Looking back, when you think of Harry Potter, what do you see? What does Harry Potter mean to you? Did it get you through childhood? Did it introduce you to reading? Did it make you believe in magic?
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, billed as the eighth story in the celebrated series is a bit of a miracle. Just the fact that it exists is something to celebrate, for didn’t it seem, for years, that there would be no more? But JK Rowling never stopped. In between her pulpy crime novels, she never forgot you, the reader who made her who she is. She kept writing stories, passages, visual essays that explored uncharted territory in her wizarding world.
And while Cursed Child isn’t written by her (she receives a ‘from an original new story by’ credit), it reads like the most affectionate piece of fan fiction that could be written, which, depending on your worldview, could just as easily be a reason to raise your mugs of butterbeer, or send a particularly peeved (get it?) howler her way.
So, as we discuss the new story, consider yourself warned, because many things spoilery this way come.
Time travel is a wicked beast. It can be just as exciting as it can be infuriating. How often have we seen time travel stories crumble under their own uncertain internal logic? But here’s the key: The logic needn’t be airtight, because in the end, that’s not what most readers are concerned about. All we want is for the plot to have stakes and the characters to be engaging. And since constructing a perfect time travel story is as rare as scoring an Agrippa card in your chocolate frog, the time travel element in the Cursed Child works brilliantly.
The play, or at least the book version most of us will read, is essentially a story about fathers and their children. It is the central theme of the story. Harry isn’t the only wizard to have cursed his child with an unbearable legacy. His volatile relationship with Albus and how, over the course of the story, they learn to accept each other for all their flaws is the emotional core.
And then, there is young Scorpius Malfoy, who is, in an attempt to keep up with the times, a geek. He is clearly meant to be the one we root for – him and his quirky manner, and his bittersweet yearning to live a life as magical as Harry Potter’s, a wizard he idolises – a wizard who inconveniently has a notoriously antagonistic relationship with his father Draco.
The third, most obvious ‘Cursed Child’ is Delphi, perhaps born into the most unfortunate circumstances the wizarding world could conjure. She is, thanks to a deeply unsettling abuse of time travel, the illegitimate child of Lord Voldemort and Bellatrix Lestrange. Her story is perhaps the most tragic of all. How often have we seen children of Nazi war criminals, relive the atrocities their fathers committed, with tears of helplessness in their eyes? Some of them, like Delphi, have that same look – the one that says ‘I wish I could have done something.’
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is also about time – how it heals wounds, and how, sometimes, all that some relationships need, is time to breathe. All our characters have aged, and time has changed them all. It’s only now, 19 years later, they’re accepting the trauma of their pasts.
But - as is often the case – it can’t all be like an afternoon in the Honeydukes cellar. Cursed Child leaves a lot to be desired as well. Right on top of that list is JK Rowling’s inimitable writing. Her deft way with words, touching use of metaphor and beautifully descriptive language is missing here. And yes, it’s an unfair criticism to make of a play – it’s not a novel after all – written by another man, but there you go.
More pertinently, the play’s treatment of Ron – and his marriage to Hermione, is oddly unfamiliar. They come across as caricatures more than characters – Ron, unfortunately has been relegated to comic relief. His appearances are infrequent and unimportant, restricted almost exclusively to him cracking jokes and yelling ‘bloody hell’ now and then. And as hard as you try, the words coming out of Hermione’s mouth mostly come across as alien – as if she’s always being impersonated by a stranger with a goblet-full of Polyjuice potion.
Finally, we must come to terms with the fact that while it’s unlikely that there will ever be a time where we don’t have a steady stream of new Harry Potter stories, the possibility of Rowling writing another book seems just as slight as it did in 2007. Just like Star Wars, Harry Potter’s baton (phoenix feather, maple) has been handed to a new generation – they will explore, inhabit and finally, create the future. And we, will be waiting.