Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J.K.Rowling, John Tiffany, and Jack Thorne
Please Note: This is (somehow) a spoiler-free review. It took a lot of self-restraint.
I’m going to start this review with the obligatory confession of being a huge Harry Potter geek. I realise that almost every review of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child starts with a similar sentence, so I won’t dwell too much on it; I just wanted to give some context, in case it wasn’t incredibly obvious from the review as a whole. Being a fan of the series, I was awaiting the release of The Cursed Child script with a mixture of excitement and apprehension, with the apprehension probably the stronger of the two. I was excited, of course, to be returning to this world of magic and characters that I loved. But I was apprehensive because, well, I hadn’t really ever left that world. I was seventeen when Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows came out, shortly followed by a myriad of interviews from which we were able to piece together parts of the characters’ future lives and the ‘next generation’, and, as a teenager, I had taken these new, unwritten characters into my own imagination and become fairly attached to them. Although I was determined not to let this influence my opinion of The Cursed Child, I was worried that I would have to let go of my imagined versions of these characters that I had grown to love.
When my housemate and I both returned to our house after being away in the summer, she asked me what I had thought of the script. I gave her the very brief summary: I liked it, but I didn’t love it. Now, nearly a month on (at the time of writing), I think this is still my opinion on it. There were two things that I particularly liked about The Cursed Child, and they are both fairly subjective. Firstly, I did enjoy being back in the world of Hogwarts and magic. There was something very nostalgic about the whole experience, something thrilling about every mention of a favourite character from the series or an event from long ago. It was almost comforting to be back with these familiar characters again. And secondly, the script confirmed a theory which I have long held: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is the most important book in the series. It is not necessarily my favourite or the most well-written, but narratively, it is the most important in the overall structure.
However, putting aside those subjective thoughts, the narrative of The Cursed Child is just not something I could get behind. Even as I was reading, I was shaking my head at all the narrative clichés and easy fixes that the script contained; the cliff hangers are predictable, the plot twist is ridiculous, and the resolution is far too easy. It is a plot which relies a huge amount on suspension of disbelief from the audience, to an extent that is almost ludicrous. This is an aspect which affects many of the characters too: when writing about changing the past, it is understandable that some aspects of a character may change, but to reach a point where the fundamentals of who a character is has changed stretches suspension of disbelief too far. (Yes, this is both a general point and also referring to one specific character. I won’t spoil it, but if you have read it you’ll probably know who I mean.)
Without sounding cynical, because it is a good business move, I suspect one of the reasons for releasing the script was to encourage more people to go and see the play as it was meant to be seen: on stage. I have to say that, despite my strong feelings towards the plot, reading through the stage directions made me really want to go and see the stage production. I’ve heard that the staging and general production of the play is fantastic, and I think that can definitely be seen in the way that the stage directions give such a visual aspect of each scene. From what I can tell in the reviews I’ve seen, those who have seen the play are much more enthusiastic about The Cursed Child than those who have simply read the script, so I will definitely be trying to see it at some point.
Ultimately, The Cursed Child script has created an interesting dilemma for long-time fans of the series: do they take everything in the narrative to heart as canon, or not? For what it’s worth, I personally don’t feel any qualms about not taking this as 100% canon. I actually don’t even think it’s set up to be taken as 100% canon; I’m sure I’m not the only person who noticed immediately the inconsistencies between the closing chapter of The Deathly Hallows and the opening scene of The Cursed Child. As far as I’m concerned, this was an easy return to the world of Harry Potter, but it will never be part of the main narrative in my eyes.