A (Not so Brief) Review of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

A (Not so Brief) Review of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child October 21, 2016

David Russell Mosley

(Source: Wikipedia)
(Source: Wikipedia)

Ordinary Time
21 October 2016
The Edge of Elfland

Hudson, New Hampshire

Dear Readers,

Two nights ago I got into bed and began to read. I wasn’t tired and so I just kept reading. I read until the book was done. The book, or better the play, was Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. I’ve done a fair amount of thinking about it and thought I would share some of those thoughts with you. Fair warning ahead, this review will contain “spoilers” so be forewarned.

The play picks up where Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows left off, 19 years later. The scene is almost, but by no means precisely, the same as it is at the end of Deathly Hallows. Some parts of the conversation get expanded and others (like Teddy Lupin snogging Victoire Weasley) get left out entirely. The key, however, is the conversation between Albus Severus Potter and his famous father, Harry. What if Albus is in Slytherin? This play answers that question, to a certain extent, by placing Albus in Slytherin House. The whole book is ultimately about the relationship between Harry and Albus as Albus grows up to be different from his father as he is now, but, as Albus will discover, quite similar to how Harry was as a child. In that sense, the book is a beautiful meditation on how parenthood is often more difficult when raising a child just like you were than raising a child more like the way you are now (James Potter is put into that role in this play). So far as this theme goes, the book is quite excellent. Albus continues to feel like a disappointment to his father, because things aren’t coming easily to him the way he thought they did to his dad.

The plot, however, is driven only in part by this broken relationship between Albus and Harry. The other side of the plot deals with time travel. One night, after confiscating a Time Turner from Theodore Nott, Harry is visited by Amos Diggory, now living in a retirement home. Amos begs Harry to go back in time and save his son, Cedric. Harry refuses, knowing just how dangerous time travel is. Meanwhile, Albus, who is listening in, meets a woman called Delphi who introduces herself as Amos’ niece and caretaker. As it later turns out, Delphi is not Amos’ niece, but the offspring of Voldemort and Bellatrix LeStrange. She has heard a prophecy that suggests if Cedric is saved, Harry will die and Voldemort will reign. Albus, not knowing about the prophecy, along with his best friend Scorpius Malfoy, decides to steal the confiscated time turner and try to save Cedric by making sure he doesn’t get to the center of the maze with Harry.

The play then takes something of a Back to the Future turn where time travel results in different, alternate futures. These are fairly interesting as they show us various different things. For instance, in both alternate timelines, Ron and Hermione are not married. This seems to be Rowling’s attempt to justify their relationship (something she herself has struggled with since creating it) by showing that Ron and Hermione work best together, not apart. We also get a chance to see Snape again, this time acting the Hero much more overtly. The play ends on a touching note as Harry, along with Albus, Ginny, Ron, Hermione, Draco, Scorpius, and Delphi watch Voldemort murder Harry’s parents. We then return to the present where Albus finally learns not only that his father really does love him, but that they are not so different after all.

I liked the play. I think the various themes it introduces, as well as the various timelines are interesting, and depart in good ways, I think, from the original books. Still, I can’t help but feel like the medium of the story, namely that it is a play, causes some shortcomings. One of the things I love most about the Harry Potter books is the wizarding world itself, and yet we get to see very little of that here. And we must see little of it, for this is a play, not a book that can indulge (or over indulge) in discussions of shops, classes, magic, etc. I also feel as though we get a little shortchanged on how Albus comes to feel the way he does. Let me try to explain what I mean.

The whole plot centers on Albus not fitting in at school and only having one friend. He feels like an outcast precisely because he is a Potter in Slytherin house. What we never get to see, or not much of, however, is both how Albus’ own family feels about this (James is already at Hogwarts when Albus gets in and Lily starts after Albus) and how Slytherin House felt about it. This happens in part, I think, because there isn’t enough cast. We get only a handful of other students in the play and we never find out what house they are in. And yet, after Chamber of Secrets, and especially with the rumor that Scorpius (or at least someone) is actually the offspring of Voldemort (and this being made possible by time travel), that a Potter being in Slytherin House would cause some of the Slytherins to think perhaps Albus (or even Scorpius) is a new Dark Lord around whom they can rally. Yet that question never gets raised, not even for Scorpius. Similarly, we never find out how or if at all Albus is ostracized by his siblings or cousins. Sure, we get Rose Granger-Weasley not associating with him after their first or second year, but that’s it. Does James taunt and torture him at home? We get a slight indication of it, but not much of one. Certainly not enough of one to feel as though we have earned Albus’ angst. Again, I think this happened precisely because this is a play and not a book. There were also times throughout the story where familiar characters felt unfamiliar. Draco, in particular, feels different. Perhaps some of that is his being softened by losing his wife and raising his son as a single parent, but we don’t get many opportunities to explore that.

There were parts of this story I absolutely loved, however. Scorpius Malfoy was a delight to read. His enthusiasm, his presentation as a modern day “nerd” or geek, and his crush on Rose Granger-Weasley make him likeable and relatable. What’s more, in those moments where we are reminded that whatever problems Albus has with his dad, Scorpius has much more serious problems to deal with. His mother is dead. People think he’s the bastard son of Voldemort. And yet he is the light in this story. He’s the one who can pull Albus out of his funks (though we do learn that Scorpius needs Albus too when we visit a future without Harry Potter). Similarly, I loved the opportunities to see Ron and Hermione without one another. Many readers feel like their relationship doesn’t make sense. This play shows us that (not unlike the friendship between Albus and Scorpius) that Ron and Hermione need one another in order to be their best selves. We also get wonderful discussions of the nature of friendships and relationships in general. Draco admits to being jealous of what Ron, Hermione, and Harry had; as does Ginny.

In the end, I think this story imperfect. It introduces ideas and themes but does not have the space (nor the cast) to fully deal with them because it is a play. Nevertheless, the way the story looks at the nature of relationships (father-son, husband-wife, father-daughter, friend-friend) is wonderful (and really deserves a post of its own). The plot is, I think, good, and the conclusion wonderful. I certainly recommend it and hope to see it on the stage someday.


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