When Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows released nearly a decade ago, it sold like chocolate frogs from the Hogwarts Express trolley, bestowing a certain half-triumphant, half-wistful closure upon a billion eager minds and bookmark-wielding hands: “All was well." But as much as the last of the seven instalments in the series exuded a sense of grand finality, it also assured us that the magic would live on. Its epilogue described a scene 19 years since the Battle of Hogwarts and Voldemort’s demise, sepia-toned and achingly reminiscent of Harry’s own first steps on platform 93/4 even as it heralded future adventure. It is the dialogue on those last few pages that we all clutched onto, desperate for more, with which Harry Potter and the Cursed Child begins.
The plot centres on two of the next generation of wizards, Albus Severus Potter—Harry’s second-born son, perturbed by the burden of his father’s shadow and his identity as the black sheep of the Potters when he is sorted into Slytherin (yes, exclamation!)—and Scorpius Malfoy—Draco Malfoy’s only son, geeky, similarly discomforted by his family’s history, and plagued by the rumour that he is, in fact, Voldemort’s child (yes, gasp!). The two are endearing from the get-go and form a near-instantaneous connection, and the unlikely partnership soon blossoms into fierce friendship. All is not, however, well. A series of ominous signs and events— Harry has nightmares, his scar hurts, a time-turner is retrieved from a criminal— portend danger. And when Albus hears that Amos Diggory is desperate to bring his son Cedric back from the dead, the duo embark on a quest through time and space (quite literally) to right a wrong that Albus believes his father committed during the Triwizard Tournament all those years ago. Cue the Hedwig Theme from the Harry Potter soundtrack, and thus begins another adventure.
Though intricately laid out and riddled with unexpected and often-bizarre plot twists, Cursed Child is a fast-paced, light read and an undeniable page-turner for the die-hard Harry Potter fan. It is, for one, as much a celebration of old stories as it is a new one. For every new character introduced—be it Rose Weasley, the daughter and spitting image of Hermione, or the seemingly innocuous, yet enigmatic Delphi— several beloved old characters, from Professor McGonagall, Dumbledore and Snape to Bane the Centaur and the Hogwarts Express’ trolley lady make memorable reappearances, offering nuggets of precious information to process over Butterbeer or pumpkin juice. The play also revisits familiar iconic scenes from the series, which in the context of the overarching, quintessentially Harry Potter themes it explores— good versus evil, the potency of friendship and love, sacrifice and duty, and the ramifications of alienation—make for welcome bursts of nostalgia.
The basic story, then, does bear Rowling’s unmistakeable imprint. But dig deeper, and it reveals a bedlam of plots relayed through time-travel and alternative realities, a seeming patchwork of fan-fiction storylines. And while this is likely to please fans whose hopes and imaginations for the characters have come true in print, it may well disappoint and seem inauthentic to others.
Cursed Child’s true Achilles Heel, however, is its form. Composed as a script rather than a novel, it is replete with the bones of dialogue, but sorely lacking in the flesh of eloquent narrative that characterizes Rowling’s own writing. As a play, of course, the rehearsal edition script may well serve its purpose, actual enactment making up for the lack of textual imagery. The reader is left craving for descriptions more vivid than the dry, sparse, only-as-necessary, off-putting stage directions, and, all too often, cringing at dialogues that violate that cardinal rule of writing—they tell, not show, forcing ungainly phrases out of characters who constantly describe, explain, reason and feel out loud in conversation. Even if the book were excused for being a script, the dialogue is often amateurishly clunky and lacks the subtext and literary aesthetic that render other published scripts far more engrossing.
Somewhere amid the rave reviews of the performed play and the high-octane build-up of worldwide expectation, Cursed Child the script cannot hold a wand to the seven books that came before it, enchanting and much greater than the magnificent sum of their parts. But by Dumbledore, the magic does live on.