J.K. Rowling’s epilogue to the original Harry Potter series, found at the end of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows,” was a masterful finale to the saga.
It gave readers just a glimpse of grown-up Harry, his wife Ginny, and his three children Albus, James, and Lily. It hinted at the adult lives of Ron and Hermione and their kids. It suggested the adventures that had occurred in the intervening 19 years without spelling them out. It was a marvelous literary ending—with just enough tantalizing information given and just enough details withheld to leave us closing the book with satisfaction, our minds a-whirring with the glorious possibilities of Harry’s future.
Rowling’s epilogue intentionally allowed the future of Harry and the wizarding world to remain a limitless void—one readers could fill in with their own imagination. It was a privilege readers had earned after sticking with the series through seven books and coming to truly love Harry and his fellow characters. Rowling left the precise details of “what happens next” up to readers’ imaginations, and we became partial trustees of Harry’s future.
But “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child,” with its claims to be “the eighth Harry Potter story,” unfortunately attempts to fill in that artfully crafted void with a story driven to “put on a good show” and sell copies—and does it clumsily.
Plot Is Attention-Getting, But Not Well-Crafted
“Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” is unmistakably seasoned with J.K. Rowling brilliance, but “seasoned” is as close as it gets. If you’re expecting “Cursed Child” to be your legitimate Portkey back to the world of the original story, then you’re in for a disappointment. “Cursed Child” doesn’t belong with the other Potter books.
The book, the script of a play by Jack Thorne currently getting rave reviews in London, was only “based on” an original new story by J.K. Rowling, and co-authored with John Tiffany.
The book opens with the “Epilogue” from “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.” Nineteen years after saving the wizarding world, Harry, Ginny, Ron, and Hermione are now middle-aged parents whose own children are attending Hogwarts. The story’s hero is Harry’s second-born, Albus Severus Potter, who turns out to be the exact opposite of everything the wizarding world—including Harry—expects a Potter child to be.
Albus is sorted into Slytherin instead of Gryffindor, is hopeless at Quidditch, and befriends Draco Malfoy’s son, Scorpius, instead of other, more suitable companions. The rest of the book charts the unlikely friendship between Scorpius and Albus and the father-son tension as Harry and Albus struggle to relate to each other in time for them to protect the wizarding world from disaster.
Although Thorne tries to reawaken the magic of the first seven books, the 308 pages feel driven by a need to sell tickets and make the audience’s theater-going worthwhile, resulting in awkward pacing, far-fetched scenarios and character developments, and out-of-the-blue plot twists.
Warning: Spoilers will follow. Not only does “Cursed Child” spoil the pristine finish Rowling gave her seven books, but it also does it poorly. There’s manipulated travel by Time-Turner akin to that in “Prisoner of Azkaban,” but it’s carried way too far, resulting in a drawn-out episode similar to George Bailey’s fantasy experience in “It’s A Wonderful Life.” There’s comic relief, but it’s an awkward, uncomfortable shadow of the witty repartee Rowling furnished her characters with in the original series. And the bizarre homoerotic tension between Scorpius and Albus? Painfully forced. Random scenes in which the boys appear to be growing closer are dropped in and left undeveloped.
Albus hugs his friend. With fierceness. They hold for a beat.
Scorpius: Okay. Hello. Um. Have we hugged before? Do we hug?
The two boys awkwardly dislocate.
And later in the book:
Scorpius reaches in and hugs Albus.
Albus: What’s this? I thought we decided we don’t hug.
Scorpius: I wasn’t sure. Whether we should. In this new version of us—I had in my head.
The pacing is exhausting and the plot twists over-dramatic and implausible. Of course, as the Wall Street Journal points out, this was not a play written to be a reading experience in and of itself. But frankly, even on stage the story drops entirely too many dungbombs in entirely too few pages, to the point where they’re hardly exciting anymore. Dramatic information is put in at awkward places, and more geared to keep viewers’ eyes glued to the stage than to actually create a well-crafted narrative that meshes with the tenor of the previous books.
Really? We’re supposed to believe that the compassionate, good-hearted Harry Potter who’s always yearned for a father of his own could so easily tell Albus “there are times I wish you weren’t my son”? We’re meant to find it credible that the cold, asexual, incapable-of-loving Voldemort had sex with Bellatrix Lestrange right before the Battle of Hogwarts and produced a daughter?
As the story continued, I found myself only mildly interested by each new development, and mostly just imagining the authors brainstorming together, gauging just how far they could take the story without going completely off the rails.
Rowling Should Have Stopped After Seven Books
Nevertheless, “Cursed Child” did remind me why I loved the original Potter books—even if it failed to really return me that world. There are thoughtful, well-written moments akin to those of the original series—like when the trolley-cart witch turns out to have a second role keeping naughty children from escaping the Hogwarts Express.
But Rowling herself was right when she said after the release of the seventh book that she ended “Deathly Hallows” in the elusive way she did because “within a novel, you have to resist the urge to tell everything.” Unfortunately, “Cursed Child” tells a little too much—Rowling should have stuck to the philosophy of her original statement and left the masterfully-created void of the epilogue our final look at the Potter universe.
If you’re itching to read it, go ahead—if nothing else, it successfully provides an hour or two of nostalgia and might remind you of just how much better the original series really was. But to all of you who haven’t yet read “Cursed Child,” don’t bother dishing out your galleons and buying a copy: you’re not missing anything.