One point that I have found to be absolutely amazing about Swarthmore is that almost all Swatties can immediately bond over Harry Potter. And it’s not just Swatties who can share this bond. This past Winter break, at an externship, my mentor and I engaged in an intense conversation about which house we belonged in. If I tried to remember every time I’ve had a heated discussion about Harry Potter at Swarthmore, I would seriously struggle — the monthly average must be around five. As much many of us love the magical world of wizardry, however, a large part of the H.P. fan base has reacted negatively to the newest play installment, “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.” In this play, Harry’s middle child, Albus Severus, first arrives at Hogwarts as a student and gets sorted into Slytherin, where he befriends Scorpius, Draco Malfoy’s son. Albus feels as though he is constantly disappointing his father, starting with his friendships, and tries to make him proud by using a time turner to save Cedric Diggory, who died during Harry’s fourth year at Hogwarts. However well-intentioned Albus is, he makes many mistakes and ends up changing the past.
From the fact that the time turners work differently in this story to that the plot is similar to fanfiction, dislike for this latest story has been widespread. Personally, I think this reaction is not fair to the piece as a whole. After all, it was written as a play and intended to be seen in play format, and it can’t be judged in the light of the past books. Instead, we should be taking into account all the attributes plays lend and factoring those more thoroughly into our criticisms.
First, I want to address the criticism that I hear most often — the story has already been done and is worn out, because the set-up of the plot is the same as the previous seven Harry Potter books, and J. K. Rowling is just trying to squeeze more money from the amazingly lucrative franchise. Honestly, the same argument could very well be made for the rest of the series. In all seven books, except the last one, Harry starts off in trouble, either with the Dursleys or certain elements of the wizarding world, and eagerly awaits the chance to return to Hogwarts. Then, when he arrives at Hogwarts, there is a new Defense Against the Dark Arts professor. As he progresses through the year, Voldemort or a Voldemort supporter stirs up trouble for Harry, and he reacts, often against the wishes of his friends. Then, the year ends with a face-off between evil and Harry.
Obviously, this simplified sequence of events generalizes what happens in every book. But to say that the eighth installment is the same as the seven books that came prior to it, which are all highly praised, well, the argument loses some steam.
Another complaint I hear is that the play reads like fanfiction. The story is about Albus Severus and Scorpius, so in many ways, I think it would be hard for that to not be true. Harry Potter fans have been writing about the generation that came after the original books since before the last official Harry Potter book was released. The only extensive contact the Harry Potter world had with the next generation had, up until this point, been through fanfiction. We are so used to reading novels about the golden trio of Harry, Hermione, and Ron, and the only time we could’ve encountered written material about the next generation was through fanfics. So it really shouldn’t come as a surprise that this play reads just like so much of the fanfiction that has come before it. What this argument forgets is that while this play may read like fanfiction, it’s also on the big stages all over the world, behaving very much like a real play, which I haven’t heard any fanfiction do before it. The only reason we now understand it to read like fanfiction is because we had only been exposed to these characters through fanfiction. There’s an adjustment period we must go through before accepting these characters have more ‘official’ stories crafted by Rowling, and many have not gone through that adjustment yet.
By the same token, I have heard people disregarding the story entirely because it’s written in play format, and it’s hard to follow. Admittedly, I was on that boat for a long time — then again, I dislike reading plays in general. The only play that I have truly enjoyed was “Hamlet,” which is a hard standard to match. It was a much harder play to follow and understand, but its storyline was hard for me not to get completely sucked into. And after all, Rowling isn’t writing at the levels of Shakespeare, and she never was. Her strengths are in the storytelling and creation of a new world, which she does on stages across the world much better than through the play script. Having the script released gave fans more universal access and allowed more people to get another glimpse into the world of Harry Potter. Instead of limiting access to the individuals who are lucky enough to grab a ticket to the live show, Rowling ensured that a wider audience would be able to access the story by releasing the script.
With all that being said, I will now confirm that I have fallen in love with the story of “The Cursed Child.” Though I was once a naysayer, I changed my tune when I saw the play for myself in late January. As a Christmas present, my parents got me and my sister tickets to the show, and honestly, I wasn’t too excited. I had read the play two years prior and found it to be quite boring.
The story in the play was no different to the script — the words I had read were being spoken and acted out by the actors on stage. But the experience was completely different. The entire two-part show an emotional rollercoaster; I was moved to tears several times, and by the end, I was full-on sobbing. The actors drew me in, and the storyline kept me engaged — the acting was brilliant, and the numerous special effects kept everyone on their toes. Not only that, but the life lessons littered throughout the play were extremely relatable. Even though I had encountered those lessons in the script, they came alive when they were played by actors on the stage. Hearing and watching the script made it all more real, and it truly felt like I was going on the journey with the characters.
Like so many others, I grew up with Harry. The first time I read any H.P. book, I was nine, almost the same age Harry was when he started Hogwarts. By the time the play had been announced, I had been a Potter fan for half of my life. Though I was excited to read it initially, I came out the other end disappointed. It wasn’t until I finally got to see the play live, toeing the line between being a young adult in college and being a young adult in the real world, that I understood how amazing it really was. In the original books, I related to them due to more childish fears — going to a new school, being able to make friends, hoping people would like me. Now, my fears now run much deeper: will I be able to get a job? Find financial, social, and emotional stability? Will I have kids, and will they love me? Will I ever be able to show my parents how much they really mean to me?
“The Cursed Child” addresses all these fears in some way, whether in a subtle tone or a much more overt manner. Though it still minimally focuses on the childlike fears through Albus, the older audience also picks out the fears we can relate to. Throughout the play, Harry and Albus argue, and there is one moment in which Harry tells Albus he wishes Albus had never been born. One can immediately feel the regret Harry feels at lashing out, and his disappointment in himself leading him to not being able to explain to Albus he messed up. Although I do not have kids right now, I related to that fear — the fear of messing up so badly you do not know how or if you can ever make it better. Harry is not the only one I learned from. Albus, while young and not very wise, makes brave decisions in an effort to show his dad he is good enough to be a Potter. Even though Albus messes up almost every time, his drive to make his dad proud is one I’ve often felt towards my parents, and it’s taken a very long time to accept that I may never be able to do so up to my standards. In the play, Harry is proud of his son but unable to convey it. In my life, I am aware my parents are proud of me, but I am unable to accept it as enough. Watching the father-son duo work through their misunderstandings moved me to tears, and pushed me to go home and work through my own.
“The Cursed Child” relies on the same mechanics that have made Harry Potter successful — a story that most can identify with. For me, the breaking point was when Harry thought he had turned Albus completely against him, and they had fragmented their relationship too much to ever return to normal. It reminded me of my own relationship with my parents, and how difficult it could one day be for me to have the same bond with my own kids. As a story that’s supposedly old and worn out, it certainly felt fresh.
“The Cursed Child,” in many ways, is not accessible to everyone. Tickets are massively expensive, the show is in two parts so it becomes a much bigger affair, and it’s not in every city in the world. This, for me, is heartbreaking, because accessibility was the magic of the Harry Potter books and the play. And while I do truly hope it may one day become a Netflix special or be made more public in another way, I will still stand by my claim that “The Cursed Child” is absolutely brilliant, and its timing perfect. Even as the eighth installment of a massively successful story, it is fresh, new and just as relatable as the first seven books, and hopefully, more people will be swayed to see it in the same way.