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Monday, August 1, 2016

So I read Harry Potter and the Cursed Child . . . (Book Review)



(No Spoilers in this Section)


Initial Reaction to the News

When I first heard about Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, I had cautious expectations, and maybe even some skeptical ones.

First, adding more to an already satisfyingly complete story can do more harm than good.

Second, I know J.K. Rowling is listed as a writer, but she didn't really write the script, just gave the other guys a few ideas to run with. I've seen this done with another franchise I love and the result was terrible.

Third, it's really hard to pull off something like this. The audience usually has high, but very vague expectations, which makes it very difficult to deliver.

As for actually reading the book, well, there's a problem. It's a script. And really, scripts are meant to be watched, not read. I'm an English graduate, so I've read a few scripts in my day, and I almost never enjoyed it. The only exception was Dr. Faustus. So, again, I was skeptical, but I mean, let's be honest. This is Harry Potter, of course there's going to be something I like about it because I'm so biased toward it. I love plays themselves, I just don't like reading them.

I considered not reading it and waiting until the play came to the U.S., but I only considered it for a few seconds--I'm going to Comic Con next month as a guest, and people will expect me to have read it.

So, basically, I wasn't sure what to think about it and personally didn't expect much. But then months ago, I accidentally-on-purpose read some of the spoilers, because honestly, how much of a "spoiler" could they be? The main story is complete.

Man, was I wrong about being unspoilery. The two I read I did not see coming--and I loved them. So two points to Cursed Child on that--and I was excited to read it.


I went to a midnight release party on Saturday, and it was fun in a somewhat nostalgic way. Some of my friends and I dressed in costume and and everything. And Barnes and Noble had plenty of games and activities to keep us occupied as the time clicked closer to midnight.

My Experience Reading the Story

I planned to read the story all in one day, which for Harry Potter fans isn't much of a feat. It's only about 300 pages and it's a script, so you get through each page pretty fast.

I had read a headline the week before that said "Be Prepared to Fall in Love with Scorpius Malfoy."

They weren't kidding.




Scorpius almost steals the show, and it's hard not to love him--and that's going mainly off his dialogue (since that's what scripts are mostly made of). The two spoilers, along with a few other solid surprises came up in the first 60 pages of the script. I had to go to church a bit after that, and I'll be honest, I was hooked into the story and didn't want to go. The whole time I kept thinking about Albus and Scorpius. I couldn't wait to get home and read the rest. I've read some fantastic books since Deathly Hallows came out, but I haven't felt this level of fervor in years--and I missed it. There is just something magical about a Harry Potter book and its affect on me. When I was reading before church, I didn't want to eat. I didn't want to go to the bathroom. When I came home from church, I hurried and made lunch as fast as possible and only when I had two bites left of my taco, did I realize I'd forgotten to put all my ingredients in it.

And I didn't care. I rushed back to the book.

From there . . . my reading experience became less and less . . . joyful. In the set-up of the story I smelled hints at a plot that could potentially go wrong and fall flat. There were even some parts where I thought, No, please don't go that direction. And some of them did go that direction, unfortunately. 

Unlike some writers, I'm not totally against cliches. They just either need to have fresh twist or be really entertaining. The plot of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child felt like a cliche--and it had neither a new twist nor was it wonderfully entertaining. In fact, it reminded me of fanfiction, maybe even less entertaining than fanfiction, or fan plays for that matter (A Very Potter Musical anyone? Ridiculous, but very funny and entertaining). I kept wanting to have "down time" from the actual plot, because the characters and relationships were really where the story's strengths were, and the plot itself was predictable and kind of a gimmick--just there to bring in action, adventure, and a little bit of magic, and to, unfortunately, resurrect an already satisfyingly complete story. The Harry Potter story is a fantastic story, and it's complete. Resurrecting it only pales what we already have--because it can never be as good. It's better to leave it and start something fresh with these characters.

Look, I get it from a marketing perspective--wanting to get in the adventure and pay tribute to the plot and characters that came before to appeal to the audience and all that, but I would have enjoyed the story more if it wasn't trying to do that. Look at Lily and Snape's backstory. I've never met anyone who didn't like it, and many fans would love it as a book. It didn't need the bangs and the adventure. It was already interesting and compelling--and so was the set-up of the Cursed Child. Heck, even the Marauders' story had some adventure (werewolves and tricking Snape to see one and all), but it was toned down (and better) than the adventure they tried to resurrect in Cursed Child.

So the plot fell kind of bland. Unfortunately for me, once it got going it kind of became the sole focus of the story, when I yearned for "down time" to just be entertained by the characters and relationships and their day-to-day life.




It has some really great lines of dialogue. And it's hard not to love both Scorpius and Albus. And I really appreciated some of the tough truths the story touched on, some of which made me love the characters from the series even more. 

And other than the trio (which Ron rocks, by the way, and it was nice to see since I feel like he got toned down in the latter movies), it was so nice to actually see Ginny being Ginny! I love Ginny in the books, but thought she and her relationship with Harry were awful (and awkward) in the movies, so it was refreshing to see real Ginny again, and it restored my faith in their relationship. Faith in Ron and Hermione's relationship was also renewed.

All in all, my favorite part of the story was the set-up, and the relationship between some of the characters that I'll talk more about below, but don't want to spoil.

And I must admit, there were parts and things that definitely alerted me to the fact J.K. Rowling didn't write this. Harry did something in it that I couldn't picture him doing. Actually, he did two things. I couldn't see him doing this exact thing, so I thought he had to have an ulterior motive, that the object he had or was giving had to be a portkey or something, but it turned out he was really just genuinely doing it (though it did become important later). A few of the other familiar side characters felt a bit off here and there too, but only a bit and only here and there. And there were a couple of tiny, tiny continuity errors.

But I'll talk more in detail about what I liked and didn't liked below, just wanted to start with a spoil-free section.

My Advice for Potential Readers

Overall, I'd say most fans should approach this story as an unofficial story. Maybe read it at least once, just to enjoy the characters and great lines. Don't read it for the plot. And don't consider it all canon ("official"). It's not good enough to be canon. Or, you can be like me and pick out the stuff you liked to be canon and the rest to not be. (For me, that was mainly the set-up.) Honesty, I think the story is worth reading just for Scorpius and Albus. Just know there will probably be things in it that you don't like.


(Minor Spoilers in this Section)


The best surprises of the story were in the opening, in my opinion. The other "surprises" that came out later were predictable and cliche. But, seriously, they had some good character ideas. Here are some of the best things about the opening:

Good Ideas!

1. Albus is sorted into Slytherin.

Okay, to me this is genius. We all know how the epilogue goes, right? Albus is scared of being sorted into Slytherin, and his older brother teases him about it. But then, he actually is sorted into Slytherin. Whether or not you like that fact, it definitely makes for an interesting story that promises conflict. I mean, he gets sorted into the house he didn't want to be in--and is the only Slytherin in a family (and extended family) all full of Gryffindors! And, yes, thank you, we need a good Slytherin main character.



2. Albus quickly becomes friends with Scorpius Malfoy

Okay, yes, yes, yes! Perfect idea. I mean, seriously--Malfoy's son? What's he going to be like? How can they be friends? What do their parents think (hint, neither of the fathers are thrilled). We all know how dreadful, (and yet rounded) of a character Draco was, so this immediately gets interesting. Especially since Ron and Hermione's daughter, Rose, tells Albus that he should pick his friends carefully. Ironically, we get like this nice tribute to Harry as a youth, where Draco told Harry to pick his friends carefully, and he stood up for his unpopular friends. What's cool here, is that Rose (who actually loves and wants to take advantage of the fame she's inherited from her parents to gain social status) tells Albus to pick his friends carefully, and he picks Malfoy's son--whom everyone hates already.



3. Scorpius Malfoy, his Reputation, his Parents, and his only friend Albus

Scorpius isn't like his father. He loves his father--a lot more than Albus appears to love Harry, but he isn't like Draco. Scorpius isn't ashamed of his dad, but similar to how Albus has to deal with living in Harry's shadow, Scorpius has to deal with his dad and grandparents supporting Voldemort back in the day. As a result, he's hugely unpopular (though I find his character quite lovable). Albus doesn't fit in and is teased for being sorted into Slytherin. As both misfits, they become best friends. Side Note: Get this, neither are athletic, and they don't like Quidditch. Haha, kind of loved that opposition to their dads.

But it gets better. Scorpius's family being hated the way it is, there is a rumor around Hogwarts that his parents couldn't have children, so they used a time-turner to send his mom back to Voldemort's time, and that Scorpius is actually the son of Voldemort. I found the rumor completely, wonderfully ridiculous, and perfect for the sort of things that kids and teens would come up with. While Scorpius doesn't like the rumor, he puts up with it in stride.

Then there's his parents. Draco and his wife, Astoria. They really did struggle to have kids, and Astoria has horrible health. So you can't help but really feel for Scorpius. I feel okay saying this because it happens in the set-up of the book, but Astoria actually ends up dying. And Scorpius asks Albus to come to the funeral--even though both their dads don't like their friendship. And Albus is like, "Of course. I'll be there."







4. Hermione is Minister of Magic

I was really surprised when I first read this spoiler. I didn't see it coming, but then I kind of loved it. And I think it suits her well.

5. Harry dealing with life post-Voldemort

Sure, I said a few things felt a bit out of character, but mostly, things were good and there were some points that I thought were really great and spot-on. Harry has to deal with being famous day-to-day, for the better or for worse. A random person comes up and asks for his autograph (something that would annoy Albus), while other people (particularly a character we've seen before) blames Harry for avoiding him and hurtfully pulls out some facts about all the people who had to die around him. The dialogue there is very well done, and it is hurtful, because, as we all know, Harry already feels bad about the people who died on is quest to destroy Voldemort. He doesn't need the world and old friends blaming him too. His famous status also puts a big strain on his relationship with Albus, who hates it. And when Harry is trying to work on this relationship, he has to deal with people storming in, often unwelcome, into his family life.

We still get so see that Harry has a temper (unfortunately, he loses it with Albus, who he finds a difficult child). He says something hurtful and it felt both sad and realistic, and I appreciated that, and because we all understand that Harry has a temper and gets impulsive and mouthy, we can understand him and still love him.

And yes, if you were wondering, he still doesn't do his paperwork and Hermione still has to get after him for it.

I didn't find Harry's difficult relationship with Albus annoying or depressing, but something I could definitely see happening and appreciate. Like I said, it's the relationships in this story that are interesting. And perhaps one of the highlights of Harry's character in this book for me, is him admitting that he finds it hard and very scary to be a father, because he never really had one, and all his father figures died. So, he's doing the best he can, but he's afraid it's not enough, or he's not doing it right. He still has nightmares about his childhood and teenage years, and even admits he has developed a fear of the dark.

To some people that may make him sound weaker, less brave, but not to me. To me, it gave 30-40 year old Harry depth. Besides, courage isn't the absence of fear, it's pressing on despite it.






Then we have Harry dealing with Draco, who can't really hate Harry, but feels like Harry is always blaming ex Death Eaters for things--and that dialogue was good.

6. Ron

Okay, seeing Ron as his goofy lovable self and Harry's kids loving it, and hearing them call him "Uncle Ron." He gave me a few good laughs, and has his own moment of bravery and willing self-sacrifice. Some great Ron and Hermione moments. Seriously, I don't get people who say they don't belong together--they definitely do.

7. Ginny

I already mentioned her, but adding her to the list. She's not a main character, but I kind of loved her.

Bad Ideas

1. Plot (More on this in the spoiler section)

You get a few hints in the set-up and a little after that there might be some time traveling in this plot. To me that was an immediate warning signal. The typical time-traveling story has been done so many times in so many shows (and cartoons), that my first thought was, this can't be good. And it sounds like it might be like fanfiction. But I loved, loved Scorpius and Albus, so I thought this could be entertaining (at least let it be entertaining!). Then there were some other things and what did happen, which I'll talk about in the next section.

So, I'm going to talk about the stuff I didn't like more in the next section, because it's more spoilery. 

But here's my point I want to emphasis. The good ideas were good ideas because the writers were playing with foils (opposites)--smashing together the sons of rivals, making each son opposites of their dads in some way, and in some cases, opposites of each other (Scorpius is envious of the adventures and fun Harry Potter had with his friends at Hogwarts, while Albus actually doesn't like Hogwarts hardly at all (which makes him more difficult for Harry to relate to) because of the negative attention and the bullying he gets). They weren't "cartoony" opposites there for the sake of it--they were genuine opposites that made the characters and their relationships more complex. It wasn't one-dimensional. And it felt fresh and fun and exciting.

But the plot didn't feel fresh. It didn't have the same level of tension because it was predictable and we've seen it a dozen times.

The true strengths of this novel lie in the characters and relationships--and the writers should have catered to that more . . . and picked a different, more modest plot.

Major(?) Spoilers


Plot

Okay, wow, a time travel storyline you have probably heard of in dozens of fanfictions from dozens of franchises. I'm not against fanfiction. And I know that some of them are bound to have ridiculous ideas, that's just the way that genre of writing is. But at least they are entertaining ideas and situations. I'm sad to say, I didn't find this time travel story very entertaining, other than a few good lines of dialogue. The moment Albus and Scorpius went back in time, I knew what was going to happen.



And for the record--I can even like this type of plot if it's pulled off really well. I'm a big (new) fan of Back to the Future. Watched it for the first time this year and absolutely loved it. But the thing is, I found it so entertaining. Cursed Child did not give me that level of satisfaction and fun. Why did they take that approach at all? Okay, I answered my own question near the starting of this--but still. I think most fans would have liked a new adventure better. A dark wizard, or magical creature, or vampires, or something.

Then, there is the thing with Delphi. The Thing. If you've read this, you know what I'm talking about.

I've heard of the theory of Bellatrix and Voldemort having a child before, and the first time I heard it, I rolled my eye at the complete ridiculousness of it. --until I actually read the essay. I'm sure I can't find the original one I read (now that the internet is overrun with the Cursed Child storyline). But if you had read it, you may have been close to converting over to it as well--if not right away, days after, once it had sunk in. The subtext is all there for it to be read that way (whether or not they actually did have a child) and Rowling is very particular and intentional in her details. I don't know that she honestly decided they had a child, or if she liked putting the subtext there. But along with all the subtext in Bellatrix and Voldemort's dialogue and the subtle descriptions of the way they talk to each other (once compared to having the tone of "a lover"), you have to admit, Bellatrix is notably absent in the end of the Half-Blood Prince, and we aren't given a real reason as to why. And besides, if they did have a child, or were trying to have a child, I can't imagine Rowling choosing to make it obvious in a book that is still shelved as childern's literature (and let's not forget, Bellatrix is married to someone else).

I'm still not sure if I can actually believe that Voldemort is even capable of having children. I mean, he is an 8th of a person.

Anyway, I realized that the theory actually had some evidence thanks to the essay, and when I was reading Cursed Child, I had the feeling that theory was going to be realized. But here's the thing. I think in the right hands, someone actually could have pulled it off well. But in this story, with Delphi being Voldemort's child, at least in the script, it felt way too one dimensional to me. Like it was just there for some action and adventure, not for any real significant meaning. Maybe it's conveyed differently on stage, but it felt too shallow and simplistic in the script for me.

I had a problem with Harry at one point actually believing Scorpius could be the son of Voldemort (I thought that facet of the story was more fun when I thought it was simply a ridiculous rumor). I didn't see it--unless he was really, really blinded by his emotions and concern for his child, but it didn't come off that way to me (maybe it does in the stage production). Him coming to that conclusion just wasn't thought-out enough for my taste.

I like the themes in the story, and I think they did a good job of getting them across. 

So is it worth reading? Maybe at least once, just so you know what it is. It's not very long. But let's do ourselves a favor and don't take it as "official."


3 comments:

  1. I skimmed through this review so I wouldn't get too many spoilers, but enough to get a good idea if I should give "Cursed Child" a chance! I could be wrong, but maybe it would have a better feel to it as a theatrical rather than straight from the book! I would love to see the play and because of your review, I'm pretty sold on reading the script now :)

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  2. After what you said about Harry and Albus' relationship, I feel the need to re-read it. I didn't like how it was handled at all the first time. I didn't mind necessarily that they have a rocky relationship -it would be interesting to see that- but I didn't like how it escalated; it didn't seem natural and I got pretty mad/exasperated with Harry. It was just another thing that felt fanfiction-like to me. But like so many point out, maybe it comes off better on stage.

    I also really love that Albus gets sorted into Slytherin. But was it just me or did he not show any Slytherin traits? Neither he nor Scorpius seemed to exude Slytherin to any degree. Maybe I missed it?

    Seriously, a new story (hopefully series) with Albus and Scorpius would make me so happy. Don't get me started. I WILL GUSH.

    I really can't wrap my brain around that Bellatrix/Voldemort theory. Like, ewww. I'd be interested to check out that essay if you ever come across it again because it makes no sense to me. He wouldn't just want a kid, because he's basically incapable of love, so why would he? And he wouldn't need an heir, since his plan was to beat death entirely, and there's always the danger an heir would grow up to challenge him.
    *huff*

    Anyway, it was fun to read your thoughts. Thanks for sharing! ^_^

    ReplyDelete
  3. I got my Harry Potter and the Cursed Child book today.
    I ordered it on Amazon and they delivered it in just 2 days!
    Check them out:
    Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

    ReplyDelete

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