Mark Reads ‘Harry Potter and the Cursed Child’: Part I

In the first part of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, I don’t know what to do with this. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Harry Potter. (And no matter how I feel about this book, it fills me with utter delight to be able to type that.)

It is 2016, and there’s a new Harry Potter book. Sort of.

Spoiler Warning: This contains spoilers for the entire first part of The Cursed Child. If you comment on anything in Part II, please put it in rot13.

I’ve a largely complicated (and, if I’m being frank, uninterested) take on post-canon Harry Potter. I joined Pottermore because it seemed cool; I had fun being sorted into Ravenclaw and learning I tested almost perfectly into Hufflepuff. (Fellow Ravenpuffs, unite!) Some of the back stories broke my heart (McGonagall, Lupin) and I appreciated some updates on the canon. But as Rowling got deeper and deeper into this world and then moved on to magic around this Earth, I became bored by the lack of creativity and the pervasive racism / cultural appropriation / complete misunderstanding of how other cultures and societies and countries operate. I don’t feel the need to regurgitate much of what’s been said about Ilvermorny or Rowling’s utter failure to do anything meaningful when it comes the indigenous cultures of the Americas. (I will say that there is a zero percent chance of there being one Wizarding school in all of North America. I’m sorry, Texas and California would have ten each, no contest.) Plenty of others have written about it much better than I could.

So I came into The Cursed Child with a distant sense of interest. I got my copy at GeekyCon, so I did get to experience my first book release party, which was incredible. The intensity of that made me excited to flip the book open and start reading. And I did, on the walk from the North Concourse of the Orange Country Convention Center back to the Rosen Center. It’s about 20 minutes or so, and in those 20 minutes, I read less pages than I ever have in that span of time. That’s where I’m starting because it’s the most obvious thing to talk about: reading a script is hard. I kept having to re-read the italicized stage directions. I kept losing my place. I kept getting lost in the characters, having not read Deathly Hallows since 2011 or so. At times, I wasn’t sure if I was reading a flashback, a re-contextualized scene from canon, or something new. And for about fifty pages or so, I could not get into this at all. AT. ALL. The characterization felt static and hollow. Characters I recognized came off as pale copies of those I used to love. The introduction of “new” characters – namely, the next generation of Hogwarts kids – was rushed and meaningless.

I tried not to let the format get to me, and I wanted to stick with it because… Well, it’s a new Harry Potter book! How could I not? I’m thankful that I did get use to reading a play, namely because once the conflict – as forced as it was – arrived, the reading flowed so much better on my end.

Let’s talk about some things here:

  • It takes a while for the trio to feel like the trio, and then it’s pretty great.
  • I appreciated so much that Albus Potter is nothing like Harry, and while I have issues with how their stories intertwine, I think this was a smart choice for Rowling to make.
  • I enjoy no one in this story more than Scorpius Malfoy, who is clearly designed to be sympathetic, and I don’t care. I DON’T CARE, WHAT A GREAT CHARACTER, I AM SCORPIUS, YOU ARE SCORPIUS, WE ARE ALL SCORPIUS. I just love that he fits so well into a story about being born into a family that is surrounded by rumors and expectations and prejudices, very much like Harry was, and yet Scorpius’s story is nothing like Harry’s.
  • The early banter between Albus, Rose, and Scorpius is bad. Really bad. Indeed, much of the humor does not feel like Rowling’s at all, and I don’t think John Tiffany or Jack Thorne captured Rowling’s voice at all. (I’m assuming Rowling wrote a general story, and that was adapted into the play itself.)
  • The same goes with the early banter between Harry, Ginny, Ron, Hermione, and Draco. It’s just not good at all.
  • But adult Hermione and Ginny are particularly spectacular, especially in latter scenes where Ginny calls out Harry for being a giant doofus.
  • On the one hand: Harry is a short-sighted jerk who reacts emotionally in the moment. That is not really all that distant from his prior characterization. At the same time? There are lines and moments that come off as egregiously cruel, especially in how he treats Albus. Now, that’s supposed to be the point, but one of the major flaws in this is that the introduction of the conflict comes across as forced. Albus hates the weight of his name and what it means to be a Potter. He hates his father’s expectations for him, and he hates how lonely he feels because of all of this. So… He decides to go back in time and save Cedric Diggory from being killed by Lord Voldemort??? It is such a massive leap for the story to make, though a part of me is amused by the idea that once again, reckless young boys do a reckless thing to save the world. It’s very Harry Potter.
  • But I needed more. The connection felt tenuous and unnecessarily rapid. Albus’s motivation is to prove that his father is flawed and made mistakes, but if he’s using a Time Turner to correct those mistakes, then no one will know the mistakes were made in the first place?
  • If anything, this is all one giant After School Special about how one should not travel through time.
  • So! I generally love time travel stories. It’s a genre I enjoy most of the time. Rowling and company do very little here that I’ve not seen before. In fact, they hit pretty much every trope imaginable. There are flashbacks that are given a new meaning. The butterfly effect is a huge part of the conflict. The slightest change in the past has huge ramifications in the present time.
  • And some of that is cool! As wrong as it felt, I was really intrigued by the idea of Ron and Padma ending up together and having another kid named Panju. Evil Hermione… Yeah. I didn’t like that so much. The idea that without Ron, she becomes a horrifying Dark Arts professor who is rude just for the sake of it is bogus. It makes zero sense, TAKE IT BACK.
  • Professor McGonagall: PERFECT IN EVERY SCENE, PERFECT WITH EVERY LINE. Honestly, she’s the most consistently in-canon character here.
  • Delphi Diggory is just… WEIRD. I don’t get why she’s here or why she’ so important. I also don’t understand why she had to stay behind??? Just for plot convenience?
  • Wouldn’t the Ministry have a means to detect people using Polyjuice Potion to enter? That seemed bogus.
  • Harry and Draco’s fight was hilarious, and not necessarily in a good way. Were some of those new spells???
  • I also think the Trolley Witch was absurdly perfect because let’s just take a canon character no one’s ever seriously thought about and make them into… that. That thing.
  • The first time I had to put the book down because I was actually emotionally compromised: Harry’s conversation with Dumbledore’s portrait. Whew, shit. That was too fucking much. And I don’t know why it hit me so hard!!! I knew it wasn’t actually him, and yet, it still felt huge. Like, I missed that manipulative asshole more than I thought.
  • I’ve been avoiding one huge part of this because I have feelings. Albus and SCORPIUS are the gayest gays to ever gay, and I’m going to be fucking furious if this is a bait and switch. I feel like this is barely subtext at this point. They literally declare their love for one another in Part I. L I T E R A L L Y. I know that platonic love is a thing, but this book is otherwise overwhelmingly heterosexual, and thus, their friendship blossoming into something more intense feels very intense just by comparison. But oh my god, I cannot be the only one who sees it. It’s right there!!!
  • The end to part one is a manifestation of “I came out to have a good time and I am feeling very attacked because while Voldemort Day is one of the worst things I’ve ever read (and I have read many terrible things), Umbridge’s appearance as the Headmistress of Hogwarts, coupled with the reveal that Harry died decades prior, made me want to evaporate into the ether. Jesus, that is actual fucking spite put into literary form. That is an author thinking of a no good, terrible idea that would upset every human ever, and then committing to putting it in the text while cackling.
  • What the fuck is wrong with this book.

As a reminder, please use rot13 if you are at all discussing anything outside of Part I. Do not spoil people, PLEASE.

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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