(Ridiculous Spoilers Ahead)
It took until the fourth Harry Potter book released for me to become a big fan. Everyone loved it so much that I avoided it. The supposed witchcraft controversy didn’t bother me, as I was, at the time, a Presbyterian steeped in the cultural discussion of Protestant theologian Francis Schaffer. He and his disciples taught us stodgy Presbyterians that you must engage and create culture rather than automatically hating it. No, I avoided Harry on the rather absurd grounds that it was too popular.
As a seminary candidate interviewing for a possible youth position, I figured I should read the first book, given that most of the kids I’d be working with would have read it. I didn’t get the job, but I got something way better: a love affair with a wonderful book series that lasted until the tear inducing final book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.
After completing the series, Rowling revealed she was a Christian the likes of Graham Greene. She didn’t want to reveal her faith until the end because she didn’t want to give away the end of the story, a Christ metaphor if there ever was one. With that idea in mind, you can look back at the series and see the deep Christian reflection that Rowling put into each Harry Potter book.
All that being said, I didn’t want to get Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, because it felt like a cheat to me. Yeah, sure, it was a new Harry Potter story, but it was just the script to a play I may not ever be able to see in person. I wanted a whole new book, period. So I resolved not to buy it.
That resolution didn’t last long during my Sunday trip to the bookstore when I saw the cover. I went home and read the entire thing in two hours. This is more than a trip down Harry Potter nostalgia lane. It’s an educated, thoughtful and insightful reflection on the nature of being a dad and our often ugly attempts to imitate the Heavenly Father’s love.
What I’ve always loved about Rowling’s work is that she is a feminist who doesn’t portray women as perfect and men as evil or incompetent. Hermione is a great heroine who has flaws in her character. Ginny and Molly Weasley are drawn with the same brush. And yet, she also shows how women are the guardians of humanity who teach us what it means to be human, as St. Pope John Paul wrote. In The Cursed Child, the women are not scolds, but wise teachers and counselors.Rowling also takes seriously the idea that fathers play an important role in a child’s life. Granted, that importance can be negative, as we see in the relationship between the Cursed Child and their father (won’t give that one away). More importantly, however, we also see it in the central relationships between Harry and his son Albus, and between Draco Malfoy and his son Scorpio. Both Scorpio and Albus feel the weight of their father’s reputations and rebel against it. Scorpio feels all the evil that Draco did, and Albus feels all the good that Harry did. While Malfoy has repented of his sins (thanks to the woman he married), his overprotective nature caused unintended consequences. Harry completely alienates his son by missing key relational moments. In a fight with Albus, he says something very unHarry Potterish to his own son.
This is all very hard to read, but it’s realistic, true and good. Fathers and sons have to work out how to understand and relate to each other. Sometimes, its not very pretty, and we often say terrible things to each other. Rowling and playwright Jack Thorne bring out the idea that even when the Father/child dynamic goes wrong–maybe especially then–it’s important. Kids will always search to have a relastionship with their dads and dads, for the most part, want to love their children. There are no deadbeat dads (other than the main villain) in the Cursed Child, but there are plenty of fallible ones.
In a culture where dads are often ridiculed as incompetent idiots or terrifying monsters, the Cursed Child is a beautiful antidote. Harry Potter and Draco are real dads, trying to raise their sons well, failing at it, but then working hard to repair the damage. They don’t give up and they’re in the game.
As a divorced dad who has to live away from his kids, I always feel inadequate and like I don’t do enough. But I try to remember it’s important to keep in the game, keep trying, even when I fail. I’m not a Heavenly Father. Not even close. Rather, I’m a piss poor imitation of the love God the Father has for us. But sometimes even a piss poor imitation can remind kids of God’s love.