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I have been a fan of the Harry Potter books for many years. I bought the first one, ‘Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone’, for my ten year-old daughter when it first came out, but for reasons unknown she wouldn’t read it. When later on I noticed the book being read by adults on the London Underground I became curious, and likewise took it to work with me. I was immediately hooked! I couldn’t put it down; J K Rowling’s writing was superb and the story was great. When I had finished it I couldn’t wait for the next one to be published, and so it went on. When the films came out they were watched and enjoyed, but not quite to the same degree, because of course they could not possibly contain all the detail of the books.
Books read, films watched. So now what to do?
As you may remember from my other reviews, I drive an old 2CV (hooray) and for the last two or three years (up until last August) I was making a twice-weekly round trip of some 50 miles to do computer work for a terminally-ill friend in Enfield. This left me wondering what to do for entertainment whilst driving back and forth, for there was no radio and certainly no boot-full of speakers! The answer came in the form of my iPhone and headphones; but instead of listening to music, which I always find irritating when I’m driving because I can’t easily change it, I decided on audio books; so naturally the first thing I loaded onto it was the complete set of Harry Potter books, (borrowed from the friend) and to my delight I discovered that they were read by the magnificent Stephen Fry. For that half-dozen of you who do not know, these books follow the adventures of a boy, Harry Potter, through his schooldays at Hogwarts, a school for witchcraft and wizardry. Until the age of eleven, Harry did not know anything about magic, and lived with his aunt and uncle, the Dursleys, who did their best to ignore him and his strange talents, doting on their son Dudley instead. We are introduced to the world of magic where Harry discovers that he is already a well-known celebrity for being the only survivor of an attack on him and his family by the most famous dark wizard of them all, Lord Voldemort, when just a baby. The books are full of action and adventure and tell of Harry’s mission to destroy this murderer of his family. J K Rowling’s writing is a pleasure to read; she uses real English with proper grammar and I am sure that many children have derived great benefit from reading her books.
I have so far listened to these books four times, I think, and am now part-way through them again. I have them on in my car; when I am plodding on the treadmill, and when I am dog-walking. Any excuse to get on with the stories! I have listened to many other audiobooks too, but in my opinion, nobody reads as well as Stephen Fry. In the first of these books his reading is a touch slow, but I think this must be deliberate as it suits the style of this book, which is of course aimed mainly at the reading levels of children who are of the same age as Harry Potter; that is, eleven. As Fry works his way through each book (and with each one Harry gets older by a year) this becomes less noticeable, and his reading less slow and indeed, the writing, too, cleverly reflects the reading skills of the relevant age group.
Fry is a master of accents. If you have ever watched QI you will know how talented he is at impersonating famous peoples’ voices, and how he can put on an accent at the drop of a hat. Thus in the audiobooks we are treated to the full cast of the Harry Potter films, but all from the mouth of one person. It is amazing to me how Fry remembers the voices so perfectly when he is reading; particularly those of minor characters who crop up infrequently. Each one has its own voice and is recognisable by it. An incredible talent.
Some of the characters
Professor Severus Snape Alan Rickman’s excellent interpretation of Snape is re-created to perfection by Fry. The sneering voice and the sarcasm is exactly as it is in the films, and as I listen it is Alan Rickman who I see in my mind’s eye.
Rubeus Hagrid Played by Robbie Coltrane, his distinctive voice is no problem for Stephen. If you have seen the films you hear Coltrane, not Fry. There is never a moment’s doubt of who has arrived on the scene when you hear Hagrid’s “A’right Harry?”. I have to keep reminding myself that I am listening to Stephen Fry!
NymphadoraTonks The only voice which is ‘wrong’, if you like, belongs to Tonks, who Fry portrays as having a broad Lancashire accent, sounding, to me, exactly like Jane Horrocks of AbFab fame. I assume the audio books which featured Tonks were recorded before the films of those books were made as her accent is completely different in the films.
Are you sitting comfortably?
Fry‘s voice glides effortlessly from Hagrid to Hermione; from Dumbledore to Dobby; and we never think we are being read to – it is like listening to a radio play. His voice transforms itself effortlessly from the harshness of Hagrid to the soft tones of Lupin. Girls’ and women’s voices are quite as convincing. There are very few sound effects (I think they are only used when people are using a megaphone, and his voice is given a slight echoey quality); but best of all, no enfuriating music between chapters. I hate that, it always gives me a fright when I’m driving – and they never seem to get the volume right.
The complete set of 103 discs will set you back a cool £!92.99 from Amazon at the moment (but the rrp is £350.00). This set comprises all the Harry Potter books by J K Rowling and are all read by Stephen Fry:
Book 1 – Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, 1997
Book 2 – Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, 1998
Book 3 – Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban,1999
Book 4 – Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, 2000
Book 5 – Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, 2003
Book 6 – Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, 2005
Book 7 – Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, 2007
I am glad I was able to borrow my friend’s set, but nevertheless at that price it is a definite bargain, and one that can be enjoyed again and again by every member of the family. Well worth the money.
Stephen Fry (sounding like: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Robbie Coltrane, Maggie Smith, Alan Rickman, Richard Griffiths, Richard Harris, John Cleese . . . )
I would sum up how you will feel when listening to these books in one word – spellbound! This is a fantastic way to enjoy the Harry Potter books, and can also help your child with reading – it’s fun to listen and read at the same time. I hope you will enjoy them as much as I do. Oh, and my daughter did read them eventually!
Definitely recommended. Thank you for reading. Jan.