Monday, August 15, 2016

Review: "Harry Potter and the Cursed Child" by J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany and Jack Thorne

I knew going in that “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” ($29.99, Arthur A. Levine) was not really going to be the eighth tale of everyone’s favorite boy wizard, but I still had high hopes for a return trip to J.K. Rowling’s world.

But while “Cursed Child” might work well on the stage and maybe even in the film that’s almost sure to follow, on the printed page, it doesn’t.

The story focuses on Harry’s younger son, Albus Severus Potter, a boy saddled with a couple of names that give him a lot to live up to. He and Harry are somewhat estranged as Al begins his time at Hogwarts and become even moreso as the story goes on, leading to a disastrous conversation in which Harry says some things he deeply regrets.

The confrontation sets Albus on the path of attempting to undo what he sees as one of his father’s greatest failings – the death of Cedric Diggory. His attempt, though, could open the door for Voldemort’s return.

By its very nature, a script cannot be as immersive as a novel, and that’s the first problem that “Cursed Child” faces. You lose background, description, inner conversation and motivation – all things that put you in place and bring you closer to the characters. In a live setting, those things can be made clear by action and expression, but not so much in the printed script.

As a result, for much of the book about the only character that I liked was Scorpius Malfoy. I found Al a bit whiny and petulant, and adult Harry seems like he’s made of the most annoying traits of child Harry multiplied by 10 or 20. I very rarely recognize this version of Harry, who doesn’t seem to have gained much wisdom in the intervening years, and the things he does often don’t make sense. The strangest of these is a conclusion that he comes to after a conversation with Dumbledore’s portrait. Based on the information that we’re given, it’s almost impossible to see how he made the leap in “logic.”

Other characters get short shrift in the story, and there seem to be some continuity issues between where Rowling left them and where they are now. They also don’t seem to have matured much on their journey to adulthood. Ron is essentially comic relief, Hermione is still a know-it-all, Draco is still unnecessarily abrasive, though he does have one of the more notable transformations in the story. I think there was a lot to build on with the parallels between Harry and Draco and their relationships with their sons, but it’s largely ignored, except for a brief conversation between the two.

The story is very disjointed and jumpy, covering Albus’ first three years in Hogwarts in a page or two, and then bouncing around all over time and space as scenes change. Motivations and reasoning are very difficult to find throughout, and it’s just hard to connect to the characters. Again, it’s a weakness of the bare-bones script, which would likely be improved through live performance, but is still disappointing for a reader.

In the end, I did find some common ground with both Al and Harry, and parts of the story were incredibly fun, if a little frustrating to read. I’d really love to see how it translates to the stage, and to be honest, how some of the effects and scenes described in the script are pulled off on the stage.

I think there’s a good seed of a story in “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child,” but I also think that perhaps releasing the script in book form might not have been the best idea. It couldn’t possibly live up to expectations, and even people like myself, who knew going in that it was only going to be a script, will still walk away a bit disappointed. I had fun at times with the story, and I think it came together in the end, so I’ll hold judgment on the project as a whole until I get a chance to see it on the stage, as intended.

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