A Critical Review: Harry Potter and The Cursed Child
This review contains spoilers for this book and the past novels of the Harry Potter series. Read at your own risk.
It’s that time of generation again. Nine years after the release of the seventh installment of the wonderfully swollen paged, multilayered Harry Potter series, we are now entrenched in the lives of our wizard hero nineteen years after the colossally frenetic Battle of Hogwarts. The eighth chapter of the story of The Boy Who Lived is a book printing of the script to the original West End play in London. It is a story conceived by Harry Potter author, J.K. Rowling, Playwright Jack Thorne, and Cursed Child Director John Tiffany, while the script is written by Jack Thorne.
It is certainly interesting that Harry Potter and the Cursed Child comes in this form, a drastic departure from the vividly descriptive prose from Rowling’s original seven. Where the novels described the Wizarding World, its contents and beyond in marvelous fashion, this two part, four act play relegates us to stage directions at most. This isn’t a bad thing at all; some the most revered works in writing and storytelling are stage plays like A Streetcar Named Desire, Death of a Salesman and A Raisin in the Sun. They all developed characters with mostly dialogue while the leads (and people around them) experienced profound, tragic endings.
In that same vein, the titular character of this series has experienced tragedy as early as infancy with the murder of his parents. In fact, throughout his life, the extraordinary Harry Potter has dealt with neglect, abuse, trauma, infamy, death, and torture all while desiring to be an ordinary boy. Now he’s a married man in his late thirties, and he deals with one of his toughest challenges yet: fatherhood.
As the father of three kids and the most famous, breathing entity of the Wizarding World to boot; Harry faces the challenge of raising his children to bear the proverbial umbrella against the thunderstorm of praise and scrutiny that James, Albus, and Lily Potter inherited.
You see, fame and accomplishments can sometimes lead to unrealistic expectations for the progeny of the creators; Harry felt it his first year at Hogwarts. In fact, the first third of Philosopher’s/Sorcerer’s Stone are continual thoughts of self-doubt. A young boy entering a new world, unable to believe that he could fit in it, because he couldn’t fit into the old one. A child that had recently discovered the truth about the fate of his deceased parents and the extraordinary things they did, now has to live up to their name and fame.
Enter stage right, Albus Severus Potter. The middle child of the Potter clan draws many parallels to Harry himself. Cursed Child uses these similarities for both Harry and Albus’ character development throughout the script. They were both born into legacies that they didn’t ask for, were both insecure about their place in the Wizarding World, and are both extremely heroic yet stubborn to a fault. It is even mentioned in the Deathly Hallows epilogue that Albus looks more like his father (Harry) than the other two kids.
On the other hand, Cursed Child gives a lot of focus on their differences as well. Harry was sorted into Gryffindor House, the house of bravery and valor, a place where Harry became a hero and one of the great wizards from said house. Albus, however gets sorted into the dreaded Slytherin House. This house has produced some of the prime evil wizards and wizarding families of the two Wizarding Wars. This includes, but is not limited to, the Malfoys, the Lestranges and, of course, Lord Voldemort. Harry becomes an excellent Quidditch player, proficient duelist and spell caster, whereas Albus has no grasp on flying a broom nor is he adept at magic. As a whole, the biggest disparity between them is their inability to be fair and kind to each other. Their most important similarity is that they’re both kind and fair to other people.
Enter stage right, Scorpius Malfoy. The son of Harry’s school nemesis, Draco, and intuitive jokester. The two meet on the Hogwarts Express and have a definitive interaction much like Harry and Draco did some twenty-five years prior. More parallels are drawn here; on that train, Harry and Draco become enemies from that moment, whereas Albus and Scorpius become best friends.
As the son of Draco Malfoy, a known Death Eater during The Second Wizarding War, Scorpius himself is a recipient of scrutiny and rumors of a horrible and ridiculous rumor of his birth. Apparently, the inhabitants of the Wizarding World think that Scorpius is actually Voldemort’s son that was born after Draco and his wife used a Time-Turner to travel back in time to when Voldemort was still alive. This would make no sense for two reasons: Voldemort was focused on immortality and would have no interest in children; he and his legacy would live forever. Secondly, when time travel was introduced in Prisoner of Azkaban, it was established that while one can go back in time, one cannot change it. One merely witnesses and experiences events through a different vantage point. If it happened, it can’t be changed. Those are the rules and they’re really good ones. So much so, in fact, that it’d be absolutely absurd if they were changed….
And that’s exactly what happens here. The plot of Cursed Child revolves around the use of a Time-Turner. Fourteen year old Albus, is fresh off an argument with his father where some very harsh things were said to each other, including Harry, in a moment of blind anger tells Albus that “…there are times that I wish you weren’t my son”. Ouch.
Albus then conceives an ill thought out plan where he and Scorpius use the Time-Turner (the only one in existence, we are told) to go back in time to prevent the murder of Cedric Diggory, by Peter Pettigrew at the end of the Triwizard Tournament in Goblet of Fire. They would prevent Cedric from winning the whole thing and in turn prevent him from being at the wrong place at the wrong time (pun shamelessly intended). It’s an admirable act, but nonetheless a foolish one that endangers the very existence of themselves and the people around them.
Throughout this script there are some definite head scratchers. Hermione Granger’s lax protection on the Time-Turner (a considerably powerful magical object) is baffling, considering that she had one when she was younger and is all too aware of its effects when in the wrong hands. Cedric converting into a Death Eater in the alternate timelines after being humiliated by Albus and Scorpius in the Triwizard Tournament, when there was never any evidence he would react to something in this way. In fact, any character trait he displayed exhibited the opposite.
Then there’s old favorite Severus Snape who returns in one of the alternate timelines and is confronted by Scorpius. He mentions Snape’s love for Lily Potter, mentions that Albus is partly named after him and urges him to believe him for Lily and for the world… and he does. Just like that. The Snape of old, especially in this dystopian Voldemort-led world in which that timeline takes place, would’ve hexed Scorpius, made him drink Veritaserum and modified his memory if he was, in fact, lying.
The character actions on Cursed Child are so inconsistent that while the novel’s established characters are acting different from their past selves, the characters introduced in Cursed Child are now making 180 degree turns in the common sense realm. Scorpius decides to keep the Time-Turner that he and Albus used and almost destroyed the world with, instead of doing the practical thing and giving it to the adults. This allows the main antagonist to kidnap Albus and Scorpius and take them to the past. Who is this antagonist, you ask? Her name is Delphi. She’s Lord Voldemort’s daughter.
After one’s IQ recovers sufficiently from reacting at how idiotic that twist is, one reads on to discover that Bellatrix Lestrange is the mother. An obvious choice, but for good reason: Bellatrix was obsessed with Voldemort and one could sense her crazed reverence and sick adoration for The Dark Lord relatively quickly in her first appearance in Order of the Phoenix. She’d definitely consider it her life’s achievement if she would bear the Dark Lord’s child. Voldemort himself, however not only wouldn’t be interested in children… he wouldn’t be interested in sex. In fact, Voldemort having sex, let alone a child is the complete antithesis of his character.
Voldemort was addicted to the concept of immortality, so much so that he split his soul into seven, then accidentally an eighth time when he failed to kill infant Harry. He was willing to physically disfigure himself, lose his morality (though you can argue there wasn’t much there in the first place) and became unstable and less human. He had no interest nor any understanding for things like love, remorse or even lust. His Death Eaters were as dispensable as anyone who happened to be in the middle of his destructive path. He murdered Snape, someone he thought was one of his most loyal servants, over the power of The Elder Wand. The only living creature he had a connection with was his snake Nagini, and they both happened to share fragments of the same soul.
Then there’s the issue with Draco having a Time-Turner the whole time and choosing until the very end to use it. I hate to use the term Dues Ex Machina, but that’s what this is. Now the gang can travel back in time to save the kids after Albus sends a message to Harry through time. Everything else is so bad that this becomes somewhat believable. It’s magic, right?
So everything finally gets resolved and Harry, Albus and company go back to the present. Things are still pretty awkward between Harry and Albus. Harry opens up a bit about himself to remedy this as they visit Cedric Diggory’s grave. In the end, they both recognize that it’s a process in the long winding path of father-son relationships. They reach an understanding; now they understand each other a little better.
That’s it. The supposed final installment of the vastly imaginative Harry Potter saga. As Harry Potter and the Cursed Child exits stage left, it honestly feels like an explosive blunderbuss as everything blows up in the reader’s face. This comes from the character’s actions to the plot which has, if I may quote Eminem, “…more holes than an Afghan”.
A lot of this review details the bad, but there is some legitimate good, even great moments. While the script is okay, there are some heartfelt quotes from Albus Dumbledore who doesn’t skip a beat when it comes to dropping profound gems: “Those that we love never truly leave us, Harry. There are things death cannot touch. Paint… and memory… and love”. He also professes: “You ask me, of all people, how to protect a boy from terrible danger? We cannot protect the young from harm. Pain must and will come” Harry himself says to Delphi during their confrontation: “I have never fought alone, you see. And I never will.”
There are also some incredibly cool moments such as the scene with the Trolley witch from the Hogwarts Express, Harry and Draco’s duel and Scorpius pursuing - and subsequently getting turned down by - Rose Granger-Weasley. Ron and Hermione have some delightful interactions that serve as great comedy relief and are heartwarming as well.
Arguably the most moving scene comes from Hagrid’s only appearance. After the final confrontation with Delphi at Godric’s Hollow, Harry, Ron, Hermione, Ginny, Draco, Albus, and Scorpius witness Hagrid enter the remnants of the Potter household after Voldemort fails to murder infant Harry. He proceeds to deliver some touching words when he finds him: “Hello, Harry Potter. I’m Rubeus Hagrid. And I’m gonna be yer friend whether yeh like it or not. ‘Cos yeh’ve had it tough, not that yeh know it yet. An’ yer gonna need friends” Who’s chopping onions, dammit?
I would be remiss if I didn’t speak a bit of Scorpius Malfoy. Simply put, he’s the best character in Cursed Child. From his unwavering charm to his incessant wit, Scorpius shines more brightly (pun even more shamelessly intended than the last) than the rest. Besides the Time-Turner fiasco, he acts as a saving grace to the rest of these character’s confusing actions and motivations. He’s the most consistently good thing about Cursed Child.
Ultimately, the plot is pretty bad but here are couple of things to take into consideration. While time travel is usually a terrible plot device to use in any form of the medium, what this story is, is a reminder of how one’s past never truly escapes us no matter how hard we try. It’s a tale of legacy and how it can burden us. A lesson of how our choices impact our futures, and whether good or bad, we must learn from them and live with them.
Maybe the biggest thing to take into consideration is that as stated previously, this is a script to a play. Yes, there is a bit missing in comparison to a novel, but not in environmental description: anybody who has read through the Harry Potter series knows what Hogwarts and Platform Nine and Three Quarters look like. It’s in your head. So why on earth should that mean that it isn’t real?
What is missing are smaller intricacies like character movements, emotion generated facial contortions, and inner thoughts. Things like that are minimal in the grand scheme of things- again, it’s not a novel- but loom large when transitioning from novelizations to a script. However, this is what we got and the fact is that this script is a modicum of what the creators of this play envisioned when bringing it to the stage.
So it is for that reason, and because London was always in my bucket list, that I entered the online queue and after 33,608 people waiting for a chance at tickets in front of me, and eight hours of waiting in said online queue, I managed to get to the front of the line.
And so, next summer I shall be travelling to London and among the landmarks and attractions and cultural points of interest, I will be entering the Palace Theater, settling in my restricted legroom seating, and seeing Harry Potter and the Cursed Child on stage. I will review that as well.
J.K. Rowling may have stated that this is the final installment of Harry Potter and that may be true. But it’s not over for me. Not yet. “And now, Harry, let us step out into the night and pursue that flighty temptress, adventure.”