Friday, July 29, 2011

Does the Reader of an Audiobook Matter?

by Sara N.

Prior to the Tuesday release of the new Dresden Files book, Ghost Story, I was scanning the Amazon page for it, as is my wont. And I discovered that a small segment of Dresden fans are enraged. Enraged, I tell you! You see, the newest book's audio version isn't being narrated by James Marsters of Buffy the Vampire Slayer fame, as the previous 12 have been. Because of a conflict in scheduling, John Glover (Lionel Luthor from Smallville) has taken over the audio duties. Glover, who has decades of acting experience and a mellifluous voice, should be more than suitable for the job.

But that doesn't matter. People are up in arms.

Curse your busy schedule, Marsters.
For those who have experienced the Dresden Files books in audio form only, Marsters is Harry Dresden, wizard. To these fans, changing the narrator to Glover is an absolute betrayal of the character they love. Marsters' voice and inflections are what bring Harry to life and what spin the storylines that author Jim Buther creates. One of the commenters on Amazon likened it to recasting the lead actor in a TV series halfway through the run. Imagine if Joshua Jackson in Fringe were suddenly replaced by James Van Der Beek, or Anna Paquin was no longer Sookie Stackhouse. Fans would be confused, angry, betrayed. Can you picture the internet hubbub that would result? Not pretty.

Such is the case with the Marsters/Glover switch-up, but in some ways, it's even worse than a TV show recast; the narrator is the lone voice of the audiobook series. There's no one else who helps to tell the story or serves as a supporting actor. There are the author's words, and there's the person reading them. That's it.

I feel the audio Dresden fans' pain. A few years ago, I heard about a hot new series that ... well, let's just say it rhymed with Schmilight. I decided to grab the audiobook because that's what my library had available. And I fell under the spell of the very talented narrator, Ilyana Kadushin. She was —and to this day is —Bella to me. Kadushin brought the books to life with her performance. Her gifted delivery pushed the narrative along even when the storyline was trite or the characters behaved like morons or the sentiments being expressed made you want to roll your eyes. When people complain about the sub-par writing in the Twilight books, I feel like I can't join in the conversation, because Kadushin's vocal talents breathed life into a relatively commonplace story about
Sorry, Kristin Stewart. Ilyana is the Bella of my heart.
a teenage girl and the stalker who loves her. Something tells me I would've struggled with the print version of the books. But Kadushin's inflection, tone, pacing and humor elevated the material. On the flip side, I've listened to audio book by authors I've enjoyed reading in print form, but I found the narrators so irksome that I wanted to find their home addresses, knock on their front doors, and kick them in the shins.

In short, a bad narrator can sink a good book. A good narrator can elevate a so-so book above its rightful enjoyment level, as Kadushian did. And a good narrator paired with a good book, as is the case with Marsters and the Dresden Files or Jim Dale and the Harry Potter audiobooks? That, my friends, is nothing short of magic.

So audiobook fans: Do you have a favorite narrator? Have you ever had a book ruined by a bad performance?
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  1. I've only ever listened to Jim Dale, when I needed to quickly revisit the Harry Potter books before movies. He's phenomenal. I think I also read somewhere that he holds the record for most voices in a single book.

  2. Jim Dale wins. Hands down.

  3. James Marsters is a favorite. I also love to listen to Phil Gigante. I would curl up and listen to him reading my grocery list and enjoy it. : )

  4. For me, Stephen Fry is the voice of the Harry Potter series. I tried to listen to Jim Dale, and couldn't get through more than a chapter. I was jolted by the change from Stephen Fry to Martin Freeman as narrator for the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, though I've since become accustomed to Freeman. For me, James Marsters is definitely the reason I discovered the Dresden Files, and I've never picked up a physical copy of the books, so he is the only "voice" for Harry in my mind. I can't even describe my disappointment when my pre-ordered audiobook came in the mail today with John Glover's name on the front. I'll give it a shot, but I'm afraid I'll be grieving for how it MIGHT have been done the whole time I'm listening.