If you know me at all, then you know that I’m the resident Harry Potter nerd in most of my different (sometimes intersecting) friend groups. I was the founder and President (Chapter Organizer) of The Wilfrid Laurier University chapter of The Harry Potter Alliance for four years. I both participated in and taught a Medieval Studies course about the intersection and significance of medievalism in the Harry Potter books and films during my undergrad. I have been to exactly 5 midnight premieres of the films. I have a bangin’ Hermione cosplay that I used to sport on a regular basis (whenever I had an excuse to, really), and am a notorious Gryffindor. I showed up to my tutorial — at which I was to be teaching young students about the importance of medievalism in modern media — at Halloween in full Bellatrix Lestrange regalia (I’ll have you know that my students were quite impressed). My fangirling is pretty low-key. Seriously, when that video of super cool humans skydiving out of a plane with brooms playing Quidditch was released, at least 12 separate people either messaged me the link, shared it on my Facebook timeline, or tagged me in the comments on the video. Like I said, low-key.
So with all of that being said, I was beside myself with excitement when it was announced that a play telling the story of Albus Severus Potter’s time at Hogwarts was in the process of production. Seriously. Just chuffed. A little teary, even.
I’m the kind of person that reveres the canon text of stories that I love, so I’m not altogether super into fanfiction; I do however, very deeply respect people who spend their time working on expanding narrative universes that we love so that we can go back to the world and characters we love, for just a little longer. All we ever want is to have more from the stories that we love, and fic writers give it to us freely. Really. Those people are the best kind of people. Their imaginations are incalculable and vast, allowing for all of us to live out whatever outcome we could ever want for these stories and characters, and imagine beyond the borders of a book’s covers and the limitations of the given narration. Harry Potter is by far the most written about narrative when it comes to fanfic. There is a lot of fic out there that I would swear upon the Deathly Hallows was written by JK herself…. And others… Well. We won’t go there. But like I said, I’m not usually one to venture into fanfic.
Now, back to The Cursed Child. I had absolutely no idea what to expect from the text, as people who had the privilege of previewing the play on stage in the West End were ever so lovely to keep the internet free of spoilers (BLESS YOU, THANK). So you can imagine that when I walked into Coles on Sunday afternoon, I was buzzing. The store was playing the film scores, and the staff were milling about the store greeting customers (they were pleased to see me because I used to work at the mall and stop by the store on most days after work, and they hadn’t seen me in a long time). There were copies of the play everywhere. I felt a little teary when I first saw it. It’s really an ineffable thing, the impact that the series has had on my life. I picked up my copy and walked around the store with it held carefully in my hands. It honestly didn’t feel real to me. And thank God it was on promotion for 40% off because I’m not sure that I could have handled spending nearly $50 on it.
I started reading on the train ride home. There was something really nice about starting a new wizarding adventure while on a train. I’m going to try to write this with as few real spoilers as I can. So bear with me.
Now, being a human who participated in a great deal of theatre and drama activities in my life, reading the story in the form of a play was bittersweet. I really liked it in the sense that I am very easily able to envision how I would like to see the scenes blocked and directed, as well as being able to hear the character voices in my head very distinctly. On the other hand, it made me ache over the fact that I probably won’t ever be able to see it on stage.
The trouble with stories that are in the form of a play is that many people will have a hard time reading or being engaged with the text. It’s just a medium that is meant to be read out loud by several different voices. It’s a problem that has plagued high school students who have tried to make sense of Shakespeare in their English classes for hundreds of years; it’s far easier to grasp the beats and language, and the movement of the dialogue and plot when you hear it out loud. It’s something that I definitely experienced in my last year of my undergrad when I was working on learning how to read Middle English; let me tell you that the standardization of spelling is the best thing that could have ever happened to the English language. The disparity between the experience of the printed play versus the live performance is evident in the fact that the play has been receiving glowing reviews since its opening, and so far, I’ve seen a great deal of disappointment with the printed text.
********HERE’S WHERE THE SPOILERS START SOOOORRRRYYYYYYY********
Okay, down to business Emma… Did I like it — short answer is: yes I did enjoy it. The long answer: there were lots of really good things that I absolutely loved, and lots of super unnecessary and quite frankly super out of character things that I did not like at all.
Lets start with what I liked:
- SCORPIUS MALFOY. What a fun characterization. Draco Malfoy’s offspring has been a person widely explored in fanfic, but I think this is my favourite characterization to date. And the relationship between Albus and Scorpius was something that rung extremely true to the kinds of friendship bonds that JK worked very hard to build in all 7 novels. I just really loved them together, and how devoted and loyal they were to what they had together. They were both predictably sorted into Slytherin, but could have easily both been hatstalls because of the depth of their talents. Smart, loyal, brave, resourceful, tenacious. They worked hard to do the right thing, and were victorious in the end because they had love. I’m a sucker, damnit!!!!
- Draco Malfoy had a number of shining moments. It was a lot of what I was disappointed didn’t make it into the final film. It was so very important to me as a reader for Draco and Harry to overcome their differences and be friends, and while I didn’t really get that in the canon text of the novels or in the films (despite Draco being one of the key pieces in Harry’s victory over Voldemort, but I digress….), Draco and Harry were finally on the same side and working together to save their sons. Draco even tells the Golden Trio that he was always jealous of the friendship that they shared. I was crying a little (okay, I was crying a lot).
- Ron and Hermione. It was lovely. They were still in love, even in the realities that they didn’t end up together. Lots of kisses. Lots of jokes. Lots of flirting. Ron was hilarious, but still a very important part of the team. Hermione is the Minister for Freakin’ MAGIC. All is right with the world. So much fluff. So many warm fuzzies.
- Harry has a conversation with Dumbledore in which he gets some closure on all of the things they went through together, that they never got the chance to hash out in real life. While it was Dumbledore’s portrait that Harry was speaking with, it felt genuine and moved me very deeply. Dumbledore told Harry he loved him. Harry told Dumbledore he loved him too. Harry referred to him as his father. I cried a little. Dumbledore sought Harry’s forgiveness, in humility. Harry gave it, in earnest. I was not okay.
- Harry is shown in a very human way, which is definitely a little bit different than we have seen him in the past. He is very much the angry, tired, flawed, damaged person that we first had a glimpse of in the Order of the Phoenix. It’s a common critique of book 5, that Harry complained a lot and was too angry. PTSD will do that to a person. And while the worst seems to be behind him, we see in the play that Harry still has to fight to keep his demons at bay. Unfortunately, Harry is not always painted with a positive light, and this makes it hard to read. It’s heartbreaking when our heroes are not what we want them to be.
- The scene where Harry has to stand by and witness Voldemort murder his parents, and he can’t do anything to stop it because of time travel and paradox reasons. The scene was poignant and really reflected the #pain that Harry lived through every time he had to dream about it…. But this time it was real and he could only watch. I cried a lot.
- Headmistress Minerva McGonagall.
- Severus Snape. Alive. Briefly. Doe Patronus.
- James and Lily Potter and tiny Harry. Albus gets to see them, and gets to share it with his dad. Harry is able to bond with his son over the memory of his parents.
Okay… And now for the things that I didn’t like:
- The plot. Like at all, if I’m being totally honest. I didn’t enjoy the premise under which our heroes departed onto their quest. I didn’t enjoy the process. I didn’t enjoy the predictability of the villain. I didn’t enjoy the predictability of their role in the grand scheme of things. I didn’t enjoy that much of the story was just either confirming or denying fantheories that are prominent in fic. I didn’t enjoy that the villain was a woman. I didn’t enjoy the conflict between Harry and Albus, in spite of it being somewhat understandable. I found it very strange that in spite of Scorpius’ status as pariah, that Slytherins weren’t falling all over themselves to be friends with Albus. I mean, a Potter in Slytherin? Please.
- The pacing felt a little bit off, but that could have be wholly because of the medium of the text. Stage works move very differently than novels do, and that doesn’t always translate well to reading the play in the way you would normally read a novel.
- Amos Diggory being a crotchety old fart and being flat out cruel to essentially everyone he interacts with in the story. It struck me as distinctly out of character, and fell a little bit flat as far as character motivations go. It’s been 25-ish years since the death of Cedric, and it felt almost disrespectful to both Amos and Cedric to have this be the central goal of the quest; it just doesn’t fit with what I saw from Amos in the novels. While it can probably be assumed that Delphi deeply influenced Amos in this regard, it still felt really… yucky. Harry looked up to Cedric immensely; he was everything that Harry wished he could be. Harry was a CHILD. There was nothing that he could have done about what happened to Cedric, and he carries that around with him every single day. It is distinctly ridiculous to think that Harry doesn’t say the names of every single person who died on his behalf, and during the Battle of Hogwarts, under his breath every day like a prayer. He knows their names, and he remembers them. Every single one. It does a disservice to Harry and the sacrificial love that’s integral to his being to have this be the catalyst for the narrative.
- No Teddy Lupin.
- No Professor Neville Longbottom. Seriously. What the hell is up with that? They even make sure to include the fact that Neville was indispensable to the success of the Battle of Hogwarts by having him be killed in the alternate reality where Voldemort reigns supreme. Without Neville, Harry dies and Voldemort wins. But like, where was he at though? Not a single line. Not a single movement on stage. Severely disappointing, and again felt like a disservice to such an incredibly complex character, with an incredibly important role to play in the outcome of the war. You mean to tell me that Neville wouldn’t be jumping into a floo immediately upon hearing that his friends needed his help? That he wouldn’t try to help in any way that he could, to save Harry and Ginny’s son? Yeah, no.
- Not enough Rose Granger-Weasley. Disappointing that she wasn’t jumping headlong into the adventure with Albus and Scorpius. Doesn’t seem right that a child of Hermione and Ron would be so fast to judge someone like Scorpius; not after the abuse that both of them suffered at the hands of bullies and eventually the corrupt version of the Ministry of Magic. She shouldn’t have been able to throw Albus under the bus so quickly. She should have been there with them kicking ass. It would have added to the group dynamic in a way that I felt was really missing from the story.
- Definite awkward tension between Albus and Delphi. He’s fourteen during the climax of the play, while she is first described as a “twenty-something”. Really uncomfortable that it didn’t strike him as odd that she took such an interest in him. Ha ha. Hilarious. Albus likes older women. Yeah, really didn’t like this little aspect. What would have been much better is again, banter between Rose and Scorpius, had she been included in the main adventure. While it adds to Albus’ motivations toward taking on his quest, it would have perhaps been more prudent to approach their interactions differently.
- Harry telling Albus that he sometimes wishes that he weren’t his son. That was rough. While Harry has always had a hard time keeping his thoughts to himself when he’s angry, it was completely unnecessary and completely outside of the realm of believability for behaviour from Harry. In spite of being abused and never having experienced true kindness or love until he was a preteen, Harry has always been loving and kind and has gone out of his way to act out of compassion. This line didn’t feel right. It made my skin crawl. And I think that was probably the intent. It’s the line that send Albus on the path that takes him to Delphi, and therefore necessary for the movement of the plot. But still.
Overall, I enjoyed reading this new story. There were just a lot of things I could have done without, or would have done differently. I think that’s the hardest challenge when approaching something as hugely important to so many people; there is no way that everyone will be pleased or even satisfied at all, with the final result. There’s just so much. So many feelings, so many characters, so many possibilities, that to narrow it down into a play in four acts is just impossible without upsetting scores of fans. In the final analysis, I think that the play should have perhaps spent more time in previews, been tested on more diverse audiences than perhaps only those who can afford to go to the theatre (which is ludicrously expensive, people). I also think that they could have drawn a lot more strongly on JK and picked her brain more meticulously.
While JK stamps The Cursed Child with the Canon approval, I think a lot of mistakes were made and could have been easily avoided. In a lot of ways, the text reflected the wishes of a lot of fans, drawing on theories prominent within the fandom. At the same time, I feel like it has also alienated a lot of fans; for a great deal of valid reasons, some fans feel betrayed. I enjoyed reading, but I definitely agree that as a whole it fell flat, and lacked the emotional and moral depth that the novels have in spades. There were moments that were extremely emotionally charged, like I explained above, but they didn’t necessarily flow into the full narrative of the play and the narrative of Harry Potter’s story, comfortably. They stood out perhaps because they were few and far between. I was sort of left with a big SO WHAT? at the end, in spite of how warm and fuzzy I felt about the beautiful way the story left off. I don’t think any of us were quite sure what to expect, but it sure wasn’t what we ended up with.
I bought it. I read it. And I’m glad for it. I don’t think I will discourage anyone from reading it. But I don’t disagree with the critiques that have begun to creep into my Internet space. It’s so important that fandoms continue to critique the pieces that come to them; it’s how we’ll continue to grow. It’s how these stories will get better, and carry on even long after we’re done blogging about them. And I’m so thankful to be a part of a fandom that takes its texts so seriously. Its one of the best parts of being a Harry Potter Fan — we sure as hell do not mess around.
I still love JK. Hogwarts is still home. Harry still has my heart. All is well.