Hello pals! So today is not a review of the Cursed Child, rather an essay! I might do a review in the future, maybe not. Enjoy.
A lot of people didn’t like Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. A lot of people did, of course, like that glowing New York Times review. I personally did enjoy it, but here in this space I want to explore why I think many people did not.
The problem with Harry Potter is that people love it and grew up with it. Not typically something think would be problematic, but this is internet generation. The core series means a lot to a lot of different people and changing any of the expectations or preconceived notions is asking for trouble. This idea is strongest, and most prevalent, on the internet and in fandom.
In the gap between canon material (Pottermore notwithstanding) a strong community of “fanon” has grown to fill the vacuum. Here, people begin to head off on their own into the land of speculation— and that’s not a bad thing! Fandom is an incredible place that does an amazing job of fostering creativity and community building. But it can also color one’s view on the real facts of the canon. It’s possible to go so far that one forgets where they cam from at all.
With Harry Potter, things are amplified because of the strong emotional attachment to the source material. The characters that exist in fanon are different than the author’s creation, and everything that happens in fandom is inherently separate from canon even if it closely follows the original. An alternative to the expectations created through deep exploration is asking for conflict.
I would like to make this very clear: I’m not here to rag on fandom, or the internet, or whatever. I’m a big proponent of these things but it’s important to note that they do have their downsides.
Now, we live in the age of remakes, so this isn’t exactly new territory. The best recent example I can think of is Star Wars: the Force Awakens. This is a late addition to a property that is very near and dear to everyone’s hearts. They went the easy route: the basic plot was recycled from Star Wars: a New Hope with only some new elements.
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is a bit more ambitious. It sets off with the same characters but in a stage we’ve never seen them in before, and a plot that circles around elements we know but never becomes repetitive. Although it does this, I actually found it to be one of the most thematically consistent Harry Potter books. Like most of the series, family— born or chosen— plays a pivotal role in the plot. Certainly in terms of maturity it’s more at home with the first and second books, but instead of the darkness of evil the play gets its substance from somewhere else entirely.
One of my favorite parts of the play was that it treater our heroes as humans. Too often we fall into the trap of thinking our parents are superhuman, know everything, and are perfect. Again, this feeling is amplified because of fandom. We want Harry to be a great father, perhaps because of his own tortured upbringing. Yet this is utterly at odds with almost the entire series. Harry has always acted on his emotions, often to poor results, and has always had trouble communicating. This is the same person who brewed and advanced potion to spy on Draco Malfoy on a hunch. The same person who broke into the government with his friends based off a vision!
Finally, I must remind everyone that the Cursed Child is a play before it’s anything. Elements are inherently bare, just like any Shakespeare play. It’s meant to be performed; the world building is supposed to take place on the stage with actors to make real the words and “stage magic” to paint the world.
It’s not easy to see our fairytales grow up. We’re the ones who are supposed to do that, not the other way around. But it’s critical to see Harry and company as adults with real flaws and shortcomings. Maybe take this chance to see your own parents in this light— I know that as I’ve gotten older it’s been easier for me to do so. Remember, magic can’t help us communicate better.