Potter Virgin-Readers Listen to Books

Audible/Amazon found a collection of American adults who knew nothing about Harry Potter, which I guess means they had not read the books or seen a film adaptation. These are the folks for whom the Hogwarts Saga is NOT a ‘Shared Text.’ They don’t get the references to the series in everyday life, and, if they laugh at the jokes, it’s a very nervous kind of laugh. The audiobook company filmed their first experience of the stories.

That experience was not after reading to themselves but after they had listened to the Jim Dale audio-book version performance.

As important, they were not read the story, any one of the stories, beginning to end, but in short excerpts. This resembles the Loris Vezzali project,The Greatest Magic of Harry Potter: Reducing Prejudice,” except I think those studies involved the participants reading the passages to themselves rather than listening to a performed reading.

My experience of the books from the very start involved (1) reading each novel to myself, (2) then reading it aloud to my children, and (3) finally listening to Jim Dale’s recorded versions on Cassette tape (!) and on CDs. I only read the books aloud once, I think, but the Dale audiobooks, because my children loved them so much, was the background-sound or elevator music in our home for the better part of a decade.

As I morphed from enthusiastic fan to ‘Potter Pundit’ to “Dean of Harry Potter Scholars” (TM), I was of course reading the books repeatedly. But the number of hours I spent in cars with my young family during which we listened to the stories would be difficult to calculate. I remember driving a moving van across Colorado during our exodus from Texas to the Olympic Peninsula in 2001 and having something of an epiphany about the Goblet of Fire Triwizard Tournament Tasks and the three stages of alchemy. Which realization was due entirely to the audio experience.

If there is an ideal experience of the Potter stories, I think it is the conjunction of reading the story aloud ‘live’ to someone else and that person or audience experiencing it beginning to end in their own imagination. My favorite part of this video, a simulation of sorts of the ideal described, is the look of wonder as the listeners enter the world of Rowling’s witches and wizards for the first time.

In contrast with the ideal is the nadir, of course. The worst experience of the story is via the film adaptations, the only value to which, apart from the film making arts about which I am admittedly and willfully ignorant, is their serving as entry ramps to the reading experience — an imaginative experience, alas, forever compromised by the time watching the movies…. The audiobook point of entry is much, much closer to the ideal than that nadir.

Let me know your experience of the audio books, if any, and what you think the ideal entry point to the series is!

Post: Louise Freeman, Potter Pundit extraordinaire, wrote last year about her experience listening to the books for the first time after years of reading the books and watching the films: ‘Some Thoughts on my First Listen through the Harry Potter Audiobooks.’ Enjoy!


  1. I read the books on my own many times before I got the Steven Fry audiobooks. He reads them really well but it wasn’t the same for me as reading the books at my own pace. Then after about 10 years of not reading the books I discovered a YouTube channel called Bibliobibuli where a long time Harry Potter fan reads the books chapter by chapter to her boyfriend who has never read the books before and knows nothing about it. There is a video per chapter of the entire series including a discussion of each chapter and I watched every video and fell in love with the series all over again coming up with new revelations as I listened.

  2. Elizabeth Smith says

    I began by reading the books for myself, then out loud to my children, and then via audio books at least once a year. I still like to read them as well as listen to them.

    I feel the best entry point depends on the person. My youngest does best with the movies and tolerates the audio books in the car. My other two are a mix like me. I have one friend who struggles to read so the audio books are her way to enjoy the world.

  3. I saw the first three movies as a child when they were in theaters, then received as a gift a hardcover copy of GoF. I read the opening chapter, and then stopped because I thought it was a bit too scary (I was maybe in 3rd grade). With that, I “gave up” on HP for the better part of a decade. Then, late in high school, I became a bookwork after being handed a few great reads, and went looking for a book series to try. A friend recommended Harry Potter, and explained how they are (1) NOT just children’s books, (2) incredibly rich in detail and world-building, and (3) full of Christian imagery. I read the entire series in a month, and then went to see DH pt 1 in theaters when it came out and was so enraged that I decided that I wouldn’t even bother going back to watch the movies I had missed (though I eventually did)…

    Another few years later, I had a friend who recommended the Jim Dale audiobooks after he had gone through the series with his wife over their numerous road trips through Texas. I gave TPS a try, but got very irritated with Dale’s impressions, and through my own googling, discovered that Stephen Fry had also recorded audiobooks, so I switched over. For about 6 months, I went through the entire series with Fry’s audiobooks, which are absolutely wonderful.

    I want to give a big shout-out to The Ringer’s Binge Mode podcast with Mallory Rubin and Jason Concepcion. Their deep dive through Harry Potter is so thorough, hilarious, raunchy, sentimental, and worth going through if you never have before. Their inside jokes, conspiracy theories, and thematic analyses of the books (and movies) aren’t too far off from the content of hogwartsprofessor.com – though they come from more of a pop-culture lens than an academic one.

  4. This brings up so many memories! Reading Sorcerer’s Stone aloud to my children and my nieces. It was new to one niece but familiar to the other. She followed along reading the Philosopher’s Stone and would get so excited when there was a difference. Listening to Goblet of Fire as we drove cross-country. Being amazed and excited when they came out on CD and not cassettes—the artwork and box design was intriguing. Confusing the bookstore clerk on a release night when I said I had reserved both the hardcover and the audio book.

    Having rushed through the Goblet of Fire when it came out, I learned to read the new releases more slowly. When Deathly Hallows came out, I knew it would be something to savor, so I listened to the audio book and crocheted a blanket, while my son read the hardback. Trying not to worry when I opened the set of the last four CDs and saw the artwork of Hagrid carrying Harry.

    Unlike others, I like both the Stephen Fry and Jim Dale versions. Some scenes and characters are better done by one person than the other. The crack in Jim Dale’s voice as he reads the scene with Ginny talking to the wounded girl in the Deathly Hallows. Stephen Fry’s version of Peeve’s song after the fall of Voldemort.

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