I love Harry Potter. The whole franchise: the books which I came to as an adult when a student recommended them to me and gave me the first four books as a leaving gift 16 years ago; the movies, which I think were superbly done; the actors who, for all their faults, in those movies were perfect; J K Rowling herself who is just magnificent and has a life story as magical as anything she has penned. The whole Potter-verse, if you like, is something very special to me.
It is with some sadness then that I type these words which, despite how much the critics and friends have raved, are going to say that this book is not that magical at all. It stays just on the right side of ‘not worth reading’. I’m glad I did read it – but only just.
I’ve tried to allow for the fact this is a script and so there is something of a different feel about the whole thing. But there’s no getting around the fact that no matter what Rowling’s involvement in the production (which I’m sure was intensive – she wouldn’t leave her Harry in the hands of strangers) it still isn’t Rowling’s words and you can tell.
One criticism I have heard from several friends is that this reads like fan-fiction. I don’t read fan-fiction at all; what’s the point when there’s already too many good books out there to read? But I can understand the criticism nonetheless. This feels like it was written by an adoring fan. Lovingly crafted but somehow not authentic. It’s as though someone wanted to ‘fill in the gaps’ and do a ‘what if this didn’t happen this way?’ kind of a story. Alas, The Simpsons have already done this exact plot long ago and theirs was much better!
I could have written this story in prose but had I done so it would have been a cheesy short story of about 1500-2000 words in length because really that’s all it was – a short story. The plot is more Dr Who than Harry Potter relying on an idea which is used briefly and sparingly by Rowling in the original books and with enough proleptic underlying to make the device make sense and not appear cheesy as hell. Here though, there is no use of clever underlay to warrant an entire story based entirely around this single idea. There’s no sense of “oh! Now what happened in the original story makes sense!” It answers no burning questions beyond the ‘what if’ scenario and you don’t come away thinking you better understand the characters or world in which they live.
The ‘bad guy’ when revealed, is pretty obvious more or less from the start and likewise the red herrings dotted around kind of flash with warning lights above them. Again this is disappointing. In the original books there was little opportunity to guess the ending because Rowling changed the feel of each story as she made the books ‘grow up’ with the characters. I remember being physically shocked when I read of Cedric Diggory’s death – this couldn’t happen in Harry’s world, I thought; but it did. ‘The Cursed Child’ misses this by a wide mark.
That all said, I would love (REALLY love) to see this on stage. The best part of the book in my opinion is the stage instructions. They are the only part which reads like prose from the original books. There’s no technical instructions, just descriptions of what the audience sees. Here is the magic – papers shuffling themselves, bookshelves eating people, characters floating and other magic moments galore – and not one single indication of how anyone could pull this off on the theatre. I’m guessing that the creative team must have pulled in a team of professional illusionists to create the special effects. I hope so anyway; it would be disappointing if it is full of flimsy sets and semi-hidden-but-not-really invisible wires.
But I’ll never know. With the ‘two separate plays’ idea, ridiculous cost of tickets and full booking until middle of next year, I’m pretty certain I’m not going to see this play soon. In that sense I’m quite grateful to the script. I feel no sense of urgency to see this even for the delight of seeing the special stage effects; so the book has really saved me a lot of money, time and effort.
Harry Potter fans, like me, are going to want to read this and the story isn’t totally awful – far from it. You can feel Rowling all over the characters themselves and the underlying ideas about the relationships between them all. But the words and the plot – it’s not authentic in the end and in that sense it is a disappointment in a way that the original seven books never were.