Artist: Arthur Rackham (1867-1939)

Monday, August 1, 2016

"Harry Potter and the Cursed Child" book review

Image from Pottermore.

In 2013, producers announced a new London stage play, called “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child,” that would be the eighth story in the Harry Potter saga. The play was written by Jack Thorne, with story elements contributed by J.K. Rowling and John Tiffany. While this was exciting news for Potterheads around the world, almost immediately fans were hurt that only a small number would ever be able to attend the stage play. Later came the announcement that the rehearsal script for the play would be released in book form.  The book was released at midnight on July 31, 2016 – the birthday of Harry Potter and J.K. Rowling.

The story begins nineteen years after Harry Potter defeats Lord Voldemort at the Battle of Hogwarts. Harry is married to Ginny Weasley, and Ron and Hermione are married to each other. Harry’s middle child, Albus Severus, is starting his first year at Hogwarts School for Witchcraft and Wizardry. It’s also the first day for Ron and Hermione’s daughter Rose, and for Draco Malfoy’s son Scorpius.

Albus is very nervous about starting school, and is afraid that he will be sorted into Slytherin, the school house associated with dark wizards. In the book and movie, we see a loving, sensitive, and wise father comforting Albus, and assuring him that it wouldn’t be a bad thing if he were to be sorted into Slytherin because Albus was given the middle name of Severus, after a Slytherin, who was the bravest man Harry ever knew. Albus heads off to Hogwarts happy and excited. The final words of the book are: “All was well.”

According to this new story, all is not well. Albus is unhappy at school, and Harry has a lot of shortcomings as a father. He’s stressed out at work, and has to be prodded about doing his job properly. The story unfolds over three school years as Harry and Albus’s relationship deteriorates to the point that Albus’s anger towards his dad leads him to endanger the world and maybe even undo Voldemort’s downfall.

By all accounts, the stage play is quite enjoyable because of the excellent production, acting, directing, and wondrous special effects. Sadly, the story and dialog leave something to be desired. There is a secret love child, and a time travel mess reminiscent of the universally disliked second installment of the “Back to the Future” movie trilogy. There’s also a big heartbreaking scene that makes no sense because of what we know about the Fidelius charm from the original series, and that the charm was on Lily and James Potter’s house. It completely contradicts canon.

The dialog is not up to Rowling’s writing, and the kids don’t read as real, or as well as Rowling wrote them. J.K. Rowling’s kids’ dialog reads so true to life and feels authentic. Jack Thorne misses the mark here, and much of Albus’s and Scorpius’s dialog just isn’t as organic.   

The way time travel works is also not quite in line with the way it worked in “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.” In PoA, time travel followed the Novikov self-consistency principal, which asserts that if an event exists that would change the past in any way, or would cause a time paradox, the probability of that event is zero. We are told in PoA that what happened with Sirius Black was predetermined, and could not have happened any other way, because it had always happened that way. This story contradicts that.

The inconsistencies are really bothersome, and make the “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” inferior to Rowling’s original writings. It’s disappointing that she O.K.’d this story. There are a few fun elements, like seeing the grown up Draco Malfoy, and his son Scorpius, and the loving marriages of Ron and Hermione, and Harry and Ginny. But overall, it’s unfortunate that some elements of the story will now be considered canon.

'Harry Potter and the Cursed Child' lacks the magic and enchantment of the original material. Potterheads are going to want to read this anyway, but it’s not great. It just reads like fanfic, and not very good fanfic at that. Verdict: 3 out of five stars. Maybe borrow a copy to read before paying for it.


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