I’ll keep this review quite brief. For those of you familiar with this blog, I’ve already expressed my belief that JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series of novels are, collectively, one of the greatest things to occur in literature, perhaps ever: just utterly powerful, game-changing, and (pardon the pun) magical stuff. If you’ve not read it, particularly if you’re an adult who has scoffed at the crazy popularity among grown-ups of this series of children’s books and what it means for our society in general, as I once was, then you really should read it. In fact, I dare you to. Your mind, and world, will be changed.
That being said, though, this latest installment in the franchise is a big disappointment. I should clarify that, though. It’s not even really accurate to call this an installment in the franchise. For one, it’s written by someone other than JK Rowling, although she was certainly involved to some extent. (Technically, the story was conceived together by Jack Thorne and JK Rowling, though the actual script was written by Thorne.) Secondly, it’s a play, and the book is the published script. (Incidentally, the play’s first ever iteration is directed by John Tiffany.) Harry Potter purists who think that the original seven novels are as perfect a thing as they could be and that there is no need of further additions or alterations to the sweeping and grand narrative therein will obviously be disappointed by the existence of the new play and the publication of its script. But even those who are not purists in this regard, those who are okay with all the fan fiction and Rowling’s own intermittent short new writings set in the Harry Potter universe, are bound to be nonplussed by what’s gone down here.
Of course, I must acknowledge that this is a play, and that a perhaps not insignificant portion of my dislike of Cursed Child comes from the fact that I experienced it in script form, without all the corresponding stage direction, live action, and life-force that a well-designed, smartly-directed, and powerfully-acted play can create when viewed in its fully-realized on-stage form.
That being said, though, Cursed Child, to my eye, reads like a cheap attempt to keep the dream alive, and provides almost nothing new or interesting to the rich and powerful story that already existed.
To be fair, it was fun. Having enjoyed the original seven novels so much, I certainly couldn’t help but enjoy diving into a new story, at least sanctioned by Rowling, involving Harry, Ron, Hermione, and all the other characters who show up here, and I also couldn’t help but be tickled by scenes of these three as full-grown adults, raising kids, etc. But this frankly was not enough to save it, in my opinion.
The story told here involves Albus Severus Potter, Harry and Ginny’s middle child, who, in his burgeoning friendship with Scorpius Malfoy, the son of Draco, who we also see as an adult here, gets tangled up in some rather harrowing time-traveling adventures in a misguided attempt to go back and save Cedric Diggory from his fate. Instead what occurs is, well, what absolutely anyone could predict: a series of alternate what-if scenes in which Cedric lives and becomes a Death Eater, in which Voldemort lives and Harry dies, in which Hermione and Ron never got married, etc., all followed up by a happy ending in which a valuable lesson is learned by young Albus and in which the theme of father-son relationships is explored a little bit.
Additionally, I should mention that much has been made about the possible queerbaiting in the text. The burgeoning friendship between Scorpius and Albus does, at times throughout the text, seem to hint at something more than a friendship, but nothing is developed in this regard. I’ll not weigh in on this here, but you should read Ilana Masad’s piece in The Guardian, “Harry Potter and the Possible Queerbaiting: why fans are mad over a lack of gay romance.”