***WARNING: Spoilers and long-winded rants ahead!***
Before I start this review, I just want to say that I, more than most, love J.K. Rowling. I think she’s a wonderful human being, she’s an excellent role model for young girls everywhere, and I am eternally grateful to her for writing seven incredible, transformative books that completely shaped my childhood and me as a person today.
So J.K., if by some horrible twist of fate you’re reading this, please know it isn’t personal.
I’ve been waiting to read "Harry Potter and the Cursed Child" ever since I heard it was in production. Even before it was released that there was going to be a print version of the play available for purchase, I was anxious to know what the new addition to the Harry Potter story could possibly hold. The only thing I knew was that the new play would cover the stories of the children of the famous trio, and that was all I needed.
A whole new book picking up pretty much right from the epilogue of the "Deathly Hallows?" Hell yeah! I was ready to dive back in immediately.
A month or so before the release of the play, I found a spoiler of the whole plot on the internet. Naturally, I read it. I figured I wasn’t going to get to see the play, as it was only being shown in London for the time being, so I figured a summary of the newest addition would have to be enough.
I thought it was fake.
I didn’t think it was terrible, especially compared to my peers. They were all griping about the time travel aspect of the play, and nitpicking for seemingly no reason. However, there was a single detail that stuck out to me in the summary, something that really made me believe the plot summary I had read was just something someone had made up on the internet, maybe a fan-fiction someone had written to sound like the Cursed Child to get reads.
The summary said that Harry Potter told his son, Albus Potter, that he wished he wasn’t his son.
I grew up on the Harry Potter series. The first book came out just a month or so before I was born, I grew up on the movies, I’ve even written an article already about how much the series means to me (shameless plug). This being said, I feel like I know the characters personally. That’s the kind of effect such a well-written series can have on a kid.
So when I found out that this bit of information along with the rest of the summary I had read was true, I was flabbergasted.
Harry Potter told Albus Potter that he wished he wasn’t his son? Harry Potter, the Boy Who Lived. Harry Potter, the boy who grew up in a loveless childhood with a family who wished he had never been born. Harry Potter, the boy who grew up without parents, or friends, or anyone.
Parenting is hard, I’m sure (I’m not a parent, obviously, but I can only imagine). In Act 1 of the play, Albus and Harry are having a pretty intense argument when Albus blurts out that he wishes Harry wasn’t his father. In response, Harry responds in kind, and this argument significantly drives the plot of the rest of the show. J.K. attributes Harry’s outburst to anger and frustration at his son, who wants nothing to do with Harry because of his fame and the kind of pressure it puts on him. Even so, this is a pretty significant claim to make, and not one that’s easily forgotten by a child. My point is this; Even if Harry Potter was shooting steam out of his ears, I don’t think the words “there are times I wish you weren’t my son” would ever fall from his lips while speaking to his son. He would understand the weight of those words, and I genuinely don’t believe the thought would even enter his mind.
I was willing to forgive this oversight going into the book, but there were so many other huge character oversights that made the play maddeningly inconsistent with the books I had grown up with it, making it a difficult read for me.
For example, the catalyst for the entire book is when Amos Diggory, the father of long-dead Hufflepuff Cedric Diggory shows up at the Potter residence, demanding that Harry use the illegal Time-Turner that the Ministry’s rumored to have discovered to go back in time nineteen whole years to save Cedric’s life. Because, yes, that’s how old and stale this plot arc is, going back to the fourth book rather than exploring fresh, new material.
While Amos wasn’t a huge part of the series, while he was in the books, he was depicted as a jovial, happy, overly-friendly man. While he loved his son dearly, he explicitly told Harry that he wasn’t to blame for Cedric’s death, and I doubt that nearly twenty years later he would still be hung up on bringing Cedric back, or dumb enough to think bringing Cedric back was a viable option, or grumpy enough to hate everyone who told him that they couldn’t bring Cedric back. He was a powerful enough wizard to fend off the advances of the Death Eaters at the Quidditch World Cup, which makes me think that he would be smart enough to know that meddling in time is never a good idea, especially when there’s a huge wizarding war that was pretty directly linked with the time stream in question.
Speaking of Cedric—later in the book, Albus and Scorpius manage to create an alternate universe, wherein they saved Cedric’s life by humiliating him out of the Triwizard Tournament. In this universe, he was so angry and embarrassed after his failure in the tournament that he turns to dark magic, becoming a Death Eater and going on to slaughter Neville Longbottom (who, by the way, was instrumental to ensuring the entire Wizarding World remained in order but doesn’t have a single line in the play). The idea of Cedric becoming a death eater is about as likely as Seamus Finnigan becoming a death eater. He has no motivation, seeing as embarrassment isn’t exactly a reason to turn to a life of homicide and Dark Magic, and he was shown throughout the books he was in to have a heart of gold through his actions in the Triwizard Tournament.
This brings us to a character who did dabble in the Dark Arts for a while, but came around in the end to the side of good in one of the best, but least discussed, character arcs in history (if I do say so myself). Draco Malfoy. One of the main characters in the story, a national treasure, is Scorpius Malfoy, son of Draco. Despite the death of his mother and rumors of him being the true son of Voldemort, Scorpius keeps an upbeat attitude. I really expected Draco to match this warmth, especially after his transformation in the original series. However, I was disappointed to find that Draco, especially in the first act of the new play, was just as bad as he was in the beginning of the series, with little to no regard to the steps he took in the later books to move away from what his father tried to turn him into. This play even goes so far as to compare him directly to Lucius, in a stage direction that reads: “(lip curling, every inch his father)”. He still holds a strong animosity towards Harry and his family, despite the two having literally saved one another’s lives before. Throughout the play, the two become closer and finally make amends, but as someone who lived for the Draco/Harry dynamic in the original series, I was over it. It was like I was reliving them maturing in the series, only this time they both had kids.
The character oversights, unfortunately, weren’t even just limited to the less-developed side-characters, with the sub-par writing infringing on the golden trio itself. Hermione, a role model for millions of girls all over the world, is simultaneously thrust into greatness and destroyed in the different universes created by Scorpius and Albus. In the apocalyptic, Voldemort-ruled universe wherein Harry was killed in the Battle of Hogwarts, Hermione is a wanted criminal, plotting the rebellion from inside the shrieking shack with Ron, whom she’s not married to. She longs to go outside and fight, but the war-torn world is a good look on her, according to the stage directions. In another universe, however, Ron fell in love with Padma Patil rather than her due to a bizarre chain of events stemming from the Yule Ball of all things (is J.K. really trying to tell us that Ron and Hermione’s entire relationship hinges on Ron’s jealousy at the ball in year four?). In this almost-normal world, rather than the Minister for Magic, Hermione becomes Professor Granger at Hogwarts, teaching Defense Against the Dark Arts. She adopts a Snape-like attitude, mean and without mercy towards the children she teaches.
This is in a nearly-identical world, wherein the only difference lies in the fact that because of the youngster’s actions, Hermione and Ron didn’t get married. I refuse to believe that Hermione Granger’s entire career rests on Ron Weasley. I love them both, but I’m not willing to believe that because Hermione didn’t get her man, she turned into something completely lacking in both compassion and ambition.
All this—this is only the surface of bad character development in the play. This isn’t even mentioning Ron’s lack of real substance outside of comedic relief, Rose Granger-Weasley’s mean spirit despite being raised by two-thirds of the golden trio, or the inclusion of Snape.
Actually, let’s talk about Snape, and the other long-dead character that comes back—Dumbledore. I know a lot of the Harry Potter community hates on both of these men with a kind of ferocity not seen amongst most nerds (claiming that Dumbledore was heartless and selfish while Snape was abusive and the pinnacle of a “nice guy”), but I tend to be of the unpopular opinion that both Professors were flawed but good at heart (but let’s not get into that). A lot of Potterheads consistently joke about the name ‘Albus Severus’, and how Harry picked the two ‘worst’ people in his life to name his son after.
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that J.K. happened to bring back both of these characters despite their deaths. I was glad to see them back, but there was a lot of deep, unnecessary dialogue that came from the both of them that I regret to say I can’t take seriously. For example, Dumbledore talked to Harry about the way he did what he had to do to to save him from a life of pain, and how he did it out of love, while Snape talked of his love for Lily. I’m sorry, but if that isn’t J.K. trying to directly defend her characters to her fan base, I don’t know what is. All the while I was reading the book, I couldn’t help but feel like the entire story was a slap-dash effort at defending her decision to name Harry’s son ‘Albus Severus’. All our favorites from the books were out of character, the plot hardly made sense, and there was confusing time-travel to boot. I can’t think of any other logical explanation for why J.K. Rowling, who’s notorious for her attention to meticulous world-building, would publish this play as canon.
There are so many unanswered questions, things so easily overlooked. Why was Harry concerned about the werewolves moving underground? Surely, there had to have been some sort of progress made in regard to overcoming werewolf prejudices, or did Lupin die for nothing? Speaking of Lupin, where was Teddy Lupin, Harry’s godson? He would have been around nineteen at the time of Albus’s adventures, so where was he? Time seems to move differently in this book than it did in the Prisoner of Azkaban, so what is the truth? How did Bellatrix have a child before the Battle of Hogwarts without anyone noticing? More importantly, Voldemort doesn’t even have a nose, how can he have the parts to reproduce? How is Polyjuice potion so easy and fast to make when it took the trio months to make it in year two? Why did Scorpius ask Rose out when she was so rude to him and when he was so obviously into Albus? Who was Craig and why did he have to be so needlessly killed off? Why is the trolley witch the terminator all of a sudden?
One of the most incredible things to me about the Harry Potter series is how tight it is. There’s a history that can easily be traced back, and every event has it’s point in time. There’s lore and backstory for everything. That attention to detail seemed to be thrown out the window in the Cursed Child, making it seem more like a fanfiction than an actual book of canon information in the series. Even Delphi, Voldemort’s daughter, seems as if she’s nothing more than J.K.’s “edgy” OC, right down to the unlikely parentage and her blue-silver hair. She has no personality, and the characters seem trusting of her even though there’s no reason for it. All in all, her presence as a character is pointless, existing only to further the plot of the other characters.
The Cursed Child in all wasn’t a terrible read; it wasn’t as if I hated every moment of it. It had its good moments, and I did like the developments within some of the characters, and the addition of some new ones (Scorpius. I’m talking about Scorpius, I love that kid). But all in all, the overall experience was rather unenjoyable, and extremely disappointing after I had built up such high expectations in my head over the last few years. I would recommend the play as a light read, though hardcore Potter fans be warned—it’s advised to take it lightly, and not as gospel.
I’m curious as to what you guys think, so leave your thoughts in the comments below!