Harry Potter and the Cursed Child
* Spoiler Free *
As with most people from my generation, the Harry Potter books form a sizeable part of my adolescence. We had the pleasure of watching our hero grow up right alongside us, envisioning ourselves in the middle of his adventures, wishing we were right there with Harry, Ron and Hermione. So when it was announced that J K Rowling was releasing a new story in the Harry Potter universe, I was understandably excited.
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child picks up 19 years after the events of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, and finds Harry struggling with balancing his work responsibilities, with his family life. Alongside Harry, we are introduced to his son Albus, who himself is struggling with the burden of being the son of Harry Potter. Besides these personal struggles faced by the characters, there are whispers and rumors of dark forces stirring, and there is a sense of unease permeating in the wizarding world.
One thing I can say for certain, The Cursed Child was not a story that I was expecting. I didn't really have any formed theories going in, but even with a clean slate in my mind, the story managed to surprise me. It doesn’t follow the usual formula of previous Potter books, and although there aren't that many brand new concepts introduced, it expands on certain familiar elements that we haven't explored in great detail before.
The book is a quick read, as it moves along at a break-neck pace. While that's a good thing to keep you engaged, I found myself wishing I could linger on in certain scenes just a little while longer. There are mentions of incidents and events in passing that I wished I could have experienced first-hand as a reader. There are hints of a rich back-story that spans a length of time, but we never get to delve into those moments further, because the story swoops past in a flurry of forward-moving action.
While there are new characters introduced, we get to know a little bit more of our existing heroes. One thing I especially enjoyed was the insight into Harry and Ginny's relationship, which didn’t get as much explored in the prior books. The dynamic between them as a married couple and as parents was fascinating to see. Hermione and Ron don't get as much page-time as the other two, but the little glimpses into their life are also fun and entertaining as ever. One thing's for certain, the four of them carried forward their passions and talents into their careers, so that's another great thing to see.
There's a certain wonder in the fact that we see how our heroes are dealing with adulthood, at the same time that we are. And it gives us just a tad bit more hope to realize that even they too don't have it all figured out just yet. But importantly, they have carried their bonds of friendship and family all throughout their lives, and that is wonderful for us to see. There's a great emphasis on the themes of family and friendship, and also the idea that our history is not the defining factor of our lives, but rather that we can forge our own identity and character with our actions in the present.
Key Things to keep in mind for seasoned Potterheads
1. Medium:First things first, this is not a novel. It's the script of a play. This is important to understand because it requires the reader to adjust their expectations accordingly. The story moves along insanely fast, with scenes jumping between varying time-spans and locations, and even in and out of dream sequences.
2. Protagonist:We've been used to seeing things almost exclusively from Harry's perspective. In The Cursed Child, Harry isn't our sole protagonist. In fact, it's hard to pin down a single primary protagonist, because the story switches view between many of the characters. Some scenes seem to occur centering around a single person's perspective, while others encompass a multitude of characters during a large-scale occurrences.
3. Detail:In a novel, the reader gets treated to lengthy descriptions to set the scene. Every location is described, every facial expression is recounted, and we are privy to the thoughts of our main protagonist, giving us a sense of what they are feeling. Since this is a script (see point 1), we are short on details. Nothing is spoon-fed to us here; just very sparse scene introductions and lines of dialog being exchanged between characters. For the most part, we have to imagine for ourselves the events that transpire, the emotions that the characters feel, and the context of each scene. I must point out, that since we are familiar with this world and most of its characters, it helps with filling in these gaps, as we are more or less familiar with the book voices of Harry and his friends. But it is a jarring experience if you're jumping into the script straight from the novel.
4. 19 years later:This is not the Harry we left behind at the end of the Battle of Hogwarts. In fact, this is the Harry we saw in the final epilogue of the Deathly Hallows, seeing his children off to school. While that epilogue at the time, served as a neat wrap-up of the series, The Cursed Child picks up exactly at this same moment, and immediately it feels completely different. That warm, fuzzy candy-coated covering is peeled back, and we immediately see the cracks of real-life showing. Harry is older, and struggling with a wholly different challenge this time around; dealing with a teenage son and learning how to be a good parent. And the same is true for all the characters in the book. Each deals with very real and mature struggles.
Special mention of Draco Malfoy; this story made me wish for a book written entirely from Draco's perspective during his time at Hogwarts. There's a poignant moment where we get a glimpse of what life was like for him growing up, and it is very revealing of the complexity of his character arc throughout the series.
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child stirred up quite a batch of nostalgic emotion, and it felt lovely to be inside their world again, even if it was just for a few hours. Sure, it feels disjointed and rushed at times, but perhaps that is the dramatic style that the play was aiming for. I'm glad it took place a considerable amount of time after the events of the book series, because it helps to separate the stories while keeping those old memories on the edge of our minds. However, beyond the nostalgia, the story as a stand-alone kept me engaged and surprised with a fresh and fascinating plot. I only wish we had received it in greater detail, because it felt like there was a whole other 7-book series hidden behind this one story. Alas, earwax… ...ahem ...I mean, alas, we must be happy with whatever we receive, and hope that Rowling gives us more, because the thing is, we would love nothing more than to spend a few more hours of time in Harry's world.