The Cursed Child (Harry Potter No.8) – J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany and Jack Thorne
Little, Brown, 2016
Nineteen years after Voldemort was defeated at the Battle of Hogwarts, the wizarding world has settled into a wary peace. Harry Potter is now the Head of Magical Law Enforcement and a father of three, but his middle child Albus has grown to hate the legend that surrounds his family and all the expectations that come with it. Draco Malfoy’s son Scorpius has a different legacy to cope with. Voldemort may be gone, but Dark magic is not and rumours are swirling about a dangerous and recently re-discovered magic. Albus and Scorpius want to set right a long-ago injustice, but the stakes are so much higher than they know.
I am of the generation who grew up with Harry Potter: Global Phenomenon. It is a part of my cultural DNA. As such, I was necessarily going to be critical of any addition to that series, because I had expectations. While this is technically the eighth Harry Potter story, it is a play script co-written with two other writers and so feels quite different in style to the original books. The story is led by Albus and Scorpius, but Harry, Hermione, Ron, Ginny and Draco are all significant characters. While the premise of the plot required more hand-wavery than I was comfortable with and didn’t have enough sensitivity for some of the topics it wanted to tackle, it explored some interesting ground. I’ll go into more spoilery detail in the paragraph below.
SPOILERS: I was very pleased to see the fairly monolithic anti-Slytherin attitude of the original books subverted when Albus was Sorted into Slytherin alongside the sweet-natured and studious Scorpius. Draco had also matured into a much more complex character in The Cursed Child and his unexpected bonding with Ginny looked like the start of a delightful friendship; his interactions with Hermione and Professor McGonagall were also enjoyable, and the difficulties of negotiating a post-Voldemort world were fascinating.
Unfortunately the tight structure of a play script doesn’t allow for the breadth of exploration I’d have really liked to see and it did the younger characters no favours, as they don’t have much time to develop. Albus was self-absorbed to an astonishing extent; he seemed to think of his father’s childhood as some sort of dramatic origins story instead of years of abuse at the hands of his legal guardians, and actively blamed Harry for the death of a boy murdered by Lord Voldemort. When Harry was fourteen years old, in an encounter he barely survived himself. It was interesting seeing the ripple effect of Cedric’s death and it was a beautiful moment when he rescued the boys in the maze, but to blame Harry for his death was such an absurd contortion of thinking, and required such an immense amount of ignorance, that I had trouble taking anything Albus said or did seriously afterwards. Even his friendship with Scorpius – which was genuinely affectionate most of the time and could have easily segued into an adorable romance – took a lot of emotional labour on Scorpius’s side in order to function. At the end of the play I found myself siding with Professor McGonagall’s exasperated view of things. She was an excellent voice of reason.
I was very pleased to see Harry call out Dumbledore on the way he ignored Harry’s abuse for all those years, and to see how that impacted on Harry’s own ability to be a parent, but I think the subject could have been handled better. Making Harry relive his own parents’ deaths just felt cruel and unnecessary.
Overall I have very mixed feelings about The Cursed Child. I am sure it would be much more satisfying seen on stage, and I’d love to know how some of those stage directions were pulled off. A project like this can’t possibly please everyone – the opinions I’ve expressed are the tip of an iceberg of meta – but for all the inevitable flaws, I am very happy to see these characters again.)