The play Harry Potter and the Cursed Child recently debuted in London, and millions of readers have picked up a copy of the script to see what lies in store for Harry and his son Albus. After the first seven books have been adored by readers worldwide, it’s no surprise that The Cursed Child has become one of the best-selling books of this year.
Though they bought the book, readers seemed to enjoy it significantly less. Comparing the rating of all eight books on Goodreads – we see that the highest rated is Deathly Hallows, garnering a 4.60 stars rating and the lowest is Chamber of Secrets, with a 4.35. Looking at The Cursed Child, it’s an astonishing 3.88 stars. Not perfect, but by no means a bad book.
That’s not what the fan reviews would have you believe. Sure, there were people who liked this book, but if they are the majority, they are relatively more quiet about it. The most-lauded reviews on Goodreads and most of the friends I spoke to had a handful of problems with the play. Having enjoyed it immensely, I’m here to explain what makes Harry Potter and the Cursed Child an enjoyable read, by responding to the criticisms found on Goodreads.
Obviously, I’m going to be discussing direct spoilers from the play, so if you haven’t read it yet, you might want to steer clear of this post.
First off: why time travel?
Okay, I could bullshit this, and say that Rowling, as she stated, “went far too light-heartedly into the subject of time travel in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban,” and she needed to resolve that, but honestly, I think it comes down to Harry’s guilt. Harry recognizes that he has to live with the guilt of everyone he did not save, and the desire to undo that is there, even if there is nothing he can do about it. Albus’ motivation then, is to outdo his father by undoing his mistake, and saving a life that his father could not.
And as far as the specifics of time travel are concerned, I liked how time travel changed from Prisoner of Azkaban. In Azkaban, the Time Turners could only send the user back an hour at a time. This caused what is called Closed-Loop time travel, the kind of time travel seen in Terminator, in Game of Thrones Season 6, or, most notably, Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure.
Three-Eyed Raven from Thrones offers concisely, “the past is already written, the ink is dry.” In the Prisoner of Azkaban film, Harry describes it well:
You were right Hermione! It wasn’t my dad I saw earlier, it was me! I saw myself conjuring the patronus before. I knew I could do it this time, because, well, I had already done it!
But then as soon as you get the Time Turners which can go back decades, time travel becomes much more chaotic. Now it has a much more visible effect on the future. Think Back to the Future or Doctor Who. Granted, the goal of Albus and Scorpius was to change the future, but it is interesting to see how in some cases it does change and in some cases it doesn’t.
But all the problems of time travel resolved themselves so easily once Scorpius got back to the present!
If things had become vastly different, the story would have become jumbled and convoluted, buried under the weight of the continuity it destroyed. Trying to create an entirely new world for every little hiccup that the kids encountered, the story would have undoubtedly become too messy. In short, all the minutia of time travel would have gotten in the way of telling an interesting story.
Scorpius and Albus go back in time, undo something, then undo the undoing, sending things back to the default. The thought process there is a little straightforward, but it flows logically.
None of the characters we saw last are like they were in the books!
To be fair, it has been nineteen years, and in most cases, multiple children, since we saw any of these characters. It’s not as though they’re supposed to be exactly the same. Frankly, I think it would be boring if these characters came back and hadn’t changed at all. (Side-note – I loved Draco as a father.)
It’s like reading Harry Potter Fanfiction! Look at the cover, it’s not even written by J.K. Rowling!
No, Rowling is credited as conceiving the story, alongside John Tiffany and Jack Thorne. Yes, other people put together a script, but think of the amount of thought that Rowling put into the first seven books. All the minor characters who have their own involved stories, and how all these individual stories create the great tapestry that is the rest of the series. Do you think that there’s any chance that Rowling did not carefully outline these characters and the story that they were to be involved in before handing it over to Tiffany and Thorne? I think not.
Voldemort has a daughter? That’s gross!
Yes, it obviously is. But think back to The Deathly Hallows. After Voldemort kills Harry, Bellatrix addresses Voldemort with a sensual “my lord,” which is described as though she is saying it as to a lover. Voldemort soon tells her “that’s enough” and the plot moves on. So the clues to a Voldemort/Bellatrix relationship were subtle, but there.
The question then is why? Well, it’s simple. What’s the main thing that Death Eaters are a proponent of? Well, Purebloods of course. In fact, when Voldemort comes to power, he rounds up all the Muggleborns, or Half-bloods, or Muggle-sympathetic. Obviously, Voldemort’s interest in an heir had nothing to do with a love for Bellatrix or a desire to procreate, but simply to continue his pureblood ideals.
This whole idea about Cedric becoming a Death Eater? Riddikulus!
A couple of people I talked to disagreed with this notion that Delphi’s plan to embarrass Cedric into becoming a Death Eater is flawed because Cedric was such a stand-up guy in Goblet of Fire.
But put yourself in those shoes. You had a glorious moment where you were the champion for Hogwarts. You were going to represent your school in the Triwizard Tournament. Now is your time to shine, and make your school proud. Then this younger, scrappy kid, a school-wide celebrity comes in, and turns out you have to share the spotlight with him. All right, that’s fine, you’re a stand-up guy, so you can share the spotlight, no big deal. But then you get utterly trounced in the first event. Totally embarrassed. So you try to win the tournament even harder, but you’re embarrassed again. What’s the best way to get back at this kid who stole your spotlight and beat you? Well, there’s a particular club just for that kind of thing. They’re called Death Eaters, welcome aboard!
Albus kissed Hermione (while disguised as Ron)! That’s also gross!
Yeah, that kinda is.
Ron did absolutely nothing! He was just there to make jokes.
Almost like he works at a joke shop? Ginny also got screwed over in this book. Both of them were just support characters for their more significant spouses. But that’s all right. It shows a shifting focus from our previous protagonists, Harry and his friends, towards our new protagonists, Albus and Scorpius.
Why was this necessary, though?
Perhaps to show us that there are no wholly happy endings. After the Epilogue for Deathly Hallows and the short story about the 2014 Quidditch World Cup (written in-universe by Rita Skeeter), it seemed like things were all hunky-dory for Harry. I loved that the time-travel dystopia that Scorpius discovers frustrated me, because of how much I adored the original happy ending. It felt as though the Cursed Child was trying to undo everything I loved about where the series left off last. But it helped to indicate that this world and these character’s lives, much like our own, would never be perfect. And the final scene at Cedric’s grave? It provides an important contrast between the “All was well” ending of Deathly Hallows in which Harry might show that even if his scar does not still hurt, he still carries with him everything that has happened. No, Cursed Child shows that life will always have its struggles, and that the Wizarding World will always be at battle with Dark Magic.