Publisher: Little, Brown
So, it’s time for me to write the review I’ve been more excited to write than any other. Yes, after some time brooding and gathering my thoughts after finishing the book, it’s time for me to review the muchly anticipated script-book of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. Written as a play intended for the West End, this play takes place nineteen years after the last book in the Potter series- Harry Potiter and the Deathly Hallows- and is considered by JK Rowling (somewhat controversially, but more on that later) to be the eighth instalment in her series. It tells the story of Harry and Ginny Potter’s youngest son Albus, his troubled relationship with his famous father and his unlikely friendship with Scorpius Malfoy- the child of Harry’s schooltime enemy Draco. After Albus hears Harry refuse to use a useful but potentially dangerous Time-Turner to travel backwards through time and right an injustice he caused in his youth, he persuades Scorpius, along with their new-found friend and ally Delphi, to join him on a quest to defy his father and save the life of someone who died over twenty years ago. But, as you may have guessed since this is a Potter tale, not everything is as it seems and not everything goes to plan. As you might also have guessed, as a diehard Potterhead, I’d been super excited to read and review this new instalment in the tale. However, having looked at some fans’ rections to the tale on Twitter, I’ve also been looking forward to stating my take on some of the issues perplexing other fans. So, this review will be a little different in structure from my normal reviews. I’ve decided I’ll state what I liked about the book, what I disliked and disclose my rating as normal… Before adding in an extra section with my take and opinion on what the fans are complaining about. And yes- I will post a warning before revealing any potential spoilers.
What I liked about the play:
Almost everything! My initial reaction to the opening scene, which picks up exactly where the Deathly Hallows epilogue ended on Platform 9 3/4, was one of relief. I was happy to see that the dialogue the characters exchanged is largely the same as in the same scene in the book, right down to Albus worrying over being sorted into Slytherin House upon his arrival at Hogwarts. This proved to be a positive, early indication that the play, despite officially being written by Jack Thorne instead of JK Rowling, was going to keep the characters similar to Rowling’s previous work, and helped calm my fears that the play wouldn’t read like a Potter story. Indeed, Harry himself is pretty much an older, and considerably more stressed, version of the young man we last saw triumphing at the infamous Battle of Hogwarts. Similarly, I enjoyed the dynamic between his closest friends Ron and Hermione now the characters are married, as they still seem to be locked in (an albeit slightly more mature version of) the sarcastic battle of wits I so enjoyed reading in the original series. As for their daughter Rose, she’s certainly obnoxious, but in an amusing way that will nostalgically remind readers of a young Hermione. I reread Philosopher’s Stone the other day, and couldn’t help but be struck by just how similar the characters actually are when I later read this play.The fact this character’s surname is Granger-Weasley and Ron simply owns a small business and acts as her and her brother Hugo’s primary carer whilst Hermione has ascended to the dizzying heights of Minister for Magic gives us an insight into a very modern family life, and one that seems realistic since one could never imagine Hermione taking orders well! Even if having her become Minister for Magic did seem a little predictable or inevitable, it’s certainly fun to see how she handles power, and provides some key features for the storyline. (SPOILER ALERT). With regards to the alternate realities created by the Time-Turner, I thoroughly enjoyed seeing Hermione in full on rebellion mode, although I did feel this new timeline was more than a little unkind to Ron, who seemed little more than her obedient pet project. (SPOILER ALERT OVER). In fact, even in the ‘real’ timeline, it is made clear Ron has amounted to the least of the famous ‘Golden Trio’, although this matters less when he is revealed to be as apt as ever at cracking his famous jokes in some rather tense moments. And speaking of references to the original books, I was thrilled to see the return of some old characters (Profess McGonagall lecturing Hermione is priceless) and, in particular, the resurrection of my favourite character, behaving in a way that is even more admirable than in the original books, in the alternate timeline.
With regards to the actual plot of the play, I loved the idea of naively meddling with time then facing the consequences of an altered future, even if this did get mildly confusing when narrated using only stage directions and dialogue. I also enjoyed the notion that time can be misused, which is perfectly summed up in one character’s plot to resurrect a former foe. On a basic level, I even thought the idea of Albus and Scorpius becoming friends in the first place was quite a clever concept, since readers and playgoers alike would automatically assume the two boys would detest each other, picking un where their fathers left off. Speaking of which, the idea of Harry and Draco reuniting in desperate times, with the common goal of saving their sons, seemed strangely heart-warming. As for the man of the hour himself, Albus Potter, I enjoyed the way he is first depicted as a dislikeable character who makes no effort to accept Harry’s attempts to connect with him, but gradually morphs into a young man with all the properties, such as bravery and loyalty, that made us fall in love with the character of Harry Potter himself in the previous novels. However, for me, the most loveable character in this play has to be Scorpius Malfoy due to the way, regardless of what the plot throws at him and the cruel rumours about his parentage, he is able to stay positive and act as a continuous source of light relief. And believe me, there are moments in this play when light relief is definitely needed.
Yet, despite being quite an intense play featuring some uncomfortable scenes, Thorne manages to ensure we still empathise with and like his main characters. Sure Harry may say some cruel things to his son, but we realise that the fame he received as a young man has come craahing down on him, giving everyone expectations of him he feels he cannot meet, in the way we have so often seen it do to real-life child stars. We understand this, but Albus does not, making us see why Harry feels frustrated with his unsympathetic son. Furthermore, despite it centring on an often traditional and old-fashioned wizarding world, Thorne does an excellent job at transforming Harry into an average 21st century Dad, balancing a stressful work life, a troubled son and -horror of horros- a wife on a vendetta to give up all refined sugar (the last amused me thoroughly).
So, without giving too much away, I can say that I was pleased with the play, and that my personal feelings toward it were 99% positive. As a whole, the main concepts of the consequences of meddling with time, a useful device being used as a weapon, and fame turning on someone proved enthralling, and I simply loved the alternative timelines accidentally created by Albus and Scorpius during their ill-advised misson to right a past wrong. I greatly enjoyed the references to the previous books too, even if the use of ‘always’ proved too much for my feeble little heart.
What I disliked about the play:
On a jokey note- why the Slytherin hate??? Yes, I’m the only person genuinely devastated to be sorted into Gryffindor- Pottermore may insist I belong there, but this girl will always be a Slytherin at heart.
On a more serious note, I’m afraid I guessed the twist from a mile off. In fact, I guessed it from several years off. (SPOILER ALERT). The idea that Voldemort may have wanted to produce an heir is one that had occurred to me before, and has long been one of my conspiracy theories about what a potential eighth instalment of the Potter series could reveal. I further guessed that this heir wouldn’t be Scorpius, and guessed the identity of his actual child with ease, as well as the identity of the mother of said child. (SPOILER ALERT OVER). That being said, I can promise that guessing the twist won’t give you a sense of disappointment- just a feeling of content smugness that one of your favourite conspiracies was right all along.
With that said, it’s time to reveal my rating. Since the aforementioned little niggle didn’t affect my enjoyment of the play at all, I award it:
(I enjoyed it so much I’m currently rereading it jut so I can pore over the immensely detailed plot again!).
However, those you with access to Twitter may have noticed that not all Potterheads are quite so pleased with this new work. This has prompted me to address some of their opinions in the section below:
1. ‘Cursed Child is not canon.’
For some slightly more logical Potterheads, the play must be considered fan-fiction rather than a true Potter novel, since JK Rowling was only a co-author at best on the project. For the less logical, the play can’t be considered canon because they disliked it, so have effectively denounced it.
News Flash, people. In her own words, JK Rowling has ‘a small island’ worth of lawyers. Despite what you might want to tell yourself in order to make yourself feel better about disliking the novel, she must therefore 100% approve of the content and storyline. Because let’s face it, given her famously strong will and legal power, would she really sign off on a project she disliked or considered to be a ‘bad fanfic’? I think not. Moreover, she will have been thoroughly involved in the creation of all aspects of the play, especially the characters and storyline, so must thus approve of them.
But more to the point, JK Rowling owns the Harry Potter series and all its characters. You, on the other hand, do not. She has said she wants the play to be considered canon. Therefore, it should be. End of, goodbye, sayonara.
2. ‘It contradicts what Prisoner of Azkaban said about how Time-Turners work.
True, in Prisoner using a Time-Turner meant your former self was simply able to influence your present self (hence past-Harry using the Patronus charm to save the life of Sirius Black and present-Harry, with present-Harry blatantly seeing himself and mistaking himself for his dead father). No mentions of creating an actual, fully-separate alternate timeline were made, leading some fans to suggest Cursed Child breaks the rules Rowling laid out for time travel and is thus unrealistic.
However, I think I have a point that can be used to explain this. (SPOILER ALERT). In Prisoner, Harry and Hermione use a standard Time-Turner to go back just three hours in time. Aside from saving the lives of Sirius and Buckbeak the Hippogriff, this means they don’t have time to change much of the future, other than for those two characters. Since Sirius is a wanted man and still has to fly away at the end of the book, he also leaves Harry just as he would have if he had died. This means that, other than receiving the occasional letter from his Godfather, for a good period of time Sirius being alive actually has little to no affect on Harry, or the outside world in general for the matter. However, in Cursed Child it is revealed that the Time-Turner used by Albus and Scorpius is a prototype for a design intended to take the user back several years through time. To me, it therefore makes sense that this device would be capable of creating alternate timelines due to the sheer amount of disruption it could cause. For instance, the standard Time-Turner bought Sirius just two extra years of life, during which he had to remain hidden away anyway. In the case of going back in time to save the life of Cedric Diggory, it bought the boy over twenty years of life, enough time for him to cause serious disruption. Also, he did not have to hide away after his life was saved, meaning he could go on to do whatever he wanted. Including killing Neville Longbottom in the alternate reality, preventing the death of Voldemort’s snake Nagini and meaning Harry had to face Voldemort whilst his nemesis was still immortal. Naturally, Harry would have lost the fight. Surely, the death of Potter himself would be an event drastic enough to warrant this alternate destiny, not simply a ghostly apparition in the characters’ future. Moreover, what’s to say there wouldn’t have been an alternative timeline made in Prisoner if Sirius had had the opportunity to cause more disruption, e.g. by winning his fight against Bellatrix and killing her eventhough he should really have been subjected to the Dementor Kiss? Surely that might have been worthy of an alternate reality? (SPOILER ALERT OVER). So, essentially, I do not think Scorpius and Albus were able to use the Time-Turner unrealistically since theirs was an entirely different variety to the original and a newly created model intended for further time travel.
3. ‘Voldemort wouldn’t have fathered a child’.
I beg to differ. True, I accept that he was portrayed in the original series as barely human or capable of love, but we must consider that the character wouldn’t reproduce for love. He would reproduce to continue the family line containing the noble blood of Salazar Slytherin he so coveted, and to ensure someone was available to continue his plans on the off-chance he failed. As I said… I’ve had this theory for years, don’t judge.
As for the child’s mother being Bellatrix Lestrange… That was something else I’d already have guessed. True, the books give no inclination that Voldemort loved her, but they make it quite apparent that she adored him in a truly fanatical way, and would do anything he asked of her. If he wanted to continue the family line, does it not make sense that he’d choose someone who was A. a well-respected Pure Blood and B. a devoted, most loyal servant (which Voldemort publically acknowledges)?
The timing of the birth of this child, stated as being before the demise of both Voldemort and Bellatrix at the Battle of Hogwarts, is also accounted for in the original novels- it now makes sense why Lestrange isn’t present during Dumbledore’s death scene in Half-Blood Prince, since this would be about the time the child was born. Moreover, there are subtle hints in the books about what might have occurred. Firstly, Bellatrix says in Prince that ‘if she had sons’ it would be an honour to have them serve Voldemort. As a supposedly childless woman, shouldn’t she say ‘children’ instead of sons? Unless, of course, she had a daughter… Secondly, Voldemort encourages Bellatrix to ‘cleanse’ her family tree in Deathly Hallows after learning her niece has married the wearwolf Remus Lupin. Could this special interest be because he doesn’t want his child’s family tree marred by such blemishes? And, in general, it seems plausible the pair could have a child together when one considers Bellatrix’s habit of addressing Voldemort ‘like a lover’ and his obsession with sharing Salazar Slytherin’s blood and his desire to populate the Wizarding World with as many Pure Bloods as possible. So, based on this and the evidence from the books, why shouldn’t he have done his bit to create more ‘worthy’ children?
(SPOILER ALERT OVER)
4. ‘I can’t cope with Harry being a bad father’.
In my opinion, this response to the play is more than a little over-dramatic, and smacks of not really understanding the play at all. To me, Harry is not a bad father- just a misguided one. Yes, he says some hurtful things to Albus, but this is because he fails to understand and connect with the boy. Once he achieves this, he is able to make up for his mistakes. And let’s be honest, it’s these mistakes that make the character less perfect and more human- I’m sure we’re all guilty of saying things we later regretted to family members in the heat of the moment! I also liked the touching moment in the play where Harry tells Albus he feels he struggles as a father because he himself never got to spend time with his Dad James, so has no recollection of the example a Father should set or what the ideal Father and son relationship even involves. To me, these lines prove Rowling and Throne intended Harry to simply come across as confused and misguided. After all, does one mistake (however large) totally condemn the character?
5. ‘It lacks the depth/detail of the other books’.
That’s because this is a play rather than a novel. Sure, Thorne can utilise dialogue and stage directions, but let’s be honest: that’s no substitute for continuous prose when it comes to creating thought-provoking description. In addition, one must consider that this book wasn’t actually written by Rowling, meaning it’s bound to be a little different from the others (although, in my opinion, the dialogue sounded very close to that found in Rowling’s other work). Personally, the helpful stage directions left me with no doubt of what was happening, and I found it relatively easy to picture what would be occurring on stage at any given moment. But, to those who genuinely cannot picture what should be occurring in their minds, I do have some heartfelt advice: GO AND SEE THE PLAY. After all, plays are essentially intended to be watched, rather than read (although I’d happily read this play time and time again!).
So… *Phew*. This very, very long review (both the longest and the most heartfelt I’ve ever written) is finally complete. But, before I leave, let me reiterate the point of this review: whether you read the script or see the play, make sure you get to encounter Cursed Child. Ignore the online hate- I promise you it’s a rollicking, magic adventure that’s about as Potter-ish as it’s possible to be. It certainly succeeded in taking me back to being seven years old and reading the Potter books for the first time. And that, my friend, is a magical feeling well woth £20 and a few hours of my time!