Book Review: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child
When I heard Harry Potter and the Cursed Child was going to be released in book form, I was over the moon. I didn’t mind it was a script coming from the play debuting on the West End in London. I was a theatre major in college, read many scripts in my life, and knew that playwriting is a fantastic medium to bring about new stories. In all honestly, I knew I would never get to London to see the show. I was happy to have it in some form. I waited patiently for July 30th, Harry’s birthday. I chose not to preorder the book, because I hadn’t been to a book release since The Deathly Hallows. I wasn’t going to miss a chance to be surrounded by my fellow fans in celebration once again. Donning my Harry and the Potters shirt, my Hufflepuff earrings and enamel pin, and dusting off my Wiazrd Wrock party tie I hadn’t worn in two years, I urged work to pass faster so I could get to the release that night. When I drove, I blared the Wizard Wrock greats and sang to A Very Potter Musical. The Fandom that Lived felt so very alive again as I entered Barnes and Nobles.
I forgot how much I missed being actively apart of the Harry Potter fandom. I spent half a decade in the throws of Wizard Wrock, traveling states away to see a two hour show, and to see my friends I made over the years. That’s the beautiful thing about what Harry Potter did for me. I met lifelong friends that helped open me up to the world of fandom. I worked in the Harry Potter Alliance and saw how when we put aside shipping wars and internet bullying, we can do good with social activism. We can send five cargo planes to give relief in Haiti. We can send thousands of books to a youth village in Rwanda that survived the 90’s genocide to give the gift of reading to kids. We can learn that “The Weapon We Have is Love” and use it to change the world. Once again being around my fellow fans reminded me two of the most important themes of Harry Potter:
Love and Friendship.
Here are a few pictures from the event I attended. There are more on my instagram.
Love and friendship once again are themes in The Cursed Child. Whether it’s the love of fathers and sons, budding fourteen year old crushes, long marriages, or new friends when you’re forty, The Cursed Child is a strong showing for the Potterverse.
This review does contain some slight spoilers for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. Nothing massive, but mostly the basic plot.
Until later. I’ll give you a spoiler warning when I delve into them.
I never minded that The Cursed Child was presented as a play. In fact, my training in college was playwriting. While A Very Potter Musical does a wonderful job transforming the novels into a farce musical, I always wondered how well Harry Potter could translate to the stage. Books can sometimes have too many details literally laying out every inch of a world or character. The beauty of plays are they can be grand, but they must be just broad enough for the designers, director, stage managers, and actors to work with. The Cursed Child certainly is a grand play. Many of the elaborate scenes such as time traveling, swimming underwater, getting eaten by a bookcase, shape shifting from one person to another, and of course the many spells within the world boggled my mind of how they would ever perform this in front of a live audience. Then I sat back at one moment and thought about other shows. Wicked has elaborate and ever changing set pieces. The Little Mermaid successfully mimicked swimming during it’s long run. Even the failed attempted of Spider-Man on Broadway did perform somewhat web slinging in a theatre space. That’s the beauty of theatre. Over thousands of years through the use of puppetry, lighting design, pyrotechnics, swings, and trusting the audience’s suspension of belief, magic can actually happen during eight shows a week in front of hundreds of people. Half of the fun is wondering how the cast and crew pulled off a particular trick.
I kept thinking back to my playwriting classes and what my teacher always told me. He said write without regard to the production. As a playwright, it’s not your job to worry about stuff like that. It’s up to the designers, the director, the actors, and the crew to bring the show to life. As a writer, your sole focus is to create the world for them to make. You’re their guide and handing them the parameters to do it. The Cursed Child followed this very logic. While sometimes you’re writing for a particular theatre knowing it has a big or small space or maybe for a certain theme in a festival, The Cursed Child truly went full throttle into the wizarding world to where any space would have fun meeting it’s challenges. I designed many shows in college and kept wracking my brain at how I would approach certain scenes. They certainly didn’t make it easy for the crew or designers.
Part of the reason the show is so grand is the script is massive! I gasped when I heard it was a five hour play split between two days. To put this into perspective, it’s longer than Gone with the Wind and the extended version of Lord of the Rings: Return of the King! Most full length plays are two to three acts and run on average 2-3 hours. It’s insane how long this show is. A lot of the reasons are the wonderfully detailed stage directions laying out how spells, action sequences, and set changes progress. Rarely does the script break the fourth wall with the exception of when characters enter from the house (where the audience sits). It might be a play, but the stage directions read like the novels detailing the world.
I also have to respectfully disagree with one of my fellow What the Fangirl contributors who wrote a review of The Cursed Child since she was lucky enough to see the show in London. Bobbie said in her review, “These problems with the plot are exactly the reason I’m not sure the script for the play should have been released.” I must argue back that the script is an incredibly strong showing because of the stage directions. When reading the script, the directions lay out beats, pauses, and the characters emotional process through the play that might be lost while viewing it. You never know when an actor might have an off day and doesn’t deliver a scene or line as strong as the night before. I’ll never forget watching Rent, and after Angel dies, the actor playing him was under a sheet. He slowly moved and scratched his butt. Little things like that can destroy a scene. The Cursed Child flourishes because of the emotions written into why characters react the way they do. The stage directions help fill in one of the strongest elements of the play which is the character work.
I’m going to address the actual plot in a moment. I can definitely see why many fans say that elements of the show are borderline fanfiction, and they don’t consider it canon. This certainly isn’t close to the masterpiece of the books. Where the plot does suffer, it’s 100% picked up by the emotional sides of the characters and the journey they endure. The play centers around the friendship of Albus Severus Potter and Scorpius Malfoy. The two boys make the entire show as they struggle with the repercussions of their parents and the previous generation. When living in the shadow of a hero or a villain, there are social pressures baring down trying to meld them into something they’re not. The progression of two young men discovering who they are as individuals is beautifully portrayed. The play continues the theme of friendship as they help each other find this together. I love that these duel protagonists each have their moments to thrive. While the play does spend most of the focus on Albus, Scorpius has about thirty pages at the beginning of act III where he’s completely on his own. He’d been described as a follower up to this point. The world is Hell, everyone he loves is gone, and it’s up to him to step up and save it. It’s his love for his best friend and family that lets him become a hero.
I know that some fans will be disappointed that Albus and Scorpius weren’t revealed to be a couple in the end. Believe me, there’s plenty of subtext for more than a friendship between the lads. I still believe that Scorpius is bisexual. That’s now my personal headcanon. Sometimes, though, the love and support of best friends is more powerful than romance. I think of my three best friends and the relationships I have with them. Any guy I met now would pale in comparison to the feelings I have for them. I would give my everything for these three ladies, because they’re my family, my heart, and my support system. They have picked me up when needed. They made me soup when I was sick and literally put me in bed. They called and made me laugh on bad days. And I have done the same for all of them. Best friends are incredibly significant in building the person you are now and will become. Don’t underestimate the power of love when it comes to friendship. While it’s fun to imagine ships and I love reading the fanfiction, it shouldn’t be ridiculed or downplayed as “bad” just because we didn’t get an Albus and Scorpius kiss at the end.
I do want to discuss the characterization of the adults and where it left off from The Deathly Hallows. I get that some fans might hate it, but I love that Harry is a bit of a crappy father. They even support it in the play that his only paternal references are the Dursleys, who abused him, and Dumbledore, who loved Harry but was totally down for letting him die to protect the Greater Good. It makes sense that he struggles with being a parent. He was also thrust into the celebrity life and never wanted it. He’s buried under mounds of civil work with the Ministry of Magic forced between being at home with his family or protecting all of Wizard kind. The play does a great job balancing that. Harry also reminds me of the character Aang and his adult portrayal from The Legend of Korra. He’s a hero but is a bit of a shit father being crushed with the weight of preserving the Air Nation. This take on Harry is quite realistic as I think of my own dad who often skipped family time to work just to make sure we could eat that night. Harry’s not a perfect hero. He’s done many terrible things and several people died in his name. Drama and imperfect people are what makes stories interesting. I always think of an interview with actor Sean Maguire who said, “Stories would be boring if they were about the heroes going to Ikea and building shelves all day.” Harry Potter has never been and never will be an ideal world, and that’s part of why it’s so good.
I’m so happy they finally addressed the relationship of Harry and Draco as well. That was always a leftover thread from Book Seven. It’s about time that Harry’s prejudice against dark wizards was finally tackled. Harry and Draco have always been two sides of the same coin. Written as foils, they could have had the other’s life in certain situations. Seeing Draco trying to be good in multiple scenes, many of them for his son, Scorpius, mirrors Harry failing to connect to his son. This isn’t the Malfoy family it used to be. While I love Lucius Malfoy, he was a terrible person. He led Draco down a dreadful path that ended up fueling Harry’s hatred for him. Neither Draco nor Harry ever had a choice in earlier books. What The Cursed Child does so well is force the men to work together with their sons as a common goal. They finally had a conversation! Multiple conversations addressing their issues! Are they best friends now? Of course not, but it’s open ended to where more development could happen. These were beautiful series of scenes that completely made the adult side of the story.
I also must mention Hermione who played more of a pivotal role in the plot while Harry played more of an emotional one. Without giving away too much of the story (I’ll give a plot spoiler warning later), I enjoyed seeing this one woman take on many roles. Part of the fun of The Cursed Child is seeing these characters different ways. These aren’t the children we grew up with. Shakespeare says the world is a stage, and we have various roles to play. The game of “What If” in The Cursed Child fulfilled those needs and roles for fans. The slightest difference could have changed everything for these characters we love. I do wish they did more with Ron, though. He was the only character from the original story that I wanted way more development. This wasn’t the brave and clumsy hero from Book Seven. He was all clumsy and no class.
Okay, now let’s talk about the actual plot.