Reading by Ear: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J. K. Rowling
read by Jim Dale

As I’ve mentioned, the audiobooks I listen to are rereads for various reasons—I’m not an aural learner and it allows me to reread books without sacrificing precious reading time, since I’m usually listening while I’m walking to class, walking the dog, or working out. (But not while I’m running; I need enough Spice Girls and Britney Spears to choke a horse to manage a run.) Since I started this blog at the tender age of eighteen and haven’t listened to the audiobook of anything I’ve reviewed for this blog (…yet!), a lot of my rereads tend to be fantasy series. Which leads us to Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Before the release of the final Warner Brothers film, I was feeling a bit alienated from the series everyone of my generation was reared on, so I decided to reconnect… and it worked.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone follows Harry Potter, a British orphan who lives with his abominable relatives, the Dursleys, who alternately neglect and abuse him. Strange things have always happened around Harry, and they just make the Dursleys hate him more. On his eleventh birthday, however, Harry is visited by Rubeus Hagrid, a giant of a man who informs him that he is, in fact, a wizard. Not only that, but Harry is the Boy Who Lived, having apparently defeated the Dark Lord Voldemort when he was just a baby, hence his status as an orphan. Harry is whisked off to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, where he comes into his own for the first time in his life. But there’s something important being hidden inside the castle that someone is trying to steal…

My paternal grandmother gave me the first three books in the Harry Potter series, which I wasn’t terribly keen on before that—I’d seen them before, but wasn’t particularly interested. But I enjoyed the first three enough to attend the midnight release of the fourth one, even though I was scandalized to discover my grandmother had underlined in my copy of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone! The cheek! As you might imagine, as a child, I refused to listen to any criticism of Harry Potter. But now, as an adult, I can understand them and even agree with them on some points.

Rowling’s writing style is efficient and occasionally reaches for Austen—but it’s mostly just efficient. This is not a book you pick up for the writing style, although it’s perfectly functional; this is a book you pick up for the story and the characters. I will keep an eye on how this progresses through the series, since it’s not an easy task to write prettily for an audience of preteens. As I previously mentioned, I was feeling a bit alienated from Harry Potter, which more or less defines my particular generation. But it’s a comfortable story to sink into, even if you’ve never read it. It focuses on more or less universal experiences like school and growing up—I got a particularly strong sense of déjà vu when Harry and company packed up to go home for the summer at end of the book—that a lot of kids can relate to. Harry gets nice and settled at Hogwarts before the plot thickens halfway through the book, which allows for a leisurely read. And, initially, there’s the metaphor of magic users representing other oppressed minorities; Vernon’s comments about beating magic out of Harry have much more unfortunate implications when you return to it as an adult. (This metaphor falls apart almost immediately since the books rarely focus on Muggle/wizard interaction, but it’s still there at the beginning.)

Despite the efficient writing style, Rowling is deft at rendering characters in action and not words. Harry, despite his upbringing, is a fundamentally decent kid trying to manage his newfound fame and community; Ron is loyal and brave to the point that it can make him do stupid things; Hermione is clever but occasionally overbearing; and Neville is a dweeb with a heart of gold. (Oh, Neville.) They’re real kids, even if the world they live in can be a bit shaky; really, Gringotts is the only wizarding bank in the world and all Slytherins are bad apples? But it has a distinctive and whimsical charm that makes up for such slights. However, after watching The Worst Witch, I do have to wonder how much of this is a bit of Anglophilia, since boarding schools are quite rare in the United States. But I’ve always found something delightfully British and seventies about this world (although it’s set in the nineties) and it’s fun to explore it again—especially if it’s to watch these characters grow up all over again. It’s the magic of books.

I have to admit, I didn’t much care for Jim Dale as a narrator at first. He seemed a bit lackluster and uninterested in the material; the bits where he quietly said a line that ended with the dialogue tag “Vernon yelled” made me both laugh and frown. But he has a calming voice to listen to, with varied character voices—although his Hermione cracks me up a little when she gets excited. As the book went on, Dale got more and more into the action, although I still find it a bit jarring that he pronounces Grindelwald exactly how its spelled (I’m used to “Grindelvald”) and Voldemort the French way. Ah, well, different strokes for different folks. The musical interlude that introduces and ends the audiobook is, while fitting, hard to listen to after John Williams’ iconic Harry Potter theme, “Hedwig’s Theme”.

On to Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets!

Bottom line: Rowling’s writing style is efficient and the worldbuilding a little shaky, but the whimsical British charm and deftly rendered characters of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone will keep you coming back for more.

I rented this audiobook from the public library.

4 thoughts on “Reading by Ear: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

  1. I like Stephen Fry better by miles than Jim Dale. (In all areas of life, obviously, but specifically as a Harry Potter audiobook narrator.) If you can ever get your hands on the Stephen Fry audiobooks, have those ones instead, they are amazing.

    P.S. I cannot think of Neville without going “Oh NEVILLE.” Oh NEVILLE.

    • What is Oh NEVILLE supposed to mean? Stephen fry does a good job and has a nice voice but his character variations are dull compared to Dales. Dale actually has different voices for nearly ALL the characters.

      I must say I don’t agree with Dale sounding “lackluster or uninterested”. I grew up with these stories and pretty much memorized much of the audiobooks, and the how he portrayed highs and lows of emotion that fluctuate endlessly throughout the stories was amazing well done and always matched the flow of the book. The narration was very steady with emphasis where necessary but the dialog always had exactly what it needed to really pull me into the words.

      Jim Dale is amazing!

      • “Oh, [NAME]” is a traditional fannish declaration, combining excitement, love, and satisfaction into one breathy sigh. We are both exulting in our love and adoration of Neville, especially since we know how amazing he’ll become from his seemingly humble origins here.

        I’m quite glad Jim Dale works for you as a reader! I would have liked a little more punch instead of calm, which I think Fry might provide, but, having not listened to Fry’s narration, I can’t compare.

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