So, the Sunday that has just gone happened to be 31st July, which is a big day for Harry Potter fans. It is JK Rowling’s birthday and, subsequently, the fictional birthday of the boy wizard, Harry Potter, himself. As I’m sure there is no need to mention, the final day of July 2016 also happened to be the release date of the rehearsal edition script for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. This is the critically acclaimed theatrical tale that has become the supposed 8th ‘book’ in the series. I wasn’t sure if I would buy the script but, having such a small amount of self-control when it comes to books, I bought one on Monday and proceeded to read the majority of it that night. I started work at 7am this morning so I fucking regretted that decision as I was waking up today. Still, I finished it with just enough time to get my review out for today’s Tuesday Reviews. As we’ve already established on this blog, I’m a pretty shitty Potterhead and can’t promise I’ll be positive as most about this book. Still, I doubt anyone is actually coming here for sound advice when they could have my mindless rants instead… with added spoilers of course.
It’s not as if I’ve been hiding my negative feelings towards any future stories that JR Rowling may write concerning the Harry Potter series. I’ve always thought the idea of writing sequels, follow-ups and spin-offs as a move almost as desperate and cringey as the fucking epilogue. The story was finished and we didn’t need to delve back into Harry’s post-Hogwarts life. Still, as I always knew would happen, JK Rowling proves once again that she just doesn’t know where to stop. So we have the so-called 8th book: a story overseen and co-created by Rowling but written by Jack Thorne. We were promised by Rowling that the new tale would be a completely knew story and not a rehash of previous material. What we were given is a time-travel rehash of old plots with a bunch of new characters. Oops.
Since Prisoner of Azkaban JK Rowling has had to deal with the issue of time travel in her wizarding world. What gave a super dramatic and magical plot in the third book opened up a bunch of plotholes that Rowling just didn’t want to let herself fall into. I mean if Hermione could utilise time travel to attend a fuckload of classes then why couldn’t someone go back in time and just give Voldy a hug once in a while? It was an issue that she resolved as quickly as she could by destroying all of the time turners in the Department of Mysteries in Book 5. Easy peasy lemon squeezy, right? Well apparently not. As not all the time turners were destroyed. Which is lucky because without the one remaining device Rowling might not have been able to charge loyal fans the considerable ticket price for her new sell-out production.
Basically, The Cursed Child is the Back to the Future 2 of the Harry Potter world. BTTF 2 revisited the timeline of the first film after a brief stop in the future and The Cursed Child, after reintroducing us to the kid with the most vomit-inducing name in the history of English literature, revisits some of the most major events in Potter history. Albus Severus and his best friend, Scorpius Malfoy, go back in time to prevent Cedric Diggory from dying during the Triwizard Tournament. Of course, as cliche dictates, their benevolent act ends up royally fucking everything up. Scorpius enters a hellish world in which Voldermort lived, Harry Potter died and, most joyful of all, never ended up having the power to name any offspring. The Cursed Child tells the story of how the boys can return the magical world to it’s non-Voldermorty ways before it’s too late.
Way back in 2012 I suggested that the film War Horse suffered in comparison to the critically acclaimed theatrical production because it lacked the interest of the puppetry. It’s true that the staging of the play had a lot to do with the fact that War Horse became such a popular story. That’s how I feel about this play. After The Cursed Child came to the stage people were raving about it and, with any play, you lose a lot of the magic when you don’t see it performed as it was intended. Without the special effects the staging directions add very little and without hearing them spoken out-loud the words just seem stilted and not very natural. Although, I can’t really complain about that if I’m the fucking idiot who insists on reading a script instead of a book.
However, I can and will complain about the story that sits within those pages. The Cursed Child is basically a terrible example of fanfiction that has someone become super famous. I know I’ve comapred it to about three different things already but I’m going to say it’s Fifty Shades of Grey with less BDSM and more time travel. The story itself is very weak and, frankly quite dull. We don’t really get to grips with the modern day Harry Potter world anymore than we did in the epilogue and spend more time in the past we already know. This isn’t about moving Harry Potter’s story but is all about revisiting his glittering past. This isn’t JK and co trying to write a new and great story. This is them cashing in on the old tales that everybody loved.
We get to know Albus and Scorpius a little but much of the tale set in modern times basically concerns how shit a dad Harry is. It’s basically a hyperbolic melodrama that belongs in a daytime drama and not on the stage. Then we just go back to the three trails of the Triwizard Tournament and the moment that Harry’s parents die. We don’t learn anything new or interesting… except one thing of course. Now I was serious about those spoilers so if you don’t know turn back now. You gone? Good. Voldermort’d fucking daughter is the most ridiculous and fanfiction-esque plot I could have imagined. It doesn’t even make sense. It doesn’t fit into the timeline. Plus, the idea that Voldermort would have had a moment of clarity within the haze of narcissm to say “hmm I might die one day better pass on my genes” just doesn’t fit with the character. He never expected to lose so the idea that he needed to reproduce would never have occured to him. It’s fucking stupid.
This isn’t an exercise in literary genius but a shameless attempt to speak to people’s nostalgia. The play knows people want to meet of these characters again and happily rolls them all out one after the other. Harry, Ron, Hermione, Ginny, Draco, Minerva, Hagrid, Dumbledore, Cedric, James, Lilly, Snape, Voldermort, Umbridge, even the fucking Centaur comes back. Except they aren’t really back because it’s not actually JR writing it. Now I know I’ve not always been complimentary about her writing style over the years but there is one thing Jo knows and it’s her characters. The characters in The Cursed Child are just pale imitations very obviously written by someone else. Nobody sounds right. The Severus Snape we see here is just the disgusting image that Tumblr has of him being a tragic Romantic hero. Dumbledore and Harry keep having moments where they express their love for each other, which just feels wrong.
The Cursed Child is both warmly familiar yet so disturbingly different that I couldn’t get on board with it. If it weren’t the stuff of time travel stories like the play itself, I’d happily say that Freud wrote his theory about the uncanny around it. However, that’s taking things a bit too far. Freud told us that the uncanny would bring about cognitive dissonance due to its paradoxical nature. We are simultaneously drawn to something yet wary of it and so we reject it completely. If Freud hadn’t been utterly refuted over the years I would say this sums up the negative feelings that a lot of fans have experienced since reading the book. I know that I, for one, want nothing more to do with it. It was a thing that never needed to happen and the fact that it’s now canon could have potentially destroyed the good work that Rowling had already done. I hope she eventually goes back on this and, like the epilogue, we can all pretend it never happened.