Harry Potter and Rowling’s Story Soundscape

hogwarts_teach_us_something_please_by_albus119-d57sgo9Recently I discussed how learning styles match writing styles, and since then I’ve been more alert to writers’ use of the senses. As I read I ask myself, does the author linger with visuals, jump ahead into action, or take advantage of every sound? Which element is predominant? Inspired by Claire Saag’s guest post for StoryForge, I picked up Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.

You know what I discovered? Sounds. Everywhere.

If you can, recall the scene where Harry first meets Hagrid. Boom, crash, smash! Sounds bring the chapter to life. When Rowling isn’t describing the howling wind or sizzling sausages, she plays her characters vocal chords like musical instruments. The scene revolves around dialogue—like most of the book, for that matter.

Since Rowling has a tuned ear, her dialogue naturally fits each character. “Stop right there, sir! I forbid you to tell the boy anything!” Uncle Vernon’s false self-importance and authority swell with each word. In response, Hagrid exposes an uneducated dialect and disgust for such offensively ignorant muggles: “Ah, go boil your heads, both of yeh.” When Aunt Petunia breaks through her years of prim silence, only bitterness and anger rush out: “Oh, [Lily] got a letter just like that and disappeared off to that—that school—and came home every vacation with her pockets full of frog spawn, turning teacups into rats. I was the only one who saw her for what she was—a freak!”*

Though Rowling’s auditory senses are well rounded—with an intuition that I can only wish for—her visuals remain undeveloped. When Harry first enters Diagon Alley, he “wished he had eight more eyes. He turned his head in every direction as they walked up the street, trying to look at everything at once…”* Though one might expect that Rowling would give detailed, textured visuals at this point, she instead offers snippets of dialogue and hooting owls. Diagon alley has lots to look at, but Rowling describes sounds and actions, rather than actual sights.

When Rowling does include visuals, she pares them down to raw lists: “the shops, the things outside them, the people doing their shopping….Tawny, Screech, Barn, Brown, and Snowy…windows stacked with barrels of bat spleens and eels’ eyes, tottering piles of spell books, quills, and rolls of parchment, potion bottles, globes of the moon…”* I can’t help but wish more more texture and visual depth. But to be fair, Harry experiences this as an overwhelming blur. Because of Rowling’s auditory and kinesthetic strengths, her novels are irresistibly adventurous roller coasters.

How do you relate to or learn from the storytelling in Harry Potter? Or, to build off of my previous post, does your writing style (auditory, visual, kinesthetic) match your writing style?


* J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (New York: Scholtastic, 1998), 50, 53, 71-72.

Art provided by Vo Ngoc Thinh, http://albus119.deviantart.com

4 thoughts on “Harry Potter and Rowling’s Story Soundscape

    • I’ve spent such a long time disliking her adverb usage and dialogue tags that it was really refreshing to pinpoint her strengths. And I owe the rediscovery to your StoryForge article 🙂

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