“Horrible things happen to wizards who meddle with time.” – Hermione in the Prisoner of Azkaban
The same can be said of authors who meddle with time. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is the eighth installment in one of the most beloved franchises of all time. The reception was enthusiastic as the books flew off of the shelves (like magic). However, the reviews that have been coming in are very mixed. Even people who like it have some reservations about it. The plot is a winding and twisting time-traveling story that brings back many familiar characters (Umbridge, Cedric, and others) and portrays some of the most popular in the light of an alternate universe (Draco, Hermione, Ron, Snape, etc.). A review of any Harry Potter book could ramble on forever since the universe is big and complex. Instead of doing a walk-through of the book, I’ve decided to comment on a few of the characters and then offer my final impressions of the book.
***Spoilers Begin Here***
Albus Severus Potter – Albus is a complicated middle-child (if you don’t count the much-older Teddy Tonks). He doesn’t live up to the Potter family name and seems to resent his fame. Despite the prestige that his name garners, he has only one friend. He breaks family tradition by entering into the Slytherin house that his father so desperately avoided. Harry does not know how to parent him. There is an underlying mutual love mixed with mutual resentment between Harry and Albus, and they do not know how to speak to each other. Harry’s lack of a father-figure combined with his celebrity status and demanding job, have rendered him a weak father. This is not altogether unpredictable and I even let myself wonder if JK is possibly hinting at her own struggles with being a celebrity parent. Albus is a good character deep down and proves it time and again. The challenge of the book is whether or not Harry will recognize his goodness and whether Albus can see what others love so much in Harry.
Draco Malfoy – Draco’s story is a tragic one. He suffers from a lack of restorative justice in the world. From his birth, he was born into the wrong side of a conflict and inherited some flawed values from his family. He has outgrown all of those tendencies and become a loving husband (widowed) and a loving, albeit confused, father. The guiding value of the Potter franchise is love for others and in this book Draco Malfoy is portrayed as a man full of selfless love that no one can see. The book gives us a window into his life but doesn’t resolve much. Hopefully, the fans, if not others have newfound relationships.
Scorpius Malfoy – An unwilling recipient of his father’s notoriety, Scorpius is probably the most hated Malfoy to darken the door of Hogwarts (which is saying something with such an old family!) Scorpius is introverted and friendly but has only one friend: Albus. Scorpius gets a taste of an alternate universe where he is literally a king. Despite his bitter life, he does not seem to be tempted even for a minute by this much more enticing lifestyle. His self-sacrificing love for his friend Albus seemingly knows no end.
Harry Potter – Is this a Harry Potter story? I think that is one of the debates that needs to be had when discussing this book. My answer: absolutely. Even though Scorpius and Albus spend the bulk of the time on stage, the story is still about Harry. His son replays many key moments in his life and begins to understand his father. More importantly, Harry begins to understand himself and eventually, his son. In a reflection on parenting, Harry says to Draco, “Love blinds. We have both tried to give our sons, not what they needed, but what we needed. We’ve been so busy trying to rewrite our own pasts, we’ve been blighted their present (261).” Harry, like most people, does not know how to be a good parent. He is loving, but how do you show that love uniquely to each child? That is the struggle of this story and Harry comes out triumphant.
In the end, I’ll give this book four stars. It did not revolutionize the franchise or advance much plot, but it was a nice story. Critics will inevitably say that it is a derivative or a poor homage to the original series. I think of it as more of an immersive experiential psychological session for Harry. The hurdle of time-travel has been the downfall of many plots, but JK steadies the chaos by showing how the simplest event can create a massive ripple. All the characters tread lightly because of this and the story is good enough to be believable. We got one last ride with the characters we love, a moving and realistic story of father-and-son struggle, and a few more questions answered about the world we’ve all come to love.