You must have heard of it. Your shelf probably houses a book from its first print run of 4.5 million copies. You most likely want tickets or, if you’re really lucky, already have some. And, if you’re a long-term fan, you’re probably aware of the criticisms.
‘The book is only a script, not a real story’, you might hear. ‘It doesn’t fit into the wizarding world.’ ‘It wasn’t written by JK Rowling herself – it’s nothing more than fanfiction.’
There’s truth in this: the script is a limited experience compared to the novel’s details or the films’ visual effects. Not long after starting the book, it becomes obvious that Jack Thorne’s writing style is quite different to Rowling’s. The plot too is lacking, its script-form doing little to hide the plot holes and inconsistencies with the books’ universe.
Many fans outright reject the Cursed Child. It wasn’t written by Rowling, it doesn’t read like Rowling and it therefore doesn’t belong within Rowling’s world.
As my copy arrived in its cardboard sleeve, I compared its first scene to the epilogue in the Deathly Hallows. I was aware that I couldn’t form my own opinion until I came out the other side of the day-long endeavour to purchase tickets and the year-long wait to actually watch it. Now, however, it’s clear to me that the criticisms are missing something crucial: the play’s purpose.
When you look through the first pages of the programme, you’ll notice a quick summary of the series and a small glossary, so poor old grandad can familiarise himself with what a ‘muggle’ is again. As you watch the play, you’ll realise it does not add any major new characters or plot development. Instead, it returns to familiar locations, exploring familiar themes with familiar characters. The reason for this is simple. The Cursed Child is a story to revisit Harry’s world a decade after his final book was published. This time, however, we return to a totally new form of storytelling – the stage.
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is a nod to the fans who still crave more from the wizarding world. It is not a sequel – JK Rowling has made it clear that Harry’s story has finished – but a stage play that encompasses its seven predecessors. On stage, Jack Thorne’s style fades away and it’s Rowling’s characters who inhabit the limelight. The effects are so seamless that I thought there was real magic before my eyes (until one of the crew made a split-second mistake and I realised how it was done). During the five-hour run time, the audience is transported from the Hogwarts Express, to the Forbidden Forest, to the Ministry of Magic and to Godric’s Hollow. It’s a play about acknowledging the past and moving forward. It’s about the final push Harry needs to be a father free from the weight of memory, and the push his son, Albus, needs to learn that he can tread a separate path to his family history.
JK Rowling did not give the story to Jack Thorne because she disapproved of its existence, but because she acknowledged it would require specific experience of the limits and possibilities of the stage. With enough knowledge of the wizarding world, it is possible to smooth over the plot holes using details that would be too clunky to fit into spoken dialogue (if you care, you could read fans’ narrative reconstructions of the play that do exactly this).
The Cursed Child creates a new Hogwarts, one updated for its twenty-first-century students with a new school crest and an entirely different soundtrack. It is free from the darkness that the generation before lived under and it’s obvious that won’t change anytime soon. The story is over but the Cursed Child shows that sometimes it is valuable to return.