The announcement that J.K. Rowling was releasing an eighth instalment of the Harry Potter story was greeted with massive excitement worldwide. Another rollicking adventure with our much loved, familiar, favourite characters! Let’s rejoice!
Let me disabuse you of those notions now. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is 1) a play, and 2) not actually written by Rowling herself. Instead, playwright Jack Thorne wrote the script, based on a story written by Rowling, Thorne, and the play’s director John Tiffany. Furthermore, the action takes place nineteen years after the events of Deathly Hallows (essentially carrying on from that novel’s Epilogue). As such, the beloved characters of Harry Potter are present in Cursed Child, but in rather different form. Harry, Ron and Hermione are all grown adults, with jobs and kids and adult pressures and responsibilities.
Harry in particular is not the sometimes troubled impulsive teenager from the books. Instead he’s tired, overworked from his Ministry job, and perplexed by his inability to connect with this son Albus (who seems to have taken on the mantle of ‘resentful “woe is me” teenage boy’, so ably presented to us by fifteen-year-old Harry in Order of the Phoenix).
In general, I found the changes in the characters understandable and refreshing without being jarring. It was quite nice to see that grown-up Ron no longer has the emotional range of a teaspoon, and it was understandable to me that Harry would be at a loss as to how to parent his resentful son; plenty of parents would be, and Harry, being an orphan, would be at a particular disadvantage since he never had a father on whom he could base his own parenting. The overall theme of the play was, indeed, fathers and their children—how to be a father, and the struggle to shake off and live up to the shadow of your own. As such, the play was also thematically more grown up than the books.
Cursed Child is a play (or, more accurately, it’s the rehearsal script of the play—the definitive version of the script, complete with final stage directions and annotations, will be published in 2017). Since it’s a play script, Cursed Child suffers by comparison to the books. It lacks the books’ richness of detail and world-building aspects—and necessarily so. Those details would have been left to the play’s production and staging team, and as such, reading Cursed Child is like reading only half of the story. It feels a little anaemic. Luckily though, the characters jump off the page. Scorpius Malfoy, Draco Malfoy’s son, is particularly memorable, hilarious and endearingly dorky—completely unlike his father.
The plot is also compelling—a typically Rowling-esque page-turning romp, which also gives us the chance to revisit familiar people and places from the books (a clear crowd-pleasing manoeuvre, but entertaining nonetheless). One particular plot device seemed a little too convenient, but in general the machinery of the plot worked well, and the result was a script that is enjoyable and compulsively readable.
Cursed Child isn’t, however, comparable to the books—it feels limited by the change in medium, and the timeshift and subsequent change in characters may well be enough to put off some fans. Nevertheless, it’s still worth reading—not least for the little snippets of new information it reveals of the HP universe we love and thought we already knew.
Reviewed by Feby Idrus
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child – Parts One & Two (Special Rehearsal Edition)
by J. K. Rowling, Jack Thorne & John Tiffany
Published by Little, Brown