Well…here we go.
I’m a big Harry Potter fan, so when I heard that J. K. Rowling was writing a stage play to follow the adventures of Harry’s son, Albus, and Draco Malfoy’s son, Scorpius, I was disappointed that I would have very little prospect of seeing it…and then excited when I heard that the script would be published on premier night…and then disappointed again at the quality of that script. But it was better than it could have been.
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is the latest installment in the Harry Potter universe. It’s a stage play, and the script is available in bookstores everywhere. But the reviews have been…mixed. Viewers who actually watched the play on stage loved it, but those who read the story in cold paper and ink were not so enamored. And I’m not just talking about the people who were mad that it’s a script and not a book. Many readers had far more substantive problems with it.
I’m going to be nice and #KeepTheSecrets for now. I’ll probably revisit the substantive plot problems later.
Okay, first, I want to set the context. This is a play, and not a book. We don’t know what it looks like performed on stage. From what I’ve heard, it’s a brilliant play and a technological marvel. Everyone who actually saw it in the theatre seems to have been blown away. We don’t get the full sense of what it’s like from reading the script, and it’s going to fall short.
Second, and even more important, the book is not the final version. This is the special rehearsal edition that everyone is reading. It was printed when the actors were still working out the details in the show and changing things that didn’t work. Some of the mistakes we see in its pages may be gone by now. Luckily, we will get to see the final version eventually. The definitive edition is expected next spring, and we should be able to make a fairer assessment then.
Finally, this play was not written by J. K. Rowling. It was written by playwright Jack Thorne based on a story outline that J. K. Rowling helped to write. So the style is not going to be the same.
But on the merits…
I actually liked it better than many of the loudest critics. I found it readable. I found it entertaining. I found it fun…I also thought it would have been better if they’d cut the entire fourth act (out of four). But I’d rate it positively overall.
Unfortunately, it also butchered the Harry Potter universe.
The characterization was brilliant in some places–a couple of the moments between Harry and Ginny stand out–but it was so tone-deaf in others that it didn’t even make sense in context. There were several places where Harry sounded nothing like himself, and he wasn’t the only one or even the worst example. Think Minerva McGonagall yelling at Harry and Hermione for something that wasn’t even their fault, and you’ll get the idea.
The play also contradicts several things J. K. Rowling has previously said about the characters and about the way magic works. And without giving it away, the central premise involves something she said she wanted to get away from just a couple of years ago. It turns the whole Potterverse on its head, and not in a good way, and, if you think about it too hard, it completely destroys the very sense of closure it was trying to create.
Granted, I’ve long understood that J. K. Rowling’s strength is as a brilliant storyteller. She’s actually not a very good worldbuilder and never has been, but this was bad even for her.
Look, I read a lot of Harry Potter fan fiction. Many readers say Cursed Child reads like bad fan fiction. I respectfully disagree. I’m not saying it reads like good fan fiction either, but it is readable and even fun. Cursed Child reads like decent fan fiction from a writer with a good command of English spelling and grammar and the fundamentals of storytelling (alarming rare things among amateurs). That’s nothing to sneeze at, but sadly, it’s not up to the usual standards of Harry Potter.
At least Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them looks pretty good.
But please, Warner Bros., whatever you do, don’t make a Cursed Child film trilogy.
My rating: 3 out of 5.