There’s nothing worse than someone spoiling the book you’re reading. I know. I may or may not have finished Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix first and told my best friend that Sirius dies – when she was still halfway through it. We were 13 at the time, and we didn’t speak for days. Which was, like, the worst. Really, given the magnitude of my terrible judgment, it’s a miracle our friendship survived.
As such, we’ve held off covering Harry Potter and the Cursed Child here at Villainesse to give everyone a chance to catch up. But if you haven’t read it by now, there is little that I can offer you other than a SPOILER ALERT. And seriously, what have you been doing for the last two weeks?
Before I begin, I have a confession to make. I read all seven Harry Potter books every year between September and December. It’s something of a tradition. I was eight when I read Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone and 18 when I read Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Harry was one of my most loved childhood friends. So Harry Potter and the Cursed Child had rather a lot to live up to.
With a wave of nostalgia, I pre-ordered the book, just as I had done with every book from the Goblet of Fire onwards. I still remember the winding queue down three stories at Borders to retrieve my beloved copy, after which my parents couldn’t get a word out of me for 24-hours until, wiping my eyes and still mourning Cedric, I’d turned the last page.
But I digress. With the brand-spanking-new hardcover copy of The Cursed Child in my hot little hands, I went to bed early to dive back into the Harry Potter world (a month ahead of my usual schedule).
The first thing to note? It’s not a novel. I was forewarned of this fact, and as someone who has read many plays over the years, I didn’t find it particularly jarring. I can see however, for those who are not used to reading drama, how it could be challenging. Dramatists are forced to tell their stories almost entirely through dialogue, while J.K. Rowling’s books make ample use of narration. In a play, context and backstories can only be given through the spoken words of characters, and the entire script is written for the sole benefit of the audience. This is not literature written for readers.
It is also not literature written by J.K. Rowling, and it shows. Characters that leapt off the page in the books clunked off the stage in The Cursed Child. The play was written by Jack Thorne, a name I often found myself cursing as I longed for Rowling’s seamless embodiment of her characters’ voices. In Rowling’s hands, Ron and Hermione, for example, are fully-fledged, three-dimensional characters with fandoms of their own. In Thorne’s, they are badly rendered caricatures of themselves.
The storyline itself is interesting enough. The idea of (spoiler) Voldemort having a daughter was enough to make me shiver involuntarily, and, in hindsight, it leant so much more meaning to Bellatrix’s slavish devotion to her master. It also sent me off on a rambling trail of genealogy, during which I realised that Delphi was none other than Scorpius Malfoy’s second cousin.
The mechanics of the faulty Time-Turner have inspired many a raised eyebrow (and have been well covered elsewhere) and I found myself wanting to throttle Albus Severus Potter more times than I could count, but all in all, I lapped up every last mouthful of The Cursed Child like the true Harry Potter fanatic I am, and I’m sure I won’t be alone in mourning the last words. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child the written play may be a pale imitation of the seven books that preceded it (and yes, at times it does feel like fanfic), but it nevertheless gave readers a brief jaunt back into a world that so many of us still love deeply.
My verdict? If you are a true fan, you will likely find yourself torn between longing, disappointment, frustration and delight. I can only speak for myself, but as I read the final line I couldn’t decide whether to rage uncontrollably, cry from the grief of farewelling Harry et al. yet again, or hug the book to my chest. It was a profoundly confusing experience, but I’d do it again in a heartbeat. What Potter fan could possibly resist the temptation of finding out what happened to our hero (and, of course, our eternal heroine, Hermione)? Not this one.
So, with mixed feelings, I do recommend reading Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. With a heavy caveat attached. Who knows, maybe I’ll feel differently when I read it again in January, with the seven REAL Harry Potter books fresh in my mind, but for now I’m of the opinion that it is a thoroughly imperfect tease that tugs at Potter fans’ heartstrings without necessarily being worthy of the honour. But don’t let that stop you reading it.
I’ll say this for it: it would be incredible on stage. My mind’s eye ran wild imagining the hijinks Thorne and co. have devised for the theatrical version. If you get the chance to see the play, do it. That’s where the real magic will be.