Benbrook Library / Musings

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Review: The Play’s the Thing

HP

A few months ago, I shared a post about using the save search feature in the library catalog. Well, while the post did extoll the virtues of save search, it was more of a barely-veiled gloat fest about my occupying the number one spot in the hold queue for the then yet-to-be-published mega blockbuster Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. I’d been eagerly awaiting the July 31 release date all summer, and the magical day finally arrived earlier this week. I didn’t don my Gryffindor* robes and wait in line at a muggle equivalent of Flourish and Blotts for the midnight release like the most hardcore Harry fans, but thanks to the top claim I staked back in April for a library copy, I was able to check out HP and the CC on Monday. I split my reading of it up into two seshes, partially in the name of savoring it and (more) partially because I’ve become an old man who falls asleep mid-sentence if he tries to read for too long at night. After a few days to digest everything, I’d like to share some brief, spoiler-free thoughts.

Were I to set objectivity completely aside, I’d say HP and the CC was great. Nostalgia alone is enough to charm a mostly positive review out of me. It felt so exciting to be back in the HP universe with my old pals Harry, Hermione, and Ron and visiting places like Platform Nine and Three Quarters, Godric’s Hollow, and of course, Hogwarts again that the contents or execution of the story almost didn’t matter. I could’ve read 300+ pages of a mildly frustrated Harry filling out stacks of requisition forms for his big boy job as Head of Magical Law Enforcement and come away with good vibes.

Yes, nostalgia is powerful. Whether you want it to or not, it routinely throws objectivity off the Astronomy Tower to its death. It’s the reason we** think shows like Full House are still good today and are able to stomach Fuller House. It’s why the MY2K tour is somehow allowed to exist in 2016. It can rule you and your judgments. As I forced myself to fight past nostalgia regarding HP and the CC, I formed some opinions based on objective evaluation, and they are unsurprisingly less favorable.

My biggest problem with Harry Potter and the Cursed Child isn’t even its fault: It’s a play. It may look like a novel from the outside, but it’s actually a script, and that’s kind of a bummer. That’s not to say there’s something inherently wrong with scripts, but they’re really meant to be seen performed rather than read. Sure, all the same words are delivered to you, but because you don’t get any vivid descriptions of settings and actions or any insight into the inner workings of the characters minds or emotions like you would in a novel, the experience is a little lacking. What I and surely many other Potterphiles of the world really wanted was another Harry Potter novel, not just a story told in play form. While my disappointment is real, I of course realize this complaint isn’t fair at all. We knew we were getting a play all along, and to whine because it’s not something other or more than exactly what it’s supposed to be feels greedy. It’s not as if J.K. Rowling owes us another HP novel, and script readers like me should be grateful Rowling and Co. were nice enough (and commercially savvy enough) to make the script available in published form and should hope to be fortunate enough to catch a production of the play someday to experience the story as it’s truly meant to be consumed.

So, looking past my gripe about the medium of delivery, the story itself is mostly well done. While J.K. Rowling developed the story with director John Tiffany and playwright Jack Thorne, the script was actually written by Thorne. Reading a Harry Potter story written by anyone other than Rowling may make fans wary, but in my opinion, Thorne does justice to the characters and the series’ universe in general. Harry, Hermione, Ron, Ginny, and Draco are the kind of adults you would expect them to be, though Ron is used a bit too much as caricature-ish comic relief character for my liking. The new characters, namely Harry and Ginny’s son Albus and Draco’s son Scorpius, are welcomed additions who carry their part of the story well. The relationship between the two boys is filled with legitimately funny banter and all the emotionally affecting ups and downs of a young friendship. The plot, without giving too much away, focuses on the strained, uneasy relationship between Harry and Albus as the latter heads off to Hogwarts for the first time, befriends a Malfoy (!), and enacts a dangerous scheme to right some perceived wrongs of his father. All the while, an evil threat looms. The father-son relationship trouble is a heavier issue than what we’ve seen in previous stories, but hey, Harry’s an adult now, and the tone and handling of issues in the books always did mature with him. Everything’s still kid-friendly, so fear not for your younger readers, but there’s more of a realistic edge to Harry and Albus’s relationship that might not be fully grasped by kids but empathetically related to by parents. Though it sometimes feels like things are progressing too quickly and certain plot points and elements aren’t given enough time and space to build in order to make the eventual payoffs more satisfying, given the play format, such speedy handling is mostly forgivable.

All told, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is a good story worthy of inclusion in the Harry Potter canon. I’m glad to have had the opportunity to experience a new adventure with the characters and fantasy world I so adore, and I have no doubt I’ll think it a fantastic play should I ever get to see it. But man, would it make a great novel…

 

*Interestingly, Microsoft Word doesn’t consider “Gryffindor” to be a misspelled word, but it gives the red squiggly of shame to the other Hogwarts houses. We know where the Sorting Hat put Bill Gates.

**By “we,” I mean “I.”

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