Author: Jack Thorne (based on a play by John Tiffany and an original story by J.K Rowling)
Date of Publication: 31st July 2016
***Beware – some spoilers can be found below. If you want to be spoiler free do not pass this point!! ***
Trust me, no one is more surprised that I loved this than me. On first hearing that this “eighth Harry Potter book” would be a play which would not be written by J K Rowling, I went temporarily deaf over the screeched NOPE which was bouncing around my head. It seemed a curious cauldron of bubbling capitalism, mixed with a heavy touch of blasphemy.
However I am not too proud to admit when I am wrong. I was wrong. I loved this. I would say as my first comment that this is nothing like the books. The tone is totally different. Personally for me that worked really well. It felt as though this were a gift to every person who grew up with Potter – we’re twenty and thirty somethings now and it almost felt that the tone had adjusted according to our growing up. Harry Potter was, is and always shall be something incredibly personal to my generation – as well as many others. To me, The Cursed Child was incredibly mindful to that.
I think it helps that I am in no way a HP purist. I love a cheeky bit of Fanfiction now and again. If that’s you too then that is a very good thing, as The Cursed Child reads very much like a great piece of Fanfiction. In fact if it was fan written, I can easily see people being far more lenient towards it than they are (though, of course, by writing and publishing something you are in effect opening yourself up to greater criticism, so there is that argument for the unconvinced among us).
I think this post could be very, very long were I to say everything I want to say. So I’m going to pick my top three likes and dislikes , starting with my likes:
1. Albus and Scorpius. Of course these are two things, but I kind of feel after reading this that they should be dealt with as a package deal. The Cursed Child is snappy at 330 pages, but this was long enough for me to enjoy both their characters. Obviously a book would have offered a deeper level of development, but their nerdy earnestness was endearing and the relationships each shared with their Fathers were at times moving, frustrating and revealing – all in just the right quantities. They’re not the Golden Trio and I’m really not at all mad about that.
2. Harry isn’t Father of the Year. This might be a controversial thing to like, but hear me out. If you’re a Potter fan, you must have heard people say that Harry is the least interesting thing about the Potter series. Sure, he’s your classic child hero with an integral part to play (Rowling named the freaking series after him for Dumbledore’s sake!) but for me there were always better characters. Here, with many of Harry’s interactions relieved of the burden of world-saving activities (these being saved for his and Draco’s son) there is left behind the most telling portrait of Harry Potter to date. He is imperfect. He says a mean thing to his kid. He doesn’t keep up with his paperwork. He listens to Dumbledore’s crappy advice a bit too closely. It turns out that, for me, imperfect Harry is in actual fact perfect Harry. He’s not just a title character anymore. He’s a real person for me.
3. Redemption. I felt this on so many levels, but here are a few in particular;
a) I can’t sum up how over the moon I am over the way Draco Malfoy is portrayed here. He, like Harry Potter, is a real person. He is no longer the bouncing ferret, boyhood foil to Harry Potter’s school day adventures. The character development Rowling worked on in the later books has been expanded on here. His relationship with his son gets little time to be explored; but those few moments show a complex character with a mixture of conflicting world views swirling within; each fighting for dominance.
b) There is a brief but, for me, incredibly emotional cameo in here from Severus Snape which had me in tears (both because I love Snape and because of the still recent loss of Alan Rickman) which allowed the bravest man I ever knew to shine.
c) For me there were also a couple of really nice portrait!Dumbledore scenes which added a lot of closure to my reader’s relationship with the character. For many fans, I think, Snape’s Pensieve shone a very harsh light on the reality of Albus Dumbledore; namely that his good intentions involved a lot of sacrifices. The Cursed Child addressed that, as well as his relationship with Harry, in a brief but poignant way.
Okay, so after my top three best bits, there unfortunately has to be my top three worst. I would love to say that after a five star review I could find no criticisms. However, I am a super fan. And super fans are never wholly happy.
1. James and Lily Potter (and Rose Granger-Weasley). I understand that this is a play, and so therefore is time constrained. However it seems that James and Lily (Harry and Ginny’s children, not Harry’s parents) are largely forgotten during this entire piece. Apart from the odd mention, they’re absent. Whilst I appreciated that this time was spent developing Scorpius and Albus’s relationship – could the writer not at least have made a little more room for Rose Granger-Weasley? She came down to little more than an unrequited love interested – which for any daughter of Hermione Granger is an very sad state of affairs.
2. Ron Weasley. Perhaps “the years have made him more and more like his Father” could be a way to explain how much Ron’s character seemed to have changed here. His once perfect comic timing had evaporated into puns and gags courtesy of Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes (which he now runs). What I think the writer may have forgotten about Ron is that he was not just comic relief. If we were to equate the Golden Trio to the characters of the Wizard of Oz – Harry is the Lion (courage), Hermione is the Scarecrow (brain) and Ron is the Tin Man (heart). Here he was daft and dafter – that heart barely even raised its head throughout. His characterisation just wasn’t for me.
3. The villain / man plot. Whilst I had said there would be spoilers, I don’t want to include what is potentially the biggest one in this review. Suffice to say that whilst there are positive reasons for why I compare The Cursed Child to fanfiction, there are also negative ones – the biggest one being the plot. Whilst the writer takes extra care of the characters, the plot is sadly neglected. The villain and their identity was, for me, a massive cop out (unless, as I hope and suspect, it was all untrue and just never acknowledged as such?). This, of course, weakens the book as a whole. Luckily by looking after the characters, my nostalgia is kept happy and I am able to blissfully glide by this err of judgement without so much as flinching.
Wow. This has been very long. I suppose I should wrap this up with the age old question of all book reviewers. Should you read this? My answer would be a resounding yes. I honestly feel that this is a beautiful way to wrap up what has for so many been an incredibly important series. If you embrace The Cursed Child for the love child it is, you will not be disappointed. It was for me both a pleasure and privilege to revisit the Wizarding World and be reminded that Hogwarts will always be there to welcome you home.