Book Review: Harry Potter & The Cursed Child (Pt. I and II)

Book Review: Harry Potter & The Cursed Child (Pt. I and II)

I remember the moment I started reading Harry Potter - as a child, I received Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone as a Christmas gift and tore through it within the next two days. Chamber of Secrets and Prisoner of Azkaban followed, and then I had caught up and had to wait for the next book. Each release was a huge celebration. I dressed as Hermione Granger for Halloween well before the movies came out. Harry Potter was my gateway drug to fantasy and science fiction.

So understand me when I say that I wanted this to be good. I wanted it to knock my socks off. Also understand me when I say I've read many plays, and I understand the difference between reading a play and reading a book.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child was a bit disappointing. It read like a fanfiction, where characters often said and did things because that's what the writer wanted, rather than what actually made sense for those characters. 

The play begins with the epilogue of Deathly Hallows then montages its way forward several years. Albus's relationship with his father Harry has frayed, and the best thing in his life is his friendship with (of all people) Scorpius Malfoy. Scorpius, meanwhile, is widely rumored to be Voldemort's son via time travel. After some eavesdropping, the boys decide to try to save Cedric Diggory from dying, stealing a Time Turner and wreaking havoc on time in the process.

Now let's back up and consider a few of those crazy sentences I just wrote.

"Scorpius, meanwhile, is widely rumored to be Voldemort's son via time travel." Um...what? The play introduces this completely seriously, and when I read it, I almost laughed out loud. Who would believe that? The idea that Voldemort had a child seemed wildly implausible in and of itself, let alone one with a time-travelling Astoria Malfoy, future wife of the son of a man who disappointed him. I mean...just no.

"After some eavesdropping, the boys decide to try to save Cedric Diggory from dying, stealing a Time Turner and wreaking havoc on time in the process." I appreciate the nod to Cedric, but there went all my hopes for a story that didn't rely on the events of the series for its plot. I really wanted Voldemort to be out of this story so we could explore other parts of the Wizarding World, but instead we get yanked back into the same circus.

And then there's the other part, the glaring, huge, MIND-BOGGLINGLY CONTRADICTORY piece: that using a Time-Turner allows you to change time. Rowling established in Prisoner of Azkaban that Harry and Hermione only did what they had already done: Buckbeak had never been killed, and the man Harry thought was his father was actually himself. Cursed Child laughs maniacally in the face of that canon and then vomits all over it. Each time the boys use the Time Turner to try to save Cedric, they cause ripple effects in the future, from the minor (Ron and Hermione don't get married) to the ridiculously major (Cedric Diggory became a Death Eater and prevented Neville from killing Nagini? Really? REALLY?). While I appreciated the brief exploration of what could have happened had Voldemort won...ugh.

Sure, you can probably explain your way around the continuity error with some work (my husband pointed out that this is a SPECIAL Time Turner - so so SPECIAL, as is pointed out numerous times). But it's a clumsy, annoying McGuffin to balance the entire play on.

There are other small holes and inconsistencies in the play, but I think the biggest one demonstrates my point, so I won't dwell on it.

That's not to say everything about the play is bad. Rowling's strength has always been in her characters, and she and Jack Thorne handle several of the characters quite well. There's a beautiful moment between Scorpius and alternative universe Severus Snape, where Scorpius reveals how highly Harry ended up thinking of Snape, and Snape is actually a little touched. I had endless empathy for the geeky Scorpius, whom I quite liked, and even Albus was well done, even if he was a bit moody and needlessly reckless for my taste.*

But my personal favorite, and the highlight of the play for me, was seeing adult Draco Malfoy. In the play, we really get a taste of what he covered with snark and arrogance in the books: his jealousy over how easily Harry made close friends, when he only had flunkies; his distaste for the acts he committed as a Death Eater; his heartbreak over his wife's death and how much his only son means to him. It continues the journey his character began in Half-Blood Prince, and his teaming up with Harry & co to save their children at the end tugged on my heartstrings. 

There are the odd characters that don't float well - Delphi just didn't sit right with me the entire time, and I thought Rose was a perfect example of forcing a character to behave a certain way (even when it didn't make sense) because the plot demanded it. Ron becomes a one-dimensional jokester, when he was arguably the most complex of the three leads in the original seven books. But on the whole, the characters keep the plot faults from tanking the story.

And to be honest - seeing the play on stage may very well cover the script's flaws. There are moments in this script that are undeniably cool and are probably tremendous onstage - Hermione's library trap springs to mind, as do the last stands by Hermione, Ron and Snape in the alternate universe. As of right now, I'm planning to see the play in November, so I may post another review once I've seen it.

The verdict? Entertaining maybe, and enjoyable enough for its characters, but the plotholes make it a drag in places. Speaking from an honest place - don't read the script. Just try to see the play. I think you'll feel better about it in the end.

Grade: 3/5

Memorable Quote

Draco: I always envied you them, you know - Weasley and Granger. I had -
Ginny: Crabbe and Goyle.
Draco: Two lunks who wouldn’t know one end of a broomstick from another. You - the three of you - you shone, you know? You liked each other. You had fun. I envied you those friendships more than anything else.
Draco: My father thought he was protecting me. Most of the time. I think you have to make a choice - at a certain point - of the man you want to be. And I tell you that at that time you need a parent or a friend. And if you’ve learnt to hate your parent by then and you have no friends...then you’re all alone. And being alone - that’s so hard. I was alone. And it sent me to a truly dark place. For a long time. Tom Riddle was also a lonely child. You may not understand that, Harry, but I do...
— Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Act II, Scene 15

*There was an undeniable current of something that went beyond friendship between these two in their dialogue and the stage directions, so Scorpius asking Rose out at the end made NO GODDAMN SENSE UGH.  

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