With seven books and eight films, the Harry Potter series took up a decade of my life. I really enjoyed the story, the characters, and the fantastical world that J.K. Rowling created. Thoroughly enjoyed, in fact. The series took Harry from eleven to eighteen (not counting the epilogue), and it took me from 15 to 25.
However, with the release of the last film in 2011, I felt that it was done. That is, I could live without Harry Potter in my life, barring the occasional reference and reread. Harry Potter became just one of the many series in existence and the characters just some of the many pantheon of fictional characters. One might say that the magic had faded somewhat. I moved on to other stories.
So I admit that I was initially sceptical when I heard that there was going to be a sequel story – albeit in play format. As far as I was concerned, while Rowling had left a lot of dangling threads, she had nonetheless finished a beautiful tapestry that didn’t need another panel.
But I decided to get the book from the library, unable to resist the curiosity.
That the story is not entirely written by Rowling is just fine. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is not a novel like its predecessors, but a play. It is filled with a lot of descriptions of sets, stage directions, and dialogue, only the latter of which recalls Rowling’s vivid prose. There isn’t really room for prose is theatre, but there is enough in the book for the reader to visualise the stage and the action. I love plays (having written some and read quite a few) and thus I had no problems taking the script and imagining it playing out on the stage, although I admit to having had some trouble with some special effects.
I am glad that they decided to tell a further story after the epilogue of the seventh book. While finding out what happened in the intervening 19 years between the end of the action and the epilogue would have been nice, the fact that we already know about the epilogue lessens the suspense. Better to let that missing time be told through occasional short stories from Rowling!
But this isn’t just a school story redone, focusing entirely on the new generation of Hogwarts students. Harry Potter is still the title character and truly the story is about him, even if his son takes centre stage for a large part of it.
Instead, we have a story that focuses both on teenage characters and on our favourite characters as forty-year-olds. Harry, Ron, Hermione, Ginny, and Draco are not much older than the original fans of the books, seeing as the first book came out in 1997. Quite a few thirty-somethings started reading the books as preteens or teenagers, after all, and have now moved on from school stories to books where the main characters are juggling careers and parenthood. We can still see ourselves in Harry and his compatriots, while reminiscing of school days watching the Hogwarts scenes.
The story (which I won’t spoil much of) turns on its head the idea that everything is fine for Harry after the defeat of Voldemort, even if it appears to be so at the end of Deathly Hallows. (After all, that book ends with “All was well” – which is just crying out for something to happen!) Yes, when we last see him, he seems to have his life together: he is happily married, he has three lovely children, and he seems successful and well-adjusted in his career and home-life. He is an adult, which is especially jarring for us readers when on only the previous page, he was just shy of eighteen.
The central conflict of the story is between Harry and his second son, Albus. While Harry is an adult, there are many things he wishes that he had done differently. He is still grappling with his identity and his past, just as most adults do. He is also coming to terms with his children, who are growing up in a safer world with their parents alive. Harry never had his father in his life and is thus at a disadvantage when it comes to fatherhood. While it is not dwelt upon in the play, it is clear that Harry relates better to his elder son, James, because they have similar interests and James adjusts better to school than his younger brother. James is everything that Harry wanted to be as a teenager – popular, athletic, and decent academically. Albus really only has one good friend, hates Quidditch, and is all right at his subjects, but does not really apply himself. Except for Quidditch, Albus is actually a lot more like Harry was, but not how Harry wants to remember himself.
For Harry, Hogwarts was a wonderful place where he felt like he belonged and had a family. For Albus, Hogwarts is a boring, lonely place where he feels like he doesn’t belong. Obviously, conflict ensues. The rest of the plot is just how that conflict plays out.
That doesn’t mean that we don’t get to enjoy seeing familiar characters again or going back to Hogwarts. This story brings back the magic and makes Harry Potter relatable again. The adventure continues – not grand battles, but everyday battles. Harry Potter has indeed grown up.