I just finished reading Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany, and Jack Thorne. The book is the published script from the 2 plays by the same title currently being performed in London. Altogether, the script embodies 6 hours of on-stage drama. As I’ve learned by reading Shakespeare over the years, reading a play and watching a play can be very different experiences, so note that this review is based solely on what I read in the content of the book. I would be interested to know how the play compares, and welcome anyone who has seen the play to weigh in.
First off, as to be expected, something big is lost in the setting when you’re reading rather than seeing a play. I imagine that the special effects, costuming, and backdrops would be spectacular to see on a stage. I missed having the settings described in the book version of the play as they would be in a novel. Seeing the magical world in action in real time in front of you, rather than a TV or movie screen, would indeed be a sight to relish.
One of my main disappointments was the characterization of this latest addition to the Potter universe. For me as a reader, it felt as if the characters were stereotypes or caricatures of themselves rather than the deep, believable, and wonderful people we got to know and love in the previous seven volumes. The talents of Hermione and Harry in particular seemed dim examples of what they were in the past. Instead of seeing them untangle riddles and stay ahead of the action as they had done even as Hogwarts students, they always seem one or two steps behind. Is being slower simply the curse of adulthood, or could we have expected more from the talented trio of Ron, Hermione, and Harry in their adult years? Granted, the story does not have them as the focal point, and again, reading a script strips the story of the way actors can add life to the roles.
The written voices of the characters seemed different at times too. Ron was flat, only used as comic relief most of the time, and I only fully recognized Harry’s voice later in the story near the end where he takes on the noble and caring tones we know to be deep in the heart of his character. I did appreciate seeing more roundness and backstory for Draco Malfoy’s character, which is consistent with the boy we knew in the first seven books who was battling the pressures of right and wrong and the power struggles that surrounded him in Hogwarts, his family, and within Voldemort’s circle of followers. Neville at least is mentioned as a background character, although I would have liked to see more of him. And Luna? She’s not in the story at all, which is a disappointment.
Regarding the plot, I felt that it rested too heavily on previous backstories from the original seven books rather than paving new ground. It is always a gamble in such a sequel to know how much to give an audience from “the familiar” in previous stories, and how much to make “new.” Going too far in either direction can make a story collapse, and in this case — although the story premise is an intriguing “what if” speculation — I felt that my affections were being called for on the grounds of how I felt reading the previous seven books rather than dedicating them to the action and characters of a new and engaging story. And when you have a really convincing villain who is destroyed in the final volume of the previous story, it’s hard to create another threat that can propel the action of a new story convincingly. It’s easier to go back to the old tried and true villain and threaten a return or an unforeseen connection that was not fully blotted out, and so it proved here.
Overall, I’m glad I read the book, but have to say that I don’t think I’ll be reading it again or will be tempted to see the play in person now knowing the story. It didn’t add to the Harry Potter world I knew and loved, and was working hard to remain part of it — which I’m not sure it did successfully. I guess it lacked that indescribable element which the previous tales had and makes all great stories endearing and lasting…magic.
***SPOILER SECTION BELOW***
To expand a little on some of the “characterization” disappointments I mentioned above, here are some points to consider:
-Since Harry, Hermione, and Ron had witnessed first-hand how to break into the Ministry of Magic (and a dozen other places), as well as the full uses and limitations of Polyjuice Potion, I find it hard to believe that Hermione as Minister for Magic would not have placed security measures that would have prevented Scorpius and Albus from getting into the Ministry and stealing the time turner as easily as they did. But then again, you have time limitations in a stage play you don’t have when writing an 800-page book.
-When Professor McGonagall mentions on p. 58 that “Boomslang skin” and “lacewing flies” are missing from the Hogwarts potion stores, and then goes on to state that they think Peeves stole them, how in the world can no one suggest that someone may be brewing Polyjuice potion, particularly Hermione who had made it herself? It seems remiss not only of Hermione, but also of Professor McGonagall, who we all know is not a person lacking insight and intelligence. Her dealings with Ron, Hermione, and Harry also seem to remain on a “student-teacher” level rather than as colleagues who are now adults and share a long history of knowledge and friendship together.
-I’m glad for the Malfoys having a chance at redemption and Draco actually getting to work with the team. It’s believable that he has always envied them their closeness and friendship. Would the “lust for power” he previously had ingrained into him by his family, as well as the past jealousies, pettiness, anger, and hurt really have allowed him to get to this point as a character though?
-The Trolley Witch’s background and task to keep all students on the Hogwart’s Express was one of the only things I found that added something wholly new to the HP universe (other than revealing Voldemort had a child — which I can see as both believable and unbelievable). A fanatical spike-ridden Trolley Witch was an interesting idea, but instead of feeling it clever or enjoyable, I found it simply creepy and her chance to have a realistic character with actual history and roundness was lost.
-Harry’s comments in Act 4 scene 4 with Dumbledore’s portrait didn’t seem to really fit until the end of the scene, which was charming. I know he’s stressed and upset with Albus missing and the world he knows on the brink of destruction, but his comment to Dumbledore: “Go. Leave. I don’t want you here, I don’t need you. You were absent every time it really counted. I fought [Voldemort] three times without you. I’ll face him again, if needs be — alone.” Really? Would he really say this? It sounded more like 15 year old Harry from book 5 than how adult Harry should sound. I suppose seeing it played on stage and allowing Harry to have this moment of vulnerability, not saying things he actually means, could be quite a different experience. The same is true for the “I wish you weren’t my son” comment he says to Albus earlier in the play.
-I really enjoyed Harry’s character at the end of the story and how he sacrifices himself for his son. That’s the kind of tenderness and maturity learned from previous failures and experiences we’ve seen that I would have expected to see earlier in the story as an adult Harry. It is at least closer to the character I knew from the previous books. The themes of friendship and loyalty are still very present in this story and have always been a great strength in all of Rowling’s Harry Potter writings.