Harry Potter and the Mixed Bag (We Need to Talk About Cursed Child)

I’m about to spoil, like, all of the things. So turn back now if you don’t want to know this stuff.

I feel like I should be very clear here, I haven’t seen the Harry Potter and the Cursed Child performed. I’m sure it’s a massively different experience then reading a script on your own in your room. These are thoughts purely based on reading the play by Jack Thorne.

Let me start by saying yes. I actually really like Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. I do think Cursed Child is good. I just don’t know if I think it’s great. As usual I’m processing my feelings for a thing by writing a blog post. And you’re in it now. You’re welcome.

I was going to go through the things I didn’t like to get them out of the way and then the things I did like, but it’s all so interconnected that I’m just going to go through it chronologically-ish.

Tonally, it is different. It’s not a novel. It’s a script. This makes reading it go pretty quick. I clocked in at about 4 1/2 hours (straight). But it’s written well.  The action is enjoyable to read, sometimes quirky, sometimes funny. The other shift is J.K Rowling did NOT write this. she shares original story credit with John Tiffany and Jack Thorne, but Jack Thorne did the writing. So the voice is different. Neither off these things are bad, just circumstantial. Apparently some people were unaware of these facts going in (despite it all being laid out on the front cover).

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Speaking of the cover, I wish we could have gotten an illustration in the style of the books had, but I realize that those were different all over the world and would have been a real challenge to put together. The kid in the nest is fine.

Cursed Child is in the difficult position of balancing nostalgia with moving a very beloved story (and franchise forward). I don’t envy them the task. Actually, no, I totally envy them the task, but I surely would have fucked it up and everyone would hate me. On the one hand, you don’t want to just stuff it with Easter eggs (this left us with some seemingly mad omissions though), but on the other hand, it can’t be devoid of all the beloved things that make Rowling’s novels so cherished. No pressure.

I’m gonna say they mostly succeeded here. Sure we want to see EVERY character ever to appear in Harry Potter, but the play’s 6 hours long as it is. I understand. We have the core five (Harry, Ron, Hermione, Ginny, and Draco), plus their brood. By far, the children we’re most concerned with are one of Harry and Ginny’s sons, Albus, and Draco’s son Scorpius. The story moves between the story of these two boys and the adults.

Notably, Albus, Harry’s son gets sorted into Slytherin. I bring this up because  I CALLED IT. I’ve been insufferably smug about this. And I think it was a good choice. Both he and Scorpius, Slytherin students, get to be the heroes (ask me what house I’m in and you’ll get a very complicated answer, but I identify as Slytherin, and it’s bugged me how that’s been labeled the “bad guy house”). Granted, they’re the ones gumming up the works in the first place. But the point is, they’re determined to fix their mistakes. But also notably, Albus HATES school.

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Awww!

Speaking of Albus and Scorpius, I was a bit disappointed that Ron and Hermione’s daughter, Rose, didn’t join them as a sort of mirror of the original trio. I felt she was slightly side-lined. I wanted that female presence from the kids’ side of the story, and it wasn’t there. That being said she has my favorite line, admonishing the rumors that Scorpius is actually Voldemort’s son: “It’s probably rubbish. I mean…look, you’ve got a nose.”

The first three years just sort of zip by. To the point where I sort of wonder why they didn’t just start with Albus going into his 4th year. Was it just so we could pick them up on the platform right where we left them? This is a long ass production. You could have saved yourself some time of the top. That being said we (kind of) see the sorting ceremony, and they allow themselves to take their time with introductions and explaining the rumors about Scorpius and  showing how Harry and Albus don’t really get along and establishing that Scorpius is your new favorite character. And it’s all done in a interesting way, so I’ll shut up about it. And Harry explaining that Dudley made sure the Harry got his mother’s blanket back when he found it in storage was the first moment of several that made me bawl my eyes out.

When the story does catch up with us, and Albus and Scorpius attempt to escape the already moving Hogwarts Express, we are met with one of the most bizarre https://media-assets.bookbub.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/Sandy-McDade-Trolley-Witch-Anthony-Boyle-Scorpius-Malfoy-Sam-Clemmett-Albus-Potter-and-the-cast-of-Harry-Potter-and-the-Cursed-Child-Photo-by-Manuel-Harlan.jpgsecurity features Hogwarts has ever produced. You remember the “anything off the trolley, dears?” witch that sells the kids sweets? Well, it turns out she transforms into a one-woman death machine if a child tries to ditch the train. Anything of the trolley? HOW ABOUT A GRENADE PASTY AND ARM MADE OF SPIKES, MOTHAFUCKAS?! (not a direct quote) It’s so completely mad that it’s actually humorous, but I think that was entirely the point, considering how, at one point, Thorne tells us her arm spikes are “particularly spiky.” And I totally dig everything about this scene.

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This woman is a badass.

The boys then meet up with (not) Delphi, and for the second time we fail to create a trio with a female character. Dude. Like, you had opportunities. Ultimately, of course, this may work in their favor because she’s VERY OBVIOUSLY EVIL, and turns out to be the villainous daughter of Voldemort (that’s right. I said his name). She’s also a little old for you, Albus. Sorry.

Which leads us into the most major thing: the time travel. Remember how in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (a prime example of a perfect work of literature), there was some moderate time travel at the end that Hermione was able to expertly navigate through without causing any shifts in the story told up to that point? Well, buckle your seat belts because Cursed Child is ALL about a couple of boys who have no mastery of Time Turners using copious amounts of time travel to create multiple dark alternate realities. There’s so much to go into here, it all hurts my brain, and I don’t know where to start. I get to talking about various timelines and all of a sudden it’s like I’m explaining a very elaborate Doctor Who plot. But please stick with me because I do have more nice things to say about it once we get through all this.

I should say that conceptually, the idea of the new Harry Potter story being all about traveling in time is very clever. Fans grew with the books from children to adults, traveling through time. And after all this time has passed the characters are returning to us. But time travel is always difficult and it created some problems.

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Harry Potter is fantasy. You know fantasy? With magic and dragons and flying broomsticks? Well, time travel isn’t really fantasy. It’s science-fiction, and while there’s a lot of cross-over the two are not the same. Yes, Rowling used it in Azkaban, but she was sparing with it and we understood that Time Turners were very rare and very special. And supposedly all destroyed since then. There are two flying around in Cursed Child, and the characters are hella dumb and irresponsible whenever they handle them. But so are most characters that find themselves capable of time travel, so I shouldn’t be so harsh.

The thing about making a science-fiction element such a major part of a fantasy story is that the magic becomes mostly incidental. Sure, there’s a good duel scene between Harry and Draco, and there’s a fair bit of magic in the finale, but other than those instances, the magic has either already happened and we’re seeing past uses of it (since we’re time traveling) or we’re seeing it in alternate versions of reality that by the time we reach the end, no longer exist. Though I admit the magic would probably have a bigger effect on me if I was watching the performance.

If you want to skip my time travel argument (I’m about to go into Dynamic Timelines vs. Fixed Timelines and it goes on for a bit. I get that some people don’t care), jump to the Time Turner gif.

Still, this would all be okay, except that it potentially breaks two previously established rules about time travel in the Potter-verse. First, the Albus and Scorpius we know, remember everything that’s previously happened to them. They’re Albus and Scorpius prime, if you will. But if they created a new version of reality (and it’s one of the ones where the parents survived), wouldn’t there be an alternate Albus and Scorpius running around? They never meet another version of themselves, just other versions of the adults.

Yes, it would be difficult to have duplicates onstage at the same time, that’s fair, but Albus could easily run into wicked Scorpius or Scorpius could run into Gryffindor-sorted Albus, but that never happens. But okay. Let’s just say they’re suuuper lucky and the other thems don’t show or don’t exist for some other reason.

Issue two: they’re creating alternate realities! (*NOTE* Cursed Child does not use the multiverse model. It creates a reality, erases it, and creates another reality over it). This did NOT happen in Azkaban.  There was one reality. And it always happened that one way. Buckbeak was never really killed. It was always that damn pumpkin getting chopped in half. Hermione was always the one that saved them from the Lupin werewolf. Harry was always the one that produced the Patronus that saved him and Sirius. That was the only version of reality. It was just a version where two Harrys and two Hermiones were existing all at once. Technically it had already all happened.

Here’s the one argument I can come up for on behalf of Cursed Child: they created an alternate future because they went SO far back that when they returned to the (wrong) “present” it was all different. To be fair,  in Azkaban, Harry and Hermione only went back to earlier that day. Still that should create two realities that both occupy the same time and space, rather than the rewriting of time within an occupied space, as is the case in Cursed Child. Azkaban seems to follow one model of time travel and Cursed Child another.

Is your brain burning yet? Basically I’m just saying I’m pretty sure they fucked up their own cannon. Azkaban uses a fixed timeline. Unfortunately, Azkaban itself is my go-to example of this model. But The Terminator follows a fixed timeline, if you need an example. It just takes place over a longer period of time. Cursed Child appears to follow a dynamic timeline, like in Back to the Future. There are probably a lot of people who  can more clearly explain the problems (and maybe even have some solutions) out there, but that’s my two cents.

Then to cause further confusion, a fixed timeline trope was used in Cursed Child‘s dynamic timeline. That trick with the blanket and the love potion wouldn’t work if time was in flux. Though, in spite of it’s trope-ish nature, the trick is still rather clever. I’m a sucker for that sort of thing.

And maybe you don’t care. Just chock it up to wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey stuff.

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Seeing multiple variations of the adult characters showed us some interesting things. A reality with harsh professor Hermione and unhappy put-upon Ron (who married his Yule Ball date), and a version with rebel, but still unmarried Hermione and Ron, in which Snape survived (and Neville didn’t), after Voldemort basically took over the world were fascinating to see unfold. And as much as it breaks my heart to see my one and only Harry Potter ship not together, Ron and Hermione ALWAYS had the most precious and awkward exchanges.

Oh, and it established that McGonagall is amazing in any scenario. Love her.

It was cool that we got a dose of Snape, but was I the only one who felt like his dialogue near the end was written for Sirius? Some of the lines just didn’t seem quite true to his voice. Ultimately I’m not really sure he was necessary.

The good thing was that they put all their stuff back when they were done. Like, the reality they’re all in at the end is the same as the beginning. Exactly. There was no “but Hermione never could quite get Alohomora right after that” or “Ron could have sworn his hair used to be red.” No, no. Exactly the same. Because you don’t mess with that shit.

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I was a little concerned after perusing some spoiler-free reviews of the script/play. On multiple occasions I read how they weren’t afraid to  make serious decisions and take the story in extreme directions, altering our views of events and characters.  But it didn’t undo a single thing. I mean, you could argue that it’s a 6 hour play in which nothing happens, cause it mostly gets wiped, but the characters arc, their relationships are profoundly affected and a villain is vanquished. Oh, and there’s a proper death! What more do you want from Harry Potter?! I know, I know: Neville, Sirius, Lupin, Luna, a Quidditch match and a trip to Diagon Alley. But we were never going to get everything we wanted. It just isn’t possible. And you could, I suppose, hate that Albus is in Slytherin, but actually it’s great, so deal with it.

All around, the relationships tended to be lovely. Considering that so much of it was about the relationships between parents and their children, I wonder if the experience of someone with kids would be a little different, if they would be more emotionally affected by some of those moments (I’m out of that particular loop). On a similar note, I wanted a little more from the sibling relationships. That’s something I identify with. HARD. And there are lots of siblings, but that tends to mostly just be a circumstance.

And to end at the beginning:

Who was the titular cursed child? Albus? Scorpius? Harry? Cedric? Delphi? It is like Bicycle Thieves, and we’re all a cursed child? Maybe it doesn’t matter in the end. Just a metaphysical curio of a thought, dangling from a brain cell.

But does it work? Well, that depends entirely on what you want it to work as. For me, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child works best a celebration of Harry Potter and the people who love it. A visit from some old friends and meetings of some new ones.

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Cursed Child is a celebration of everything Potter.

If you don’t like Cursed Child, I understand where you’re coming from, but I don’t think it should do anything to alter your enjoyment of the original novels. And hey, I hear there are some fantastic beasts coming our way, and a guy who knows where to find them. Maybe you’ll have better luck there.

If you do love it, I get that too, and I don’t mean to take any of that enjoyment away from you. There were certain aspects that were handled more beautifully than I could have hoped for.

For me, it’s an enjoyable bit of story with an emotional center. It reminds me of something I love. It delivered a new story. But it’s far from flawless. That being said, I would love to see this performed, be curious to give it a reread, and if I’m offered another ride on the Hogwarts Express, I’d immediately get in the queue for a ticket.

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About Risa Romano

Writer type thing. I work on stories for kids when I'm on the clock and screenplays quite a bit less for kids when I'm not. I have a blog: rambleonnerdyponderings.wordpress.com I'm also the creator and moderator of the Doctor Who vodcast/podcast A Disused Yeti: https://adisusedyeti.wordpress.com/
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