Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, by JK Rowling, John Tiffany & Jack Thorne

>> Thursday, February 23, 2017

TITLE: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child
AUTHOR: JK Rowling, John Tiffany & Jack Thorne

PAGES: 320
PUBLISHER: Pottermore

SETTING: Alternate reality
TYPE: Fiction
SERIES: 8th in the Harry Potter canon

Based on an original new story by J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany and Jack Thorne, a new play by Jack Thorne, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is the eighth story in the Harry Potter series and the first official Harry Potter story to be presented on stage. The play received its world premiere in London’s West End on 30th July 2016.

It was always difficult being Harry Potter and it isn’t much easier now that he is an overworked employee of the Ministry of Magic, a husband and father of three school-age children.

While Harry grapples with a past that refuses to stay where it belongs, his youngest son Albus must struggle with the weight of a family legacy he never wanted. As past and present fuse ominously, both father and son learn the uncomfortable truth: sometimes, darkness comes from unexpected places.
I wasn't sure I wanted to read this one. For starters, it wasn't really fully written by Rowling herself, and it's not a novel but the script for the play, which is something I'm not used to reading (not since reading Shakespeare in secondary school, I guess). And still, even with such low expectations, this was a massive disappointment.

The play takes place some 20 years after HP7, and stars Albus, one of Harry's children. Albus has a tense relationship with his father, mainly because he's keenly feeling the pressure to live up to his legend. He feels his father expects him to be just like him. He isn't, though. He enjoys different things and wants different things in life. Harry doesn't react well to this, which doesn't help. In a fit of rebellion, Albus decides to do something that he knows his father will disapprove of. And this is as far as the spoiler-free bit of this review will go. There will be only relatively mild spoilers in the rest (i.e. only more details about the setup, as that's as far as I got), but if you want to read this or see the play blind, you might want to stop reading here.

This was so, so problematic. Positives first: I loved the idea of the story. How would Harry Potter cope with a child very different from himself? I also loved several of the new characters, particularly Scorpius Malfoy, Lucius's son, who becomes Albus's best friend. Scorpius is a total sweetheart, and I wanted to reach into the pages and hug him.

That is about it, though. I did not really recognise the characters I knew in their adult version. Harry is an oblivious idiot, Ron is a bumbling fool, and Ginny and Hermione don't come out that well, either. And the plot is just stupid. Albus basically decides almost on a whim to go back in time and make a massive change, with zero thought. Things we’ve been told in the canon are difficult and require huge amounts of planning, such as a raid on the Ministry of Magic, using polyjuice potion and playing with fucking time, are done with no effort, very deus ex machina. They just happen.

And then we get to what looks like it might be the central plot of the book. Albus has changed something in the past and boom! All sorts of things in the present he knew have changed. How will he fix that? Aaaand... I was out. This is hands down my least favourite plot device ever. I hate time travel books in general, will only cope with time travel if I’m otherwise loving the book (e.g. Azkaban), and this particular plot device in particular is not one I want to read. Add to this dialogue that might work perfectly in a theatre, but that feels dull and lifeless on the script, and I just didn’t want to go on. So I didn’t.

Too bad, because because this could have been a good one.



Marianne McA,  23 February 2017 at 10:31  

Spoiler: it plays out exactly the way that plot always plays out, with an additional twist that is so telegraphed that it's not a twist. (Might work on stage, but on the page you see it coming from the get-go.)

That said, as a family we decided to treat it as fanfic, and if you read it in that way, a lot of the problems go away - the inconsistencies with canon are less annoying if you can forget that Rowling authorised the script.

I didn't read huge amounts of fanfic back in the day, but there was one short story I particularly liked which was withdrawn from circulation by the author after she was published. It also centred on the Albus/Scorpio relationship, and was a musing on Book 7. That really coloured my response to this play, both for good and for bad. For good, in that I was already invested in that author's version of Albus/Scorpio, so really enjoyed reading another, similar, take on that friendship, and for bad in that - to the extent that you can compare apples and oranges - I found the short story more satisfactory than the play.

We've tickets to see the play in July, so I'm reserving judgement until I see the thing. (My daughter tells me that everyone she knows who seen it has been enthusiastic - and as she's a member of the HP generation, and her friends are mostly theatrical types, the omens seem good.)

Rosario 25 February 2017 at 08:54  

Marianne: See, I've never read fanfiction (beyond stuff like Laurie R King's Mary Russell series), so I don't quite know how to do that. That said, I think I'd really like to try that Albus/Scorpio story you mention... just my luck that it's been withdrawn!

I hope the staging of the play and the actors' interpretations get over the issues in the script and that you really enjoy it! :)

Wendy 1 March 2017 at 18:48  

I just...can't bring myself to try this. Part of the problem is that I consumed the original series via audio and, as of yet, there's no audio version for this one. That said, the biggest stumbling block for me is that I LIKED the way Rowling ended the original series. It was tidy, it was wrapped up, dammit I loved the epilogue. I want to leave those characters in a "happy place" and not think about bad stuff happening to them again. So...yeah.

Also, ugh - I had no clue there was time travel in this one. Like you I find that plot device incredibly problematic and it rarely works for me. I can...but it's usually the exception to the rule.

Marianne McA,  16 July 2017 at 22:43  

Just as a postscript, we saw the play this weekend (4 of us had read the script, one hadn't), and the consensus was that it worked much better as a play, and that it possibly had been a mistake to publish the script. (Though I imagine if they hadn't, there would have been bootlegged versions produced.)

We still thought it felt fan-fictiony rather than canon, but the play carries you along more so you aren't so aware of the gaping plot holes. (The one who hadn't read the script still saw the twist coming, so yes, not a twist, really.)

Anyway, the staging is really, properly good, and we all sort of regretted that we had no 10 year old family members round to haul to the theatre to enthrall and terrify - it would be a properly magical play for an older child. (And pretty magical for grown-ups - the special effect they use for the time-turner working made me happy each and every time.)

I'd hope to see it again sometime - though not from the balcony: the seats may be cheap but it's too airless to be a pleasant experience, at least during the summer. But aside from that, I'd really recommend going.

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