In the documentary J K Rowling: A Year in the Life, the author of the wildly popular Harry Potter series says something becomes true for her only once she writes it down. Upon reflection, I’ve found that this was also true for me: I always avoided fan-fiction stories based on the second generation of characters because there was no canon that recorded their dimensions from which my imagination could proceed; it felt fraudulent from the first, a misgiving that entirely missed the irony that I write stories based in a universe created by another writer.
Luckily a Clean Sweep has swept away all such concerns from my head and burnished the mantle previously occupied by what we, and Rowling presumably, thought was the last instalment of the franchise. In its place stands the brand-new eighth book, a script adaptation of a play of the same name, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. When Rowling hinted in a 2010 interview with Oprah that an eighth book was possible, I dared not believe her. But here it is.
Cursed Child picks up the story 19 years later from King’s Cross, where Harry and his wife Ginny drop off their wizards- and witch-in-training, Albus Severus Potter, James Potter and Lily Potter. Aboard the Hogwarts Express Albus meets the spawn of his father’s childhood enemy, Scorpius Malfoy, who feels just as trapped by his family legacy as Albus does, and they become fast friends. Together they travel far and wide in both time and space to right the wrongs of the past and liberate themselves from it.
Without spoiling it (at least not too much), here are my owl droppings about the story.
Ginny is a broomstick wife—or rather a Shooting Star
Any first-year would tell you that the Shooting Star is the lowliest of brooms (but wouldn’t go as far as to scoff at one, for many of them would have never been on a broom before, so any would do). It’s standard issue and clocks a measly speed. Ginny’s performance as a character is not much better: she disappears into the wall even as she shares the scene with Harry and vaguely resurfaces to mutter empty platitudes of encouragement to him. She’s a husk of the fiery redhead we saw in Half-Blood Prince—even in Chamber of Secrets when she was distracted and possessed for most of the book. It’s a faded rendering that does not do the character justice. But as this is the first script I have ever read, perhaps I’m missing the point that this format might necessitate such sacrifices.
Her brother, Ron, is equally diminished in character, getting very little productive stage time. James and Lily appear in three scenes each at most in the entire story. But beyond that the colour returns. If you thought Harry was irascible and too quick to act, Albus is in a Quidditch league of his own; Scorpius barely has enough time to pull away from a hug (yes, Scorpius is strangely hug-happy in this story, which stirred my suspicion that something little more than a friendship was afoot here) before Albus grabs him by the arm and plunges them into another rabbit hole.
Harry has a rich character arch. As he contorts himself with guilt and fatherly concern before his son, who keeps testing him, we are reminded of the evolving mental state of a young boy who had to grow up very fast in a foreign world and in the cross hairs of a tenacious terrorist. We enjoy a refreshing insight into what goes through Harry’s head as he tries to build a firm foundation of trust and affection with his youngest. The same tension takes place between Draco and Scorpius, though, of course, to a diminished extent (who has time for all these finicky emotions when there is an empire to build?)
We are reminded of the evolving mental state of a young boy who had to grow up very fast in a foreign world and in the cross hairs of a tenacious terrorist.
At last we get the measure of our favourite wizards and witches, and, as judges do with the strata of precedents in common law, we can interpret their actions through all manner of scenarios in our fanfiction stories. Finally the ink from my pen can flow.
Time-Turner as predictable as sands in an hourglass
As you may have surmised from the blaring hint above, the Time-Turner features heavily in the story, which was rather predictable. But if I could give myself a pass on this cliché as a fanfic writer, surely I could deign to extend the same courtesy to the mother of the Harry Potter universe. So I move that by the order of the Wizengamot, the charges against her are dismissed. Although, naturally stories that involve time travel tend to have some pretty convenient bends, so be prepared to roll your eyes here and there.
The deferred dreams of fathers
Just as the death of Rowling’s mother leaps from every page in the previous seven books, so does her complicated relationship with her father in every page of Cursed Child. Albus and Harry size each other up, and Draco at first has just enough time to give his only child a once-over, which is much more than Voldemort would ever care to give… I myself have spent a mere 14 minutes in the presence of my biological father, which I suspect is why I cherish the bond between Harry and Dumbledore so deeply that it, too, bleeds on every page of my fanfiction efforts. Gees—how many of us have daddy issues?
Just as the death of Rowling’s mother leaps from every page in the previous seven books, so does her complicated relationship with her father in every page of Cursed Child.
An unexceptionable to good story
The story has a few twists and turns, most of which you see coming a mile away. But I think we should keep in mind that it is meant to be shown, not read, so the obvious must scream and the subtle at least harrumph. I lapped up everything that told us something about the second-generation characters, who include Ron and Hermione’s children, Rose and Hugo Granger-Weasley (What, you thought Hermione would offer to drop her family name? Have you read her?) Its most compelling feature and through line is the relationship between Albus and Harry.
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is a worthy if lukewarm addition to the magical universe. Now that we’ve broken the drought of entertainment that began after the release of the eighth and final movie, we can finally hope for a Harry Potter television show that would Reducto! all traces of Wizards of Waverly Place from the face of the Earth, retired as it is. If Merlin has any mercy.
Feature image: By Source (WP:NFCC#4), Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=50672379