Review: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child
Author's Note: This post most certainly contains spoilers. If you have not finished your copy already, your 11-year-old self is gravely disappointed in you. You’ve had 48 hours to complete your task, after all.
In a summer brimming with fantasy nostalgia*, it seems that the sentimental season has peaked with the release of rehearsal script of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child: Parts One and Two - The Official Script of the Original West End Production.Opening in London Saturday evening, with the published script released at midnight July 31, Potterheads and skeptics alike have been craving to know what happens in the next installment of the wizarding world. After all, it's been 9 years since the last book was published, and 19 years (wizarding time) since the Battle of Hogwarts.
Rather than write another novel, as Rowling’s insatiable fans have so oft-demanded, she has found another way to continue telling us about the wizarding world: writing a play.
A play! How marvelous. As a person brought up in the theater, I am resplendent about JKR's genre experimentation, if mildly doubtful of the story. Because of Cursed Child, millions of readers around the world will now be forced to read a script or (gasp!) engage in a live stage production. Rowling and her team of theatremakers, Jack Thorne and John Tiffany, have made us participate in a medium lost on many people, particularly young readers that have become the next sterling generation of HP fans.
For some, the script format may make the story inaccessible. Early reviews have described it as a "skeleton" and "lackluster." Certainly, readers looking for JKR's signature delicious descriptions of the magical world will be disappointed with the script's spartan, efficient stage direction. I admit I found the directions to be enjoyable, at times poetic in their spareness. Largely, the stage directions are abstractly composed and vaguely described for the sake of ~magic~ onstage.
Another conflict that canon readers may find in the new script is the conflict of voice. You can definitely read three voices in this project. JKR is there, presiding, dominating the narrative in her familiar tone, but strange little inconsistencies plagued the writing for me. Of course, these "inconsistencies" are simply the other voices at work. After all, Jack Thorne is credited with writing this script, and JKR merely devising the story. But such is the plight of being confined to the box the fandom has created—we are unkind to any deviations. Readers who cling heavily to precedent will struggle with the text.
What The Cursed Child does accomplish, keeping readers sated and happy, is create a sublime fantasia of nostalgia. Scenes are fondly reminiscent of the original books, even citing beloved passages and transposing them into scenes for the stage, often in the form of "dreams"; for example, Harry dreams of the night that Hagrid came to him at Hut-on-the-Rock, providing us with a sentimental flashback. Harry also has several scenes with Aunt Petunia, reminding us from where he came from. On the whole, the story is an intersection of a past we are intimately familiar with, a present that we are curious about, and a future that we are hopeful to learn.
In two parts (and 308 pages) The Cursed Child explores friendship, fatherhood, time travel and redemption, through adventures into alternate realities of the wizarding world. Through mishaps with a recovered Time-Turner, readers (and the audience) are brought into several iterations of the wizarding world reality, one in which Voldemort defeated Harry at the Battle of Hogwarts, Cedric lived to become a Death Eater, and another (the best) in which Hermione is the Minister of Magic.
The Cursed Child is in many ways a reanimation of something once dearly loved. Imagine with me in the story of the Deathly Hallows, when the second brother uses the resurrection stone to bring back his deceased wife. When she returns, she is a physical manifestation, but her spirit is long gone. This is what The Cursed Child feels like, in its early pages, as the scenes try to persuade the readers back into the magic. It wasn't until the new principal characters, Albus (Harry's troubled middle child/our protagonist) and Scorpius (Malfoy's kindhearted son/Harry's best friend), commence their own adventures that I finally bought into the conceit of the play, that I felt some new spirit seep into the once-skeletal pages.
The play's plot hinges around the time-traveling shenanigans of Albus and Scorpius**, both Hogwarts outcasts both trying to escape the burden of their fathers' legacies. Rumors taunt Scorpius that he is the son of Voldemort, making him wildly unpopular despite his sweet-tempered disposition. Albus, also unpopular, likely because he's whiny about his placement in Slytherin House and completely insufferable about his father's fame, persuades Scorpius to join him in trying to prevent Cedric Diggory's death in the Triwizard Tournament. This tragedy is an event that the boys have identified as something they should change to redeem themselves, and so they plunge through time on 3 occasions, obviously erring in the basic idea that we cannot change the past.
If you have recently rewatched Back to the Future trilogy, as I have, the narrative structure of The Cursed Child follows BTTF fairly closely, with the whole meeting-your-parents and meddling-up-time trope. Although Scorpius and Albus massively break the rules of time travel by speaking with characters in the past, these interactions are cherished by readers because it allows us a glimpse at long dead characters [Snape] and present us with one last goodbye to others [Cedric].
Beyond feeding into fan nostalgia, and providing us with sweet vignettes of old friends, The Cursed Child does bring new elements into the wizarding world. Perhaps the most pressing question arising from the new: who is the Cursed Child? A number of contenders fill this role: Albus, Scorpius, Harry, all suit this role fine, each carrying the weight of either prophecy or depressing legacy. The script even dabbles briefly in the perceived "fatherhood" role of Dumbledore to Harry, which proves to be a charming if not depressing anecdotal scene when Dumbledore speaks from his portrait. Yet, the most interesting candidate for the cursed child is Delphi, the shocking new character debuting in the script. Delphi is the daughter of Bellatrix LeStrange and Voldemort. Delphi, who describes herself as the Augurey, a foreteller of death and iteration of Voldemort, tricks Albus and Scorpius into aiding her with time-travel, so as to meet Voldemort and restore him to his Dark height. It is Delphi's struggle to meet her father, after a life of living up to her imagined expectations from him, that most fully fill this portrait of cursed. While Delphi provides a fascinating plot point, her characterization falls flat once her purpose as a clever device has been served.
Admittedly, my only true disappointment in The Cursed Child is that after all these stories, the Harry Potter franchise still feels like a boys club. Rowling simply fails to present us with a true leading lady. Sure, there are dozens of periphery badass females (Bellatrix, Luna, Tonks) but the fact remains that Hermione (my absolute favorite character) is still a supporting character to Harry’s bildungsroman. JKR was given an eighth chance to present us a leading female, and she failed to deliver. Critics argue that Hermione's stage time in The Cursed Child finallybrings her more prominence as a character, but she still seems secondary to the forefront struggle of the Albus/Scorpius/Harry/Voldemort dilemma.
To be candid: what if Albus has been Harry's daughter? Instead, JKR opted for a son, as in the Prologue of her 7th novel, and we continue to read about the adventures of boys, even in the best of series.
Reading The Cursed Child was a 24 hour rollercoaster of my own skepticism, surprise, disappointment, absolute joy, and open sobbing. In the 8th installment of the Harry Potter story, J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany and Jack Thorne present a gorgeously devised play, reviving a fantastical world that never really left us. Perhaps the magic lives on, even after all this time.
*See Eileen and Q's thoughts on Summer 2016 Fantasy/Sci-Fi Nostalgia this week
**Most interestingly, a queer reading can be applied to the friendship between Scorpius and Albus. Your thoughts?