Arts book review

Harry Potter, Book Seven and Three-Quarters

An eloquent script — if not the story we wanted


Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

Script by Jack Thorne

Released July 31, 2016

Let me preface this by saying that I enjoyed Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, and having only read the script, I imagine that everything must be even more magical on stage.

But as a hopelessly besotted Harry Potter fan, I have two biases: I was bound to love the book regardless, simply because it is Harry Potter; however, at the same time, I cannot refrain from being highly critical, because the characters are so indelibly etched into my mind that any slight deviance will ring false. To a certain extent, The Cursed Child is a work of fanfiction — albeit an officially sanctioned one.

The main premise of the play is simple, effective, and beautifully portrayed throughout both acts: Harry's son, Albus Severus Potter, feels disconnected from his father and resents being the son of the Boy Who Lived. In an effort to fix the perceived mistakes of his father, he goes on a journey with an unexpected (by the other characters, if not by the fandom) friend. The play begins (coincidentally?) in the year 2016, repeating and picking up from the “Nineteen Years Later” epilogue of Book 7, and follows Albus through his Hogwarts initiation up to his fourth year.

The Cursed Child is well worth the trip to your local Muggle Flourish and Blott’s, but don’t be surprised if you don’t get what you expect. The new play is not quite a stand-alone sequel, but it's not truly the eighth book of the series either, despite being advertised as such.

It almost feels unfair to compare the play to the classic books: the writing medium is different, the main cast is different, and while J.K. Rowling was involved with The Cursed Child's production, she was not its playwright. But I would say the script almost invites comparison by revisiting Harry Potter history in very direct ways. It is this aspect that reveals sometimes glaring discrepancies in characterization that disrupt the otherwise flowing and enrapturing dialogue.

For me, the driving force of the play was the exploration of personal relationships, more so than the rather uninspired plot. Most of these are more or less focused around Albus, but there are, for example, intimate and emotionally-charged scenes dedicated to Harry and (portrait-form) Dumbledore. This mix of character interactions fluidly brought to life in the lines of the script, made me even hungrier for a live performance.

The prose is naturally limited to short scene descriptions, but it still yields many lines of mood-setting genius that made me temporarily grateful to be reading, rather than watching, the play. For example, the following excerpt:

There’s a silence. A perfect, profound silence. One that sits low, twists a bit, and has damage within it.

Unlike the books, in which the title always reveals its significance and meaning quite early on in the book, the "Cursed Child" isn't ever definitively defined, though it is a constant theme in the play's story. This ambiguity works well because the play, again unlike the books, has no single protagonist. As one might expect, Harry, while still an integral character, is no longer the main character.

You've probably already heard other reviews of the play. It's striking to me that nearly all the negative reviews are for the script alone; most theater-goers are positively raving about the play. While it's understandable that characters may come off as more sympathetic on stage than on paper, and that the sheer magnificence of seeing magic in real life can balance out flaws of the story, I'm not sure what the live performance managed to do to make the much-derided plot more palatable for audiences.

If you're a Harry Potter fan, you should read (or watch, if you have the immense fortune to do so) the play. Approach it with an open mind: don't let headcanons or fanfictions that have sprouted in the years since Book 7 prevent you from enjoying the future that Jack Thorne wrote and that J.K. Rowling approved. Unfortunately, if you are a fan, you'll definitely notice some continuity problems that I am very surprised Rowling didn't point out to Thorne.

If you're not (yet) a Harry Potter fan, you should still read (or watch) the play. The writing style, characters, and theme are sufficiently distinct from the book series that anyone previously turned off might find themselves now happily immersed in the Wizarding world.

Is The Cursed Child what I hoped for in my dream of dreams? No, but I didn't expect it to be; and as Dumbledore wisely said, it does not do to dwell on dreams. I accept it as canon and look forward to more stories of the Wizarding future.

O.W.L. grade: Acceptable, with special permission to continue onto N.E.W.T. levels.