Monday, 1 August 2016

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child: a Review

These days I have a rather ambivalent view of Harry Potter. 

I used to love the universe so much but now I am not sure anymore. The whole debate on whether or not it is bad for Christians to read is leaving me mostly bewildered, so I wouldn't hazard an opinion on that particular can of worms, but I am rather puzzled as to whether it is just good literature. It's certainly fun, and the story is engrossing, but the older I get, the more wooden the characters seem to be, and the dialogue appears dangerously close to naff.

I still sent Simon to pick up the new one for me yesterday, if anything because otherwise my 17 year old self would never have spoken to me ever again (yes, we dialogue frequently, don't you?). It is a play, and so also an extremely quick read, but that is just about all the good I have to say about it. I think the choices which were made for this latest instalment were systematically the wrong ones. 

For those who haven't heard, the story follows Harry Potter's son Albus, and his friend Scorpius (son of Draco Malfoy) going back in time for various reasons. I haven't liked it much. The whole going back in time thing seems mostly devised to pander to a nostalgic audience, by revisiting some iconic episodes from the previous books, the plot more of an after-thought cobbled together as an excuse for people to fork out more money, rather than just go back to read their favourite bits. It's as if the playwright (it is not very clear whether that is JK Rowling herself)was constantly making little in-jokes then pausing expectantly, as if to say "Get it? Get it?"

In the original stories, the truly mesmerising part was the wizarding world, its rules, wonders and complexities. Most of the characters, and especially the main ones, didn't ring particularly true and the plot was not going for originality (which is not a problem in itself, just a fact about the type of story it is). What kept people (or at least, me) coming back, was the detailed inventions of the world Rowling created.

Enter the play. Which subtracts the wizarding world altogether. 

Now, that may be different if you actually go to see the play, I don't know, but I doubt it. The action systematically fasts forwards through the daily life (out of necessity due to the lack of space in a three-hour play) to leave us purely with actions and quips (which are occasionally funny). Very little time is spent at Hogwarts, most of the action seems to be happening in various offices, where people have crises and make jokes.

Dialogue was not Rowling's strong point, it still isn't. The whole failed relationship between Harry and his son is complained about but never explained or indeed properly shown. It is more declared into existence by the characters, and the same goes for most of the action. It's only towards the end that we are finally given any kind of insight into the two new protagonists (Albus and Scorpius) and therefore start caring about them, which is exactly the wrong way round. The habit Rowling had of describing the school year, and then packing the action right at the end may have been a tad predictable, but it made sense. You cared for the characters before they were in danger.

And the characters are the main flaw. The dialogue simply fails to bring them to life. Harry is a rather unconvincing father (my sister would say he was already an unconvincing teenager) and Albus makes very little sense. Rather than letting us guess at the characters intentions, which is the beauty and ambivalence of theatre, here everything is over-explained and spelled out, and the explanations just don't convince. Everything is nicely tied together with a bow, people are neatly psycho-analysed, but it doesn't work. 

So I am going to pretend this new episode has not been written, because it is rather an argument for the "against" column when I ponder whether the whole series is something good and true I want to introduce to my children.


  1. Oh, this makes me sad! I was really looking forward to another Harry Potter story during my upcoming holidays. Don't know if it's worth the money now ...

    1. I had my suspicions, but went ahead anyway!

  2. Having seen the play I have to say that I was not disappointed at all, the actors are brilliant, they managed to make it magical in a theatre... it was all i could expect from a final story. Obviously it is written differently as it a script not a novel. I guess it is probably different if you just read the play.

    1. I have tried to make allowances for just that when I was reading the book, and I'm sure it was visually stunning. But I can't really see how that would make up for the plot flaws. We'll have to see when the stage production is released on DVD!