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Review: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

Spoilers ahead! You have been warned.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone was the first book I ever read by myself. None of the other books had come out yet. It was like nothing I had ever read before. It focused on a boy, just a few years older than me, who was able to take down the most evil wizard of all time with the help of his loyal friends. It was so much more interesting and felt much more real than the picture books I examined up until that point. I gasped when it was revealed that Professor Quirrell, not the seemingly evil Severus Snape, was behind the main conflict of the book, and it began a love affair with Hogwarts and books in general that has lasted more than 20 years.

So, when I had heard that we were getting an eighth installment in the Harry Potter series, I was both excited and skeptical. I had been burned before by other series that attempted similar continuations, but I wanted to keep an open mind. All I wanted was a decent plot and to be able to connect to Harry and his friends as an adult, which we all are at this point, for the first time. Unfortunately, even with relatively low expectations, I was disappointed.

Many people say this reads like a fan fiction, and I wholeheartedly agree. To be clear, I love fan fiction, and me saying something is like a fan fiction does not automatically make it bad. But this one is like a bad fan fiction. Fan fiction and crackfics often delve into the “what if,” as explained in this article. The problem is that people often don’t want “what if the whole story was different lolololol” in their canon. It’s fun to explore in fan fictions because if they’re good, you can add them to your headcanon, and you can forget about bad ones. Retcons are often lame, and jumping around in time only to have everything go back to normal after everyone learns a very important lesson is even worse in anything but a sitcom. Plus, many fan fictions bring something new to the table: they will say something about characters or situations that I, as a reader, have not considered. The Cursed Child, however, not only didn’t do this, but it took stuff from way out of left field that doesn’t match the Potter style and stuck it into the canon.

I had trouble relating to any of the characters at all. I’m not as old as Harry and his friends, so I believe that may be a part of it, but where I am able to connect to child Hermione in the original books as an adult, I am unable to connect to Scorpius or Albus. I liked Scorpius. He was definitely the stronger character, and I tried to relate to both him and Albus, but I just couldn’t. The book was so focused on plot that, other than the occasional moments of banter, I don’t see enough of the nuances of either of their personalities to really connect with them. This is the issue with doing an original Harry Potter story as a stage play. I’m confident that each actor brought nuances to their character that would be awesome to see on the stage, but I’m not getting it from the script. Even with my experience working with scripts, I find the fact that they’re dwelling so much on plot and not as much on unique character development disappointing.

Harry Potter works because the reader loves the characters. The world is so well developed and vast that everyone can relate to someone. I think the writers here underestimated the amount that readers relate to the weird side characters. Hermione will always be my favorite, but, rereading the series as an adult, I find myself relating so much to Tonks. The script doesn’t provide to the reader any experience remotely similar. Obviously, they couldn’t write a 700-page script like Rowling was able to do with the books, but it didn’t even seem like an attempt was made. Scorpius says he’s a geek a bunch of times, which I guess was supposed to be the hardcore Potter fans relating to him, but it was so much about telling rather than showing.

The plot as well was extremely sloppy. Time travel is very difficult to do right, and I think it was a mistake to attempt it in a new format with new characters. I think Rowling made the right move in destroying the time turners in the fifth book. They’re extremely powerful and it puts a stop to all of the “why don’t we just go back and kill baby Voldemort” questions. Clearly, this is what the book is trying to address. However, they have Hermione in her 30’s acting stupider than Hermione at 12. Hermione at 12 knew how serious the time turner was. She would even accept sleeping through a class rather than use meddling in time to reverse it. Even when rule-breaking with Harry to free Buckbeak and Sirius, Hermione only did this after Dumbledore’s specific instructions to do so. Even when they manage to pull it off, nothing in the time stream has actually changed. It had simply looped them back to their exact location.

This is explained the script, which is nice. They state that going more than five hours back in time changes the time stream. Five hours seems like an arbitrary number, but I can accept it. I can also accept that this would be the first powerful magical artifact that evil wizards would want to replicate. The ability to travel through time would make one insanely powerful. But it just doesn’t work as the plot of the show. It makes the whole show about Harry’s past, which I was afraid of. It’s a strong wink and nudge to the viewer, but it isn’t what I wanted to get out of the new installment. If they were going this route, I wish they would have at least said something new about the series. Instead it felt like, with the exception of Harry and Albus’s relationship, everything else remained exactly the same. This story format may work for sitcoms, but it’s not what Harry Potter is about.

The most unsettling part of this attempted fan service is how the plot deals with Cedric Diggory. I feel that Cedric is irrevocably damaged in this script. The screenwriters seem to have missed the point of Cedric’s character. Amos is fairly believable. Cedric was his whole life. But Cedric’s reaction to “being humiliated” during the Tri-Wizard Tournament is disturbing. What makes Cedric so interesting is that he is everything that Harry wishes and thinks he should be. He is good-looking, older, smart, kind, and an obvious hero-type. Harry a lot of the time feels like Albus. He just ended up as The Chosen One before he was even able to prove himself. As a result, he constantly feels inadequate. And, even though he wants to hate Cedric, he can’t. Cedric is that cool of a guy. This is why it is disappointing to see that Cedric would switch to being a death eater because he lost the Tri-Wizard Tournament. What Jack Thorne misses is that Cedric was not concerned with winning (hence his willingness to help out Harry). He was concerned with fairness and pushing himself. Where Harry is the True Gryffindor, he is the True Hufflepuff.

The characters in Harry Potter are much more complicated than the Killing Joke one-bad-day trope. Even Snape, who comes closest to this, has sympathies for the Order well before Lily ever dies. He feels that if he can’t have Lily, he has to make friends where he can. He wants to be good, but it isn’t until after Lily dies that he realizes he was always able to be good, he just decided not to be. He thought he was only good with Lily, but this is a mistake. Snape is better than he knows. On the other end of the spectrum, we have Peter Pettigrew. He had the potential to be strong, and he decided not to be. We can contrast him with Neville, who decides to be strong against similar odds.

This is what makes Cedric’s actions so confusing. Even weak men like Peter who start out good generally stay that way until forced otherwise. Was losing the Tri-Wizard Tournament in silly ways really enough to push Cedric over the edge? I don’t think so. This is largely because we must consider the aftermath of the tournament. The students would have been too distracted by the return of the most evil wizard who ever lived to really make fun of Cedric. Of course, we know the students are force-fed propoganda the next year to say Voldemort has not returned, but Cedric would have graduated Hogwarts at that point. He would have been away from the teasing of students. And, like the books have said, he could have gone on to be a stellar professional Quidditch player. Why would embarrassment in his last few months of school turn him evil? Cedric was involved enough to kill Neville, the other Chosen One in the story. Is thinking he messed up twice in his life really enough to drive him to this? I don’t believe for a second that Cedric was ever that weak-willed that he would succumb to this.

The other characters in the book who could have befallen similar fates are thankfully absent from the script. We see a bit of Snape helping the resistance, as we would have expected knowing his full story, but, again, is Snape really the hero type? It is certainly more believable than Cedric becoming a death eater, but I have to wonder if, through his own insecurities and without Dumbledore to empower him or Harry to keep his promise to Lily alive, Snape would have silently resigned himself to a new world under Voldemort. I also wonder if Snape would have still died at the Battle of Hogwarts. It still happened, but it went horribly wrong. Why would Snape have lived through it rather than see the plan through to the end?

To turn our attention to a new character, Delphi was one of the worse parts of the script. She is an obvious villain, and it is obvious what her connection to Voldemort is. They make such a big deal out of someone being the only child of Voldemort, the reader is just waiting until he or she shows up. I hated the fact that this installment still focused on Voldemort (I feel that story was over when Rowling wrote “All was well.”), and the Voldemort’s daughter plotline is laughably bad. It was forcing a story that had been finished for years to continue. I had hoped that the script would not be about Voldemort, but that is exactly what we got. This is yet another way the Thorne failed to do anything interesting with the script.

How do you top the greatest battle of all time? The answer is you don’t. A story about Harry dealing with his fears of being as bad of a father as Dumbledore was to him and Albus fearing he will never live up to his family name is enough for me. There’s a lot of potential there. This also doesn’t need to be spoonfed to the audience like these themes were in the script. It’s okay that Harry is angry with Dumbledore even though he knew Dumbledore had to make tough decisions regarding Harry’s well-being. The script seems like it’s scared of admitting that. The original books handle Dumbledore brilliantly. We love him because he is a delightful character and he clearly loves Harry. But then, like with many heroes, we see that he has a darker side and frequently does things we would not have expected Sorcerer’s Stone Dumbledore to do. But still, we love him. Harry doesn’t need an explanation, he needs a catharsis. Dumbledore’s portrait, a shadow of the great wizard, is perfect for this. Harry needs Dumbledore to tell him he resents him, but also to admit his own fears about being a father.

This also undercuts Harry’s relationship with many other father and mother figures in the series. Arthur, Sirius, Lupin, and Hagrid were all parental figures to Harry. They cared deeply about his well-being without pretense or a larger plan. We cannot blame Harry for having issues with Dumbledore, but it is disappointing that we do not see this same emotional attachment to his other father-figures. We also have to wonder if he kept his promise to Lupin and Tonks. Teddy was a big deal at the end of book 7, and Harry has found himself thrust into a surrogate father position at 17, like many of his own parental figures were. Yet no where in the script does it mention Teddy. Teddy is truly the prodigal son. He has almost the exact same background as Harry, and Harry promised to love him like one of his own, yet we never see nor hear from him. At the very least Albus would have referenced him like he does Rose or his siblings. Teddy was very likely a prominent figure in all of their lives. Is the script trying to say that he simply lived with his grandfather and only saw Harry occasionally? It does not seem in Harry’s character that this would be the case.

I read each Harry Potter book every summer, and, as I get older, I get different themes and lessons from the book each time. I cannot say I had the same experience with this. The message was singular and simple: our children get the burdens of adults forced onto them. But to what end? The story was still about Harry. The flashbacks were all about Harry and Albus was little more than a passive participant. Perhaps Albus understands his father better, but what about Harry? Does he really understand his son better? Can they connect through Harry’s trauma? Not for long, I think. The most interesting parts of the books had no payoff. Sometimes, the lack of payoff is the payoff, but I don’t think this script was clever enough or well put together enough for that to be the point.

Fiona L.F. Kelly (@FionaLFKelly)
Fiona L.F. Kelly is a writer, editor, and podcaster. She has published numerous articles about all things gaming and pop culture on websites all across the internet, was also a writer for Trinity Continuum: Aberrant 2e, and has been published in books and magazines. She is an editor for the pop culture and media website GeekGals.co. In addition to her writing and editing, she has also been a guest and host on several podcasts. She hosts the Project Derailed podcast Big Streaming Pile, produces and performs on Fables Around the Table, and plays the githyanki pirate Rav’nys on Tales of the Voidfarer. Buy her a coffee: ko-fi.com/fionalfkelly

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