Harry Potter and the Cursed Child: An Imperfect Story that We Didn’t Realize We Needed

Below is an account of my first-ever Harry Potter midnight release. I wrote it shortly afterwards, but it has been sitting in my drafts for several months, unpublished, because I never actually finished my review of the story itself. Until now.

Date: July 30th, 2016. Time: 11 p.m.

It’s my first Harry Potter midnight book/story/script release. Where am I? What am I doing? I am in Orlando, Florida, at GeekyCon, helping the other Mischief Management staff get ready for it. How I went from never attending a midnight book release to running one is beyond me. For the GeekyCon attendees, we had wizard rock, appearances by PotterCast and MuggleCast, Quidditch, Wizard Chess, the Sorting Hat, face painting, among other things. As for me, I was tasked with running wizard’s chess, but I soon moved over to helping prepare for the book release itself. Our event was touted as a “midnight book release”, but in reality it was more like a “12:45” book release, because we don’t have any control over book embargoes (meaning that the books couldn’t leave the bookstore until 12:01) or traffic from the bookstore to the convention center.

I was proud of how it all went. We had a line of over 700 people, which we got through in 45 minutes. After that, the magic happened as a large portion of the staff met at the hospitality suite back at the hotel to do a table read. We had really high hopes, but we only made it through first act together. I read the stage directions, because that’s something that I’m used to doing in my classroom whenever we read plays aloud. The first act took us two hours, because we couldn’t stop ourselves from reacting to everything and talking about it. We started shortly after 2 a.m. We then went our separate ways at about 4 a.m. I really couldn’t stop there, so I went back to my hotel room, shut myself in my bathroom (since my roommates were asleep) and finished after three more hours, or about 7 a.m. In short, I didn’t sleep at all that night.

Plot: fan-fiction-y. Characters: THE BEST.

Whenever people have asked me what I thought about Cursed Child, I have always given the same response: I didn’t like the plot, but I loved the characters. The plot felt a little bit fan-fiction-y to me, because, let’s be honest: it is. It’s written by Jack Thorne, but it’s been given J.K. Rowling’s seal of approval. I mean, it’s certainly plausible that she short the story and Jack merely adapted it for the stage and edited it for the script, but so much just seems to fly in the face of the canon that Jo has established.

Take the new time-turner for example. The entire plot seems to hinge on this time-turner–a very different time turner than what we saw in the third book–being able to go back in time much farther than a time-turner should. Not only that, but canon time-turners shouldn’t be able to create alternate universes. In the third book, events in the “past” run parallel to the events put in motion by Harry and Hermione with her time-turner. In Cursed Child, an alternate universe is created, where some characters die and some characters live and some characters are vastly different than they would have been otherwise. Very powerful magic indeed.

I say that these concepts “fly in the face of canon”, but since it has Jo’s name on it, I suppose I’d better accept it as canon now. One thing I can gladly accept as canon is the characterization. I love the new characters, especially Scorpius. As I read the story, I took notes every time I had a reaction that I wanted to share. Here’s what I wrote about Scorpius:

SCORPIUS MALFOY IS THE BEST. He is bright, delightfully awkward, AND THE SLYTHERIN THAT WE NEEDED. I have some really good friends that identify as Slytherin, which is problematic, because the rest of the Harry Potter series basically tells us that Slytherin is “the evil house” or the house that “sided with Voldemort” during the Battle for Hogwarts. Sure, we have Severus Snape, but his redemption really only stems from his creepy love for Lily Evans. Scorpius really is a precious cinnamon roll to pure for this world, but not too pure for the proud house of Slytherin. Sure, maybe “there’s not a single witch or wizard who went bad that wasn’t in Slytherin”, but THAT DOES NOT MEAN THAT THEY’RE ALL BAD. Did I mention that Scorpius is delightfully awkward? I mean, he says things like “Consider me engorgimpressed.” and “Malfoy the Unanxious.” and “My geekness is a-quivering.” Not to mention the things that are said about Scorpius by other characters: “How to distract Scorpius from difficult emotional issues. Take him to a library.”

I didn’t like Albus Severus as a character nearly as much as I thought I would, but then I realized why:

ALBUS IS THE SLYTHERIN VERSION OF HARRY. Albus suffers from even worse wizard angst than Harry. He is also a terrible friend to Scorpius. Speaking of wizard angst, HARRY’S ANGST GOT WORSE. How dare he be such a Jerky McJerkface to McGonagall AND ALBUS. “Wish you weren’t my son”? Really?!

One character that I couldn’t understand was Cedric, but I suppose that’s because his character pivoted around the plot that I couldn’t understand. But, like, really, Cedric? You’re embarrassed, so you becomes a Death Eater? Like, one leads directly to another? Embarrassment leads to killing Neville? I just don’t get it. It doesn’t compute.

What were some of your biggest reactions?

As I looked through my notes again, I had several single-line reactions that I thought I would share as-is, without explanation or embellishment:

  • All the feels for the blanket scene, you guys.
  • Trolley witch scene? What the what now?
  • Saving Cedric? Time-turners? What?
  • THAT KISS, THOUGH. (Albus Severus as Ron.)
  • Of course the blanket becomes a plot device.
  • How many times can JKR use discombobulated? 3 times.
  • Team Valor (Pokemon reference), am I right?! BUT REALLY, THO.
  • How did they get the blanket from Baby Harry/Lily without being seen?
  • This timey-wimey stuff is messing me up. Worst book to read in the middle of the night. I had to re-read so much because WHAT IS GOING ON? Such fan fiction. DOES NOT FEEL REAL.

Do you agree with Jo in that a script is the best format?

One question that JKR was asked often when news first broke about Cursed Child being a play was: Is a script the best format for this story? Why couldn’t she have simply written another book to eventually be adapted into a movie? To that, my answer is that this story is absolutely best suited for a script. With so many time shifts, you NEED the stage directions.

I’m glad that the script was published for a wider audience to read it, because, let’s face it, going to London to see it is just not in the stars for everyone. But I’m also glad that it was produced for the stage. Why? Because in this world where Hollywood reigns supreme as the King of Entertainment, it’s nice that the theatre community is getting some love. I’ve seen shows in West End. In fact, I saw Spamalot at Palace Theatre in 2007, several years before Cursed Child was produced there. And now, Cursed Child is making its way over to Broadway in New York, so American audiences have a greater opportunity to see it.

Should JKR have even continued the story?

No and yes. Plot-wise, I loved the Deathly Hallows finale. I know that some people didn’t care for it. They thought it wrapped the story up too nicely, in a gift-wrapped box with a little bow. I loved “All is well.” If you’re going to write an epilogue, what’s the point of revisiting the story later? You’re trying to tell me that all is not quite so well anymore? Storytellers are supposed to be omniscient. You can’t simply retract the “all is well” line. I mean, I know your name is “JK”, but you can’t “just kidding” your way out of this one. However, there are several reasons why I appreciated this continuation of the story. I mean, given the choice, I would have loved to read a prequel instead. Give me a story about the founding of Hogwarts. Give me a story about the Marauders and the first Wizarding War. But this is the story that we got, and I am not ungrateful. Here’s why part of me says “yes”:

  • Slytherins: As I said above, we finally have some decent Slytherin representation.
  • THEATRE: As I also said above, I think it’s so important to produce great stories for the stage.
  • Non-white Hermione: At no point in the Harry Potter series does J.K. Rowling give Hermione a skin color. She’s merely described as having bushy hair. That’s it. I am so glad that Noma Dumezweni was cast for this role. I have heard some complain about this casting, that it’s “too confusing” for movie-watchers. Personally, I see that as an excuse to be racist. I mean, really, is anyone who hasn’t read the books going to see Cursed Child in a theatre anyway? Contempt aside, I think in this day and age that it’s important to have a greater minority representation in media and entertainment.

What are your thoughts?

I’m curious what you think. I asked myself a few questions above; now I want to read your answers to those questions.

  • What were some of your biggest reactions?
  • Do you agree that the script is the best format?
  • Should Jo have even continued the story?

Share your answers in the comments below! But before you do, I leave you with a video from LeakyCon, where my friend Leah and I, along with two attendees, read select scenes from Cursed Child, just for fun.