Nine years after the publication of the last book, and five years after the release of the last film, the Harry Potter franchise is still going strong – and 2016 is seeing a particular surge of new material. In November, we’re getting a spinoff film, Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them. But before that, Harry now has his own stage play in London – Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. Any play based on the series would be cause for excitement, but this one features an original story that JK Rowling herself helped to come up with (along with playwright Jack Thorne and director John Tiffany) – plus, it continues where the series left off, with the main characters as adults seeing their own children off to Hogwarts. So fans were going to find out what happened to their heroes once the battle with Voldemort was over – and with Rowling’s involvement, it would presumably be canon! But since not everybody would be able to get tickets to the play, or travel to London to see it, the script was also released as a book on 31st July – Harry and JK Rowling’s birthday!
I enthusiastically picked up my copy on the day, got home, and settled down for a long read, just as I had with the last few books. Given the format, it took me less than three hours to read the whole thing. The experience of being able to sit down and read through a new Harry Potter book again, nine years after Deathly Hallows, was – sorry, no other word – magical. For the most part, the fact that the story was in script format didn’t detract from it – it was generally easy to picture things and make up for the sparse description, but there were certain things that would obviously be more effective when actually seen on stage, such as Dementors, and an enchanted bookcase where the books try to swallow would-be thieves.
Cursed Child continues where the Deathly Hallows epilogue – nineteen years after the main events of the series – left off. Albus Potter, Harry and Ginny’s second son, heads off to Hogwarts, where he makes an unlikely friend in Scorpius Malfoy – son of Draco – and is unexpectedly sorted into Slytherin. As the years pass, Albus has difficulty with both magic and socialising at school, and relations between him and Harry become increasingly strained. Then, in his fourth year, Albus learns of the existence of a long-distance Time Turner, and sees an opportunity to correct at least one of his father’s failures. Harry, meanwhile, is concerned about suspicious activity amongst former supporters of Voldemort, and fears that despite all his efforts, the Dark Lord may be about to reappear.
Is Cursed Child a necessary continuation of Harry Potter’s story? For the most part, no. It certainly doesn’t take anything away from the main series (with a possible exception being the big twist towards the end, which definitely didn’t fit well with what we know in my opinion). But Deathly Hallows did bring things to a close: Voldemort was dead, and we saw that Harry went on to raise a family and experience a peaceful life. The Potters’ family drama isn’t enough to carry a whole play, so for its bigger conflict, the play has to go back to the deceased Voldemort and raise the possibility that he might not be truly beaten after all.
However, while this story may not have needed to be told, it’s still a good one. Reading it felt a bit awkward at first, possibly because I needed to get used to the new characters, and the fact that the familiar ones were grown-up and in very different roles. But as the story progresses, it becomes increasingly unpredictable and goes to a wide range of different places, including a few alternate universes created by the use of time travel. Elements which seem cliche at first glance are either subverted or explored in greater depth. Some very interesting themes are explored: the nature of friendship; how parents can confuse their children’s needs with their own; and how love can blind people as well as aid them. This is definitely a story where the road to Hell is paved with good intentions. And by the end, Cursed Child even manages to justify its existence to a degree: Harry physically defeated Voldemort at the end of Deathly Hallows, but there were still mental scars left behind.
A wide range of characters from the original series appear in the play – even some deceased ones, thanks to the Time Turner – and I was happy with how most of them were portrayed. Ron is an unfortunate exception: he doesn’t get much “screentime”, and when he does appear, he’s mostly comic relief – though I do like how he apparently plays the bigger role in raising his and Hermione’s children. (It should be noted that, considering that JK Rowling has questioned how well suited Ron and Hermione were, the alternate universes in the play seem pretty determined to show that fate would rather see them together than apart.) Ginny gets plenty of exposure, and is certainly in character, though she doesn’t get too much to do that’s especially important; and Dumbledore’s portrait gets a couple of conversations with Harry which felt especially in-character and insightful. Out of the new additions, easily the best character is Scorpius Malfoy, who is both likeable and not what you’d necessarily expect from the son of Draco: he’s brainy, quite funny (like when he mentions how he fell out with his imaginary friend over the rules of Gobstones), a little snarky in the manner of the popular fanon Draco, and accepting of his position as a boy people will naturally be suspicious of. He and Albus are naturally drawn to each other due to their father issues, and in the resulting duo, Scorpius provides the brains and Albus the heart.
The script of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child may not be perfect, but I still found it to be a very welcome return to the universe I love so much, and I hope I get an opportunity to actually see it on stage before too long. Rating: 4.5/5.