I have something of a conflicted relationship with the Harry Potter franchise.
Not with the books, goodness knows I still love the books dearly. Like many millennials, the books changed my life, gave me a sense of identity (I’m a Ravenclaw, in case you couldn’t tell), and fostered my desire to become a fantasy writer. I’ve written fanfiction, attended book release parties, was a proud member of the Harry Potter Fan Club in high school, and was unashamedly a full on Harry Potter nerd and very proud of it.
Given my history and love of the books, you might be a little surprised to learn that I full on loathe the films, to the point where I refuse to watch them or see any of the Fantastic Beasts films. (Don’t get me started on THAT rant.) For the last five years or so, every time J.K. Rowling has tweeted something about post-canon events, it usually sends me into a rage spiral and I have to cool off. (I don’t care if she’s the writer and what she says goes, it’s bullshit that George ended up with Angelina, Rowling did NOT have Nagini planned out as an Asian woman from the get-go, and blocking Native readers on Twitter because they found you appropriating their culture offensive and cruel is fucked up, JOANNA.) I also kind of hate most of the merchandise because most of it is based on the films and, as previously stated—I hate the films.
I also was not happy about the Cursed Child fiasco.
Like most Potterheads, I read Cursed Child when it came out. It…did not impress me, put it that way. I had no intention of seeing the play in my lifetime, because why would I spend a fortune on something with such an out of character storyline? (We’ll get to that in a minute.)
However, as a Mother’s Day surprise, my mom’s best friend gifted her with really good seats to “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” while we were in New York. My mom was thrilled. I was happy for her too—I could just grab some drinks on Broadway while they enjoyed their play, or so I thought.
Until I learned that her best friend had gotten me tickets too.
Well, that certainly changed things. So sure enough, I found myself only a few feet away from the Cursed Child on Broadway, cynically sipping a Brooklyn lager, and expecting the worse.
But to my surprise, I enjoyed myself a lot more than I thought I would. In fact, I’d regard the entire experience was nothing short of enchanting—if you’ll excuse the cliché.
There was a lot about the play’s writing that made me just as mad as it did when I first read the book. And now for an itemized list.
- The entire characterization of Harry Potter. I don’t know if Jack Thorne, the co-writer of this play, simply didn’t like Harry Potter or didn’t understand him, but I found the onstage Harry miles away from the Harry I grew up with. I recognize the angle of “what if Harry Potter grew up to be a massive abusive douchebag” may be a literary sort of take, but it’s not a take I appreciated or liked. I also acknowledge that they were trying to talk about childhood trauma and how it follows you into adulthood, and how Harry’s neglect and abusive relatives played into this, but you could’ve made the same point without Harry repeating the cycle of abuse. I simply do not find it plausible that Harry James Potter, who spent every summer isolated and lonely, longing for his best friends, would forcibly separate his youngest and clearly depressed son from his best friend based on the words of a centaur’s vague prophecy. That doesn’t add up to me. Nor do I find it feasible that he would threaten Professor McGonagall’s livelihood if she did not assist with this clear emotional abuse—not the man who once cursed someone for spitting in her face.
- Which leads me to the also implausible idea that Ginny Weasley would just stand by and watch her husband do this and let it happen. I don’t buy it. She doesn’t exactly have a submissive personality and I doubt seriously she would stand for Harry separating two close friends for no good reason.
- The gifts. Harry Potter had three iconic magical items that aided his adventures while he was at Hogwarts. The invisibility cloak, his broomstick (the Nimbus 2000 and the Firebolt), and the Marauder’s Map. Harry Potter has three children. It is established within the context of the play that his son James begged him for the invisibility cloak. Okay, that makes sense, he gets the invisibility cloak. It is established that his son Albus does not have talent with a broomstick. Fair enough, different strokes for different folks. His daughter Lily—well, we don’t know much about her, honestly. We do know that her mother is canonically a professional Quidditch player. Ginny went on to play Quidditch professionally. This is one of the few things Rowling tweeted out that didn’t make me want to tear my hair out because it makes sense. So…maybe it makes sense for Lily to inherit the Firebolt? But no. She gets…wings. Um, okay. Lily gets the gendered gift. But obviously that leaves the Marauder’s Map. This should obviously go to Albus, right? NOPE. Harry gives him his baby blanket. I know they were trying to do an emotional pathos sort of thing, but if I were a fourteen-year-old, I would also be let down by this super lame gift. I mean…he couldn’t have wrapped the Marauder’s Map IN the blanket? That never occurred to him? The books don’t show any sort of emotional resonance to the blanket he was wrapped up in, but okay, we’ll just pretend that he’s emotionally tied to this blanket rather than the magical map all three of his father figures helped create and is an actual canonical link to them.
- I don’t know on what planet Draco Malfoy grew up to be a better person than Harry Potter—but honestly, it just strikes me that Jack Thorne is far more partial to the Slytherin villainous characters than the heroes. But seeing Malfoy appeal to Harry quite reasonably, to let their sons be together, and Harry to attack him so viciously and accuse Scorpius of being a bastard—I got whiplash from the role reversal. This isn’t to say I don’t believe that Malfoy could grow up to be a better person (the epilogue seems to indicate this), but to see his emotional growth while Harry becomes just as detestable as Vernon Dursley does not strike me as in-character.
- To the play’s credit, they seemed to have an understanding of Ron and Hermione’s relationship that far exceeded anything those pitiful films threw at us. (That’s another blogpost for another day.) But I have a real problem with the idea that if Ron hadn’t gotten jealous of Hermione and Krum at the Yule Ball, they would’ve never gotten together. Never? Never ever? The alternate reality where we see that Ron ended up with Padma and Hermione ended up a mean spinster professor at Hogwarts was…bizarre, while simultaneously sexist. Why on earth would Hermione have ended up as a mean spinster professor? (It’s in the play, guys, she bullies the students on a Snape-like level) She wouldn’t have ended up with Krum? With Luna? (You will never convince me she’s straight.) Bugger off to this sexist bullshit.
- Wiser people than me have written about Ron and Padma’s son “Panju”. It’s about as cringe-worthy on the stage as it is in the text. Don’t take my word for the blatant racism against South Asian people.
- I’m sorry, I have to go back to Ron and Hermione. In the second alternate reality, we discover that Harry died and Ron and Hermione became fugitives in hiding. And they…are still not together. Bull. Shit. There is no way in hell that the two of them wouldn’t have fallen into each other’s arms in mutual devastation and grieving after Harry’s death. Hell, you could’ve even had them unhealthily attached to each other, with an angst driven codependency because they can’t bear to lose one another—ah, my fanfic sense is tingling. My point is, I just do not think that eighteen years would pass and the two of them wouldn’t have been together.
- I have trouble believing Snape would’ve continued fighting for the resistance after both Harry and Dumbledore’s deaths. Sorry, Snape lovers.
- The time travel plot. It’s just…not good. All I can really say about that is “Voldemort Day”. I think that just sums it up. Voldemort Day.
- Voldemort having a daughter makes no canonical sense. It is established within the books that Bellatrix Lestrange is infatuated with him, but not once does Voldemort ever return the affection. It is implied that he is incapable of love and nowhere is it even indicated that he even has sexual desires.
- Cedric Diggory. This is one of my biggest issues with the play. There is no way that the Cedric Diggory we met in the third and fourth books would ever become a Death Eater. Cedric was kind. He was smart, honorable, and filled to the brim with integrity. I don’t care how humiliated he was during the Triwizard Tournament, this is just not a good enough catalyst to send him spiraling into dark magic. This same guy thought it was unfair that he won a Quidditch match against Harry because dementors interrupted the match and caused him to fall off his broom. This same guy refused a chance to win the Triwizard Tournament for the glory of his maligned house, because he honestly thought Harry deserved to win. This same guy who made sure Harry had a chance by giving him the tip to put the dragon’s egg underwater. This same guy who did not fault Harry Potter for being in the tournament, who understood that Harry was thrust into the thing against his will, and had no control over the matter. Hell, Cedric probably even knew that the famous Harry had a thing for his girlfriend and STILL he was nothing but absolutely decent to Harry. It’s a complete disservice to the character to imply that he was that embittered, that petty, to let a simple humiliation spur him onto becoming a Death Eater. It makes no canonical sense.
- Forcing Harry Potter to go back in time and witness his parents get murdered by Voldemort. The scene was beautifully acted. Harry’s actor conveyed the right amounts of horror at the scene and his traumatized screams and sobs moved me to tears. But I couldn’t stop thinking why. Why on earth was this scene written. Why have a scene that retraumatizes Harry when the entire play is supposed to be about him dealing with his childhood trauma? What purpose does that serve? It seemed nothing more than tragedy porn and was incredibly distressing to watch. As a writer, I get it, sometimes you have to write difficult scenes that are terrible for your characters, but forcing Harry to witness this just did not serve the plot at all. It was disturbing and out of place.
Now you’re probably thinking, “okay, Kat, we get it, you hated the play”. Not so! I kind of loved it, actually. Why? Because literally everything else was pitch perfect.
I’m not exaggerating. I was a thespian in high school and have a real appreciation for the magic of the stage, but even I was blown away at the sheer magnitude of the production. The chorography between scenes to represent time passing was stunning. The special effects made my mouth drop open MULTIPLE times. I still don’t know how they did the centaur. Did they have a horse backstage?! The wand work, people disappearing into telephone booths, the dementors that literally flew at the audience—my cynical heart got absolutely swept up in it. I remembered how much I love these damn books, despite being an embittered fan who is continually irritated with J.K. Rowling.
The casting was perfect too. Particularly Ron. Oh, how I loved Ron. Ron Weasley, I think, is perhaps my favorite character in the series and the disservice to his character is about 80% of the reason why I hate the films. But I have no criticisms of the play’s Ron. He was funny, genial, marvelously supportive of his wife—100% ready to beat the shit out of Malfoy for saying that Hermione only became Minister of Magic because of Harry. (Ginny had to hold him back, it was awesome.) The acting was phenomenal and while I have some pretty intense disagreements with the script, each of the actors brought an incredible amount of nuance and pathos to their roles.
So I come to you all, hat in my hands, to say…yes. You should see this play.
I’ve never been so deeply annoyed by a script and yet so intensely enchanted by everything else about the play. I am experiencing an odd duality where I hate nearly everything about the story, but still urging people to see it, so they can experience the enchantment of seeing the Harry Potter world truly brought to life.
What can I say? Magic is complicated.