Book Review: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

When I was in the first grade, I read both Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and The Chamber Of Secrets. By the time I reached the third grade, I had mastered the existing four books multiple times.[1]

This pattern continued until the series came to a devastating end in 2007. I would read through the books that had been released thus far in constant anticipation of the next one. J. K. Rowling was good like that. She penned seven books that left me wanting more every time I closed the back cover. The audiobooks did that for me too. Since I didn’t have to do the reading myself, Jim Dale’s performance of the Harry Potter series opened my mind to further exploration of the world Rowling created. To this day, no book series has quite captured my attention like that of Harry Potter and I expect none ever will; Harry’s is a wonderful and nearly perfect story that I enjoy still—frequently.

I’ll admit. My anticipation for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child wasn’t nearly as exaggerated as the books that preceded it. I love it when a good thing ends. When it does, it remains good. At least, history is more kind to an aging franchise than one with an unsolicited sequel—which I find this particular play to be. To be fair, the “8th book” in the Harry Potter series is a published Jack Thorne script used by the West End production of a play of the same name. That play debuted the day before the script’s release and I’ve yet to see it. Obviously, I’d love to. I tend to appreciate Harry Potter stories in all mediums. [2] Until then, however, I could hardly wait to dig into this new story—wary, I may be.

The play reads like a play. Not simply in the structure of the script or that dialogue and scene are expressed in their own lines, but that the dialogue itself is very much written to be spoken aloud. For those like me that read fiction visually—conjuring images in their mind about what is happening as they read—they too may find it difficult to place this one in their mind’s theater. I found it more enjoyable to place it on its own stage, with its own cast of stage actors playing their parts.

The story is short; just 308 pages. That’s less than books three through seven. If you took a word count, I’d reckon it’s significantly lower than books one and two as well. Overall, it’s an easy read which most could probably finish in one or perhaps two short evening sittings. The brevity may make for an enjoyable night in the theater, but left me wanting in the comfort of my bed. The want would make for a positive feeling two days removed from finishing it if it were that I wanted more like all of Rowling’s books before it. The issue with this one is that I wanted less.

In its essence, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is a next generation tale which follows Harry’s middle child, Albus Severus Potter. Although the setting of the first scene is nearly beat-for-beat the same as the epilogue of the last in book seven, it’s made clear from the start that Albus is going to have a rough road ahead. He’s likable to small degree, but only through pity. His story is perhaps relatable to many, but to me it seems that his apparent differences from his famed father would drive every action from start to finish. To be clearer, Albus’ obvious dissimilarity to Harry in terms of skill and popularity are allowed to take control of every aspect of his life. In this, he makes friends with the only boy on the Hogwarts Express that could possibly sympathize with being cast, Scorpius Malfoy—son of Draco Malfoy.

Scorpius had a fairly interesting, if not comic book twist of a story. By the books, his parentage follows the Malfoy line of pure blood. His mother, Astoria Malfoy (née Greengrass) is ill from the start and passes within a number of pages. This is less a motivator for the boy than it is the husband. Draco has been working hard to “make good” since the Battle of Hogwarts, but fate continues to push him down the path of tragedy. Once she’s gone, all that remains the remains of his family wealth and his son—a boy the wizarding world rumors is actually the son of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, Lord Voldemort himself.

As the years roll on, the relationship between Harry and his son are strained. We hear almost nothing about his other children, nor of Teddy Lupin. In fact, apart from passing mentions of Professor Neville Longbottom and a few brief appearances by Professors McGonagall and Dumbledore, there are few of the original Harry Potter cast to catch up to.[3] Naturally Ron, Hermione, Draco, and Ginny play their parts, but that nearly the whole of the reunion party.

As Albus and Scorpius take off on their misguided adventure through time to save Cedric Diggory, events are altered in ways that completely change the reality of the present we’re first introduced to. I think perhaps this would be interesting if the world had been drawn out over the course of several lengthy chapters. Had more characters been explored and the state of the wizarding world in the aftermath of Voldemort’s near-rise to power explained, the changes made in the boys’ efforts to “save the spare” would have been more compelling. Alas, the nineteen years since Dumbledore’s Army saved the day have apparently delivered little to be accounted for and due to that lack of detail, the resulting changes in the course of their lives in each level of their meddling are just as interesting—if not more so.

Millions of copies will fly off Barnes & Noble bookshelves this year as Harry Potter fans the world over hand fists of cash to find out “what happens next.” What they’ll get is less than riveting and adds so little to the wonder of the world Rowling built that I can’t help but feel disappointed. I think there are lessons to be taken from the seven books that make up Harry’s primary story. Lessons in life, loss, and love primarily. The Cursed Child has bits and pieces of all three, but one clear statement resounds most loudly: be good to your dad. And hey, that’s fine. Dads deserve a son’s love and sons too deserve loving dads. The way the script reads is sweet and has emotional moments, even some fun and lighthearted ones that briefly reveal the magic of J. K. Rowling’s fantasy world. Beyond those small glimpses of nostalgic bliss, sadly, this story lacks depth and ends with a twist that seems more Hollywood sequel than thoughtful addition.

I so wanted to return to Hogwarts and learn more about Harry’s kids. I wanted to feel invested in their adventures within the castle walls as I did with their parents. Sadly, I just don’t think it is possible. To replicate the feeling a reader has means more than familiar locations and references to prior work. The story of Harry Potter was magical because it had seven books to breathe. 3,407 pages full of adventures, mishaps, and incantations. Perhaps this story will find such air on stage. The show’s first preview had a run time of two hours and forty-five minutes. In that time I expect the characters could sell the story with personality that reads better in person than a book. I hope so. I think the story is fine, albeit contrived, and will be better received in person.

I can’t recommend Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, but I understand it. I can even tolerate it. What I can’t do is add an 8th book to my occasional Harry Potter marathon.[4] As readers and consumers of media we have the privilege of maintaining levels of personal head canon—what we perceive as true events where holes in the story exist. Having read this, aspects of my own have been altered forever. As a purist, I have to respect what was published as fact. That doesn’t mean, however, that I’m committed to and anticipate more of this particular branch of the tale. Both The Cursed Child and my love for the series can live in tandem. They will sit on the shelf side-by-side, but they are not equal in the way that many sequels are not. They are simply there.

Yes, I read at a 6th grade reading level in my first years of primary school. Thanks very much to my parents and some old stuffy copies of Tolkien’s works I inherited early on.

Save for Stephen Fry’s taped readings of the books. Though I love most everything about the man, those are rubbish.

The Hogwarts Express trolley witch was given more background than anyone else we’ve previously heard of.

This should be easy enough, considering they are not doing an audiobook for this one. That’s how I prefer to reabsorb the books anyway.