Harry Potter & the Prisoner of Azkaban – as read by Jim Dale

It was so interesting to listen to this book. I’ve read it at least a couple of times over the years, and I’ve seen the movie – oh, I don’t know, probably a couple of times in its entirety, and bits and pieces dozens of times, so I know what’s going to happen and about when. This would drive a lot of people up a wall, I take it, but I’m happy. I can enjoy the characters and, yes, the writing, and of course Jim Dale’s performance.

The latter is one reason I was excited about listening; I became his willing slave with Pushing Daisies. A Goodreads acquaintance prefers Stephen Fry’s British audiobook, and found Dale to be a bit over the top – and I can’t argue with that adjective. But I love it. He has a voice for every character: Aunt Marge sounded like her dentures didn’t fit, and Lupin is slow and deliberate; Snape hisses and McGonagall is Scots. Harry, funnily, sounds a lot like Daniel Radcliffe, and Hagrid is wonderfully Robbie Coltrane. Although his girls and Hermione’s constant “Har-reeeee!” do twinge a nerve or two.

Harry Potter for me long ago stopped being books to be analyzed and dissected, plots to be judged and syntax to be critiqued. It’s an old friend. Like any friend it isn’t perfect, but like a good friend, while it’s had a bad day here and there, it’s never let me down. I’m always mildly surprised at attacks on Jo Rowling’s writing, because … I don’t care. I don’t notice excessive use of adverbs (at least I didn’t before reading Stephen King’s article a while back) or any failing in action scenes. There’s nothing as breathtaking as something out of Tolkien or Guy Kay, but neither is there anything eye-rollingly egregious: the writing exists to tell the tale, and the tale is well served by straightforward and transparent telling. The books will never be held up as textbook examples of perfect writing, but I think they’re going to last a very, very long time as textbook examples of great storytelling.

**Spoilers**  (but if they’re spoilers, seriously, go read the book please.)

It’s at least four years since I read this, and listening to the pivotal scene in which Harry, Ron, and Hermione hear the executioner’s blade come down was a surprise: the film-makers changed this whole segment dramatically. I was expecting the tightly choreographed dance that Harry and Hermione executed in the film, and there was little sign of it. The book’s version is excellent in its place, and the film’s version is excellent for its purposes – uncommon.

That was the first element of surprise; the second was how heart-rending it was. Hagrid’s grief wasn’t played for laughs at all anymore by this time – no more handkerchiefs the size of tablecloths, no more helpless sobbing. The kids were furious and horrified and helpless. And, after, as Hermione sways in shock, all I could think was that even after all they’d been through, this was solid and undeniable proof for them at a very young age that their government was corrupt: they know without question that Lucius Malfoy though fear and cronyism has rigged this game from the beginning, and they never stood a chance. As far as they are aware at that moment, an innocent (relatively) creature is put to death, and there was nothing in the world, magical or mundane, that they could do to stop it. As I recall, though other terrible things happened in the earlier books – Hagrid being sent to Azkaban, for one big one which is actually played down more than I’d expect – this was the first time they learned that their leaders could not be relied on even in a matter of the life or death of an intelligent creature. The government, with few exceptions the adults, are closed-minded and prejudiced (Hippogriffs are wild and dangerous!) and easily bought. And often – confirming what the three of them already learned by experience at Hogwarts – the only way to get what you want is to circumvent the rules. Without rereading Sorceror’s Stone and Chamber of Secrets, my impression here is that the trio’s childhood innocence pretty much died with that axe stroke.

One thing that can never be said of Jo Rowling is that she is too gentle on her characters. The level of horror that Harry in particular has to put up with and live through is remarkable. In a lot of books for and featuring young adults there is bullying or a terrible family or both. There is often death, and – especially in fantasy – a threat to the main character’s life. It’s been some time since I read a steady diet of YA, so I could be entirely wrong, but I don’t think there are very many books or series in which the young hero faces a truly and definitively hateful family, bullying by students and teachers at school, a constant threat against his life, and the deaths of several friends and allies. Harry survives a lot.

I thought about the epilogue now and then, and how Harry’s life ran after school ended. Did he ever miss the adrenaline rush of his adventures? Did he look back on his youth as the most exciting time of his life? Or was this a good thing – as he matured was he just as happy not to have to face death on such a regular basis? Or did he have enough adventures as an adult to keep him from going mad with boredom?

There is no pretense at unbiased story-telling in this book. The narrator, as the reader, is heartily on Harry’s side. When he’s hurt and hurting, the tone is sympathetic; when he is happy, the narrator is happy. When Harry’s enemies get some comeuppance, it is described in loving detail. And there is plenty of comeuppance in this. If Draco wasn’t such an evil bullying manipulative little prat all of the things that happen to him would be just awful. But maybe some of this book’s events account for why Draco turned out the way he did.

All in all, I don’t think I cussed at nearly as many drivers while listening. It’s apparently therapeutic: I actually enjoyed the drive.

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2 Responses to Harry Potter & the Prisoner of Azkaban – as read by Jim Dale

  1. Cindy says:

    Wow! Amazing review :) I love this book, it’s one of my favorites in the series. I’ve read it a few times and listened to it once.

  2. stewartry says:

    Thank you! It’s one of my favorites too.

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