience provides a lot of information (he was
seventeen or eighteen when I started the book). In addition, I had read
books by Oliver Sacks; Temple Grandin, who is herself autistic and a fine
advocate for the autistic community; Clara Park, whose autistic daughter,
a talented artist, is now in her forties; and others, and had found online
groups of autistic individuals who demonstrated the wide variety of
personalities and abilities that autistic people have.
Lou's character is, however, quite different from that of our son; Lou
is the product of early intervention and educational advances that were
not available when our son was born. He's also innately more intelligent,
with a high IQ; our son's is low normal. Lou is by nature a quieter and
more thoughtful person; our son is more exuberant.

PW: Despite being autistic, Lou functions better than many so-called
normal people. He has a job, friends, interests. He is highly intelligent
and extremely sensitive to certain sensations and perceptions, such as, for
example, smells and textures. And his pattern recognition abilities, which
he relies on in every aspect of his life, from his job at the pharmaceutical
company to his hobby of fencing to his interactions with others, are
phenomenal. How typical is Lou of people with autism today in terms of
his social skills and mental abilities?

EM: Here it makes a huge difference which generation of autistic
persons you're talking about. Most autistic children born in the 1940s
and before were characterized as having "infantile schizophrenia" and
were institutionalized early as hopeless (as in Rain Man). Only a few
exceptionally intelligent autistic children had the kind of support they
needed to achieve independent living as adults. As late as DSM-IV, the
prognosis was that only 30 percent of the most intelligent and capable
autistic persons would ever live independently. However, with the advent
of mandated public education for all students and early childhood
intervention, the situation has improved markedly. Social problems
are still the main reason for autistic persons not achieving full
independence, but more and more of them are holding jobs and living in
less sheltered environments. They are still earning less than non-autistic
persons of equivalent intelligence, and autistic persons who are also
retarded or have another disability (physical or other) are still likely to
need lifelong assistance of some kind—but few now are consigned to
residential institutions. I expect that in the next five to ten years, as
children who received good therapy in the birth-to-five-years range
reach adulthood, we will see a reversal of the DSM-IV prognosis, with
60 percent or more holding jobs. Assuming, of course, that the economy
improves . . .
Lou's sensitivity to sensory input and his pattern-recognition skills,
however, are common to most autistic individuals. Sensory perception
and sensory processing differences are universal. If there is an autistic
child anywhere who tolerates tags in T-shirts or bulky seams in socks, I
never heard of one . . .

PW: How is autism treated today? Have you seen much progress since
the birth of your son? Do you think that we are on track toward the sorts
of advanced therapies available in your book?

EM: Autism is treated today in a variety of ways—the most useful being
intensive supportive therapy for young children. The earlier autism is
diagnosed, and the earlier families begin helping these children develop,
the better the prognosis. Communication therapy (not just speech
therapy), sensory integration therapy, skills training (including social
skills training)—all these and other therapies, not necessarily the same
for each child, make an enormous difference. Autistic children do
continue to develop; what you have with an autistic toddler, an
enormous and terrifying challenge, is not the limit of what's possible.
Certainly there's been a lot of progress since our son was born. I had
to figure out a lot of things for myself—not much was available, at least
not here. But after the legislation that mandated early childhood
intervention for disabled children, more and more people were working
in the field and soon began to discover what worked best. Positivereinforcement
behavioral shaping—more on the model of Karen Pryor
than the rigidity of the academics, in my opinion—works best.
I definitely think that the sort of advanced therapy I wrote about is
within reach; whether the research heads in that direction or not will
depend on funding. But in the process of writing this book, I was
reading an international neuroscience journal (Nature Neuroscience), and
kept worrying that the science was catching up with the story all too fast.

PW: Lou is constantly questioning what it means to be autistic and what
it means to be normal. He comes to believe that the two are points along
a spectrum rather than wholly unrelated ways of being. I think this must
be true because of my own experience in reading the novel. At first, I
found Lou fascinating but alien; I could sympathize with him, but from
the outside looking in. Then, as I read on, a curious and amazing thing
happened. I began to empathize with Lou. His way of thinking stopped
seeming alien to me and began to seem human. In fact, I began to
recognize more and more of myself in him. When the demands of daily
life took me away from the book, his voice stayed with me, coloring my
perceptions of the world, until I felt almost as if a part of me were
autistic. It was no longer possible for me to think of Lou as alien, and it
even became difficult to think of him as damaged, exactly. Just different.
Which raises a lot of interesting practical and philosophical questions
about autism . . . and not just autism.

EM: Doesn't it, though! To a large degree, we (meaning society in its
judgmental role) create aliens from humans by excluding them, by
defining them as too strange, too difficult. Human cultures have always
done this. It helps a group to bond, if they define nonmembers as
completely different. Cultures have defined other races, religions,
nationalities, and even economic groups as "not really human" and thus
outside the rules that govern behavior in the group. And we've done it
with disabilities. Sometimes the disabled are treated as children (We
know what's best for you . . . )
and sometimes as monsters who must be
confined or even killed.

PW: The other side of this coin would be the criticism that you've
described autism too well; or, rather, have romanticized it, made it seem
appealing in its strangeness, as if to be autistic were to be like Star Trek's
Data or Mr. Spock. How would you respond to this criticism?

EM:With a loud snort . . . No parent of an autistic child would ever
romanticize autism, or minimize the strain it places on both the child and
the society in which that child lives. Hours of screaming when nothing
would comfort him . . . cleaning up smeared feces . . . endless days and
nights of struggling to understand the child's communications, and
communicate to him . . . nothing romantic about that at all. It was hard
work, and tough emotionally (on him as well as on us). For most of his
life, we had him 24/7, 365 days a year (ordinary baby-sitters can't
cope)—there were no nights out, no weekends off. Respite care, in
those days, was not available.
But I definitely chose not to demonize autism, which is what many
magazine articles do: They treat autism as the worst, most horrible, most
alienating of the developmental disabilities, a complete and utter tragedy
for families, a wasted life with no possibility of joy or fulfillment. That's
simply not the truth. The autistic child is a fully human child, capable of
receiving and giving love, capable of enjoying and giving pleasure. The
autistic persons I met online, even when they described themselves as
alien, demonstrated all the common human emotions and desires: They
want to be around people who understand them, who like them as they
are. They want to have a comfortable living and working environment,
to be treated with respect and dignity. They want to eat what tastes good
to them, and avoid what tastes bad. They want friends who share their
interests; they want to enjoy life in their own way. If they believe
themselves to be alien, it is because we, the "normals," have told them
over and over how impossible they are. We try to insist that they must
become like us to be acceptable—which makes about as much sense as
insisting that someone change his skin color or eye color or height.

PW: What feedback have you received from autists and members of the
autistic community, parents, and researchers?

EM: Very positive so far. Several autists have contacted me and told me
they like the characterization of Lou. I hear from parents and special ed
teachers that the book is beginning to spread through their communities
(parents and teachers of autistic children are busy people and rarely find
the time to read books when they first come out). Researchers I would
imagine are focused on their research and pay little attention to fiction
written on their topic.

PW: Your novel has been compared, perhaps inevitably, to Daniel Keyes's
classic, Flowers for Algernon. Do you think the comparison is valid?

EM: I think it's flattering—that is a great story. On the other hand, most
people who've read both have ended up concentrating on the contrasts
rather than the similarities.

PW: The title of the novel, The Speed of Dark, often contrasted by
Lou with the speed of light, becomes a metaphor for a lot of things:
prejudice, ignorance, death. It is also, more generally, the unknown.
How did your understanding of this phrase evolve in the course of
writing the novel?

EM: When a title really works, it begins to resonate with more and more
elements of the story and its underpinnings . . . and this happened to
me. At first it was more a clever than a wise choice. (It's one of the few
places where our son "appears," since he gave me the title one day early
on. He came in, leaned on the doorframe, and said, "If the speed of light
is 186,000 miles a second, what is the speed of dark?" I gave the usual
"Dark has no speed" answer, and he said, "It could be faster. It's there
first.") But in the writing, the other metaphorical connections formed.
The book grew after Lou, in a way, following him in a somewhat
different direction than I had expected.

PW: I had the same reaction to the "speed of dark" question when Lou
raises it in the novel. But then I realized that it was exactly the sort of
question Einstein was famous for asking himself; in fact, I recently read
an article that speculated that Einstein might have had Asperger's

EM: Many scientists and engineers have behavioral traits found in the
autistic spectrum; there's been speculation about Einstein for years. But we
simply don't know enough about his childhood to make a firm diagnosis.
There are other causes for language delay, and someone can be obsessive,
absentminded, socially inept, and brilliant without being autistic. Still, it
could be true. The more we've learned about the autistic spectrum, the
more it's clear that many people are "a little autistic"—share some of the
same behaviors, to a lesser degree—and yet function well in the world.

PW: How did writing The Speed of Dark change your views on autism . . .
and normality?

EM: Having a child with autism changed my views on autism and
normality . . . writing the book gave me the chance to share those views.

PW: Did it change your relationship with your son?

EM: No. Our son is himself, not a fictional character, and our
relationship is the product of almost twenty years of interaction. He has
no interest in the book. I tried to read him bits of it while I was working
on it, to get his reaction—and his reaction was to zone out.

PW: If the cure that is offered to Lou and his fellow autists were available
today, would you want your son to try it, despite the dangers?

EM: I don't know. One of the great challenges for any parent of a child
with disabilities is how to love the child as he/she is, and yet remain open
to change that may be beneficial. Some people come down hard on one
side or the other of this: the parents who insist that they would never
want their disabled child to be cured because that would invalidate their
love for the child as he/she is, versus the ones who insist that everyone
should leap at every chance at a cure. I can't. Part of it is his age now. At
two, three, four, five, I would have taken a "magic bullet" cure in a
heartbeat, assuming that it had to be better than where he was. Now?
Our son at this point is an enthusiastic, happy, loving young man,
eagerly learning what he can in special ed classes in his high school.
Losing any of those characteristics would be a terrible loss. But if he
could talk easily with the girls he so admires, if he could use his body
and mind more easily, that would be a great gain. If/when such therapy
becomes available, it will have to be his decision.

PW: It turns out that Lou's company is not acting altruistically in
offering Lou and his fellow autists the chance for a cure. Just as the
procedure can give them more normal neurological responses, so, too,
can it impart autistic responses, such as enhanced pattern-recognition
abilities, to non-autistic people, perhaps making them more productive
workers. Are you concerned about the potential misuse of advanced
therapies, genetic and otherwise, that are being developed today? What
safeguards, if any, are in effect to prevent such misuse, by both the
government and the private sector?

EM: Any therapies that change brain function can be misused—though
what constitutes misuse is presently the hot topic in this part of
bioethics. Recent articles in various journals have discussed the ethics
of memory enhancement (fine for Alzheimer's patients, but what about
college students?), attention enhancement (okay for fighter pilots, but
what about college students?), and others. Fixing a neurological problem
is one thing; enhancing one's own performance is another; imposing the
requirement to enhance someone else's performance . . . slides over into
mind control of a very literal kind. In my opinion, this is an area
where research and clinical utility are out ahead of safeguards. Nobody wants to safeguard the Alzheimer's
patient from enhanced memory—that clearly improves the patient's
quality of life. But should the college student take the same drug to
improve his ability to cram for a test at the last minute? Is it "fair" to give
yourself a better memory, or twenty points more IQ? Is it fair if your
parents, who paid for that expensive college, do it to you by sending you
drugged brownies? If your employer puts it in the punch at the company
Christmas party? Or, conversely, is it fair if your parents refuse to let you
improve your intelligence, when you are struggling, because they think
you're just lazy? Experience shows that once a therapy exists, someone will find a
new (and to many, a less ethical) use for it. "Safeguards" are put up
afterward, trying to shut the barn door before all the horses get out.

PW: Has there been any interest from Hollywood? The part of Lou
Arrendale would be an actor's dream!

EM: You'd think so, wouldn't you? There've been nibbles, but no
deals yet.
Read More Show Less

Reading Group Guide

Thoughtful, poignant, and unforgettable, The Speed of Dark is a gripping exploration into the world of Lou Arrendale, an autistic man who is offered a chance to try a brand-new experimental "cure" for his condition. Now Lou must decide if he should submit to a surgery that might completely change the way he views the world . . . and the very essence of who he is.

1. Why do you think Elizabeth Moon titled her novel The Speed of Dark?

2. Is The Speed of Dark a typical science fiction novel? Is it a science iction novel at all? Why or why not?

3. Lou Arrendale is the novel's main character, and most of its events are elated in his voice, through his eyes. Yet sometimes Moon depicts events hrough the eyes of other characters, such as Tom and Pete Aldrin.
Discuss why the author might have decided to write this story from more han one point of view. Do you think it was the right decision?

4. In the accompanying interview, Elizabeth Moon states that she wanted o avoid demonizing autism in her presentation of Lou and his fellow utists. Does she succeed? Does she go too far in the opposite direction nd romanticize it?

5. What is it about damaged characters like Lou that makes them so ascinating to read about? What other novels can you think of that eature main characters or narrators who are damaged or in some way

6. Compare the author's portrayal of characters like Mr. Crenshaw and
Don to that of Lou. Are their portraits drawn with equal depth and elievability? Why do you suppose the author might have chosen to epict some characters more realistically than others? What effect, if any, id this have on your enjoyment of the novel?

7. Inwhat ways is Lou's autism a disadvantage in his daily life? Does it onfer any advantages?

8. What does it mean to the various characters in the book to be normal?
How do Lou's ideas of normalcy compare to those of Crenshaw? Of
Don? Of Tom and Lucia?

9. How did reading The Speed of Dark change your own concept of what t means to be normal?

10. What reason does Lou's company give for wanting him and his ellow autists to undergo the experimental treatment? Are they being ruthful, or is there some other reason?

11. Does Lou decide to try the experimental treatment because he elieves what the company has told him, or for reasons of his own? If the atter, what are those reasons, and do you find them believable? Do you hink he makes the right decision? Discuss in terms of the reading from he book of John that Lou hears at church, about the man lying by the ealing pool in Siloam.

12. Do you agree or disagree with Crenshaw's contention that Lou and he other autists are a drain on the company and that their "perks" are nfair to "normal" employees? In your opinion, are special needs mployees, whether autists or those with other mental or physical isabilities, given too many workplace advantages under current law?

13. What do you think accounts for the personal hostility toward Lou isplayed by characters like Crenshaw and Don? At any point in your eading, did you find yourself taking their side? Why?

14. Why, despite his sensitivity to patterns, does Lou have such difficulty ccepting the possibility that Don may be the one behind the vandalism f his car? Once Don is arrested, why does Lou have misgivings about iling a complaint against him?

15. Given what is revealed of Marjory's personality and history, do you hink she is genuinely attracted to Lou?

16. One of Lou's biggest difficulties is interpreting the motivations of ther people. Yet this is something almost every reader can relate to.
Similarly, many readers can identify with other aspects of Lou's character nd behavior: his appreciation of music or his sensitivity to patterns, for xample. Were there any facets of his character that you found totally lien to your own experience of living in and perceiving the world?

17. One reviewer called the ending of The Speed of Dark "chilling."
Another termed it a "cop-out." What's your verdict? Has Lou achieved is dream of becoming an astronaut, as it seems? What price has he paid?
Is he still the same person he was before the treatment? If not, how has e changed? What has been gained? What has been lost?

18. The treatment offered to Lou features a combination of genetic ngineering and nanotechnology, two of the hottest areas of scientific esearch today. Some diseases and conditions are already being treated ith gene therapies, and scientists expect that more will soon follow. The rospect of cures for such scourges as cancer, Alzheimer's disease, and utism is exciting. But what about genetic therapies to raise IQ or rogram developing fetuses for certain physical, mental, and emotional raits? Are we moving too fast into this brave new world? Have we taken ufficient account of the dangers and ethical considerations? Do human eings have a right to tamper with nature in this way? Where would you raw the line?

19. If you were offered an experimental drug to improve your IQ or ome area of your mental or physical functioning, but with a possibility hat you would no longer be the same person, would you try it? What if t were offered by your employer and tied to a higher salary or better enefits package?

20. Imagine that you and the members of your reading group are highfunctioning utists like Lou and the others. Now go back and discuss one f the previous questions from this new perspective, based on behaviors nd ways of thinking presented in the novel.

Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 3508 )
Rating Distribution

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 3509 Customer Reviews
  • Posted August 17, 2011

    I Also Recommend:

    Very good

    The Harry Potter books are definitely a must read. I have enjoyed reading all the books from start to finish.

    58 out of 67 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 22, 1999

    Harry Potter: from a teenager's perspective

    This book's title is excellent. It fits the book but it doesn't make entirely perfect sense until further in. However, like the first two, getting absorbed in the story is simple. After the first Harry Potter book, which I started out reading because I wanted to see if it was as good as everyone said, I couldn't put it down. It was like escaping to another world. I know that is probably an overused phrase but it fits in this case. I could get away from my stressful school life, homework, siblings, and nice but sometimes annoying friends, but also identify with the characters. Harry's story is so wildly and exotically different, yet so true for almost everyone who has ever gone to school or had an annoying family. Not only that but the story is enthralling. What started out as pleasure reading to 'get away' became a quest to find out what would happen next with each page of all three books. I started the first book right after the second came out, and finished the second a week after the third came out. Now the rumor is that new additions will be released once a year. The 7-book series will be completed when I am 17. They can't come out fast enough for me!!! The only book I've read that tops these is 'The Last Silk Dress' by Ann Rinaldi but it is not like these books at all. I have varied tastes. I hope you enjoy Harry Potter

    44 out of 48 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 1, 2012

    Best book ever!!!

    I am 11 andI have read all the HPs. This is my favorite book out of all seven. If you were bored in the second book (I was not, but I know some people were) and are wondering if you should read the third, read it. All the books are better after the second especially the third. JK Rowling is an amazing author and to all of you that have not finished the series keep on reading, you won't be disappointed!

    29 out of 32 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 13, 2007

    In depth and intriguing

    Like #1 and #2 of the Harry Potter books, Prisoner of Azkaban is great. A bit more chilling and adult-like, but just as enjoyable as the others. I just finished this and I am quite the J.K. Rowling fan. I like everything she puts into her books - ancient myth, monsters, magic, witchcraft, and all else I enjoy. Can't wait to read #4.

    25 out of 33 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted July 27, 2011

    more from this reviewer


    J.K. Rowling never fails to provide an excellent story for her readers! The writing is amazing and our journey through Hogwarts keeps getting darker and darker as Lord Voldemort inches into the story even more!

    20 out of 24 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted July 19, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Fun reading

    A great installment to the series, alot better and more thrilling than the first two, just some of the characters got a little annoying, but this is still a great book

    20 out of 25 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted June 5, 2011

    Harry Potter

    from Murphy's Library

    Harry Potter's life isn't easy, we all know that. And it gets worse when a prisoner escapes from Azkaban-but, hey, isn't this the wizard's prison, the one from where nobody has ever escaped?-and everyone believes he's coming after the boy who survived. As expected, everybody gets overprotective and Potter, of course, gets himself in trouble all the time.

    This book has some awesome highlights. We finally get to know a little bit of Hogsmeade, and I found myself daydreaming I could shop on those stores-something that me and Guta are totally going to do this summer, when we're going to the Harry Potter park in Orlando!-, we find out more about Harry's dad and his friends and there's also the Dementors, creatures Rowling created based on her depression phase. Oh, and we get to know more about Snape, one of the best characters on this entire series, in my opinion!

    What else can I say about Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban? I liked the Hippogriff flight much more on the movie than on the book, and I laughed a lot with Trelawney and her crazy talks. And I liked the fact that this book shows that not all the bad guys are Slytherins-something that people usually don't remember whenever I say that I'd totally be a Slytherin if my owl hadn't gotten lost on my 11th birthday!

    18 out of 20 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 12, 2010

    Simply outstanding! Plot, characters, imagination beyond compare!!

    My 9 year daughter asked me to read this, as she loved it. I can't imagine a more brilliant and talented author. Everyone with a bit of child in him or her must read this book!! Gripping, suspenseful and heart rendering at the end! Enjoy!!!!

    18 out of 23 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted May 12, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    amazing book series way better than the movies

    amazing book series by j k rowling!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    15 out of 19 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted January 5, 2009

    A Disappointment to the Harry Potter Series

    I absolutely love the Harry Potter series, it is by far my favorite book series. The Prisoner of Azkaban was good,, but for a Harry Potter book it was a disappointment due to it's lack of action

    15 out of 28 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 22, 2012


    How much does it cost on nook color???????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????

    9 out of 25 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted February 15, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    amazing book series by j k rowling!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    amazing from the very start to the very end!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    8 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted May 2, 2011

    Series Excellence Continues!!!!!

    Third book in the series only gets better then the others. One of the best in the whole series!!! More information into Harry's family changes everything with more twists and turns throughout the whole thing!!!

    7 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 7, 2009

    Wicked good book!!!

    Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling is an exciting fantasy novel that tells the tale of three friends who go on an adventure, and end up in trouble more than ever. Harry Potter and his two best friends Hermione Granger and Ronald Weasely try to solve the mystery behind murderer Sirius Black and their new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, Professor Lupin. Harry learns to defend himself from dementors. He learns more about his fathers past. Hermione has a secret of her own and Harry tries to figure it out with Ron's help. Hagrid gets a new pet and becomes a teahcer. This book is full of new surprises. This book has many negatives and positives. A positive is that it keeps you entertained throughout the novel. The plot is very unpredictable. It changes multiple times so you never know what to expect. Another positive is that the characters are very unusual. Their personalities range so you may be able relate to some of them. J.K. Rowling's writing style is also very good. It is very clear and understandable. It isn't confusing. J.K. Rowling also writes in third person limited narrator from Harry's point of view. There are many feast scenes in the novel. J.K. Rowling shows great sensory details. She also describes everything very carefully so you can picture the novel with figurative language. A negative for this book is that it is in the middle of a series. You may be confused if you read this book before the first and second. Another negative is that there are multiple problems in the novel so it can confuse you. I recommend this book for a few reasons. One reason is that it is in a series so it could give you something good to read for a while. Another reason is that it is fun to read. If you play it in your mind like you're at a movie than it's like you're there with the characters. If you liked this book I think you'll like to read the rest of the series. I also recommend other fantasy books such as the Twilight series. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is a great book.

    7 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 14, 2011

    This book is great you must read this book

    My review is on Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban By J.K. Rowling copyright 1999.In Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Harry is told by numerous people that a person has escaped from Azkaban the most secure prison. Harry goes through a long year at Hogwarts discovering new things and new people. But in the end a traitor is at Hogwarts and the real person is found.Harry found a relative and saves more than one life.In the end a traitor is found and an innocent person is free. He saves more than one life. This book is a fun filled, adventure packed, book that is a great book to read and I would recommend this to my friends and many others.

    6 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted March 12, 2011


    I'm on the third chapter but I can't put it down for a second. When I'm not reading it I'm think about the next time I will have time to sit back and fall into the realm of witches and wizards!! I highly recommend this series!


    6 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted November 19, 2010

    I love this book!!

    THis book is amazing! I read it in a day and I loved it! I have read it like a million times and I still find it funny, action packed and surprising.

    6 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted July 30, 2010

    Prisoner of Azkaban

    I loved this one. A huge surprise, there are lots in this series.

    6 out of 9 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 28, 2012


    This book rox. The entire series is amazing. I love it. I finished the series in June. I read over 300 or 400 pages in 1 weekend to finish the 7th and final Harry Potter book. I'd absolutley recommend this book and the movie.
    I hope i helped.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 27, 2012


    Can u get it without a credit card??

    4 out of 15 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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