I didn’t realize how long it had been since I read the Harry Potters. It seems I haven’t done a reread in about ten years – how odd. But first Audible made Stephen Fry’s narration of Philosopher’s Stone available free during this the Great Pandemic of 2020, and then I stumbled on a podcast which features the rest of them chapter by chapter (which can’t be legal, but I’m not questioning it.) And I enjoyed it all immensely as I worked from home. (I’ll come back to that if I ever get around to talking about The Deathly Hallows.)
I never really had a favorite book of the series; I thought I loved them all equally. Well, that’s changed – sort of. I love Philosopher’s Stone because it’s clever and vivid and the beginning of everything; I love Chamber of Secrets because it’s clever and vivid and better than I remembered (and better than the movie); I love Prisoner of Azkaban because it’s clever etc and still bright and happy for the most part (since we don’t really know much about what Azkaban’s like yet). Goblet of Fire became my favorite this year because the cleverness is ramped up, because the story is far more intricate than is immediately obvious, because I said “Oh!” several times while listening … and because it’s the end of so much. The last chapter says it: “The Beginning”.
Then again, Goblet of Fire is not my favorite, and in fact in many ways I hate it, for some obvious reasons. It’s the end of so much. It’s the beginning. The tone darkens so much that the silly goofy names for people and things start to feel like … like bows on a bullfrog, to jump ahead a book. Jarring. I’m a little glad I can’t remember exactly what it was like to devour these books when they first came out (as I did, I believe, starting three books in; I mistrusted the series’ popularity before that and resisted reading the hot new thing. Nitwit. When I did get hooked I was buy-as-early-as-possible-and-read-immediately hooked.) (I never did the costumes-at-midnight-at-Barnes-and-Noble thing; I just didn’t have anyone to do it with me, or I’m sure I would have.) (I read Deathly Hallows in one overnight binge. I was a mess when I was done, for so many reasons … but that’s another review.) To become fully invested in Harry’s growing bond with Sirius, to be shocked at Diggory’s death (the first major death of the series, if I recall correctly, or at least the first of any character in the story for more than a minute), the horror at the return of V- er, You Know Who … Even with a wonky memory, I was spared all that here: I knew all of that was coming.
Also, I had the dialogue and music from the movie in my head the whole time. I can still hear the inappropriately galumphing band music playing as Harry brings Cedric back to Hogwarts, and then stuttering to a stop.
But even being ready for everything that would happen didn’t mean I was, you know, ready. It’s such a fun book till all hell breaks loose. (Maybe that’s why it starts with what was actually the first death of a named character (and a POV character at that): Yes, Jo Rowling was telling the reader, you’re going to have fun here, but the whole time you’ll have this hideous first chapter lurking underneath.)
I wonder how much JKR had planned out when she wrote the first book. (I’m sure the answer is out there somewhere, and one day when I have time I’ll search.) There are seeds for all kinds of things, to the extent that I might go back and start over when, all too soon, I finish with Deathly Hallows. One small and simple thing I was able to see, having listened all but back to back to back, and which I love, was that the one little wizard in The Leaky Cauldron when Hagrid takes Harry in for the first time en route to Diagon Alley pops up again later and mentions the meeting. There’s a lot of that, and it’s impressive. Whatever else anyone wants to say about JKR, I don’t ever want to hear her writing denigrated.
Harry’s celebrity is handled beautifully from the beginning, and you can only imagine that JKR’s own fame colored how his impatience with notoriety and how dear hideous Rita Skeeter were portrayed. I’ve seen clickbait articles that seem to say Skeeter is Jo’s self-portrait in the book, but that seems too oddball to be true. These kids are growing up. Poor kids.
And I have to say it – Stephen Fry is irreplaceable. I love Jim Dale because he is the narrator from Pushing Daisies, and he’s an excellent narrator. But Stephen Fry is … superlative. And I resent the fact that pretty much my only option for hearing his narrations is illegal.