Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Chamber of Secrets (Audio)

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (Audio)
Read by Jim Dale; Written by J.K. Rowling
© 1999, Listening Library
Eight discs, approximately nine hours.
Preview the author reading:

A few weeks ago while perusing an issue of National Geographic, I heard a rather loud exchange between a friendly library patron and an even friendlier librarian, discussing audio books. I've passed by the audio books section many times, but have never listened to one. I have heard dramatizations based on books -- I listened to a BBC production of Caves of Steel before I hunted down a copy of the book, and my only experience with The Rise of Khan Noonien Singh is a well-done dramatization on cassette tape -- but never heard one read.  I thought I might see what the experience was like, and decided to go with a shorter book I'm familiar with for starts.

Chamber of Secrets is the second book in the series and isn't quite as serious as those that followed it. While throwing plenty of danger at Harry, the series doesn't get dark until after the end of Goblet of Fire.  Harry's second year at Hogwart's School of Witchcraft and Wizardry begins problematically, when Harry is denied entrance to the Hogwarts Express and must rely on Ron and a 'borrowed' flying car to make it to the school on time. A warning from a strange creature goes unheeded, and soon the children of Hogwarts are falling victim to a sinister threat, a threat thought passed over fifty year ago. Harry's own friends are not immune to the danger, and to solve the mystery and defeat the foe, Harry must descend into the bowels of the castle, into a forbidden chamber that promises death.

But it's fun. I'd forgotten Rowlings' humor and enjoyed hearing passages that once made me cackle, like when Harry is accused of setting a monster loose on the castle and Ron's twin brothers take you to escorting him around the castle: "Fred and George, however, found all this very funny. They went out of their way to march ahead of Harry down the corridors, shouting, "Make way for the Heir of Slytherin, seriously evil wizard coming through..." Narrator Jim Dale was not, as I'd imagined, Stephen Fry, but despite this initial disappointment he grew on me. The author hails  from Northamptonshire, England, lending an air of authenticity to a book that would have been written in an English voice. He's versatile, giving good service to the Scottish McGonagall and the Irish Seamus Finnegan alongside  the many English character. Some voices are dead on, others less so: Harry in particular doesn't seem to have a distinct voice, his tending to blur with Hermione. Dale is only one man, of course, and the difficulties in giving such a broad cast completely unique voices is respectable. He reads smoothly, with no obvious pauses to catch his breath except where the book would intend them, and generally lends the sentence an appropriate emotional urgency.  Most importantly, I enjoyed listening to him. The CDs are divided into 20 to 21 tracks each, making individual sections easy to find.

I enjoyed having been read to sleep by a fun story and a soothing voice, though for my money I'd prefer investing $50 in a complete set of Potter paperbacks than into one eight-disc recording. Doubtless this would be good for passing time while driving a lengthy distance, though.

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