If you follow me on Twitter (@bookishlybright), you’ll have noticed that every year in December, the landscape of my twitter page changes just slightly and shifts away from my ridiculous thoughts about life and more towards my ridiculous thoughts about Harry Potter.
Every year in December since I was a junior in high school, I’ve been rereading (or trying to reread) the entire Harry Potter series. Some years, I make it through all 7 books with room to spare. Other years, I make it through part of the series and give up because I want to spend my break reading other books. A few years ago, I just did a reading of the Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.
This year, I decided that I wouldn’t be able to tackle my classic whole-series reread, but I’ve gotten into audiobooks recently as something to do during my commute to campus as I work to transition to grad school life, so it made sense that I would just add Harry Potter into my rotation of audiobooks during the month of December.
In addition to listening to the Harry Potter books on audio, I’ve also been listening to Harry Potter and The Sacred Text, a podcast that treats Harry Potter as sacred using reading practices that are commonly applied to religious texts.
I love falling back into a familiar world each December, both because of the warmth and comfort I get from Hogwarts in this cold month, but also because I come away from these texts with something new every single time I reread them.
Jim Dale’s Narration
It took about a week before my first audiobook hold on Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone came in (and as of the publication of this post, my hold on Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets still hasn’t come in). But boy, was the wait worth it. Between listening on the train and listening while I was at work, I tore through the audiobook in just two days.
If you can’t tell by the number of tweets I made about different character’s voices, I was blown away by the thought and care that Jim Dale put into the voices that he created for various characters. For the most part, they were charming and delightful and let me fall in love with one of my favorite stories all over again.
On the other hand, there were a few exceptions to my delight at experiencing the audiobook. Not that the following things were bad. They were just strange enough to make me pause.
While I tweeted about the strangeness of hearing the “k” in “knut” pronounced, I never did tweet about Jim Dale’s Hermione voice which is just a little strange because it’s a grown man voicing an eleven-year-old girl. It’s just a little uncanny, and I never could quite shake that feeling while listening to the text.
While it may not be in the month of December (or the year 2019), I’m looking forward to hopefully working my way through the remaining audiobooks of the Harry Potter series as I can get them on Libby.
Why We Choose to Return to Texts Time After Time
Because I’ve been listening to Harry Potter and the Sacred Text off and on since late October/early November I also wanted to think about why we choose to revisit certain books over and over again.
But first, some background on Harry Potter and the Sacred Text: This podcast treats Harry Potter as a sacred text, exploring the book through a key theme with the idea that the text is not just entertainment but can be understood to provide generous rewards through rigor, ritual, and community. The hosts, Casper and Vanessa, both have degrees from the Harvard Divinity School and use Judeo-Christian reading practices to dive into Harry Potter.
If you’re looking to explore Harry Potter in a new way, then this podcast might be for you. I started it on a whim while looking for podcasts to listen to at work (I’ve also listened to Write or Die and Dolly Parton’s America). I’ve always known there’s more to Harry Potter than just the books, having been a part of a vibrant fan community for years; however, this podcast considers how much more can come from the text itself.
While listening to this podcast and revisiting Harry Potter for what feels like the millionth time, I realized that we revisit familiar books over and over again for a variety of reasons. We might like how they make us feel, relish the nostalgia of them, be looking for something new, try to understand how a text (and in turn ourselves can change over time), or perhaps something completely different.
I revisit the Harry Potter series in some way, shape, or form every December because these texts have always been there for me. They’ve been a big part of my identity basically since the 4th grade when I picked up The Sorcerer’s Stone for the first time from the school library and read it in almost one night. In high school I had enough Harry Potter T-Shirts that I could wear a different one everyday for almost two weeks. My best friend and I started a chapter of The Harry Potter Alliance together. I took a Harry Potter class in undergrad (s/o to Karin Westman and the K-State English Department). I still wear my Marauders’ Map Dress on occasion, and this fall I volunteered at Leaky Con. I’ll keep coming back to Harry Potter as long as it feels like a part of me and I feel like it has something to offer me.
But that’s just me, and I think that’s part of the beauty of books, especially rereading familiar titles: Everyone has a different reason for coming back to a text. Recognizing and exploring the experiences of others has been the real joy of taking an aural approach to the Harry Potter series this time around. Harry Potter and the Sacred Text is one way of understanding the way others choose to engage with the text. Even Jim Dale’s audiobooks provide insight to how Dale has chosen to interpret, and then share, Harry Potter with others.
While reading is seen as a solitary activity, nothing exists in a vacuum, especially not our experiences of our favorite stories.
As Always, Something New
I would be remiss in my discussion of #HarryPotterReRead2k19 if I didn’t mention a few of the new things I discovered about the text this time around (and not just the pronunciation of “knuts.”
Basically all of these came from the first through chapters, which is likely when I was doing my most critical listening.
Just as I would be remiss if I didn’t share some of my favorite new revelations about the text from this reread, I would be remiss if I didn’t discuss recent happenings within the Harry Potter fan community courtesy of J.K. Rowling’s latest tweet that was anti-trans. Because I don’t feel the need to give that tweet anymore publicity, I’m not going to share it here. Rather, I’ve linked to a few articles below that help provide some context and considerations of the tweet as it relates to the fan community.
J.K. Rowling Criticized After Tweeting Support for Anti-Transgender Researcher from The New York Times
“‘Harry Potter’ Helped Me Come Out as Trans, But J.K. Rowling Disappointed Me” by Jackson Bird for The New York Times
J.K. Rowling Makes Transphobic Statement on Twitter from BookRiot
The first New York Times article does a great job providing the basic context of the situation. The opinion piece from Jackson Bird offers a deeper look into the response to this tweet from members of the fan community. The BookRiot article provides similar context to the other two pieces but is valuable because it includes links to multiple reading lists featuring trans authors or trans characters.
I don’t support J.K. Rowling’s tweet, I think at the end of the day respect for others and their choices should win out over everything. But I’m also not just going to drop Harry Potter because it means a lot to me, and there’s something to be said about separating the art from the artist but still recognizing how the two are fundamentally connected.
I touched on this a few years back in my post #TimesUp for Sherman Alexie and as I went back and read that post to help me in writing this one, a lot of what I said is very different because it includes different texts, different cultural considerations, and a different level of celebrity. But one thing that remains true is that you have to make a personal choice about your interactions with a text and with its author.
So for me, that means acknowledging recent occurrences in this blog post, but still choosing to read Harry Potter because of what it means to me and has meant to me for over a decade now.
As always, drop me a line! I’m more than willing to discuss audiobooks, podcasts, Harry Potter, and current events in greater depth.