***WARNING: THIS POST CONTAINS SPOILERS FROM HARRY POTTER AND THE CURSED CHILD***
***Only read on if you’ve finished the book!***
Harry Potter is back.
But it’s not in the way you might have expected. This is the script to a play, and, to risk of stating the obvious, plays are quite different from novels…
It opens with the familiar scene from the Deathly Hallows epilogue, though altered slightly. We quickly realize that all is not as well as we thought, as Albus struggles and fails to live up to the unrealistic expectations that are placed on him as the son of Harry Potter. He becomes resentful and isolates himself from everyone but his friend Scorpius Malfoy, who is everything good that Draco might have been, but with the drawback of being rumored to be the child of Voldemort. The friendship between Albus and Scorpius is one of the highlights of the script. It’s nice to see that history doesn’t have to repeat itself, and Draco Malfoy can produce a decent kid who becomes best friends with the son of his old nemesis.
As the story continues, Albus does everything he can to distance himself from his father, creating a mask for Harry as this uncaring, entitled celebrity. It’s very easy to be annoyed with Albus’ behavior, because he gets quite a lot wrong. He goes behind Harry’s back to alter time, which anyone with sense knows is a bad idea, all in a misguided quest for heroism, and he fails there, too.
Amos Diggory’s pleas to go back in time and #SaveCedric seem absolutely ridiculous, though they are later revealed to be the product of Delphi’s influence. In a pleasant surprise, we realize the Trolley Witch is more than meets the eye, though it’s a real shame she didn’t put up a better fight when Albus and Scorpius left the Hogwarts Express. The alternate realities are fun, but only because they aren’t real. It’s thought-provoking to realize how different Ron and Hermione are without having married one another, and that the whole of their marriage depended on Ron’s acting like a complete ass over his jealousy of Victor Krum.
We’re also delivered a very moving scene when we discover that Snape is still alive in the alternate universe where Harry died and Voldemort rules. It’s the only glimpse we’ve ever gotten of a Snape we’re not supposed to be suspicious of (unless you, like me…ahem—Always knew he was good). This Snape is more light-hearted than we’ve ever seen him. He finally has people besides Dumbledore who know he has always been loyal to Lily and opposed Voldemort. This is a Snape who couldn’t save Harry, but has had twenty years to accept it and spends his time doing what small things he can to thwart Voldemort by helping Hermione and Ron, with whom he finally seems to have a good relationship. When Scorpius convinces him that he’s telling the truth, Snape takes the news that he has to die in this other reality as only Snape could: “How irritating.” He then bravely accepts his fate and sets about to aid Scorpius. Not only do we get the real treat of seeing him effortlessly overpower Umbridge, but we also get a chance to see how kind of a person Snape could have been under different circumstances when he encourages Scorpius. He ends up having to sacrifice himself so Scorpius can correct time, and the entire scene is absolutely heart-breaking in the most beautiful way.
Am I completely biased toward Snape in every way? Yes. Yes I am.
Another bit of really excellent story-telling we got was in the way Albus and Scorpius got a message to Harry from 1981. This was some timey-wimey-ness worthy of Doctor Who. The device of using Bathilda Bagshot as nothing more than a potions supply closet was lazy, but the ultimate means of alerting Harry through the blanket was very clever, and it allowed us a bittersweet glimpse of Harry being cared for and loved by his parents as a baby.
We’re also privy to an emotional scene with Hagrid and baby Harry, in which we see the foundations laid for Hagrid’s role as a father figure to Harry. I imagine there isn’t a dry eye in the theater during this part.
Oh, and Voldemort had a love child. Voldemort. Ew.
I take issue with this. Why would someone who had gone through such lengths to ensure that he would live forever bother with a lineage? If anything, Voldemort strikes me as being more likely to mirror Kronos from Greek mythology, who was so afraid of the power his children might have, he was willing to kill (eat) them to ensure that they couldn’t dethrone him. It doesn’t seem likely that Voldemort would risk the threat of a child born to himself and Bellatrix.
Which brings me to my next problem: how did no one else realize Bellatrix was pregnant? Okay, she could have hidden it with magic, but in that case how would Rodolphus have known? Even if no one knew before the Battle of Hogwarts (though it seems unlikely she could have hidden this from Voldemort himself), someone had to have found the orphaned infant in the Malfoy Manor after the battle, and it certainly seems like the Malfoys should have realized Delphi existed.
Delphi herself doesn’t seem nearly as imposing as the rest of the characters seem to think she is. Perhaps it’s because there isn’t time for much character development, but she doesn’t strike me as someone who actually stands a chance against Harry, who has proved to be quite skilled in Defense Against the Dark Arts. She was foolish enough to write her identity and her dark plans on her wall, and then she carried out her mission to restore Voldemort to power through ludicrous means, all revolving around this prophecy that she may or may not have been interpreting correctly.
Wait, what prophecy? It’s never explained where this came from, only that Rodolphus revealed it to Delphi. Was Sibyl Trelawney in the cell next to him in Azkaban? Maybe JKR has an excellent explanation for this, but it’s a weakness of the script format that we never find out.
And that’s the biggest problem with The Cursed Child—the fact that it’s a script, not a book.
It made the characters feel different, and that’s not exactly okay. Play Ron is like a weird combination of Book Ron, Fred, and George, but less intelligent and more bumbling. Hermione is too cold, Harry, too unkind.
I had to keep reminding myself that this was really happening to the real Harry, Ron, and Hermione. I had to keep stopping and forcing myself to picture them saying these things to each other, and it didn’t always work. I can’t see Harry snapping at McGonagall or Ron being so flippant about everything (I also can’t imagine Ron gifting his nephew love potion when Ron himself was victim to its disturbing effects). The way conversations went down was not quite right, and that’s because this is a script, not a book. Dialogue for the stage has to be different than the dialogue we see in books, and I do understand that.
In a book, characters would never change their minds about something important after one or two contrived (and often unconvincing) comments from another character, but we don’t have time on a stage for Harry and company to mull over their decisions. You’ve seen this before if you’ve ever read a play. Think how quickly Romeo and Juliet fall in love, or how easily Cecily and Gwendolen forgive Jack and Algernon in The Importance of Being Earnest. This all solidifies the fact that this is a play, not a new Harry Potter book, and necessitates asking the question: should this script have been released as a book at all?
The Harry Potter fan base is, to quote Ron, “intense.” We have been spoiled in that we’ve never been let down. J.K. Rowling has delivered near-perfect novels to us for years, and now we’ve been handed our beloved characters’ next adventure in a different format. There’s no wonder it’s a difficult adjustment.
A recurring sentiment I experienced throughout the entire script was sheer amazement that all of this is being done on a stage in London. From a reader’s perspective, the fight between Delphi and Harry was a bit anticlimactic. Watching it as part of a live production, though, is likely an altogether more remarkable experience (I wouldn’t know firsthand…and now I’ll go cry for a bit). Similarly, Delphi in general probably seems much more imposing on stage, and the golden trio is surely given more life from the actors who portray them. I’ll bet watching Polyjuice Potion transformations live is delightful, and hearing that familiar Harry Potter music while seeing all of this transpire on a stage makes it feel much more like the wizarding world we know and love.
But that’s not the experience readers were given. We were handed the mere skeleton of a new story, and it’s hard to swallow. It felt like looking at the wizarding world through a snow globe rather than being there, or like watching an imaginative fanfiction play put on by Hogwarts students in the distant future. I don’t quite believe that this all really happened to our beloved characters.
There was no Luna, Hagrid (in the present timeline of the play), George, or other important secondary characters, and young Lily and James were hardly mentioned at all. That’s why this doesn’t really work as an eighth installment in the Harry Potter book series—it’s just not a complete story. It does, however, work as a play, and as an enjoyable companion piece to the wizarding world, much like The Tales of Beedle the Bard.
The ending is undoubtedly fulfilling, with Harry and Albus learning how to connect and share with one another, Albus and Scorpius learning how to better relate to their peers, and Ron and Hermione renewing their marriage vows. Also, Harry taught Albus that you don’t seek out acts of heroism, and that you don’t stoop down to the bad guy’s level. That’s very important. I’ll admit I was ready for Harry to Avada Kedavra Delphi into smithereens before he made me remember one of the most important lessons J.K. Rowling ever taught us. It’s the same reason Harry always stuck with a trusty disarming spell, even while his opponent was aiming to kill him. It’s why Dumbledore gave second chances and believed the best in people. And it’s why this script, despite its flaws, was still likeable.
3.5 out of 5 stars