Living Up to the Legacy: A Review of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

Harry Potter and the Cursed ChildHarry Potter and the Cursed Child (2016)
Written by: Jack Thorne, John Tiffany, and J.K. Rowling
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy
Pages: 320 (Hardcover)
Series: Book Eight of Harry Potter series
Publisher: Arthur A. Levine Books

Why I Chose It: I’ve been a fan of the Harry Potter books for a long time so it was a given that I was going to read The Cursed Child as soon as it came out. I was also very intrigued by the idea of this being a stage-play rather than a novel. I enjoy reading screenplays and I was curious to see how that would alter the reading experience.

Premise:

The Eighth Story. Nineteen Years Later.

Based on an original new story by J.K. Rowling, Jack Thorne and John Tiffany, 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 will receive its world premiere in London’s West End on July 30, 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.

SPOILERS AHEAD!!!

Discussion: When we read the epilogue of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, with Harry at the Hogwarts Express, saying goodbye to his middle child, Albus, we all thought it was a super-sweet moment when a terrified Albus asks his dad, “But what if I’m Slytherin?” and Harry whispers that the sorting hat takes his choice into account because it did for him. Such a loving, reassuring thing for a father to say.

But what if it wasn’t really such a wonderful thing?

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child asks that question, taking that sweet moment and turning it on us. What if Albus doesn’t want to live up to his father’s name? What if he is sorted into Slytherin? And what if he befriends the son of Draco Malfoy, Scorpius Malfoy?

The main action of the story revolves around Albus and Scorpius using a time-turner to try and prevent Cedric Diggory from dying at the hands of Voldemort at the climax of the Tri-wizard tournament. The resulting changes in the timeline results in the very real possibility that Voldemort succeeds in defeating Harry Potter as a child and going on to rule as he wanted to do. To stop Voldemort’s survival, Harry and Draco must save their sons.

A key theme that each of the main characters had to address is the idea that love blinds us from seeing what our loved ones really need from us.  What does that mean?  In the context of The Cursed Child, the parents love their children so much that they try to automatically fix the pain without seeing what really caused it and hearing what their children are struggling with. In return, the children are unable to ask for what they need. It isn’t until we set aside our ego and open ourselves up, allow ourselves to truly love by being vulnerable even if it means being hurt, that we truly see our loved ones and can work together.

What grabbed my attention and kept it throughout is the development of Draco Malfoy’s character. Throughout the Harry Potter series, I always saw Draco’s story as a missed opportunity. There were so many times, especially as the series progressed, that Draco came across as one-dimensional, as the bully, when his character had much more depth in terms of living up to his family name and his own conflict of whether or not he actually wanted to follow Voldemort. There were times that backstory shone through (like when Harry caught him in the boy’s room crying because he had to kill Dumbledore), but not nearly enough. So I was delighted that he plays a bigger role in The Cursed Child. He and Harry have to work together. Not only do they both confront living up to their family names and their own reputations, they also have to face the legacy they have left their children. Draco has led a life inhibited by the pain caused by his father’s actions. He has lost love and he has lost his family. He is not the angry bully of the earlier books, but a man fighting to put his past behind him, and a father who loves his son.

Was this a perfect story? No. There is a change to the use of the time-turner. In Harry Potter canon, a time-turner could only be used to go back a few hours, and now it could be used to go back several years. For the purposes of The Cursed Child, I found the change to the rules satisfactory, that it is a new kind of time-turner. There are readers who will argue otherwise. The one time the change to the time-turner’s rules becomes questionable is that there is a question as to Scorpius’s paternity (there is a rumor that he is Voldemort’s kid. Draco couldn’t have kids so his wife used a time turner to get pregnant by Voldemort), and for that to be a real concern, the new rules for the time-turner would have had to been in place much earlier. Personally, I still think Harry and Hermione are far better as a couple, but I accept that they’re not, though there were moments in The Cursed Child when Ron and Hermione were not a couple and inevitably got together. Those moments came across as an obvious effort, either by Rowling herself, or the playwrights, to justify a relationship Rowling herself has been quoted as saying probably shouldn’t happen. There were times, too, that the dialogue between Albus and Scorpius seemed a little stilted, almost too adult, for the eleven-year-olds they are. However, this is a stage-play and as such, the dialogue worked.

I will throw in one teaser here, because I can’t bring myself to give the spoiler: The Potters and Malfoys aren’t the only ones who have to deal with family legacy. So does Voldemort. And it is a beautiful thing!

I do also want to take a moment to address this book as a stage play as a reading experience. It is a very different kind of reading experience, reading a script like this. There is almost no description or direction. A lot more responsibility is placed on the imagination of the reader. I like having that responsibility. Granted, with The Cursed Child, the reader already has an advantage of having read the previous seven Harry Potter books, and likely having seen the movies, so the setting is pretty-well established in our minds. I also suspect there were a few extra directions and mood-setting notes in The Cursed Child than you might see in a regular stage play, certainly more than you would see in a screenplay. Still, it is sparse and dialogue-intensive which makes the reading much faster. I find it helps to keep the story flowing in my imagination, without the interruption and distraction of authorial interference telling me what’s happening and what I’m supposed to be looking at. I would love to see this performed on the stage. I think the special effects must be incredible to bring this to life.

In Conclusion: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is a fantastic way to truly end the series. We’ve grown up with Harry Potter and while at the end of Deathly Hallows, the battle with Voldemort was finished, it always felt that the story of Harry, Ron, Hermione, and Draco was not yet done. The Cursed Child is the reason J. K. Rowling added the epilogue. It completes the circle of growth for the characters, and for the readers. It successfully weaves key moments from the earlier Harry Potter books, to flesh out the characters and the story, and to answer questions we had been left with at the end of The Deathly Hallows.

Most of all, what was so sweet at the end of Deathly Hallows turned out to be not-so-sweet, but much more powerful.

6 Comments

  • sharonpatry August 26, 2016 at 12:55 pm

    Did you have any trouble reading the screenplay vs. prose, Sherry? Was the formatting distracting?

    Reply
    • Sherry Peters August 26, 2016 at 2:29 pm

      I found it very easy to read. Easier than prose, actually. It might take a little bit of getting used to, but it doesn’t take long. I really like the format. It allows me to keep the story moving in my imagination without being told what I’m supposed to see.

      Reply
  • Nancy O'Toole Meservier August 26, 2016 at 8:13 pm

    I found I enjoyed this one, although part 1 grabbed me more than part 2. It was really cool to see where all of our favorite characters ended up (again and again!), and it was a unique twist that Hogwarts, the place that provided Harry with so much solace over the years (not to mention near death experiences) became such a different place for Albus.

    Scorpius was my favorite new character, all around. It kind of tickles me that someone like Draco Malfoy could give birth to someone so damn cheerful!

    Reply
    • Sherry Peters August 27, 2016 at 5:26 pm

      I loved how cheerful Scorpius was! He was adorable!

      Reply
    • Shara White August 27, 2016 at 9:20 pm

      Okay, now I REALLY want to read this. I was going to pick up a copy at Walmart, because their stuff is so discounted, but they didn’t have a discount, so I haven’t bought it out of protest. Despite the fact I have Amazon Prime and can get it in two days, tops!

      Reply
  • Lane Robins August 26, 2016 at 11:30 pm

    Looking forward to reading this! As soon as I can wrest it away from my roommate! Now I’m even more eager.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: