The Harry Potter Series
By J. K. Rowling
American edition published by Listening Library
Read by Jim Dale
British edition published by Cover to Cover
Read by Stephen Fry
This is one I’ve been meaning to do since I started these blogs, but kept putting it off until I needed one to fill in a week. I’d listened to the entire series before I ever started reviewing audiobooks, so I figured it would be nice to have something like this in reserve, but then I decided that it had been so long that I ought to listen again, so instead had a lot to listen to. Oh well.
Actually I did not listen to the entire series all over again twice, but chose, instead, to listen to one book. I had planned to re-listen to Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s/Philosopher’s Stone, but only had The British edition on cassette and it has been ages since I had a car with a cassette player. I also did not want to take the time to digitize my cassettes, so instead I chose to listen to the final book in the Series (…Deathly Hallows). It doesn’t matter. The entire series is fairly evenly written and the readers are also very even in their readings, so listening was just something I did to refresh my recollection.
Do I really need to summarize the series? No? Well I will for a bit anyway. The story follows the life of a young man from the age of 10 through 17 and each volume in the series covers one school year. It is common enough way to format a series for children and over the decades there have been quite a few such series that followed that basic theme. Where the Harry Potter series differs, of course is that Harry is a wizard and his school, Hogwarts, is a school for wizards and witches who otherwise live secret lives (along with an amazing plethora of other magical creatures) in hiding from non-magical (and arguably normal) people called Muggles.
The series also borrows from another sub-genre of children’s fantasy involving children raised by people who should have been arrested long ago for child abuse. Honestly, Social Services should have taken both Harry and his cousin Dudley off to a foster home years before the series begins as both have been irreparably harmed by the child-raising techniques of Dudley’s parents and when you get right down to it, I think Dudley, who was doted on, exhibited more long-term harm than Harry who basically played the male-version of Cinderella. In any case, this fits in well with the Cinderella template save that neither of them was going to marry a princess.
The series does not follow the usual schoolboy/girl series template, which is a good thing as the whole story would have been even more predictable than it was. In the classic form, Harry would have been the chosen leader of his class and, in time, a prefect of his house, along with being captain of his house’s sports team (well, he was that), but instead the standard plot Ms. Rowling follows is the basic Good vs Evil template, so we see the gradual rise of evil (in the form of Lord Voldemort, who even from the start it is obvious will eventually be defeated by the series protagonist, Ronald Weasley (okay, just kidding there, obviously I meant the plant nerd, Neville Longbottom.) However, the details along the way are entertaining enough so even though you know the good guy is going to win in the end, it’s a fun ride most of the time leading up to it.
The few exceptions are in the later and longer books where a lot of plot stretching takes place and the story drags several times along the way. The worst example of the plot dragging has to be in the final book when Harry and friends are on the run and setting up camp each night in some other odd, secluded region while they agonize over what to do next and get into predictable arguments. Such sections only proved that some of the characters had not really developed much since the first book nor had they learned from earlier mistakes. So there was a bit of malaise between small periods of intense action.
In all, though the series was entertaining and, for the most part each was written for the age range represented by the age of the characters themselves, so it was obvious the first book was meant to be read by 11 year olds and the second by those who were 12 and so on. Over all, it is a very dark story, but unlike one of Rowling’s other attempts at writing (See The Casual Vacancy), this series does not dwell on and wallow in the essential worthlessness of the characters. It’s worth reading regardless of your age.
My only complaint might be the adaptation of the stories for their American editions. I honestly did not think it was necessary to change British words to their US counterparts (jumper vs sweater, for example) and I felt intellectually insulted that the American publishers felt it necessary to change the title of the first book from Philosopher’s Stone to Sorcerer’s Stone, because Philosopher’s Stone (a reference to a real, hypothetical creation of Alchemy) did not sound magical enough. (or at least, that’s the story I heard for the reason). I really think the books should have been left as they were and if there was a question as to the meanings of a few words a glossary might have been included, making them an interesting learning experience, perhaps. I know that when I was a kid and read the Mary Poppins books, I have no trouble translating English into English…
Both readers did exceptional jobs. This should not come as a surprise as they both won awards for their performances and both have won acclaim as voice artists on many projects. Some might remember Jim Dale as the narrator for the TV series, Pushing Daisies (which, sadly only lasted two seasons), but he is also well known as an actor, on stage, film and TV, singer/song writer and much more. Stephen Fry has a similarly illustrious career. M<any may only know him from his parts in the Black Adder Series but his contributions both comedy and drama are many as well as his narrations in documentaries. He has done TV shows (including hosting a game show) as well as many TV series and movies along with his many readings of audiobooks, some of which I have reviewed in the past. He has also done a fair among of writing of his own.
I enjoy both of their styles and they are two of my favorite readers. Picking one over the other is difficult, but if I must I think I preferred Fry’s reading of these books ever so slightly over that of Mister Dale, although to be fair, I had only planned to listen to a few chapters of each and yet was so engrossed by their readings that I listened to both all the way through. They are both that good.
So, to sum it up we have a predictable story arc that is interestingly written and read by two excellent readers. I recommend listening to both, like I did.