The title of this blog post ended up being more Lemony Snicket than J.K. Rowling, I think.
But I suppose that’s all right. It wouldn’t be the first time that Harry Potter and the Cursed Child deviated from the norm. The original Harry Potter series were proper books with entire worlds hidden even among letters of the same words. Although Harry Potter and the Cursed Child was in the physical shape of a book, it only contained a very minimalist script.
I haven’t been keeping abreast with the reviews and reception of Cursed Child — I read some reviews of the initial play showing, and I knew there were hoards of fans who flooded bookstores at midnight on July 31 to buy Cursed Child, but that was the extent of my knowledge of the media coverage surrounding this 19 years later… epilogue.
From what I’ve heard through the grapevine — and now through this NY Times article — people have not really been fans.
As for me, diehard Potter fan who proudly displays her Ravenclaw House pride on her wall — I’m a fan, albeit a tentative one.
Some plot elements of Cursed Child are hugely reminiscent of the original series, but I do agree that other aspects of the play creep into the territory of fanfiction/fan service.
At this point in the Harry Potter fandom, many fans have been producing and consuming fanfiction for years. They filled the waiting gap between the books and the films, have allowed us to stay with Harry over the years — and made it increasingly difficult to distinguish what’s canon and what’s been largely accepted as fan-canon. These details only become further muddled each time J.K. Rowling updates Pottermore.
In Cursed Child, certain lines of dialogue (My personal favorite is “How very irritating.” when describing Voldemort. 5 points to your House if you can guess whose line it was.), descriptions, and the larger construction of the plot itself all play into what fans have come to expect of the characters as a result of both the books and fanfiction.
I figure, though, there are many Potter fans who have not come into contact with [good] fanfiction or simply don’t like the concept of fanfiction. This, I can understand. And because elements of Cursed Child do evoke similar, exaggerated understandings of Rowling’s original world, I can understand why some people don’t appreciate Cursed Child very much.
All the characters and the settings in the story might be the same, but they’re also not the same. Everyone is in new eras of their lives, ones about which Rowling never wrote. But because all of us readers have individually formed our own perceptions and kept Harry’s world frozen in our own particular moments in time, Cursed Child inevitably becomes a disappointment because it wasn’t exactly how we envisioned Harry’s world to be, 19 years after Deathly Hallows.
I’ve been a part of the Harry Potter fanfiction culture for over a decade now (that’s frightening), but about four years ago, I spent a week prepping for a Harry Potter trivia event and put painstaking effort into separating canon from fan- and head-canon. I think this prep session forced me pay to particular attention to not let my head-canon plague my perception of Rowling’s world.
Because of that, I was able to, for the most part, enjoy Cursed Child.
Part of my enjoyment may have derived from the fact that I’m used to reading plays/scripts in English classes. Suddenly approaching Harry Potter from a stripped down script wasn’t as huge a point of view jump as it may have been for other readers. (Scholastic said this was the fastest selling script book it had to date.)
Aside form the format, however, I think there is also another element of Cursed Child that is throwing readers for a spin.
Partial spoiler alert.
I don’t think the protagonist, Harry’s middle child, Albus Severus Potter, lined up with anyone’s expectations of a Potter-Weasley child.
First off, he’s not in the right House.
Granted, I’m also partially “not in the right House,” but I’m also not the child of The Chosen One, so no one really cares.
Albus has so many expectations riding on his shoulders from the moment he’s born — because of who his father is, because of his namesakes — so it’s inevitable that his being Sorted into the “wrong” House changes everything, starting from his mental health and stability. Yes, I found angsty Albus a little annoying at times (Much as I imagine many people found angsty Harry in Order of the Phoenix a little insufferable.), but it makes sense.
Albus, as a character and human being with all backstories and external factors considered, makes complete and utter sense; and from a writer’s perspective, I’d even argue that he’s a more complex, flawed protagonist than Harry was.
Cursed Child was well-written and well-developed, in spite of the potential fan service aspects, and Rowling’s magic touch was most definitely still present among the pages. At the end of the day, I appreciate Harry Potter and the Cursed Child for giving fans a little more canon material, for providing us yet another way to remain within Harry’s world even though we know we’re all far too old to ever dream of attending Hogwarts in this lifetime.
…and also for giving us a very safe lesson in learning the dangers of having too many expectations.