Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by JK Rowling
From a nineteen year old captivated by Stephen Fry's complete reading of Philosopher's Stone on New Year's Day of 2001, to a Potter obsessed undergraduate making a wand out of a twig and shoe polish for a Harry Potter party, to a slightly more jaded post grad getting together with an old friend to finish the series with a spectacular 24 hour reading and a slight sense of melancholy in 2007, I can't deny Harry Potter has had a huge effect on my life as an adult. To add a new chapter to that story, reading through the script of Cursed Child with my new and absolutely wonderful wife seems extremely apt, as does writing this review.
Cursed Child begins with that famous scene from the epilogue of Deathly Hallows with Harry, Ron, Hermione and indeed Draco Malfoy seeing their children onto the Hogwarts express. The story follows an unlikely friendship between Harry's middle son Albus Severus, and Draco Malfoy's son Scorpius, meeting on the train to Hogwarts in a scene that consciously mirror's Harry's first meeting with Ron and Hermione. One major thing which this story gets spot on and which I recognized instantly is the instant complexity and realism of its characters. Despite the fact that we do not have a specific central character perspective in the script the way we do in the novels, we quickly understand Albus and Scorpius and even the attitude they have. Albus is the slightly overlooked middle child of a famous father, while Scorpius has to live with not only a father who is an ex-deatheater, but the suspicion of being thought the son of Lord Voldemort. The comradeship between two outcasts, and two boys who plainly find Hogwarts anything but the magical haven we're used to is one of the most lovely parts of the story, indeed I was a little sorry that the story quickly skips from Albus' first to his fourth year, and we see very few of his fellow students (particularly since it might have given us a chance to see some other aspects of Hogwarts not noticeable in the books).
Of course, as two plays, albeit rather long ones, Cursed Child's scope is slightly limited, still I did rather feel that seeing a few new characters, particularly Hogwarts students would've been welcome and would've rounded out the experiences of Albus and Scorpius a little more, since while the hints of their experiences at Hogwarts more than explain their attitude to the place, seeing it in a different light might have been a nice new direction.
The story also shuttles back to Harry and the gang, all now adults in their late thirties. What I especially praise here is how well Thorn and Rowling manage to capture both the similarities and differences of the characters to their teenaged selves, particularly since the differences in character are not all either negative or positive or even constant. I particularly loved one scene where Harry and Draco Malfoy find themselves engaging in one of the magic duels of the type familiar to anyone from the books, slipping quickly back to their teenaged attitude and Draco remarks how much fun it is, despite the fact that both men have indeed changed and realize (a little shamefacedly), exactly how they're behaving.
The main plot of the play surrounds an illegal time turner and Albus and Scorpius' rather ill fated attempts to alter aspects of history reflecting upon the series. Of course, as a Doctor Who fan I can't deny that I love time travel stories, and I can see how seeing scenes from the books on stage would be an amazing experience for any Potter fan (even if my continuity sense is tingling in some of the past scenes not being quite as we remember). I also greatly admire some of the knots that the boys time travelling gets reality into, and seeing a couple of different versions of the present and learning how other histories might have played out is a nice moment, albeit that one of them involving a change in motivations for a certain character did give my lady and me pause given that it seemed unlikely for said character to have acted the way they were said to have acted, even in an alternative timeline.
These forays into time and history also let us meet characters such as Severus Snape who we otherwise wouldn't, and made for some truly spectacular and spine tingling scenes, as well as a chance to relive things from a slightly different angle, both literally and also emotionally, since some of the points around which the plot centres are ones which any reader of the books will well remember.
For all of this however, my major problem with the time travel device and indeed much of the plot, is that it largely did not cover new ground. There is only one major new character, and thus twists regarding that character's' motivations and history which were obviously intended to be surprising simply weren't, indeed even when introduced to this character both my lady and I were convinced they were up to no good. The lack of new characters however wasn't just a lack of the false trails and red herrings that are Rowling's trademark, it also made the play feel in all a little insubstantial. Albus and Scorpius are wonderful characters and great to spend time with, and Harry's and Draco's takes on fatherhood are a fascinating angle, indeed both myself and my lady loved to see Draco's adult persona and how his life changed him from the snarky teenager he used to be. If however all these characters are doing is dipping into the past of the series, coming to terms with its long term effects and facing threats entirely born from rewriting that series, it makes them feel less worthy over all, indeed I rather felt that other than having children, Harry and co hadn't done anything significant since the defeat of Voldemort, a feeling that was only intensified by the couple of occasions the script actively praises the book's cast and what they accomplished with a little too much by way of effusiveness, quite different from the way Rowling treats the two sided admiration Harry received as a teenager. Often I felt that some of Albus complaints that he couldn't live up to his father's shadow were quite legitimate given the amount of retrospective attention Harry, Ron and Hermione received, and the comparative lack of anything else significant going on in the present or even the recent past.
Writing style wise, though this is definitely a play script not a novel, I did appreciate that the stage directions were clearly intended to be read atmospherically rather than literally, with little touches of description, albeit the descriptions that would be seen on stage rather than the descriptions of the actual environment, still descriptive nonetheless. Also, though the play script format did lack the inherent personal focus which is a major strength of Rowling's writing, I had no trouble getting inside character emotions. My one stylistic complaint about Cursed Child is that on several occasions the dialogue felt a little heavy handed in the emotional department rather than (as is famous in the series), the way that characters of that age would actually talk. For example, one conversation in which Albus denies the rumour that Scorpius is connected to Voldemort by telling him he's too full of kindness. That being said, the sometimes heavy handed scripting didn't get in the way of the emotional tenor of the characters or my sympathies, even if on occasion I was a little too aware of the dialogue as dialogue.
All in all Cursed Child is definitely a must read for any Potter fan, and I'd imagine a delight to see on stage (something I'll certainly do if I get the opportunity). However I can't deny that it feels more of a love letter to Harry Potter than a serious attempt at a sequel, trading very much on nostalgia value, and not bringing much that is new to the table.
The nostalgia it does magnificently, but magnificent nostalgia can only carry a work so far, indeed though the potential exists for a continuation of the story, I do not feel that thematically there would be really much need for one, despite the sophisticated character relationships, quite a contrast to Rowling's original novels where every book reveals more of the wizarding world, clarifies our existing knowledge and ramps up the tension. Indeed, I'll confess that I do find myself wondering just how much of the overall plot was Rowling's idea, and how much Thorn’s, since in some respects Cursed Child does read like a fanfic, or at least a fan's attempt to relive the glory.
Still if you are a Harry Potter fan this is definitely recommended, albeit treat it more as a celebration of all things Potter, than a seriously new attempt to continue the series.
Harry Potter fever has once again swept the UK, as the eighth instalment of the Harry Potter series is released. Written by Jack Thorne and approved by J. K. Rowling herself, the play opens where the seventh book left off - Ginny and Harry standing on the platform at Kings Cross waving goodbye to their son, Albus.
Whilst some fans struggled to immerse themselves in the script format, deeming it unfinished and incomplete without Rowling’s detailed descriptions, the Cursed Child, like Albus himself, needs to step out of Potter’s shadow and be seen for what it is.
The script follows both Albus Potter and Scorpius Malfoy who like their parents before them are trying to find their place in Hogwarts. After becoming involved with a time-turner the boys find themselves tumbling into trouble. Every character that J. K. chose to write out with a swift ‘Avada Kedavra’ is questioned and the whole script is a serious trip down memory lane for even the most sceptical fan.
Whilst the script is definitely not the Harry Potter we loved, it is a reminder that he has grown with us. Performed on stage I can imagine this is a spectacular show. Regarding the script however, it is like the comfort of revisiting a childhood home; just bear in mind you’re older now and it might not be exactly the way you remember it.
Go in with an open mind, Hogwarts will always be there to welcome you home.
Charlotte Moore, 8/10
A video book review by WordsAndOtherGoodIdeas
The highly anticipated script release for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child generated so many pre-orders that the book became bestselling on Amazon in July! Without spoilers, the script follows Harry, Ginny, Ron and Hermione, as well as their children, as Albus Severus Potter navigates his years at Hogwarts. The script is classic Potter: funny, fast, evocative, and hard-hitting. The feel is familiar, and anyone whose been a fan of the Harry Potter series will undoubtedly love this play!
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