Based on an original new story by J.K. Rowling, Jack Thorne and John Tiffany, a new play by Jack Thorne, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is the eighth story in the Harry Potter series and the first official Harry Potter story to be presented on stage. The play will receive its world premiere in London’s West End on July 30, 2016.
It was always difficult being Harry Potter and it isn’t much easier now that he is an overworked employee of the Ministry of Magic, a husband and father of three school-age children.
It was always difficult being Harry Potter and it isn’t much easier now that he is an overworked employee of the Ministry of Magic, a husband and father of three school-age children.
While Harry grapples with a past that refuses to stay where it belongs, his youngest son Albus must struggle with the weight of a family legacy he never wanted. As past and present fuse ominously, both father and son learn the uncomfortable truth: sometimes, darkness comes from unexpected places.
No spoilers ahead.
Here at The Honest Bookclub, we've made it no secret that we just about worship the Harry Potter series. We are of the midnight-release, trivia-conquering, merch-hoarding, Pottermore-beta-testing, Wizard-Rock-listening, proud-[insert house here] variety, and we make it known. In short, we aren't shy about our lifelong Potterism and all the ways it has shaped and defined us. We credit it with making us into lifelong readers and book-lovers devoted enough to choose to run a blog. We are one reread away from turning into the actual books. And when we are insulted, we're Unforgivably Cursing the offender in our heads.
The announcement and subsequent release of The Cursed Child has, therefore, been a roller coaster of emotions, expectations, anticipation, and everything in between. We wanted to love it, we feared we wouldn't, we hoped it would succeed, and then wished it could be time-turnered away entirely.
In the end, there was just too much to cover, and too much Unforgivable Cursing to do. So in an effort to address everything that needed to be addressed - we alternated our rants. We apologize for the length of said rants. And we solemnly swear that we are up to no good.
Lexie: So, to kick this off, what were your expectations going into The Cursed Child?
Natalie: My expectations weren't high at all. I went into this with the idea that this will be terrible, and it was. When it was announced, naturally, I was quite excited. But as time went on, I really thought about it.
Lexie: I am NEVER interested in sequels and spinoffs to already-finished series, so to say I was skeptical would be an understatement. It's interesting that we sort of swapped, though. As time went on, I allowed myself to become more sold on the idea. And you, less. Turns out any level of expectation was too high of a level of expectation. Do you think there's anyone who would and could enjoy The Cursed Child?
Natalie: Of course, people will like it, but I personally struggle to understand why. So much of it doesn't really work with the original series. I'm all for people enjoying it, I'm glad they did, but it fell very flat for me.
Lexie: I think casual Harry Potter fans, or someone who's seen the movies way-back-when and was mildly entertained might like this fine. Because, honestly, the biggest flaws lie in - as you said - how little attention this play seemed to pay to the original series. Namely, the plot and the characterization. So - which do you want to tackle first? Have your pick.
Natalie: Let's go with the characters. I'm sure we have a lot to say about that, am I right?
Lexie: That's putting it mildly. The characters, conversely, were both the saving grace and the pitfall of The Cursed Child as a whole for me. On the one hand, Scorpius Malfoy and his dynamic with Albus Severus Potter. On the other hand - everybody else. But firstly, where WERE all the missing characters?
Natalie: I was wondering this too! There were so many missing characters - some not even getting a mention or becoming irrelevant, and it's such a shame. Although, to be fair, would they be as good as they are in Rowling's work? Probably not. It seems the writer of this play didn't really capture what we love about the characters in The Cursed Child. They didn't seem to work for me and I felt that Jack Thorne isn't really aware of who these characters are. The characterisation and development in it was very poor for me, and I felt very disconnected from them.
Lexie: The old characters, needless to say, were exaggerated. Or at least the precious few of the ones present were. But interestingly, someone pointed out to me that this original cast was more of an exaggerated version of their movie roles than they were of their book personalities. Ginny, listless, passive, hardly present. Ron, reduced to a vaguely humorous sidekick with no real agency. And so on. And truth be told, this theory does hold water for me. Even some of the events referenced were movie-only events that never took place in the books. But we'll get to those later on. Which of the characters did you actually like, and which did you have the biggest problem with?
Natalie: Interesting points, Lexie! Hm, well I had beef with a few of them, but I found that Harry was the most out of character of all of them. I found his rudeness, his constant anger with his son and anyone who even cared about him grew tiresome for me. And he said things I would never imagine he would say. The Harry that we all grew up with wasn't the same, and his caring and loyal attitude was missing in this.
The character I did love, however, has to be the only one I expected to like the least. Yeah, the best character for me was Scorpius Malfoy! I didn't see that one coming. I wasn't ever a fan of his father Draco, but this one weedled his way into my heart. His kind personality, humour and devotion to his best friend was lovely, and he truly stood out as the real star of this script. What about you?
Lexie: I LOVED Scorpius, and I couldn't agree more - he was the star of the script. We're not alone in this, either. I feel like the entirety of the fandom will agree on this point. Neither you nor I were the biggest fans of the Malfoy family beforehand, but they, at least, remained on track. Rowling set them up for a redemption arc late into the original series, and their slow progression towards 'the good side' resulted in what was easily the character who carried the entire Cursed Child. And who, if you ask me, is much more deserving of the monicker than Albus. Why, exactly, is Albus the cursed child?
Natalie: I have absolutely no idea. I think he had quite a good little life, and I'm still baffled as to who the Cursed Child really is. I do wonder if it's a new character which was brought into the series. Do you have any ideas?
Lexie: As I undersood it, it was implied to be Albus. But from where I was sitting (and gaping, a lot of the time), nothing concrete seemed to support that. A case could be made for Scorpius, of course. A handful of new characters also seem to have lead dubious lives up to that point, but... [laughs] None of them strike me as cursed.
As far as the characters I liked the least, I also have to agree. Harry was definitely the farthest from the Harry we've known. At times he's a bit of a Dursley, in a way that made no sense to me. But Hermione seemed to have lost a lot of her sharp wit, too. There were scenes where I outright couldn't believe how naive her actions were. And Ron was sidelined. Of the four, Draco seems to be both the most likable, and the sanest. Which, given Draco's previous actions, is quite a turnaround.
Natalie: I know, I never thought I'd be liking Draco Malfoy more than Harry Potter! It all seems to backwards to me. And I agree, I'm not sure what it is about Albus that's supposed to make him 'cursed', because if it's just about people at school not liking you, I think a lot of us were cursed children.
Natalie: The plot was completely different from what I expected, because the plot is just so outrageous. It's nothing like I'd have predicted, and it wasn't the type of story I was hoping for. To me, parts of it felt lazy and not very well thought out, and I didn't really like where it was going. The poor characterisation was made to fit where the story was going. I feel like had Harry and the rest of the characters been their normal selves, it would have gone in a different direction. What do you think?
Lexie: In one word (or is it two): fanfiction. It's not just that I'm choosing to treat this as fanfiction, I also think it reads as such. Admittedly, with fandoms as massive as this one, an impromptu sequel was doomed to be an uphill battle. So much fanfiction has already been written, and so many avenues have already been explored. No matter what road you take, chances are oveewhelming someone has already taken it before, and it's online, and it exists. But the problem isn't that the plot wasn't original, was it? It's that it was nonsensical. The very premise relies on what's arguably the biggest plot hole of the original series that was painstakingly sewn shut. And, I mean, when you build a story on that sort of a foundation... yikes. Did any of the plot appeal to you at all?
Natalie: Honestly, the plot really didn't do anything for me. It messed too much with the original series and everything that Harry had done, all for the sake of one person. All for a pointless reason, and because a silly child felt the need to be a better person. I felt that the story was a little bit lazy, as I said before. And I had a few ideas that could easily be ran with for a title like The Cursed Child. I would have preferred if I was able to actually identify who said cursed child was, and I would have liked it to have been away from the original series, not messing with what's already done and perfected.
I feel like, if they wanted to do a play, they should have done it A Very Potter Musical-style. Fun, harmless and something everyone can enjoy. It's just having a little prod at the series for some easy banter, but not in a way that would disrupt the series. For me, Harry Potter was complete when book 7 finished. I'm all for Fantastic Beasts and having some history added, enriching the series's past, but messing with the trio's lives was a very risky thing to do. I wasn't a fan of it.
Lexie: Oh, dare I say it since you mentioned it...? (Yes, I dare. I'm a Gryffindor.) In parts, The Cursed Child does actually read like a sort of spinoff of A Very Potter Sequel, much more so than it does the actual series. Which probably wasn't the authorial intent.
I feel like we DID collectively miss out on a lot by not seeing the play live. But having said that, a play should not rely on visual effects and set design to be at all plausible. A very small percentage of the overall fandom will get the chance to actually see it on stage, so the premise needs to be able to stand on its own. As it is, however... for me, the suspension of disbelief was too high. It's not just that the plot is ridden with plot holes (which it is!). It's also that it opens up additional plot holes in the original series which didn't use to be there. It's almost retroactively dismantling the source material. Did you feel that at all? Did you have moments where you thought "Well, if this is true, then the original series makes no sense at all? It has to be one or the other."
Natalie: I absolutely agree on seeing the play and relying on the set and effects on making it a good play. I'm very into characters, and if they fall flat for me, so does the story. Thorne just didn't do it for me. I do wonder if they will release some kind of version of the play for us at home to watch it, I mean, it will make them more money so what's stopping them? We're all interested in how they'd do a lot of what we read in the script, but I will judge this solely on reading it.
To me, it was all completed when Jo said "All was well", and now more questions have emerged with the release of this book. Many characters have become questionable, new ones have been invented, pasts have been changed and magic that we never thought you could do has become canon. And the magic just didn't work because it goes against what Jo has told us.
Lexie: What puzzled me the most is that canon has been altered? I know that Jo Rowling has been known for doing that occasionally, and to the fans' absolute displeasure, but suddenly a lot of what we've been told was absolute... isn't? Which is where what you just said really applies - saying "all was well" and then changing your mind - that IS the way life works, of course, but it's also tricky. As a loyal fan, you are almost forced to choose between two canons. And that, I think, is what everyone dreaded the most.
Natalie: Exactly! The series is over, and that canon is what everyone knows and loves. Don't go messing with it. Considering Rowling spent so many years of her life writing and plotting this story, it's heartbreaking that it took one silly play to undo all of that.
Lexie: What about worldbuilding? Because much as The Cursed Child disappointed me, a tiny part of me was giddy to be back in the Wizarding World. Truth be told, a tiny part of me was giddy to even have another HP book to count down to - and then hold. The Wizarding World, if anything, is still expansive and multi-faceted and, apparently, fragile. But that, at least, hasn't changed much. I just wish more of it took place at Hogwarts. Is that a spoiler? I hope not. Did the big sorting question go anything how you thought it would?
Natalie: I don't think it's much of a spoiler, but I completely agree. Obviously everyone loves Hogwarts and we're still waiting for our letters, but as you said, there wasn't a lot of it in this book. I guess there wasn't much use in worldbuilding, considering it's not only a play but Jo did so much in her novels, it would be nice to have more in the familiar places we already know and love. As for the sorting - I already predicted it. I had a feeling it would go that way anyway, so it wasn't a shock to me. I would have preferred that the house choices were a little more scattered, not sticking to those same houses. Mix it up a bit. Did you guess it too?
Lexie: Nope! I actually thought it would go the exact opposite way. I tend to interpret clues as red herrings and vice versa, so there's no hope for me with series that aren't intentionally mysterious. I always think the author is purposely trying to dupe me when they state something clearly beforehand. Trust issues, apparently.
Which, given the end result, were entirely called for. The thing about this familiar world and its familiar magic and the familiar comfort of a new HP book release is that I wanted so, so badly to like The Cursed Child. I think we all did. It hurts my soul that I didn't. This review is long enough as it is, and we didn't cover even 1% of what bothered me, because we're keeping it spoiler-free. It's almost like every page had a wildly mishandled character acting in a way they shouldn't, or a scene that makes no sense, or a sequence of events that outright denies previously-established canon. The play made itself hard to like. And we were all so prepared to like it.
Natalie: I'm the same, I also wanted to like it. It's a new Harry Potter story and it's in the Harry Potter world. I felt like I was betraying it for disliking something related to it, but I can't find it in myself to like it.
You're so right. It's hard to convey why we disliked it in a short non-spoilery review, I could probably sit and chat for hours about this story and dissect it. Maybe we can one day have a full length chat with fellow readers who have read it in the future about the story, taking it apart and chatting The Cursed Child.
Natalie: I preferred the pacing of Part 2 but I will admit, I started skimming in that part, too. More happened - although I wasn't entirely sold on it - but it moved more quickly. Just as I though it was ending, another "plot twist" would emerge and I would roll my eyes, as Ginny does, and think 'again?'.
Part 1 was more interesting to kind of see where they were going with it, it was more into the characters, where Part 2 was more into tying up the already loose ends and trying to get the story wrapped up. What are your thoughts?
Lexie: We'll just agree on everything and have everyone check out. But it's not our fault we're both so wise. It's a curse. (As much as the one in the title, at any rate.) It's hard to say that any part was solid, because it was all built on a senseless, ridiculous basis. But like you said - the second play sort of wraps up and tries to fix what the first part broke. And that, perhaps, is why I enjoyed the latter half of the book more. There was just nothing about part 1 that made any sense to me. I can't say the events on the whole didn't keep me entertained. I read the book one sitting and I wasn't bored. But not-bored is a far cry from pleased.
Lexie: The very, very end, however, felt both too convenient and also... insulting to me? I'm gutted that I can't mention what I mean specifically, but I'm guessing a lot of fans who have read the book will know regardless. The way some relationships were suddenly altered left me reeling. In large part, the play tried really hard to answer some questions that fans had throughout the years and to justify some of the past decisions that divided the fandom. But the one thing that was perhaps the most controversial... still remains controversial. And to say I was disappointed was an understatement.
Natalie: I don't have an opinion on the ending, I was just glad it was over. I was just interested to see where it would go, and I shut the book feeling a little empty and melancholy. I felt like I now appreciate the original series more - although I always have - and I don't think I want to take this one into consideration as being the 8th book. As you said, it's divided a fandom, but people will have their own opinions. Of course not everyone will like it, it's risky to touch a series like Harry Potter, one that is so well loved and cherished.
Another thing you pointed out that I agree with is the convenience of how it was tied up at the end. It's back to how it was before the book started so it makes us wonder why even bother with it.
Lexie: And that's just the thing. The very premise of The Cursed Child immediately sets everything up so the best outcome is the status quo. Which is never a good thing for a spinoff/sequel that came after years of promises that the author was done changing canon. The real question is: do you think she's done now?
Natalie: [laughs] No. Rowling said this many years ago, and look what's become of it. Fantastic Beasts, Cursed Child, Pottermore. There's more to come. I don't know when, I don't know what, and I don't know why, but it will. It'll be interesting to see where it'll go. I do, however, wish the series was left alone now. I'm fine with stories like Fantastic Beasts, I'm quite looking forward to the movie personally, but Harry's time is done. Would you welcome anything new?
Natalie: Oh, definitely! She knows how to capture the attention of young readers, and considering she knows how it's done - of course! - why not attempt another? We're cheering you on, Jo. I'm rating The Cursed Child 1 star. Everyone was out of character, it was messy and completely disregarded the original series. The only thing I really enjoyed about it was Scorpius Malfoy. I would say I was disappointed but my expectations weren't very high. What about you?
Lexie: I'm more pessimistic about the future (as in, not nearly as excited for Fantastic Beasts as everyone else), but at the same time more optimistic about the play. It was faulty to a fault (I regret nothing about this statement), messy, and unnecessary. But I loved Scorpius, I loved his dynamic with Albus, I loved being back in the Wizarding World, and I loved the attempt to address some of the fans' questions and concerns over the years. So I guess my rating would weigh at about 2 - 2.5 stars. But my ultimate verdict remains: fanfiction. Very, very traditional fanfiction.
Mischief managed! And actual brownies for anyone who ever manages to make their way through this entire
dissection analysis. You've earned them, you absolute legends. To the rest, we recommend reading our opening and closing statements for a briefer sort of overview. The Cursed Child, needless to say, won't be ranking among our favorite HP books (which are all... except this one).
But now it's your turn to talk - how did you enjoy The Cursed Child, and do you plan on reading it if you haven't gotten around to it yet? Have we helped inform your decision at all? And what one aspect of the play(s) stood out to you the most? Leave us a comment below, or find us across all manner of social media:
THE CURSE OF THE CURSED CHILD: A BOOK REVIEW IN CONVERSATION
4/ 5Oleh The Honest Bookclub