Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much. They were the last people you would expect to be involved in anything strange, or mysterious, because they just didn’t hold with such nonsense.
This, as everyone figured out at the fourth word, has something to do with the world of Harry Potter. In fact, some may recognise it as the opening lines of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. I did not look it up. I wrote it from memory. And a lot of people will not think too highly of this, because they are able to recall this and much, much more word for word. This should not be surprising.
I have read many an article about how the whole Harry Potter series goes from nice stories about a young wizard finding his feet in his home world, to a dark meditation on death. I personally don’t give a leaf off a mandrake’s head. I enjoyed reading the series. That’s that.
But then, I would be lying if I said I had read it. Because I didn’t. I listened to it. Once upon a time when I was very small, I got an iPod on my birthday. You have to be careful giving gifts like this. For example, if you give someone a nice new wallet, put a banknote and a coin in it. Doesn’t have to be a large amount. If you want to give somebody a handbag, say, put in maybe a little notepad and a pen. If you want to give somebody an ornamental box or something, put something in it for god’s sake. That’s how you do it with iPods as well. When I got it, the iPod had a bunch of songs loaded on its drive. I listened to the songs happily for a while, and then one day my father said he wanted to borrow it for a bit. I said okay. When I got it back, the cool aluminium thing, smaller than a matchbox, became something wondrous, because the songs were gone and in their place was an audiobook of The Philosopher’s Stone. This, and I’m not exaggerating, changed my life in a way that only books you read on the verge of teenage can. It changed the way I thought about books. I realised that even after you became to old to be read to, you could be read to via audiobooks. The next five books of the series followed the first, and I consumed them all.
But apparently, my brain agreed with those who wrote about the series slowly becoming darker. I had had a history of somnambulism, but it increased in frequency when I began with the audiobooks, especially when I heard them before bed. And so my parents refused point blank to get me the seventh audiobook until I was a little bit older. That one too, I got on a birthday, in similar fashion to the First Audiobook There Ever Was. I consumed it too. But something had changed. The Deathly Hallows audiobook I have is not narrated by Stephen Fry. That, dear reader, is not a good thing.
However, the point here is that listening to Harry Potter, and re-listening to it, became a comfortable habit of mine. It became a sort of go-to thing when I was not in the mood for a whole new world to become invested in. I even have a ritual that I use in order to initiate every new gadget I get that can play audio. After I set it up, I load the entire Harry Potter series onto it and listen to it before listening to anything else on the device. This is an important and unmissable step toward a happy life with said device.
But this is not to say that I don’t skip a few chapters of the audiobooks themselves. Oh no. This is how I listen to the series: I listen to The Philosopher’s Stone completely. Then, in The Chamber of Secrets, I skip the bit where Harry and Ron meet Aragog in the Forbidden Forest, mostly because it isn’t there in my copy. It got cut out by an unfortunately placed scratch on the CD. I dislike the whole bit with Aunt Marge in The Prisoner of Azkaban and so, after Harry gets his birthday presents in the beginning, I fast forward to the part with the Knight Bus. I also omit the first chapter of The Goblet of Fire because I don’t like the murder of Frank Bryce, but I enjoy the Quidditch World Cup chapters immensely. I jump to chapter two of The Order of the Phoenix right after Harry and Cedric pop into the graveyard full of Death Eaters. In The Order of the Phoenix I go right past ‘Chapter 1: Dudley Demented’ for reasons unclear even to myself. I also skip ‘The Other Minister’ and ‘Spinner’s End’ in The Half-Blood Prince, but I go back to ‘Spinner’s End’ toward the middle of the book, again for reasons unknown.
These are all decisions that I guess are based on the fact that I simply am not a fan of those particular passages of action. Is there a common theme to them? I don’t know. But I do this every time I re-listen.
Now I wouldn’t say that the series is my one and only childhood treasure, but these skips and fast-forwards are to the audiobook what that coffee stain or that torn page corner the exact shape of the west coast of Ireland are to actual pages-bound-together books. They make you feel at home, take you back, as it were.
And that is the whole point of books, audio or otherwise, is it not? To transport you to Narnia or down the rabbit hole into Wonderland, or perhaps, if you were lucky enough to receive a letter written on heavy parchment in an envelope bearing a seal with a lion, an eagle, a badger and a snake, perhaps even to Hogwarts.
Every time Dumbledore welcomes the students in the books and I hear, ‘…and to our old students, welcome back!’, I relax, because, I feel, as any good story ought to make us feel eventually, that everything is okay.