**SPOILER ALERT: While I don’t intend to give away the ending of the story, I may reveal turns in the plot that some readers will consider “spoilers,” so be warned!**
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child picks up 22 years after the famous “Battle of Hogwarts” in book seven, The Deathly Hallows. It actually features that tiny little glimpse into the future (a short excerpt at the end of the seventh book) at the beginning of the play–the one where Harry and Ginny are dropping off their children at the Hogwarts Express, and they of course bump into “Aunt Hermoine” and “Uncle Ron” who are also dropping off their children. Albus Severus Potter is our main protagonist, though Harry and his own internal conflicts are also a main feature of the story.
At the start of the story, we learn that time turners have been banned by the Ministry of Magic and completely wiped out, though of course there are still a handful being covertly traded and sold amongst dark wizards. Little Albus, who ironically gets sorted into Slytherin House, gets ahold of a time turner that has been confiscated by the Ministry, and uses it (in true Potter fashion) to attempt to save the day (and spite his father as a side benefit, with whom he doesn’t exactly have a close, cuddly relationship). He convinces his best friend, Scorpius Malfoy (son of Draco, ironically again) to help him in his escapade, and together, through a series of multiple trips back in time, they realize that disrupting and changing historical events–even seemingly insignificant ones–can have drastic effects on the future.
A running subplot throughout all of this time traveling is, of course, the mystery surrounding who the “cursed child” in the title of the book may be. There are rumors circulating that a dark wizard used a time turner to travel back to the years when Voldemort was still alive for the purposes of conceiving a child, who would be used to fulfill a dark prophecy. There is wide speculation that Scorpius Malfoy is that cursed child, though after getting to know him a bit, it really seems doubtful that he has the temperament to be son of the Dark Lord. In fact, the reader spends much of the text wondering exactly who the cursed child will turn out to be–but that’s a spoiler that I won’t reveal in my review here. 🙂
So what do I think of the “eighth story” in the Harry Potter saga? For one thing, I think calling it “the eighth story” gives the reader some unfair expectations. I’ve read a lot of negative reviews for Cursed Child, and many of them were from people who didn’t fully understand that it was going to be the script of a play, not an actual Rowling-penned novel (this work is actually a collaboration with two London playwrights). Not to get all English-teacher on everyone, but I think it’s important to remember that a play reads VERY differently from a novel. The gorgeous description that we loved in J.K. Rowling’s other books is mostly absent here, condensed into brief stage directions between lines. It’s difficult to convey a story like this using only dialogue. We don’t get to see what the characters are thinking or feeling, or how the author wants us to connect events (unless the characters connect them out loud for us). Not to mention, the story moves so much faster on the stage than it does in her 700+ page novels, which takes some getting used to. It can feel a bit cheap, like shallow storytelling. It’s much the same disappointment that diehard Potter fans sometimes feel after seeing the movie adaptation of one of the books–so much has to be left out to keep the film moving along. Also, because we’re not watching the play in London, we’re losing the visual–the meaningful looks between characters and the costumes and the special effects. But fundamentally, reading a play is SO DIFFERENT from reading a novel that I think many of the critical readers out there need to give J.K. Rowling a break. You have to enter it with the expectation that this work is going to be completely different from anything else that she’s ever signed her name to. As “the eighth novel”–I would say it’s poorly written and lacking depth. As a play, I think it’s pretty good, though I would really want to see it in person before giving it my stamp of approval.
Things I liked:
All of the new characters are fantastic. The writers have done a great job with fully developing their personalities (as much as you can in a short amount of time) and making them unique–set apart from their parents. Scorpius is probably my favorite, which I never thought I would say about anyone from the Malfoy household. He is just nerdy and nervous enough to be endearing, and he delivers so many awkwardly funny one-liners.
I also enjoyed the Harry-Potter-ness of it, if that makes sense. I wasn’t sure how true it would stay to the novels, and while there were deviations here and there, it is mostly an adventure in the same wizarding world we have already grown to love. There is a little bit of new folklore mixed in (such as the Augurey, which we see in the wings/nest on the cover of the published script), but not so much that we’re completely lost. We’re mostly seeing familiar spells and references to people and places that we already know.
This may sound strange to say, but some of the stage directions gave me goosebumps. There is a moment in the play when dementors start to zero in on the characters on stage. However, according to the stage directions, cloaked dementors actually FILL THE THEATER and begin to move through the aisles amongst members of the audience. (I bet you they crank down the A/C too, to give everyone a little shiver.) And more than once, the audience hears the whispered voice of Voldemort coming from the BACK of the theater. –> Gives me chills! And I also think it would be quite entertaining to see a giant sorting hat dancing around on stage.
Things I didn’t like:
All of the old/familiar characters seem like mere shadows of their former selves, with the possible exception of Harry Potter. Ginny has lost her sassiness and wit, Hermoine is back to being a two dimensional know-it-all, and Ron has turned into a complete bumbling buffoon, whose purpose in the story is really just to walk in and say a few idiotic lines for comic relief. I know that the characters would have changed and grown into themselves a bit more by the time they reached their forties–after all, I’ve changed quite a bit from my high school self, and I just reached 30. But at times, the characters that I have grown to know and love seemed completely unrecognizable.
The story indulges in too much sentimentality. I know we are all sentimental about the Harry Potter series, probably none so much as Rowling herself, but it’s a bit over-the-top at times. It’s hard for me to believe that Draco would be besties with Harry all these years later, even if their sons have hit it off at Hogwarts. Forgoing all of his usual snark to admit that he was jealous of the Harry-Hermoine-Ron trio back in the day? Seems unlikely. Bringing back characters from the dead (including Snape and Dumbledore) just to have mushy heart-to-hearts? Seems unnecessary. The conversation between Harry and Dumbledore about how Dumbledore always loved him and always tried to protect him was PROBABLY supposed to be one of the crowning moments of the production, but it left me gagging from too much sap.
And we’re really going to go back in time to save Cedric Diggory? Really?
Some of the inconsistencies and questions that I’m left with are still bothering me. Why would Albus constantly recommend using Polyjuice Potion as a quick fix, when we know from Chamber of Secrets that it takes about a month to brew? I know you can transfigure objects and even animals, but since when can you transfigure people? (Seriously, is that something that happened in the books that I forgot about?) Where is Teddy Lupin? Has the nice old lady who pushes the trolley full of sweets on the Hogwarts Express always been an evil Edward Scissorhands? How is McGonagall still alive and well enough to be headmistress of Howarts–isn’t she like 90 years old at this point? And, not to be dirty, but Moldy Voldy wasn’t quite human-looking after his rebirth in the fourth book. Does he really have the–ahem–parts to help conceive a child? So. Many. Questions.
The biggest question being: are we, as a society, forever doomed to disappointing sequels of our most-loved books and movies? Why can’t we just let a good thing be?