Even though I’ve gone off J.K. Rowling a bit in recent years, I still appreciate the impact that she had on my life. The Harry Potter books were a big part of me becoming the reader that I am today. I guess it’s no stretch to say that they were a big part of the person I am today. Yes, I’ve grown up to realise that Rowling isn’t the great writer that I thought she once was. Yes, it bugs me that she keeps going back and altering her work for stupid reasons. Yes, I think she was massively wide of the mark when it comes to diversity. Yes, some of her personal views and opinions are just wrong. But she’s also done a lot for a lot of people. Her first two Harry Potter spin-off books were released to raise money for Comic Relief. Her latest charitable release came in the form of an Audible audiobook. The third book in the wider Potterverse is being read by stars like Jude Law, Evanna Lynch, Warwick Davies, and Jason Isaacs to raise money for the Lumos Foundation. Of course, I ended up getting it for free as an Audible member, so I’m not sure how that works. Still, I knew I had to check it out.
As soon as “The Tale of the Three Brothers” was a key part of the plot of The Deathly Hallows, it was only a matter of time until she released the whole volume. With an additional 4 tales, The Tales of Beedle the Bard were presented as fables for the children of wizarding families. It comes complete with notes written by Albus Dumbledore himself. Of the 5 tales, 4 of them were mentioned in The Deathly Hallows and take great inspiration from existing fairy tales and classic literature. You can definitely feel these influences because nothing here feels fresh or new.
I understand that this is a spin-off book and was meant to be a bit of fun for the fans. But, if I’m honest, there’s little to get excited about beyond that. The joy of this book is that it links to a universe that we all know so much about. It’s the fact that we get to learn a little something more about the wizarding world. After that? These books don’t offer a great deal. Yes, they do a good job of emulating classic fairy tales but they’re hardly the most interesting stories. It all feels too derivative.
Of the 5 stories in the collection, “The Three Brothers” is by far the most interesting. The other 4 are just quite forgettable. The major tale, which fans will all have seen before, is the most dramatic and atmospheric. There is a certain darkness to it and it has a proper moral to it. Of course, I can’t see it from an unbiased perspective because of my connection to the series. So, its presence in Deathly Hallows may make it feel superior. The other tales are fine but mostly forgettable.
“The Fountain of Fair Fortune” has some promise but it never really hits its stride. It remains quite pedestrian and never surprises. “The Wizard and the Hopping Pot” just feels quite childish and simplistic. I know its meant to be for wizarding children but there’s no finesse in the writing. “Babbitty Rabbitty and her Cackling Stump” and “The Warlock’s Hairy Heart” were both pretty forgettable. They seem far too similar to existing fables that they seemed pointless. As if J.K. Rowling had just taken an existing story and put it into the wizarding world. Why write something so unoriginal?
And then there’s the commentary by Albus Dumbledore. Talk about padding. This was clearly just a way for J.K. Rowling and her publisher to justify the price and ensure Potter fans would buy it. The analysis that Dumbledore offers for each tale just feels quite empty. As with all of his most famous quotations, they’re just trite and quite banal. It doesn’t tell us anything more about the character himself and mostly just repeats stuff we already know from the books. Take everything he says about being an animagus. If you were a non-reader, you might find this useful but it’s just going over old ground for fans.
Although, I will say that listening to the various actors tell the stories was great. Jude Law reprising his role of Dumbledore did bring a certain charm and familiarity to the audiobook. Certain readers did a much better job than others but they were all competent narrators. Noma Dumezweni is the absolute star of the show. Although, I guess it helps that she nabs the best and most atmospheric tale. Considering this audiobook was created to raise money, I’d say that it was worth buying. Yes, you aren’t getting a great deal for your money but it’s sweet enough.
Although, I will say that The Tales of Beedle the Bard isn’t the most successful of the Harry Potter spin-off books. It doesn’t add a great deal to the wider universe and the stories aren’t exciting enough to justify it. If this had been released without the connection to the supremely popular series, it wouldn’t have made waves. Without Harry Potter behind it, this is an unremarkable collection. And even then, I don’t think it justifies its publication. It’s too short to add anything interesting to the Harry Potter universe and it just repeats everything we already know. So, you can’t even say that it was for die-hard fans because they’d know most of it already.