Tuesday, July 21, 2009, posted by Q6 at 9:24 AM
Among the many blogs I check on a daily (or near daily) basis is Neil Gaiman's online journal. He makes a point of responding to fan mail from time to time, and his July 12 post brought to light a similarity he and I share. His post is here, and I explain below.

It's worth mentioning here that I have a great admiration for Neil Gaiman (known as "Nerful" in our household, as that's how his signature appears on the autographed works we own), not only because he's a great writer that my wife introduced me to, but also because he seems so very down to earth for being such a well known person.

So his post is about reading stories aloud (and doing character voices), and it brings to my mind the time I spent reading some (but not all) of J.K Rowling's Harry Potter series to my kids. I didn't start reading to them until the third book in the series, and by then the first film had come out. If memory serves, I think I read books three, four, five, and maybe six. (I'm surprised I don't remember this better; I know I didn't read the last book to them, because I remember going to the local grocery store at midnight--there was a line there, too--then going home and reading until five or six in the morning. Come to think of it, we may have done that with the sixth book as well.)

Being a former public speaking major, I don't know how to read fiction without using multiple voices--even if they're only in my head. I make a point when reading of "casting" the book as I read, if for no other reason to keep the characters straight. One of the best audiobooks I ever heard--The Godfather--used a multivoice cast and completely blew me away. So when it came time to read to my kids, it became a reader's theater project for me (so much so that with one of the books, I had to read a chapter ahead every day so I knew what was coming; the downside is that I read the book twice in the same sitting, but the upside was that such "rehearsal" really nailed it). Another aspect of reading the book this way is discovering just how well Rowling wrote the characters: I didn't use that much inflection change between Ron and Harry, for example, but they speak differently than one another, so there wasn't that much need to change inflection.

Some voices became standards for me (and fun to do). Case in point: Richard Harris is and will always be Dumbledore. Even when Michael Gambon hit the screen in the role, I still read Dumbledore as Richard Harris (this was my daughter's favorite voice). Hagrid was a gruff voice, but I didn't try to do a Robbie Coltrane imitation. There were others, but it was just a matter of "playing the moment" with a lot of it.

This is as good a place as any to make this statement: I think that a serious casting error was made in the fourth and subsequent films. All due respect to Brendan Gleeson, who is a wonderful actor and has mad acting skills in both comedy and drama, but I had a much better pick for the role of Mad-Eye Moody, and one that would have adhered to Rowling's "Brits only" rule: Richard O'Brien. See, I was reading the character to my kids before any on-screen materialization, and when I saw the character's personality and actually read Mad-Eye's lines, all I could hear was Riff-Raff from The Rocky Horror Picture Show. It would have been a great movie, and O'Brien would have brought a lot of dark-and-creepy to the series, which it needed (especially in "Order of the Phoenix"). I'm just sayin', reading in Riff-Raff's voice really made the Mad-Eye Moody character leap from the page.

My kids are seventeen and fifteen now, and while they're not to old to read to, schedules don't make that as possible as it once was. Still, there's the theater inside my head, which I still greatly enjoy--and if you've ever cast a book in your head, or read to your children with a variety of character voices, you know exactly what I mean.
 
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