So, for starters, the first part of this review will be spoiler-free. I’ll have a section with spoilers at the end, but it will be after a long break so you have plenty of time to Disapparate out of here before you read them.
Last night I went to the midnight launch of the new Harry Potter book at Waterstones Leeds. The launch itself was pretty epic. Costumes were encouraged, and here is how we looked:
Yeah, I know right? Two weeks ago I could have been Ginny, normally I could be Luna, but tonight I was stuck as generic-pink-haired-witch-who-can’t-wash-the-dye-out-of-her-hair. Typical.
I was also down on most of my HP stuff (wands, time turners, etc) so the only actually Potter-y accessory I had was these Sickle earrings:
Waterstones was decked out well for the occasion, and all the staff clearly dived right into the spirit of the evening:
We were sorted on arrival, and I got a house to match my scarf.
Luckily our local Waterstones is pretty massive, and there were probably a couple of hundred people milling about.
Sadly we arrived after a lot of the activities were over, and I was very disappointed to have missed out on the Snitch hunt, Quidditch, Throw a Book at Myrtle, Pin the Nose on Voldemort…
We did make it in time to have a go with this fantastic Have You Seen This Wizard? photo cut-out…
(Can I just say that Prisma is epic and you should download it NOW!)
But we arrived just in time for the quiz, where as One Knut Short Of A Sickle, we hoped to take home the prize… the first copy of Cursed Child when it was finally released.
The early rounds started well enough, but by the time we had to name all seven ingredients in Polyjuice Potion and who said “Always the innocent are the first victims, so it has been for ages past, so it is now,” we were struggling.
We didn’t win, though a team called Dobby and the House Elves, who answered every question with “Dobby”, won an honorary “best name” prize.
And then it was all about queuing! Incredible respect to the other pink-haired witch in the room, who managed to keep a crowd with impatient kids and even more impatient adults entertained, while creating an orderly queue so that we could get our books and get out.
And then it was time. FIVE… FOUR… THREE… TWO… ONE!
The crowd moved as one, copies were pressed into our eager hands, and we wandered dazedly out into the night with them.
I tried to begin reading on my walk home, but TC kept talking to me, so I decided to wait, get a cup of coffee when I got in, and dive into it.
The Book – Spoiler Free
So, let me start by saying something possibly controversial. The die-hard Potterheads will hate me, but… Harry Potter was just plain better when I was a kid. I was quicker to forgive or completely overlook errors, and quicker to get caught up in the magical world where Waddiwasi is the spell to get chewing gum out of doors and the cure for Dementors is chocolate.
It’s a screenplay, rather than a novel, and I underestimated how much that would affect it. As many people told me before I read it, I believe it will be better on the stage. The characters don’t have much time to be developed, and without the visual cues that tell a lot about a person – how do they stand, how do they speak their lines, what are they wearing – it’s hard to feel attached to the characters. There are stage directions, but they vary between brief and insubstantial, to flowery to the point where I’m unsure how that would actually translate on-stage.
And just like with any Harry Potter book, the plot is very… plot holey. I go into more detail below the spoiler break, but I’d recommend coming armed with your suspension of disbelief and not looking too closely at the story.
On the other hand, JK’s strength has always been her characters. I enjoyed the relationships between the characters. Harry and Ginny’s marriage comes straight from the novels, not the wimpiness of the films. The struggles of a father to relate to his moody teenage son… well Harry never had a father to help him through the trials of puberty, and it’s somewhat rewarding to see him on the receiving end of the sort of heartache he put the adults in his life through.
The worry about a sequel, especially one set so far in the future, and therefore with so many new characters, is that readers will struggle to connect with the new characters, and prefer scenes with original ones. That mostly holds true here, and I was really excited to see how many people from the books they managed to work in. But I did, in a way, fall in love with the two main characters (who I won’t spoiler if you don’t know who they are). They may be new, but they have all of the depth of character as any of JK’s originals, even if they do have a vastly different perspective on life.
Some parts of the book made me incredibly excited for the play. A scene when a character has smoke coming out of his ears will be interesting to see live, the delivery of post by owls will be magical if they do it right, moving staircases, Floo Powder and tons of other spell effects that are easy with CGI but much harder without… I’m excited to see how they do it, and I feel very confident that it will be done exceptionally well.
The splitting of the screenplay is very different to the books. Some scenes feel too short to translate well to a stage. And the division into four acts over two parts means there are three different cliffhangers, which feels like quite a few over only a couple hundred pages.
If you’re considering rereading any of the books before you go see the play or read the script, I’d suggest number four, Goblet of Fire. It’s got the most references to that book. It’s possibly also worth rereading the Epilogue at the end of book seven, Deathly Hallows.
A word of warning though, while they do repeat certain scenes from within the books themselves, the fact that it has been adapted for a play means those scenes aren’t copied word for word, and the dialogue is changed. If you’re a purist, that’s probably not okay.
The Book – Spoilers
There are spoilers below here!
No really! Spoilers!
Are you sure you want to keep scrolling??
Last chance! Turn back before it’s too late!
Well, if you’ve made it this far…
Let’s start by picking apart the two main plot holes.
Number one, the Potters were protected by a Secret Keeper in the days before their death. Without hearing their location from Peter Pettigrew himself, no one would be able to see them. Therefore, when Delphi et all going back to 30th October 1981, they should definitely not have been able to find the Potters. And, considering the very real threat to their lives, I doubt the Potters were taking casual strolls anywhere.
Number two, part of the beauty of Time-Turners, the way they were in the books, is that they don’t actually change things when you go back in time. If you think about book three, we hear the fall of the axe the first time round, and realise it was Macnair hitting a tree stump in frustration. And Harry sees himself across the lake, casting the Patronus. If going back in time with a Time Turner had the power to change the past, then Harry would have received the Dementor’s kiss before he ever had the chance to save himself.
Now, we can maybe ignore that one, because these Time-Turners are new upgraded models, but I’m really not a fan of it. And anyway, Amos Diggory, and in fact all of the characters, have no real way of knowing that that’s NOT how Time-Turners work, so the entire premise of the book is built on very shaky ground.
Let’s talk about the characters. Minor parts like Polly Chapman and Craig Bowker are introduced with no fanfare, no description, and it’s pretty impossible to tell who they really are. I don’t think I even realised that Craig was a student until much much too late.
But the characters that got stage-time really shone. I absolutely loved Albus and Scorpius. They are characters drawn right from JKR’s heart. Two boys who have managed to find each other, find similarities to each other when no one could have predicted it, and build a friendship that adults will see as disturbing and obsessive, but that they see as a lifeline. Some of their actions were frustrating (why did you think that you could possibly fix that?) but they’re just kids, and Harry Potter did stuff just as stupid and we still love him.
The older versions of our beloved trio are all true to their main-series counterparts. Hermione is a bossy know-it-all, but she has been rewarded for it in the most fitting way possible (although having a booby-trapped library that tells thieves where to find the Time-Turner, rather than just remembering which book you put it in, is pretty dumb and very Dumbledore). Ron, who could be portrayed as resentful of his wife’s success (and is, very briefly in an alternative universe, unsure of how this reflects on him), is instead pleased to be the comic relief we know and love. And Harry still manages to talk without thinking, to have a short temper, to charge in and believe he’s the only one who can fix things. A trait which has clearly carried on down the family line. And yes, he’s a bit of a shitty dad, but in a very relatable way.
Draco disappointed me at first. He seemed to be on the verge of redemption by the end of the books, but his attitude towards Harry seemed to be the same as it ever was. But thinking about it, it would be very hard for Draco to forgive Harry, even if he becomes willing to work with him. Harry is, in part, responsible for the death of his father, and the reason Draco has such a bad reputation now. That sort of resentment doesn’t just go away.
The revival of characters like Cedric and Snape was brilliant, and we got to see more insight into how these characters acted. I was surprised at how willingly Snape agreed to a plan that would lead to his certain death at the hands of Voldemort (survival instinct, man?) but it was wonderful to see his bravery first hand. And the portrait moments with Dumbledore… I think the man was made to be a portrait. Drops of insightful yet mostly unhelpful wisdom is what Dumbles does best.
The one character I really didn’t like was Delphi “Diggory” (go me, I totally called it!). Maybe it will be better in the play, but I just didn’t connect with her and so struggled to see why Albus did. I found his crush on her, and her encouragement of it, totally weird. It was more understandable when we realise who she was, but if it were the other way round, with a 22 year old guy flirting with a 14 year old girl, it would be plain predatory. That and the other squick moment mentioned below made the book feel very cringey to me.
I was torn between Scorpius fancying Rose and fancying Albus. The awkwardness about the hugging scenes reminded me a lot about the scene in the second movie where Hermione stops sort of hugging Ron and just offers him a handshake. And Scorpius’ possessiveness about Albus regarding Delphi… though that could just be jealousy that his only friend is making another friend. And Delphi’s speech to Scorpius about “you don’t know what he needs” made it feel all the more real, as did Scorpius’ reaction to Polly Chapman asking him out – confusion, rather than being pleased. Of course, in the end he fancied Rose, as was hinted at several moments, but personally I think it’s another example of JK chickening out of showing any of her liberal views actually within her work.
As for Scorpius-Rose, I reckon it’s going to be more of a Snape-Lily relationship there, rather than a James-Lily, but whatevs. It seems that 20 years on, being a Slytherin is still the worst thing imaginable.
I had to remind myself early on to be careful about who I ship, because a lot of the characters are cousins. It seems the writers didn’t share my fear. The idea of Albus Potter, Polyjuiced into Ron or not, making out with Hermione who is far older and also, y’know, his aunt, really squicks me out.
And let’s talk about Voldemort having sex. No, wait, please, let’s not. Let’s really really not. I felt sorry for Astoria when it was suggested that Scorpius was Voldy’s son, and there was even a bit where I thought Albus was and Ginny had been kidnapped and drugged (possibly a bit too dark?), but no. Voldemort should not have sex, Voldemort probably lost his cock at the same time as his nose. Please can we not.
Back to the plot. In a way, I’m glad I read the book first, as I think it would be quite easy to get lost when watching it – it depends how well the time travel and scene changes are portrayed.
The return of Voldemort was almost inevitable, but the means by which it happened was not. That Cedric turned evil, that Neville Longbottom was so pivotal (but not pivotal enough to appear in the play, apparently) was a fantastic twist.
There are a lot of things we, as Potter fans, take for granted. That Harry Potter won and that Voldemort was defeated. That Ron and Hermione ended up together. But one small twist of fate made those things not happen. In a world that runs largely on fate, it seems many things weren’t fated to be, wouldn’t overcome any obstacle. It’s a very stark and cynical conclusion for a children’s book.
Delphi’s reveal as the Augurey was pretty great (if a little obvious because of how much attention was devoted to her and how much of the plan she already had concocted). The prophecy itself was right out of Harry Potter… though I’m not sure how she got her hands on it, since the only people referenced in it are Cedric, Albus, Harry and good old Voldy.
The blanket/love potion plan was a moment of pure genius, in my opinion. If you are going to play with time travel, then have some fun. Although this does further reinforce the whole Time-Turners don’t actually change things. The blanket that Harry is holding is not the same one as in the future that the past that Albus and Scorpius are in is leading to (if that makes any sense).
The scene where Harry watches Voldemort kill his parents… it will be heartbreaking when I see it on stage. The format of the book is off-putting, so I didn’t cry at any point like I did during the novels, but I can foresee bucket loads when I see the play itself.
And who is the Cursed Child? The three most obvious answers are Scorpius, Albus or Delphi. But for me, it’s Harry Potter. His tragic childhood is what left the legacy for him to mess with so many other people’s. It’s a story of how the past leads to the present and how small actions can have ripples across time – not just in the obvious ways that the book draws attention to, but in a thousand different moments that make us who we are.
In some ways, Harry Potter has been ruined by some of the fanon I’ve read/watched since. The thought that it’s better to send someone to Azkaban rather than kill them is just horrific. Azkaban is torture, plain and simple – it’s worse the Crucio because that Unforgivable Curse ends. Thanks to Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality, Azkaban is one of the most evil things in existence.
And it reminded me a lot of A Very Potter Sequel, second in the musicals by Youtube theatrical team Starkid. In it, Lucius Malfoy takes a Time-Turner back to kill Harry Potter (also forgetting that Time-Turners don’t do that), but it’s remarked at the end that that’s exactly how their first year was supposed to turn out anyway.
And there are some who have drawn comparisons with the infamous My Immortal fanfic – the worst thing ever written, and complete fanservice.
Overall, I don’t think the Cursed Child will ever be as dear to me as the original seven, even though it’s no more flawed than any of them. I’m looking forward to the play this October though, and excited for the magic to come alive.