Yea or Nay: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

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By Chris Chan (@GKCfan)
Fans can be passionate about their TV shows, movies, franchises and so forth. Fans are brought together by their shared loves of assorted sources of entertainment, as people from diverse backgrounds all agree that something is awesome.
 
However, even the most beloved franchises tend to have some aspects that split the fandom. In these “Yea or Nay” articles, I intend to provide an overview of the reasons why ardent fans disagree so sharply over certain parts of a franchise or something similar. Fans can be split on a television series’ finale, or the introduction of a particularly controversial character, or some other creative decision. While there are some things that are nearly universally loathed, the sharpest arguments come from the most divisive creations, which some fans love and other fans despise.
 
This summer, the long-awaited continuation of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, the two-part play Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, was released in book form. The stage play is currently running in London, and as expected, it’s a runaway hit. Not having seen the play performed, I have no idea how it works as a stage performance, although some of the special effects are bound to have more of an impact on stage in all of their theatrical glory than they do on the unillustrated printed page.
 
Fans have had sharply diverging reactions to Cursed Child. Some readers objected to the play format as opposed to a full-fledged novel, but this is a stylistic quibble– it’s meant to tell the story in a different format. Fans have split opinions on the characterizations, the plot, and the directions of the characters. Fans are similarly split as to theorizing how much of Cursed Child was written by Rowling and how much was crafted by collaborators Jack Thorne and John Tiffany. Thorne is currently credited as the primary creator of the script.
 
There are good reasons to be critical about Cursed Child, but there are also valid points for arguing that the play is a valid addition to the series.
 

Warning: spoilers follow.

 
While Harry, Ron, and Hermione get a good deal of screen time, a lot of focus centers on the new generation. Harry and Ginny’s middle son, Albus, is now a Hogwarts student, although he’s not happy about living in his father’s shadow. Interestingly, Albus quickly becomes best friends with Scorpius Malfoy, the son of his father’s old nemesis. The first three years at Hogwarts fly by fast, and in their fourth year, Albus and Scorpius travel through time to fix the past, and not surprisingly, wind up making things worse rather than better.
 
Lots of old friends and foes make appearances, and some of the emotional high points of the play come from seeing favorite characters pop up here and there in the narrative, even when you’d given up hope of seeing them again. Some characters, like Prof. McGonagall, are much like we remembered them. Ron, in contrast, seems to be mostly comic relief, and Ginny, who ought to be built up as a character to make the old trio a quartet, remains less developed than the Big Three. The depiction of the tension between Harry and his son has been a subject of complaint, but Harry’s bad temper and difficulty expressing his emotions in a healthy way has been a recurring theme in the series. A big revelation about an old villain has also been sharply criticized as out of character, but to me, it hardly seems to be a character violation that a bad guy known for murdering and torturing could also partake in loveless fornication.
 
The happy ending has also taken some flack, but once again, I see the patched relationships and new friendships as a continuation of the series’ central themes of forgiveness and reconciliation.
 
All of the other entries in the series expand the Potterverse to some extent, introducing new magic and new locations. In contrast, Cursed Child is lacking in originality, referencing the “greatest hits” from past novels– some of the most popular magical objects and events make appearances. Cursed Child mostly covers old ground in the wizarding world, although I personally found the alternative universes that form the center of the plot interesting, and I think they add an additional level of immediacy to the stakes of the previous novels.
 
I believe there are other reasons for the backlash that may stem from some of the readers. Part of it comes from the fan connections to the characters. Readers are used to thinking of the original trio of Harry, Hermione, and Ron as teenagers– seeing them as thirtysomethings with positions of responsibility, rather than frequent underminers of authority albeit with the best of intentions, is a bit of a reversal. In humorist Dave Barry’s book Dave Barry Turns 40, he reflects that the Baby Boomer generation has to “stop identifying with Wally and the Beav; we are now a lot closer to Ward and June. Somebody has to be the grown-ups, and now it’s our turn.” Indeed, many of the young people who grew up reading Potter books have children of their own, and people who started reading the books when they were first released are bound to make the connection that they are closer to middle-age than their high school years.
 
I concede that in some ways, the story is not as polished or detailed as the original novels. The allegation that the play reads more like fan fiction than a legitimate part of the canon has some merit, but part of the reason for that is that the play explores themes and characterizations that fans have wondered about for some time. Given Rowling’s reputation for overseeing all iterations of her work and keeping everything in line with her personal creative vision, I find it impossible to view Cursed Child as mere grubbing for money. My personal take on the play is that it’s meant to be a love letter to fans, giving them a chance to revisit favorite characters, and explore possibilities and themes that were not fully developed in earlier stories.
 
In many ways, Cursed Child is the weakest entry in the series, but on balance I argue that the pros outweigh the cons. I am aware that a revised edition of the play will be coming out soon, and I’ll be interested to see what changes have been made.
 

My verdict for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is a qualified “Yea.”

 
Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments politely and respectfully. If you have any ideas for future installments of “Yea or Nay,” please post your suggestions.


    2 Comments

  1. GraceFebruary 8th, 2017 at 1:13 pm

    When I read the script, I hated it. The characterization and plot were, like you mentioned above, just meh. The disappointment was to the point that in a cross-country move, Cursed Child was a book I left behind. HOWEVER I was surprised with tickets to see the production in London, saw the show last week, and nearly everything I had qualms with before have been entirely redeemed. Absolutely loved it. Certain subtleties in the dialogue, particularly in the adult’s relationships, suddenly shined–and moments of the script I had laughed at before actually made sense visually. The show was poignant and really did bring me to tears. So I give it a resounding YEA. Skip the book, & wait as long as it takes to see the show. 🙂

  2. AlexFebruary 8th, 2017 at 9:38 pm

    I felt for me the book was more of a ‘Nay’.

    I started reading it and enjoyed some of the first part of the book where it felt rather nostalgic but slowly felt it was lacking. Characters felt underdeveloped and they seemed rushed.
    As for the main plot of Voldemort having a kid, the reason I found that an unlikely scenario, even though he was a bad guy, was that he seemed determined to be immortal. He didn’t seem like a character who would care much for sex, even loveless sex. He seemed dead bent to want to rule over everyone on his own, and if he knew there was a kid brewing, he would likely have terminated the pregnancy. Plus, the fact that the character who bears his child is Bellatrix, seems more unlikely. She would not want to carry a child, I think, even if he was Voldemort’s, and we would have seen it in the previous series and characters from those events would have noticed her belly growth seeing as the timeline for this event is pre-Hogwarts battle.

    Another thing that bugged me was how they handled the time-turners. They seemed to be inserted just to propel the plot, and the way they were used seemed not right, to me. The whole aspect of trying to change the future by changing the past, seemed like a weak, convenient plot.

    I didn’t mind it being a new format though. Yes, it lacked detail, but I didn’t let that stop me from reading the book.
    I was more disappointed with the story, than the mode of delving the story.

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