One month ago, I was very excited to wake up to new Harry Potter to read for the first time in nearly a decade. I had intentionally avoided reading the many reviews of and articles about Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, the stage play that serves as a sequel to the seven books that began performances in London nearly two months before the script was released in book form for fans worldwide to enjoy. J.K. Rowling herself had pleaded with fans lucky enough to see the play to “keep the secrets” and avoid ruining it for others and I must say, it worked, because I rather easily managed to steer clear of all spoilers until my copy arrived.
Now that several weeks have passed and more and more people have read The Cursed Child, the general opinion seems to be negative. I must say, I do understand why so many people don’t like it. For starters, regardless of how it was promoted, this is not “the 8th Harry Potter book.” It is a script, not a novelization, and therefore reads much differently than the beloved books. Also, while it is based on a story J.K. Rowling conceived alongside John Tiffany and Jack Thorne, the script itself is written by Thorne, not Rowling. And, most importantly, it is absolutely a flawed story. But that being said, I really liked The Cursed Child.
I think it is important to preface this argument by pointing out that I literally came of age alongside Harry Potter and his friends. I was almost Harry’s exact age as the series was published. Considering I was right in the prime demographic, I went to the Barnes and Noble midnight release parties, I went to the midnight movie premieres, I reread the books over and over, and I shared them with my mother and many of my good friends who also lived and breathed and world of Hogwarts. From age 10, when I first discovered the books, through high school, and college, and to my post-college life in Los Angeles, where I lived when the final film was released, Harry Potter was very special to me. And for that reason, when I read The Cursed Child (in two sittings, which is a sign of my age—once upon a time I would stay up all night reading after a new book’s release), I found myself so incredibly overjoyed to be back in that world with those characters I love, the characters I grew up with, that I found I was willing to overlook the plot’s weaknesses in favor of how much I truly enjoyed the journey of reading it.
Spoilers to follow!
It was almost immediately obvious to me why J.K. Rowling insisted everyone be so secretive about the play’s contents. For starters, The Cursed Child is a time travel play. Who saw that one coming? Literally, the plot revolves around Harry’s rebellious middle son, Albus (picture Order of the Phoenix Harry, so essentially an angsty jerk, oh, and he’s a Slytherin) and his best friend, Scorpius Malfoy (the most wonderful addition to the universe fans ever could have dreamed of) getting a hold of a secret Time-Turner (they were supposed to have all been destroyed, but of course they weren’t because where’s the fun in that) and deciding it would be a fantastic idea to go back in time and prevent Cedric Diggory’s death. What could go wrong? It doesn’t help matters that Delphi Diggory, the secret love child of Voldemort and Bellatrix Lestrange (yes, really) has arrived to complicate things even further. Throw in a couple of truly scary alternate timelines, a lot of fun appearances from our favorite characters, and some serious father/son angst and you have quite a play—technically two plays, even, as on stage it is presented across two nights in four acts.
Here’s the thing—yes, a lot of this play is fan service and relies heavily on nostalgia. Rowling and the other writers know what the people want. Do we want to see Severus Snape, alive and still being a damn hero even in an alternate timeline? Obviously. Do we want to revisit the pivotal events of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, the book many fans call their favorite? Absolutely. Because of this, the play does feel almost fanfiction-adjacent. It’s a bit too good to be true, in a way, to the point where you wonder if what you’re reading can possibly be canon. Personally, my biggest criticism is that Delphi’s existence did not feel plausible to me. I have a lot of practical questions about when Voldemort may have conceived a child (and also, frankly, ew, who wants to imagine that?), and she felt more far-fetched to me than any other element of the plot. But I am willing to forgive a lot of sins for the addition of Scorpius to my life, and, to be honest, the nostalgia factor worked for me.
The other issue many fans have pointed to is the inconsistent use of Time-Turners when compared to the rest of the Harry Potter canon. I understand that frustration, although I’ll admit it did not bother me at the time because, like I said, I was just so damn happy to be reading a new Harry Potter story. What it boils down to is this—in the books, time travel via Time-Turner is presented as a closed loop. The best example of this is in The Prisoner of Azkaban, when Harry sees a mysterious wizard saving the day with a Patronus, only to realize upon traveling back in time that he is that wizard. When Harry needs to perform the spell, he says “I knew I could do it this time, because…well, because I’d already done it!” If you believe in this theory of time travel, you likely hate the movie Interstellar, in which Matthew McConaughey travels back in time to save himself because how does that work when he would first need to be saved for that to be possible? Anyway, in The Cursed Child, time travel instead creates alternate futures that can be undone by further time travel. Here’s another reason this inconsistency didn’t bother me—when it became apparent that this was a time travel story, I immediately became terrified something would happen to do irreparable damage to the canon timeline, and, frankly, I would not have handled that well. This play already made me suffer through not one, but two alternate futures in which Ron and Hermione never got together (but of course they were still secretly in love because they’re soulmates). If I have to choose between sketchy time travel and living with that for the rest of my life, sign me up for the sketchy time travel.
Another thing about The Cursed Child that truly impressed me is how ambitious it is as a stage play. There are so many characters, so many sets, and feats of magic that are difficult to imagine pulling off onstage (how do you make a bookcase swallow people?!). It does not surprise me that the popular opinion of those lucky enough to see it live versus those who just read it seems to be much more positive. While I was still sucked in to the magic to the point where it allowed me to forgive some flaws, I imagine in person, being swept up in the enchantment of it all is nearly unavoidable.
If you have yet to read The Cursed Child, here is my advice to you: don’t overthink it. No, it’s not a perfect story. No, it doesn’t always make sense. No, it’s not Rowling’s prose and dialogue we love so much. But personally, when Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was released almost 10 years ago, I never expected to read another full-fledged story about Harry, Ron, and Hermione. For a few hours, I was a teenager again, holing up in my bedroom until I devoured every word. Since actual Time-Turners don’t exist to enable me to go back and experience the books for the first time again, reading this play was an experience I felt fortunate to have—time travel paradoxes be damned.