An eighth Harry Potter book has just hit the shelves. But it’s not what you might expect
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is a hard-backed release of the script from the hit new West End stage play of the same name.
Based on a story by JK Rowling and officially endorsed by the author, it was written by Jack Thorne and John Tiffany and is a sequel to the phenomenally successful book series – set two decades on.
But while the theatre production itself has been winning rave reviews and is said to offer plenty of magical spectacle, when you boil the storytelling of The Cursed Child down in the shape of this book release, the cracks start to show.
Harry Potter fan Mark Butler read the script from cover to cover on its release yesterday – and offers a snappy, spoiler-free critique here.
The story is uninspired
Those expecting the tale to explore fascinating new narrative territory may be in for a shock.
Though it revolves around the now-adult Harry, Hermione and Ron, and introduces the next generation of wizarding adventurers into the equation, this is not a storyline overly concerned with delving into fresh flights of fancy with the same sense of discovery and escapism that defined Rowling’s beloved fantasy novels.
It doesn’t help that the core concept of the plot is something we’ve seen time and time again in speculative fiction throughout the ages – often playing out in a similar kind of fashion.
The central hook is far from original, and not as compelling as it ought to be.
The big twist is jarring – and negatively impacts the canon
Of all the complaints being leveled at The Cursed Child’s story thus far, this is perhaps the one that has caused the most fan discontent.
Simply put – and we’ll keep this intentionally vague – there is a second act revelation that actively flies in the face of an integral aspect of a key series character, and feels totally out of place in the wider canon of the Harry Potter saga.
The big reveal in the text feels frustrating. Partly because it feels like it’s not in keeping with the spirit of the main series, partly because it seems like cheap sensationalism, and partly because it smacks of something a giddy fan would daydream up if they were writing their own throwaway spin-off story.
Speaking of which…
It’s like reading fan fiction
Ever since the final chapter closed on the Harry Potter saga in The Deathly Hallows, fans let their imaginations wonder at what just might happy to Harry and friends, and their kids, in the future.
An official new story that attempts to follow-up such thoughts can work brilliantly (just look at The Force Awakens for Star Wars), but the execution of The Cursed Child feels far more competent amateur fan fic than exhilarating sequel.
It’s not just the aforementioned twist. Or the fact that a lot of elements of The Cursed Child pay homage to the retrospective joys of the books, memorable moments and fan-favourite characters, rather than attempting to leap boldly into new avenues.
Rather than get genuinely intriguing insights into adult wizarding life through the eyes of our former child heroes, or a jolly old caper to rival the first few Rowling books, we end up with a moderately enjoyable but ultimately disposable drama that feels decidedly over-the-top with its stakes, and doesn’t really invest us emotionally on the page.
It doesn’t help that the characters are written with little of Rowling’s insightful flair or nuance. Adult Harry feels like a forty-year-old version of his teenage self, rather than a developed, compelling character in his own right. With the exception of Draco, you could say the same for the other grown-ups too.
It’s like reading a heartfelt tribute to Rowling’s fantasy cast, rather than a genuine worthy successor to her vision.
But it’s not all bad
As well as reportedly being a captivating stage show, The Cursed Child does have its merits on paper too.
The new central kid pairing are sympathetic and likeable, and the story explores some interesting aspects of parent-child relationships that were not given a great deal of attention in Rowling’s original series. Here, we get some questions and insights that do build upon the past in a meaningful and thought-provoking way.
There are also some fun interactions, a few gripping scenes and the odd emotional moment that echoes the ability of Rowling’s best work to evoke genuine power and poignancy.
The big question
One thing that’s interesting to consider is how likely authorized sequels and spin-offs not written by Rowling are likely to dilute or taint the remarkable legacy of her work.
The Cursed Child is not terrible. But it is somewhat disappointing – and its inability on page to capture the true magic of Potter, not to mention one or two revelations that feel far out of keeping with its overall saga and universe, beg the question of whether less really is more in this case.