Thursday, February 18, 2016

Audiobook Review: Harry Potter Series

Let's start on the defensive:
Why write a review for a series that is already entrenched in popular culture?
First: because for some children, they are still experiencing the characters and series for the first time.
Second: because many adults assume a casual exposure to the Harry Potter universe, involving either seeing the movies or merchandise, is as good as having read the books themselves. They are so wrong.
Third: because for the first time in forever ever, the audio is available on Amazon's Audible (which our family has a subscription to).
In the last couple months, since my husband purchased the entire audiobook collection, there has been a bit of a family mania with all things Harry Potter. Each night as the kids go to bed, they want to listen to a chapter from the audiobook. That sounds benign enough, but the chapters are sometimes an hour long, which doesn't always work on school nights.
Jim Dale was selected by J.K. Rowling herself to be the voice (or should I say voices?) of her books for the American audience. I thought I had never heard of the actor and comedian Jim Dale. Turns out I'd seen him before without knowing it. He plays the quack doctor in Disney's movie Pete's Dragon that can't pronounce Passamaquady. 

Jim Dale is amazing. If you've watched the movies, it might take an hour or two to let go of the voices of Emma Watson and Rupert Grint, but after that it's amazing. Professor McGonagall's Scottish brogue is spot-on, and Dobby's little earnestly apologetic voice is recognizable every time.
A thought about language: one of the things that annoyed me about the movies was the crude exclamations that seemed so frequent. While there are a few in the books, there are so many other rich words and so much other imagery going on that they are no longer the focal point of the audio. It's hard to remember Malfoy's curse when you're trying to picture Crabbe and Goyle guffawing sycophantically. Yes, her vocabulary is that rich. Unlike the authors of some other popular series, J.K. Rowling's success does not come from cheap English. She is heiress to the riches of the English language.

Now, one concern about having the audiobooks is that maybe children will be less likely to read the real thing and won't grow into as strong of readers. That has not been our family's experience. My daughter would sit in bed, reading along until we turned off the audiobook. She checked a copy out from the school library so that on the bus she could find out what came next. We just finished the audio of the Goblet of Fire (that alone took almost a month--it's more than twenty hours long!), but she finished reading book seven about a week ago, and has begun drawing portraits of the characters.
After finishing each audiobook, we've let the children watch the movie that goes with it. Listening them compare the movie with the books has been hilarious.
I think T has been the biggest stickler for accuracy:
"I can't believe they left out the quidditch match!"
"The light that connects the wands is supposed to be golden, not green or red. How could they get that detail wrong?"

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