Magical Audiobooks Revisited

February 20th, 2009 | Posted in General

Whew. In the last 4 1/2 weeks I have done back to back projects for MAD (6 page parody of the movie “Watchmen”) and a 13 page comic book (with inks by the great Tom Nguyen) promoting the movie “Super Capers”, which will be given away at WonderCon next weekend in San Francisco, as well ans a handful of smaller jobs. That’s a lot of hours spend in the studio penciling, inking and coloring. How many hours? I don’t know, I never keep track of the time.

However I can measure it in audiobooks. It took me the entire seven books in the Harry Potter series and the first four books of Stephen King‘s “The Dark Tower” series, plus the first few chapters of King’s 5th “Tower” book. That is not an accurate measure of actual time spent, however, as I can only listen to the books when inking and coloring… penciling and conceptual drawing/layouts take too much gray matter to let the story soak in while working.

While recovering from this ordeal, I was struck by a few things concerning the Harry Potter books.

I have read and listened to J.K. Rowling‘s Harry Potter books several times, but this was the first time I ever listened to the audiobooks from beginning to end… having not listened to them since the last book came out in 2007. I know Rowling has her detractors, but as a fan of fantasy and comic book stories it is not hard for me to appreciate the reason these books became the phenomenons they did: sheer imagination. Yes, Rowling’s dialogue is occasionally tiresome and she draws out the same character conflicts far too long sometimes, but the world she created is so rich with inventive fantasy it’s impossible not to become enthralled with it. Like George Lucas did with “Star Wars” when he created a science fiction universe not filled with gleaming, antiseptic scientific marvels but with worn, used and seemingly commonplace futuristic machines, Rowling invents magical items, creatures and events that are simultaneously miraculous to we muggles but just part of a typical day for the witches and wizards that populate her world. Owls deliver mail, garden gnomes are potato-like pests, fireplaces are used as transportation devices, memos deliver themselves as paper airplanes in the Ministry of Magic… the list of clever, funny and imaginative takes on both classic magical myths and brand new concepts are endless and never get old. They are some of the best parts of her tales.

The other thing that struck me when listening to the entire series is that Rowling did not write these books flying by the seat of her pants and making it up as she went along. From the very first book, there are comments and moments which, with hindsight, make it obvious she had the major (and many minor) plot points of the entire saga in hand before she ever started writing. That is impressive… that is a lot of story and mythos to weave about a seven book series and not once wish you could go back and change something to make a later plot point work better. Stephen King’s Dark Tower books, as much as I love them, can’t make that boast. Even after he went back and rewrote the first two books so they fit better in the evolving full saga, there are still plenty of dangling plot lines and foreshadowing that went nowhere in that series.

Finally, the audio book versions of the Harry Potter novels would not be the terrific entertainment they are without the vocal talents of Jim Dale. If anybody ever watched the TV show “Pushing Daisies” (all 20 of you) , they will recognize Dale’s voice as the narrator of that show. Dale is beloved by Potterphiles as the voice behind the audiobooks… or should I say “voices” behind them. I read in an interview with Dale that he created over 200 separate voices for the Harry Potter series, and as unbelievable as that is it’s also very accurate. Dale has an uncanny ability to create voices that are instantly recognizable as a character without being over the top caricatures of a person’s speech. Some of the changes to his voice are subtle, but there is never a point in the one hundred plus hours of readings where you get confused as to who is saying what. I did notice that some characters voices changed in later books, probably a conscious decision to better infuse a character with the proper personality once that character became more fleshed out and their deeper natures were revealed (Cornelius Fudge is such a character). Dale’s performance is nothing short of spectacular. The time commitment in listening to the HP books is so large that I am reluctant to drag them out and get started, but if I do I quickly realize how easy it is to get lost in them and before you know it the end is upon you. Great stuff.

If anyone here is planning on going to iTunes (the only place to get the audiobooks via download) and find “The Complete Harty Potter” as pictured above… don’t bother. Its doesn’t exisit. In fact the final book is still not on iTunes available for download. I combined iTunes downloads and imported CDs to put together my custom “The Complete Harry Potter” via various processes detailed here. It was worth the time to have it all on my iPod at my fingertips.


  1. Nate says:

    Rowling’s books are more than just a lark — they’re packed with references to Greek and Egyptian mythology, Wiccan traditions and symbols, British Isles legends and historical, and even a little genuine history, also (Nicholas Flammel is a real person).


New profile pic courtesy of my self-caricature for the Scott Maiko penned article “Gotcha! Mug Shots of Common (but Despicable) Criminals” from MAD 550

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