EXPeriencing Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (Review Pt. 1)

Cover image via.

I’m a privileged member of the Harry Potter generation. I grew up with Harry and have been reading J.K. Rowling’s books for more than 15 years. When I discovered Harry Potter and the Cursed Child was being released last weekend, I had two thoughts:

1.) How did I not know this was coming out this weekend?!

2.) I get to read a new Harry Potter story for the first time!

The magic of books 1-7 will always be fresh in mind and I will never not love reading them, but you only have one chance to experience a story for the first time. I thought this story was brilliant.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is not a novel, but a play in two parts by Jack Thorne and John Tiffany based on an original story by J.K. Rowling. It picks up exactly where we left off 19.5 years later in the epilogue of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows as Harry and Ginny are sending their sons James and Albus off to Hogwarts. Albus is of course nervous since it’s his first year, and Harry reassures him that everything will be okay.

Instead of closing the back cover of the book and weeping because it’s the end, we get to turn the page. It’s just the beginning. We follow Albus on his adventure with his cousin Rose Granger-Weasley on the Hogwarts Express as they head to school for the first time. Unfortunately, now I can’t tell you any more of what happens because literally everything else is a spoiler. (I will publish a spoiler-heavy review soon!) Long story short: Albus gets in more trouble than Harry did. Everything is not okay.

You may have heard a lot of mixed reviews since the play was released, and I think the first reason for this is the vehicle of the story itself: not many people are used to reading plays. If the last time you read a play script was Romeo & Juliet in high school, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child might be farther out of your comfort zone than you’d like. J.K. Rowling writes illustrative portraits and paints scenes in great detail. Conversely, you hardly get any detail in the play script. There are very few stage directions or scene descriptions. I would say the play is 90% dialogue. That can be hard to follow if you’re not an avid play-, Ernest Hemingway-, or Raymond Carver-reader.

The fact that it’s a play may also makes it feel like the characters are a little flat. There are no, “Hermione said sarcastically and rolled her eyes,” no “Ron laughed and chucked a fanged frisbee at Harry.” The only real inflection direction I recall is Ginny said something “[drier than dry]” which still isn’t much direction when you’re used to J.K. Rowling’s adverbs.

The other thing people probably aren’t loving—as I had a moment of “Really?” myself—is (very mild spoiler here) there’s time travel. And not Hermione-going-to-two-classes-at-once time travel, but Doctor Who levels of time travel. It’s actually pretty trope-y. In addition to the tropiness, I think what may bother some people is that this is a new story with new characters, but it’s heavily woven into the stories of the characters we already hold so dear. It takes what we know and says, “Look, things can change if you’re not careful.” That results in every child’s hope, and every parent’s fear.

If you’re a Harry Potter fan, it doesn’t matter what I or anyone says—you’ll buy this book if you haven’t already. You’ll read it in two days like I did, and you’ll clutch it to your chest because you still love these characters like you did when you were 12, and you realize there’s room in your heart for a few more. And you’ll be sad, because J.K. Rowling said, “Harry is done now.” But you’ll always be able to go back to Hogwarts. Just crack open a book and read.

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