Weekly Reads: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

Hello book friends, and welcome back to Weekly Reads! Today I have a (kind of) timely review of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. Before I get into that, I want to take a moment to link to a post by a Native American fan about Ilvermorny. The portrayal of the North American magic school has really turned some fans away from this world/series, and I think the problems in that representation are important to acknowledge and learn from for those of us (like me) who are less informed about indigenous cultures.

Doing my usual breakdown with space for setting, character, and style would be a bit silly in this case. The setting is the wizarding world of Harry Potter, around the time of the book seven epilogue (although this jumps around time a bit). The characters are the Harry Potter characters. Only one character other than those we have met by the end of the epilogue is introduced. The style is a stage play, with more or less the genre elements that the HP books used: some action-adventure, fantasy, comedy, and perhaps a heavier or more constant dose of drama than in the books.

So instead, we’ll jump to talking about the plot (in as unspoilery a way as possible) and the portrayal of these characters, which I think are the real points of interest.

The plot is more or less about Harry’s son Albus and his relationship with his father and his relationship with his (male) best friend, conveyed through a series of increasingly cheesy plot devices. Those characters and the characters it wants to give an emotional resolution past the books (Snape, Draco, and Dumbledore) are the only ones who feel like they inhabit the writing of the play in a 3D way. The rest of the regular crew appear in the sense that you’d expect them, so they exist. I’ll have to note here that I think this is probably much better on the stage rather than as a book. It’s a whole lot easier to sell drama and a bit of cheese when acting it out, and certainly a good actor could lend a lot more nuance to the characters who don’t get much depth in their lines.

So that’s the good part: if you simply wanted more Harry Potter past the epilogue and you wanted more of a finished arc for those aforementioned problematic faves, then you’re in luck. (Also, if you tolerated book five whiny!Harry well, then you’ll be ready for the Albus and Harry double angst hour.) The less good part is that this is basically mediocre fanfiction and almost entirely about dudes, without a strong presence of a Hermione (or the Hermione) to balance it out. I’ll qualify this a little without spoilers: the plot relies heavily on obvious and very melodramatic devices a la eye-roll worthy fanfic plots and provides tidy, positive conclusions for flawed, complicated characters. While it’s nice to some extent to see an effort to extend those arcs, especially if you wanted to hear more about Snape, Draco, and Dumbledore, I felt as if the resolutions were too easy to come by. At the same time, this treatment ignores characters who might have been interesting to see or see more of—while Ginny gets to exist, she doesn’t really get to have her own relationship with her son, and Neville gets a name drop but not a presence at all, and so on.

There are also aspects of this that just don’t feel like they’re in line with the people we know and love from the books. It rags on Cedric’s memory in an arguably disrespectful way and uses the movie interpretation of Ron, which is to say that he’s mostly bumbling, oblivious comic relief. (Certain parts of the plot make his obliviousness even more prominent and may make you heavy sigh if you’re a fan.) The troubled relationship between Harry and Albus is a main conflict in the play but feels odd, considering the Harry from the original series seems like he would relate very well to a son who feels a lot of pressure to be great and like an outsider. (Also, the epilogue in Deathly Hallows portrays a Harry who seems perfectly capable of reaching out to Albus by revealing those aspects of his own past.)

I’m going to wager right now that if you’re a mostly-movie fan, then you might enjoy this since the movies embrace cheese and portray the characters somewhat closer to as they are here. If you are a book fan who has done a recent re-read or have embraced fanfiction at any point, this will mostly disappoint you (especially if you love the Weasleys or other characters not involved here). For those in between, I’m less confident predicting—but maybe we’re all better off waiting for them to film the play, since I’m very confident that this might come off better that way.

Sorry for the disappointment, Potterheads, but we’ll always have an Internet full of fanfiction.

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