For the last seven years or so, my Summer “just for fun” read-through has been the Harry Potter series. Yes, it’s children’s fiction. Yes, most of the themes which appear in Harry Potter are dealt with more deeply in the Middle Earth books. But Harry Potter is fun, and for a Summer read-through that’s what I’m looking for.
This Summer, however, I didn’t read-through the series because there was a new book coming out which extended the storyline. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. This book, which is actually a published rehearsal for the play of the same name, continues almost precisely where Deathly Hallows ends. Our copy came in the mail last week, and I read it in less than a day 1. It’s taken me a few days to reflect on the story, but thoughts aplenty have I.
When I first heard this book was actually a published play script, I was a bit disappointed. I would have loved to have a new long-form fiction novel set in this universe. Having now read the script, I can’t imagine it being released in any other form. The stage directions found throughout the story create a wonderful sense of significant chunks of time passing, something which would have felt out of place in a novel. Also, while novels tend to require one character to be the window through which the world is seen and interpreted, a play needs no such figure. Rather, the audience are the eyes which interpret the production — and the windows through which they see the presented world, the scenes, are their guides. This allows the story to jump through different characters, adding significant depth to quite a number of old Harry Potter favorites.
I will give my spoiler-filled thoughts below 2, but here in this section I can share one point without ruining anything for potential readers.
If you liked how happy and wrapped up Deathly Hallows was, prepare to have the “happily ever after” unravelled a bit. This should not come as a surprise, as without a conflict there can be no drama, but some people might be a bit taken aback.
The story of Cursed Child, however, rings true. Fans of Harry Potter all remember the struggles the titular character went through because he was famous for something he couldn’t even remember. Imagine being the child of this famous wizard who not only lived up to their reputation, but ultimately saved the wizarding world. That is a tough burden to bear. And it’s one Harry, who never had a father of his own, has difficulty helping his child navigate.
In a very real sense Cursed Child is about legacies, the impact the past has on the present. Even as a script, it felt like Harry Potter. It’s not perfect, and there are some over-used fantasy tropes, but the tone was mostly right.
From hear on out, there are spoilers. You have been warned. Don’t come crying to me about ruining anything. So there.
Albus and Scorpius
Friendship, as in the previous Harry Potter stories, plays a huge role in Cursed Child. I thought it a great twist to see the child of Draco Malfoy become best friends with Harry’s middle child. Over 19 years Harry and Draco still do not care for one another, but are publicly cordial. Ron, on the other hand, remains openly hostile to the Malfoy family, and this comes out in the attitude of his daughter, Rose.
Of the two friends, Scorpius is actually much more like a younger Harry Potter. He is friendly and hopeful, despite growing up with a distant parental figure and having terrible rumors spread about him. At the same time, he has much in common with a young Hermione, being studious and inquisitive. Albus, on the other hand, feels more like a young Sirius Black – resentful of his family history and willing to throw the rules out the window to accomplish what he feels to be a just end 3. I like the interplay between the two, though Albus can be a bit grating as he goes deep into his misunderstood teen mode 4. Still, these two clearly depend on one another, and this comes out in the script.
For the life of me, however, I can’t understand how either of them ended up in Slytherin. Neither have a huge amount of ambition 5, and don’t seem to care too much about personal power. Even Albus’ manic attempts to correct a wrong from his father’s past aren’t about proving himself to be powerful person, it’s to show he’s not his father. This is not the stuff of which Slytherin is made. Sadly, we don’t get to hear why the Sorting Hat put them in this house, but both characters seem like a better fit for Hufflepuff. Loyalty and fair play seem to drive both their character arcs, which are very un-Slytherin traits.
Rose Granger-Weasley, on the other hand, probably could have fit perfectly in Syltherin. The calculating way she planned to have her pick of friends on her first trip to Hogwarts said much about her character.
The callbacks in the script for a number of old favorites were gratifying. The appearance of both Snape and Umbridge in the dark alternate timeline were wonderfully played 6. Snape’s willingness to sacrifice himself, again, to reset the timeline was also a terrific moment. 19 years after the Battle of Hogwarts was lost his love for Lilly Potter had not dulled, and eventually grew to embrace a love for the wider wizarding world. Snape got his chance to be a hero out in the open, and I loved it.
I was a bit disappointed to only see Hagrid in flashbacks, and Neville is mentioned several times but never seen. I’d have enjoyed seeing Professor Longbottem in action.
Draco and Harry
The fortunes of Draco and Harry being reversed from the first series is a nice flip. But it’s nice to finally see them have something in common, even if it’s that neither of them understands their sons. We also get to see how neither of their sons understands them.
Scorpius can’t see Draco’s inner conflict. He was raised with pure-blood mania and saw what those beliefs unleashed on the world. Even in the alternate reality, where Draco is a man of immense power, this horrifying realization manages to find it’s way deep into his heart. Draco’s wife could see this conflict, and married a man whom she saw was trying to rise above how he was raised. Scorpius, on the other hand, could only see a man whom most of the world mistrusted and vilified. It was a touching moment when Scorpius revealed how his mother used to defend Draco to her son. Draco’s reaction says much about the character, he just wanted his family to be whole – and knew it never would be.
Albus grew up on stories of Harry’s exploits, and in the shadow of his more outgoing siblings. When he found he couldn’t quite measure up to the stories he’d heard, he retreats inward and begins to resent his father for being so successful. Interestingly enough, he doesn’t seem to harbor the same resentment for Ron, possibly because Ron had also always lived in Harry’s shadow. Albus has a hot head, and needs to learn things the hard way 7. It was only after he nearly destroyed reality, three times, he came to understand his father never actually sought the adventures for which he was famous. Harry had been caught up in events beyond his control from the moment of his birth.
Harry had no early parental role-model. As such, he had no idea how to counsel his son, or be there for him – even though he desperately wanted to do so. In some respects every parent makes things up as we go along, but each of us learns a great number of lessons going up without being consciously aware of them. Lessons which Harry was unable to learn himself. He was behind the curve during his first months at Hogwarts, given his Muggle upbringing, but when it came to parenting a sensitive child the curve buried him.
For me, the moment at which Harry and Draco recognize themselves in each other was the best moment in the script. These two adversaries finally buried the hatchet and became friends, which is probably a big piece of what their sons actually needed.
According to Dumbledore, there is no way Voldemort would have ever had a child. He did not love, and he didn’t think he needed a legacy because he was going to live forever.
I found the idea of Voldemort having a daughter to be absurd in the extreme, until I remembered something from the books. Dumbledore could be wrong. And, given his immense powers of reasoning, when he was wrong, he was really wrong.
So, plot hole filled. Voldemort, for reasons known only to his demented mind, had a child 8.
The moment Harry forced himself watch his parents be murdered was heart-breaking. It was something he needed to see, but as a husband and father the weight of what he witnessed must have wrenched his soul more deeply than most could possibly imagine. Seeing what his father went through was the final crack Albus’ damned emotions. He finally got to see his father, and it changed him.
It unravels the happy ending of the series somewhat, but in realistic ways. The four principle characters, Harry, Albus, Draco, and Scorpius grow – and that’s what I look for in a story. I would have liked to see more of Ginny, Ron, and Hermione – and any appearance of Neville – but the story didn’t necessitate them having huge character arcs 9.
While the a script reads incredibly different than a novel, this is one worth picking up.
- And will probably be reading it again before August is through. ↩
- With a fair warning. ↩
- Sirius did this by becoming an illegal animagus, Albus took this tack using time-travel. ↩
- Says the parent of teenagers ↩
- Especially Scorpius ↩
- And managed to make Unbridge even more unlikeable, which is saying something. ↩
- My that sounds familiar. ↩
- Unless said child was as delusional as Voldemort. ↩
- Though Ginny gets the most depth out of the three. ↩