Harry Potter and the Cursed Child transports us back into the magical world of Harry Potter, wizards, and magic that J.K. Rowling created nearly two decades ago. For those well steeped in the Potterverse, it’s an expansive world many have been reluctant to let go of, stuck with Muggle despair, memorized spells, Quidditch rules, and the weight of destiny. It’s a place whose absence was only briefly pacified by re-living the original story (in book and filmed versions) over and over again.
Not quite an entirely new Harry Potter book, this new installment comes in the form of an annotated rehearsal script for the play, written and assembled by play director John Tiffany, playwright Jack Thorne, and original creator J.K. Rowling.
Set nineteen years after his triumphant battle with Voldemort, this new story follows the older, married-with-children (to Ginny Weasley) Harry Potter teased at the end of Deathly Hallows. Only now it’s his son who’s the reluctant hero struggling to stand up under the weight of his father’s long shadow, much like Harry himself struggled with the significance placed on him since his infancy.
Albus Severus Potter is a powerful sounding name, not unlike the wizards he’s named after. Such a name would be a large burden on any child, let alone the son of the great Harry Potter – and the whole world knows it. Unlike his father, however, Albus is placed in Slytherin at Hogwarts, unpopular in school, and not a particularly talented wizard. Albus believes that he has nothing in common with his dad, and to Harry’s horror, he faces every parent’s worst dream: Albus resents being his son.
A slow introduction catches us up on what we missed during those nineteen years in the first half (Part One), switching things up in an action-packed and riveting story in the latter half (Part Two). Albus, in an effort to prove himself (something he doesn’t openly admit is his motive) sets out on an adventure with his best friend, Scorpius Malfoy, son of Draco, to erase an unnecessary sacrifice during Harry’s battle against the rising of the Dark Lord: the death of young Cedric Diggory at the Triwizard Tournament.
In a sense, the story helps to tie up some loose ends of the original series. We see Scorpius put on the hero cape at times, which I saw as a trajectory of Draco Malfoy’s inner struggle growing up against the evil that he was born into. We also see Harry struggle to make the right decisions as a father, which serve as a callback to the decisions and sacrifices that Albus Dumbledore had to make for the greater good, while thinking of Harry’s sake.
It felt both strange and exhilarating to see these characters at the adult stage, after seeing so much of their childhood. On one hand, it was difficult to adjust, to feel that the characters were credible; especially, for example, when the lifelong enemies Harry and Draco are forced into an amicable relationship due to their sons becoming best friends, as a particularly interesting twist of fate.
On the other hand, I still felt an element of true magic; these aren’t just characters that we’ve witnessed becoming heros and then disappear. These are real people, only now they’ve become adults with children, and new worries that everyone eventually faces, and they did it: they truly conquered evil. Good always wins in this universe!
However, it’s some of these fan speculations and rumors resurfacing within these pages that especially make me feel that although J.K. Rowling’s name is on the book, there’s a notable absence of her true work in this story. It isn’t like Rowling to concede the plot to “what feels good,” or to give every beloved character a happy ending. She’s famous for sticking to a character’s fate to show her readers that not everything is ‘good magic’ and not everyone wins. There’s a darker side to the world she’s created, and not everyone makes it out alive.
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child was, according to reports, the most pre-ordered book of 2016, selling over 2 million copies within the first two days of release. The Harry Potter fanbase is clearly as strong as ever, but fans have been begging J.K. Rowling to give us more of the magic world for over a decade, only to have such fevered dreams shot down as ‘forced’. It makes me wonder, then, why did she agree to be a part of this revival now?
I believe this script was a funnel that allows readers a brief passage into magic once again, attracted by our love for these characters and unable to tear away, despite the lack of authenticity, into an otherwise enthralling story written by Jack Thorne.
What we hoped for with Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, however, was more than just a dialogue, but a deeper swig of true magic: J.K. Rowling’s descriptive writing, as shown in the original series, could weave us into the magic world that only lives inside of her head, and travels through the tips of her own fingers. Perhaps Rowling’s true vision will manifest once again with the release of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them this November, which she serves as screenwriter to her own novel published back in 2001 (under the pseudonym Newt Scamander).