Friday, August 5, 2016

Review: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany, & Jack Thorne

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.

Rating: 3 Stars

Going into this, I was very excited. It was a brand new Harry Potter story, one that J.K. Rowling herself had worked on (if not written). As she had at the very least given this story her blessing, I figured that I would be in for a treat, even if it was written by someone other than the genius behind the original Harry stories.

It was certainly a different experience reading a play as opposed to reading a novel. Not many people are prepared for it. Plays are meant to be seen, after all. I don't typically read plays because they tend not to go over as well for me. There are a lot of things you can't "see" in a play format, a lot of emotions that cannot be conveyed because you aren't seeing them onstage as they're meant to be. You really have to work at reading a play rather than sitting back and letting the author take the wheel.

The play/story started out well enough. We were introduced to some new-ish characters, or at least one we hadn't had the chance to get to know in previous books like the Potter/Granger-Weasley/Malfoy children. There was a surprising amount of character development conveyed in the script, even without anyone to act it out for me and I commend Jack Thorne on his writing there.

The adults were a little less well developed. For the most part they felt as though they merely carried on from where they were the last time we saw them. Hermione was smart as ever and had become Minister for Magic, quite prestigious when one considers her background and the attitude of the Wizarding community towards Muggleborns at time. Harry is carrying too much pressure on himself, more because of his personality than because he really has to. Ron was the flattest of all the adults. He seemed there to play the joke, the funny man. It's sad to say that he didn't serve much purpose and I could easily have seen the play being fine without him as written here.

I was surprised to find myself liking the Malfoy family so much this time around. I didn't expect that Scorpius and especially Draco would be such sympathetic characters. Draco has his faults, of course, though most of them can be chalked up to dealing with grief over the loss of his wife and being an overprotective father. He learned a lot in the past 19 years and he learned those lessons well. He is not the same Slytherin boy we left in Deathly Hallows. Scorpius was a brilliant child who knew about his father's past and does his best to live well in spite of it. He isn't ashamed of his father; he loves him just the same and manages to put up with a fair bit of bullying due to some rumors that sprout up because of said past. His innocence and strength of character easily made him my favorite character of the lot.

All of that being said, I do have to address some of the issues that I had with the play and which brought down both the experience and the rating for me. As I will probably mention things that are considered spoilers from here on out, please consider yourself warned.


The plot had a lot of issues for me, but they didn't really manifest until the second half of the play. Until about Act 4 or so I was still able to go out on that limb with the story and be all cool, totally able to believe what was happening. From there on out, though, things rapidly plummeted as storylines attempted to wrap up and the whole thing felt more like fanfiction that had somehow gotten published in place of a truly great Harry Potter work.

My first thought upon closing the book was: how could J.K. Rowling have let the story be told with such a weak plot? Delphi's character in the beginning was suspect, but when it is revealed that she is the daughter of Voldemort and Bellatrix and that the whole point of her existence within the place was to bring Voldemort back to power via Time Turner travel, I just started giving up.

Voldemort has long been established as a character that did not have the ability to love. He was biologically incapable of it because of his mother's use of a love potion to conceive him. Taking this into account, what possible reason could he have to 1) sleep with Bellatrix in the first place? 2) conceive a child with her? There's no plausible explanation for it and that really bothered me. The handling of Delphi was awkward and unnecessary. I cannot believe that. between the three of them (one being the creator of the Wizarding World in the first place), they couldn't come up with something more engaging or nail biting than Voldemort's secret love child tries to bring him back.

There's also a lot of stuff that is alluded to in the course of the play that is never resolved. There are multiple mentions of several Dark Magic creatures on the move; there's the fact that Lucius Malfoy apparently had some wizards making him magical artifacts for purposes never fully discussed (i.e. the Time Turner that causes most of the mischief in The Cursed Child); Hermione have a suspicious number of Dark Magic/Divination books (that might not amount to anything but it seemed off to me, especially the book by Trelawney). Considering that J.K. Rowling was insistent that this is the end of the Potter stories, this seems like a bad way to end the story: loads of loose ends that have no hope of being resolved.

There was a lot of possibility with this story. A lot of people were looking forward to this, as anyone working on it should have known, and I think a lot more care should have been taken with that. The story felt fine through Part One, but Part Two felt rushed and like it was put out to meet a deadline rather than because it was felt to be done. That felt like a big let down, considering how long we as readers and loyal Harry Potter fans waited for this story, and how unlikely it is that we'll ever have anything even close to the magic of the original series.

After reading the play, I have come to the conclusion that while I enjoyed parts of it (characters and their development, certain scenes that sounded like fun), I realized that a lot of the criticisms of the play (being rushed, unnecessary) might have had a thread of truth to them. I am hopeful, however, that as this was the Rehearsal edition of the script that the final performance edition will have cleared some of this up. Until then, I will return to the Harry Potter stories of his, and my, youth and enjoy my time at a Hogwarts of the past.

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