Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is a play written by Jack Thorne and John Tiffany with oversight and approval from J.K.Rowling herself. The story picks up where the last book of the Harry Potter series left off, but Rowling made it clear in an interview that this is not to be understood to be the eighth chapter of the series; it is meant to be an independent work. If it is approached as a unique new adventure in the paradigm of the original series, it is likely to disappoint. As an independent work it holds up well, particularly when experienced in the intended medium of live dramatic performance.
I should note that this review will be in two parts. The first part will be a general commentary on the quality and value of the book as a piece of literature intended for parents who are considering whether to give this to their children to read. The second part will be devoted to a critique of the content of the story as a longtime fan of the series. The second part will contain spoilers and should only be read by those who have already read the book or who do not intend to read it.
I found it a pleasant read, even as a fan of the original series. The story is well crafted with a balanced dynamic scene structure. The dialogues capture well the established characters from the original series while presenting us with new and pleasing additions to the group. The moral and social questions that are raised are done so with delicacy and they each receive an answer in the course of the play.
The story centers around Albus Severus Potter and his best friend, Scorpius Malfoy. Both boys have a challenging relationship with their fathers and with the wizarding world as a whole. Albus has to deal with the pressure of following in the footsteps of his famous father, Harry Potter, and Scorpius must contend with the infamous reputation of his father, Draco Malfoy. While a mutual sense of being marginalized on account of their origins was the start of their relationship, by the end of the story the friendship has come to thrive on a more substantial mutual respect and selfless love.
Albus brings about the main problem of the story in an attempt to do something heroic. He uses a device that can turn back time in an attempt to fix a mistake his father made during his previous adventures. In the process of visiting his father’s past, the timeline is disturbed and chaos ensues. It is up to the boys to repair the damage done to the timeline and in the process heal their relationships with their parents.
The families that we see in the play are wholesome in most respects. Though far from perfect, the different members of the families each seem to contribute to a healthy dynamic. The challenges that each family faces are eventually overcome by patterns of action, failure, humility, and reflection.
One disturbing element does manifest itself in the way characters speak. In the original Harry Potter series various characters experiencing joy or relief say, “Thank God.” In The Cursed Child the characters say, “Thank Dumbledore.” The unspoken implication of this phrase is that somehow Dumbledore, a mortal limited person, is the source of all the significant goods that are experienced. While likely unintentional, this twisting of the phrase, even in a fictional world, will likely be unsettling to those readers who believe in God. The use of pagan symbolism is not new to the Harry Potter series. The original books consistently refer to Merlin, the most important of the pagan druids of British mythology. Characters swear to or reference Merlin nearly twice as often as they do God throughout the seven books. The unique element in The Cursed Child is the gesture of thanking. The gesture of gratitude amounts to deification of Dumbledore, and warrants, I believe, particular note. One may swear on anything that is considered important, but to offer gratitude to Dumbledore for goods of which he has had no part in bringing about is awkward at best.
The moral and artistic aspects of the play aside, there are elements of the story that are incongruous with the original series and have been the source of substantial vitriol on Harry Potter fansites. Most of the points made on these sites are valid if this play is understood as a continuation of the original series. Understood as an independent work based in the world of the original, most of the critiques lose luster.
One of the most common complaints is that the character of Cedric Diggory, as written in this play, is entirely unbelievable when measured against his portrayal in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. In The Cursed Child, Cedric becomes an evil wizard devoted to the Death Eaters because he is embarrassed in front of the whole school. This does seem inconsistent with the noble and selfless character we meet in the original, but this change of character was a necessary change in order to explain how Albus and Scorpio’s tamperings with the Triwizard Tournament could result in the dark future under Voldemort’s rule. In short, the plot needed him to have this reaction. While this twist may not seem entirely natural to a fan, it hardly kills the enjoyment of the story or the quality of the story arc.
Character development and relationships that are many fans have had since the ending of the Harry Potter series are answered in a satisfactory way, and other questions that were already answered have resurfaced in a somewhat tedious way. Draco Malfoy, longtime enemy of Harry Potter, by the end of The Cursed Child has experienced a total conversion of heart, which had been alluded to in the last book of the original series. For fans, this is relatively satisfying and apropo, particularly when compared to the other reconciliation that Thorne presents. Harry Potter and Dumbledore in a long and passionately charged scene come to grips with their complicated relationship, culminating in reconciliation and a mutual expression of familial love. This is awkward for a couple of reasons. Much the same development in the relationship was already accomplished in the original series (though much more gracefully than in this story, I would add). One cannot help but wonder: Why it is happening again? Even more offsetting is the fact that this “meaningful” moment is not between Harry and the real Dumbledore. Harry is having this cathartic moment with a portrait of Dumbledore, which is explained to be a mere shadow of memory. The dialogue feels artificial, and in fact it is.
Overall the play was enjoyable for a fan of the series who approaches it with an open mind, ready to encounter inconsistencies that are inevitable when a new hand animates the familiar characters. Parents who were comfortable with the original Harry Potter series will likely have no qualms allowing their children to read this book.
- Can heroes have flaws?
- Is Albus a hero?
- Is there a difference between the heroism of Albus and Harry?
- Why are Albus and Scorpio friends? Does their friendship change significantly during the story?
- Should we forgive Delphi because of her origins or her very difficult upbringing?
- Should parents forbid their son or daughter to spend time with another child if they think he/she is a bad influence?