Time: 124 hours, 56 minutes (unabridged)
Format: CD (103 disks)
This is J.K. Rowling’s complete internationally bestselling “Harry Potter” series brilliantly brought to life by Stephen Fry. From Harry’s first year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry to his final battle with arch-enemy Voldemort, listen to the seven spellbinding novels in the “Harry Potter series”, read by Stephen Fry.
Well, I suppose with a series like Harry Potter you don’t need an inspiring blurb… even when your product costs a ridiculous £400 at full price. Before people start having heart attacks no I did not pay £400 for an audiobook set – I’m a very broke student – I went the cheat’s route and borrowed them from the library and put them on iTunes. Yeah, I know, it’s bad but that’s what library’s are for – to give access to books to people who can’t afford them. And now that I’ve got through the series (how they expect anyone to get through just one of the later books in the time allotted to library loans anyway I do not know!) I will promptly delete them from iTunes before I start to feel like an actual thief. In my defense my family totally already paid for the first half already – back when cars had cassette players instead of CDs.
Now I’m pretty sure I don’t need to write an actual review for Harry Potter, the rating says it all – I’m one of those people (or ‘sheeple’ if you’re an elitist hipster arsehole) who loves Harry Potter. They’re not the best written books in the world, they’re not the most challenging or controversial (unless you’re some deluded prat who thinks magic=evil – in which case Narnia and Lord of the Rings are totally pro-devil worship too), the world building isn’t quite as solid in places as it should be (and I’d be one of the first to identify those places) but none of that stops them from being absolutely wonderful reads – and indeed listens.
I could write a whole essay on why I love Harry Potter – but I won’t. I’ll simply say I grew up reading the books (I finished secondary school the same year the last book came out) and though they didn’t inspire a passion for reading in me (I had that already) I related to them far more than anything else I had read until that point. Harry pretty much grew up with me – as a rather lonely child who didn’t relate to most of my peers Harry’s lack of friends before Hogwarts, his joy at receiving his letter, struck a chord. Before I even knew what ‘fanfiction’ was – before I was even able to access the internet for anything but schoolwork – I was making up stories about what would happen if I got a Hogwarts letter. They were rubbish stories of course, I was 10, but they were an escape for little-me. Even now reading Harry Potter is a bit like receiving a warm hug and if I’m feeling down Harry Potter is one of the first ports of call.
As Harry grew into a teenager so did I, and I didn’t always agree with him – coughOrderofthePhoenixcough – but I could understand him. And that’s where Rowling is really great; her characters. Each one is their own person with their own story and motivations and every single one of them seems real. As a middle child convinced she was overlooked and fed up of ‘youngest/oldest sibling is the best’ stories, I related ridiculously strongly to Ron – still do, it’s tough having more clever, prettier and more popular siblings even if they’re only more clever and prettier in your own head. In a lot of fiction (not just children’s) the secondary characters are woefully underdeveloped; it’s not that I want backstories for everyone, but I would like to be able to believe that they exist outside of the main narrative, that they have a life outside of their interactions with the protagonist, that they don’t simply flit out of existence whenever they’re not on the page. Though Harry was the central character the world itself doesn’t revolve around him – it’s a lesson in writing a lot of young adult novelists (and some adult ones too) could do with learning. Characters reacted realistically – they would call each other out for their shit, they would make mistakes, and have huge realistic but relatable flaws without being ‘evil’, just human, and they didn’t have to be ‘nice’ to Harry (or anyone) to be ‘good’.
Stephen Fry manages the task of bringing these characters to life wonderfully. His range of voices is simply incredible and he manages to put real emotion into them even when maintaining unfamiliar accents or pitches. And unlike certain male narrators he resisted that terrible urge to distinguish female voices from the male ones by making all the women really breathy. The only voices used that I didn’t like – and why I knock 0.1 off his score – were Tonks and Susan Bones. Susan Bones and her lisp I can overlook, she’s hardly a major character, but Tonks is a bit more important so when her regional accent just rubbed me the wrong way it was more of an issue- not how I imagined her at all. But with such a huge cast of characters and her only being introduced in book 5, when surely most people would be running out of voices, I won’t hold it too much against him.
Characters aside Fry is also brilliant at main narration as well, he’s got a warm comforting voice and he never just reads blankly off the page as some narrators seem to for non-dialogue sections, but conveys the right emotions and tone for every scene. Now here I have to confess with a little embarrassment that I mainly listen to audiobooks to fall asleep – if there’s no noise around me it takes hours no matter how tired I am – and Fry’s voice is very near the perfect bed-time story voice for that. These 125 hours of listening (gosh that’s scary!) have been accumulated over the best part of a year of me sticking it on and falling asleep within about 20 minutes. But that says more about me than the narration; his voice is not dull, dry, or soporific and it is never tiring to listen to – I couldn’t fall asleep to something that was, I would have to turn it off in disgust and find something else.
A truly wonderful set of audiobooks; great stories (though I know I’m either preaching to the choir or far too late to convince anyone there) and simply fabulous narration. From what I’ve heard from the American audiobooks Fry totally knocks the socks off Jim Dale (also ‘Philosophers Stone’ and no gratuitous Americanisations like ‘mom’).
Now I just need to find another decent audiobook to fall asleep to…