Nearly 10 years after the release of the final novel, and nearly 6 years after the saga finally concluded with the release of the final film, J.K. Rowling has bestowed upon us the chance to reenter the world of Harry Potter in an all new adventure titled Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.
ARE WE SURE WE WANT TO DO THIS, ROWLING?
Whether you are a Potter Purist who believes the books are the end all be all, or you’re more of a big picture HP fan like myself who believes that the books and the movies are intended to be looked at as one story, it’s safe to say that when the news of Cursed Child broke, we were all apprehensive. The apprehension stemmed from two places: one being that this is a play. What was being released in stores was not a novelization, but a final draft of the rehearsal script from the West End production that opened this past June. That means stage directions, scenes instead of chapters, and dialogue, dialogue, dialogue. We wondered, will this even feel like Harry Potter? Would the mere format of the text take us out of the story?
Secondly, and this was probably where the majority of our skepticism came from; the curse of the sequel. Also known as the curse of the reboot. Taking a beloved story from our past, and rebooting it or forcing a sequel down everyone’s throats for the sake of nostalgia (or money), building up our expectations only to (usually) leave us disappointed. When A Very Potter Musical, (the college parody production that took YouTube by storm), started to become popular, we weren’t worried. It was a parody that existed in its own world, and J.K. Rowling was only involved enough to grant the students the rights to start charging admission to the shows. But Cursed Child was being released as a sequel, picking up where Deathly Hallows left off, with Rowling at the helm.
Could Harry Potter, one of the greatest cultural phenomenons of all time, withstand this curse? Would the strength and depth of the characters J.K. Rowling created 20 plus years ago withstand the test of time and this new format?
In a word; YES.
J.K. Rowling, and her partners in this project, Jack Thorne and John Tiffany (both theater vets), have managed to find a balance that many other sequels/reboots could not; the balance between new story lines and nostalgia. Flashbacks, both as full scenes told from different points of view, and just brief memories brought up in dialogue, gave me the tug at the heartstrings I desired. All your favorite characters are back and to say the least, it felt like being reunited with old friends. We visit familiar places, see familiar faces, but all with a fresh perspective. And it was not nostalgia for nostalgia’s sake. It was there as a tool to support a new story with new characters.
Our story picks up 19 years after the battle of Hogwarts where Harry finally defeated Voldemort and fulfilled the prophecy. He is now in his late 30’s and putting his children on the Hogwarts Express. A new evil is brewing, threatening the peace that has been maintained since the fall of the Dark Lord. As per usual, Harry can’t catch a break. Lucky for him, a new generation of heroes is rising. The script wastes no time in picking up speed. It gives us the exposition we need, fills in some blanks, and we’re off.
While our old favorites are very much involved, the story mainly focuses on Harry’s middle child Albus (that name right there is enough to make you need to sit down), as he struggles to navigate Hogwarts with the burden of being the son of Harry Potter, “the Boy Who Lived.” You thought being Harry was tough? Try being his kid and being named “Albus Severus.” Any true Potter fan will understand the gravity of that. And, much like his father, a destiny Albus never wanted is thrust upon him, and he must look inside himself to find the strength he never knew he had. And in turn, rely on the friendships he has forged to get him through.
What has always been interesting about Harry Potter is the fact that it was always about something deeper than just a young hero defeating a villain, and the same is true for Cursed Child. It’s a story about relationships, with a central focus on the relationship between a father and son. With Harry being an orphan, this was something we were never able to explore before. While Harry had many people one could argue were “father figures”, his real father was of course killed when Harry was a baby, so we have never been able to delve into that area as deep as we are now.
Many of the themes that made Harry Potter so relatable for all are still ringing true in Cursed Child. The belief that good always triumphs over evil. That love really does conquer all, and can protect us from anything. That the ones who die never truly leave us, and that death is not the end. That few things are stronger than the bond of friendship. That “happiness can be found even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.” And of course, the undeniable truth that chocolate kills all.
Rowling and her team did an incredible job of appropriately aging the original characters, without losing the qualities that made them who they are. Hermione is still wise beyond her years, with the ability to see things in other that they can’t see in themselves. Ron is still the comic relief, who struggles with his own insecurities and being the loving father and husband we all knew he would be. I wish we had been able to see more of him, he faded a little too much into the background for me, considering how vital he was to the mission in the end of the original saga. And Harry is Harry, completely selfless, almost to a fault, with a bit of a hero complex, introspective, alert, and deeply devoted to those he loves.
The new characters, particularly the children, are simply delightful. Hermione and Ron’s children, Rose and Hugo, are incredibly like their parents. Rose has Hermione’s stubbornness, bookishness, and confidence. Hugo has Ron’s sense of humor and the inferiority complex that made him so loveable. Harry and Ginny’s children are no different. But in Albus especially, we also see Harry’s mother, Lily. Her quiet strength and loyalty that was passed onto Harry was passed onto Albus. Albus and Harry butt heads because they are so similar. Both have a hero complex, both surprise themselves with their courage, and both just want everything to be okay for everyone else. We are also introduced to Scorpius, the offspring of Draco Malfoy and his wife Astoria, which answers the question of what does one do after being a Death Eater? Try your best to move on I suppose, although we come to see that’s not as easy as it sounds, and Albus is not the only one burdened by his lineage. All of the children are reminiscent of their parents at their age. A sense of playful mischief and fun surrounds them, reminding us that despite the dark and dangerous world they live in, they are still children. Much like Harry, Ron, Hermione, Neville, and Draco were when they got detention in book one, and then stumbled upon Lord Voldemort in the Forbidden Forest without fully grasping what they had just witnessed. Plus, several other new characters are introduced along the way, and characters from the past that we would least expect make surprise appearances. Enough to make you say “ Oh yeah, I forgot about them!” but not so much that you say “YES we get it, it’s a sequel.” Again, on paper, the character development left a little bit to be desired in comparison to the books, but once again, plays are meant to be seen and not read so one must keep that in mind.
A NEW KIND OF STORY TELLING
Of course, there were obvious differences between Cursed Child and the preceding novels. This story moves incredibly fast, to the point where I found myself going back to make sure I did not miss anything. However, that comes from the fact that it is a script, and once you get used to how a script reads, you will adjust your pace. It reads much like a movie, like everything is happening over the course of two and half hours, when in reality it is over the course of about a month (which is a considerably shorter span of time than each original novel takes place in, as those took place over the course of one school year per book). It was inevitable that this story was going to feel rather thin compared to the novels, but it’s not for lack of story- it really is due to the formatting. I can only imagine that actually seeing the play would have been a completely different experience.
In the original books, every situation that Harry was in was told through the eyes of Harry. However, when opportunity arose, we got to see things from other characters point of view, and get a look inside their heads. This gave deeper context to the story. Since this is a script, we do not have the luxury of having each character’s thoughts written down. We have stage directions, which are mainly a tool for the actors. And we have to infer how everyone is feeling, including Harry and Albus. No more long sojourns into Harry’s mind as he wanders the castle corridors at night. However, unsurprisingly, Rowling’s incredibly unique and elegant writing style and storytelling ability transcends the script and allows us to paint as detailed and beautiful a picture as we did when she described Harry’s first impression of Hogwarts back in the Sorcerer’s Stone. We are there with these characters, feeling what they are feeling and seeing what they see. Even dream sequences become believable, and I found myself accepting this new reality Rowling was creating the same way I always had before. And all the while, the quirky British wit and dry humor we all fell in love with is prevalent.
THANK YOU, WE NEEDED THIS
I think Rowling knew how important it was to preserve the legacy of Harry Potter and the closure we had at the end of the last book. This new story could not taint the beautiful ending she had already created. In fact, the danger of living in the past is a major theme that is addressed in the script. Quite frankly, I am not sure I want to see this become a movie. With Magical Beasts and Where to Find Them on the horizon, I would rather see Rowling and Warner Brothers go that route and continue to adapt the text books that are referenced in Harry Potter into films (I for one would like some kind of fictionalized documentary of Quidditch Through the Ages). Those would continue to give us deeper context and let us have a little more fun with HP, without forcing another film sequel because we feel we have to. But Harry Potter and the Cursed Child was a story that needed to be told. For most Harry Potter fans, a lot has changed in our lives since we turned the last page of Deathly Hallows, and since we walked out of the theaters wiping our eyes after seeing Deathly Hallows Part Two (some of us for the 3rd time). We needed a reminder that the feelings we felt when we first experienced Harry Potter were real. We needed to know that Harry got closure as well.
If you want to feel like a kid again (without the crumbling depression you used to feel when you turned the last page), then this book is for you. While this is a “sequel”, I took it more as a celebration of the world Rowling created. Yes there was a story with a beginning, middle, and an end. But I don’t think she ever intended us to now go back and reread the books in a new context. It was a way to look back on the fun we had with Harry Potter, and experience that joy again. You’ll smile, say “Thank you, J. K. Rowling for not forgetting about us”, and carry on. And to just give us one last punch in the proverbial nostalgia gut, the script was released in stores on July 31st, which is of course, Harry Potter’s birthday.
+ Appropriate nods to the past without going overboard
+New, exciting storyline and characters
+ Nice closure and without overkill
+Did NOT leave room for another sequel, which is good because this could get very out of control very fast
+Impeccable writing overall. Objectively, this was an extremely well written script
– I grew up reading Harry Potter a certain way, and it was very bizarre reading a new story in this style. The pace was so much faster and it felt small in stature compared to the other books BUT, it was never meant to be “Book 8”. It was meant to stand on its own, but still be part of the Harry Potter world.
-Definitely, not enough Ron. Perhaps there were reasons for that that I missed and maybe a few more reads would help me see it but upon my first read, that was a gap that stood out to me.
Maggie is a new writer in the Geekiverse family. Geek out on Harry Potter, Star Wars, and more with her on Twitter.
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