Book 15, a play, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by John Tiffany & Jack Thorne
For those of you who do not know me, to say that I am a fan of Harry Potter is putting it mildly. I wrote my graduate thesis on the series because it was so influential on my scholarship and how I approached other texts. For most of my life, Harry and his crew have been a vital part of me. I grew up alongside them. I learned how to be a good human being with them, even when faced with the tough choices in my life. I honor them on a daily basis as I wrestle with my own demons, always trying to be a better person even when it’s difficult. The series shaped me into the person I am today. The crushing emptiness I felt when the final book had been written and the last movie released was intense. For a while, I felt like I’d have nothing to look forward to ever again. In some ways, my youth ended when Harry’s story concluded. My youthful optimism and hopefulness were squelched under the realities of becoming an adult and the hard choices we are faced with as we grow up. I’ve been spending less and less time in Harry’s world as the obligations of adulthood consume me. In some ways, I miss it terribly, but in others, I realize I can’t ever go back to the time or the emotional space I existed in when Harry’s story was still unwritten. Although I may revisit, it will never be “new” again and it feels like a loss rather than comfort when I do go back.
I know I’m not alone in this. You might feel I’m being a tad dramatic, but the writing of these books spanned my entire youth, adolescence, and ended as I was becoming an adult. We’re talking over ten years. That’s a long commitment for someone so young. Honestly, my relationship to Harry Potter is probably my longest and most functional (yikes).
Lately, it seems like many things relating to Harry’s magical world have been popping up. This sudden resurgence back into the magical world has left me with some very confusing emotions. On the one hand, I felt thrilled at the prospect of having access to new information and insights into my familiar, happy, magical world (a place to which I escaped often in my youth). Another side of me, perhaps my more realistic side, felt deflated—I couldn’t get the nagging voice of reason out of my head saying, “It’s not them, though. It’s their world, but it’s not THEM. Their story is finished. You cannot go back.” Honestly, and I am dead serious about this—I feel like reading anything new or seeing any other films that come out is a betrayal to Harry, Ron, and Hermione. It’s not focused on their stories. It’s a voyeuristic view into tidbits about their world. It almost feels…creepy. Stalkerish. Let them be already! Let them have their happy ending! This sad, weird train of thought took up most of my headspace as the fervor surrounding the newly released material, the film Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find them, and of course, the play Harry Potter and the Cursed Child continued to build. Everyone who knows me approached me so excitedly, wanting to see my happiness and excitement about the new material, only to be perplexed at my almost angry response and at times, indifference (depending on the day). I would vehemently proclaim that I would NOT be watching the film or reading the new content. Sometimes I would just shrug my shoulders and say, “yes, well. It’s not THEM, though. So do I really care? No.” I admit, I was being a bit smug with the latter statement, but you get the drift.
As the new material came out, I was happily living in my little bubble ignoring it. Of course, there was a part of me that despaired to read it all, to see it all, but a bigger part feared that I would hate it, that I would be disappointed, and that it would taint my memory of the perfect ending to a perfect story. I avoided it all like the plague, confusing all of my friends and family who have watched my unmitigated HP fervor over the years. Most people didn’t understand, but I felt good about my decision. Until I couldn’t take it any longer and I cracked. Of course I saw the movie! Of course I read the play! I’m only human! Here I am, several months late—but I eventually made it to the party. Am I glad I read it? The jury is still out on that one, but here is my review. Be forewarned, there may be spoilers.
Deep breath. Here goes.
A play? What the what?! As a literature major, I read quite a few plays throughout my years of study. I taught them in my classroom when I became a teacher. Once you’ve been exposed to reading plays, they don’t seem any different than reading a novel. I know so many people worried about that key difference, but for me, it really had no bearing on my experience. I feel like I had to mention this since being in a play format was such a big to-do, but I also feel you can’t really take my opinion on that aspect of the overall review because I would consider myself a little biased on this point. As everyone else will tell you, I’m sure watching the performance rather than reading it here would be a much more dynamic experience. The actors would invariably lend the play some of the depth that it’s clearly lacking (see below). That being said, I will proceed with my review. There, that’s the first hurdle out of the way.
Secondly, it clearly wasn’t written by J.K. Rowling, though presumably she did have to sign off on it and give her blessing before it was published. Let me be clear—it’s quite obvious this was not her work. The writing is levels, hell—worlds—below her work. As many reviewers put it, and I totally agree, this feels like bad fan fiction. The characters are all there, but they are boiled down into caricatures of themselves. It’s like having a weird dream where you’re talking to your significant other, and you know it’s them, but they look NOTHING like themselves. You’ll recognize bits and pieces of these characters, but it’s not really them. You just get derivatives of the most surface level characteristics of them all. Rowling’s humor was subtle and well-done; this play tries so hard to be funny that its desperation wafts from the page. It’s ham handed and pathetic. Think bad dad jokes that aren’t awkward enough to be funny. They’re just bad. The pacing was off, too. I know it’s a play, not an 800 page novel, and we don’t have the time to cram in the depth needed to truly feel like a J.K. experience, but even so, it was speeding along at a break-neck pace. So quickly, in fact, that it left out a lot of key characters and plot points from the books that made continuity a bit of an issue.
The writing was bad. The characters were recognizable, but barely. The essence of what made HP good just wasn’t there. The plot was ambitious, and probably would have made an excellent novel, but it just didn’t work for me in the short space provided for a play. I found myself extremely disappointed with the words and actions of many characters (namely, Harry and his piss-poor parenting skills) and I can sum it up as such: there’s a reason fairytales end with “and they lived happily ever after.” It turns out, the ever after part is really quite boring. The characters we loved have become middle aged, boring, and JUST LIKE US. Who wants to see that? Not I. I prefer to leave them, eternally poised to live their happily ever after, at the end of book seven.