Review: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

The following review will contain major spoilers for the play. If you are interested in reading or seeing the play, do not read this because I’m going to spoil the hell out of it. I will put spoilery stuff under a cut. Also, expect spoilers for the entire Harry Potter series, I mean obviously.

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The Harry Potter series is a literary phenomenon. Conservative Christian groups ranted about how it was teaching kids witchcraft, news outlets raved about how kids who had never picked up a book in their lives were reading, and it was part of the syllabus in a course I took on Religion and Popular Culture. It’s one series that doesn’t really need an introduction. Even if you don’t consider yourself a fan, you’ve probably heard about it by proxy.

Recently, however, my interest in the series has waned. Between the movies based on the main series being over, endless debates over whether Snape is a sympathetic character on tumblr, and the Ilvermorny cultural appropriation mess, I’ve realized I much prefer the diverse headcanons the fans come up with than the very white, very heterosexual canon universe.

But then there was an alleged “leak” of the plot of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, which I read. The utter trainwreck that was this alleged “leak” simultaneously horrified me as a fan of the series and delighted me as someone who just kind of wanted the canon universe to crash and burn at this point. I knew right then and there that I had to read it for myself. I had to see with my own eyes if this alleged leak, this synopsis that sounded like someone’s first (awful) attempt at Harry Potter fanfiction was real.

Here’s a brief synopsis of the play. Nineteen years after the Battle of Hogwarts, Harry Potter is struggling with balancing his job at the ministry of magic and his personal life with his wife and three children. The youngest of these three children, Albus, feels very much like an outsider in his own family, finding it especially difficult to bear the weight of his father’s legacy. He finds an unlikely friend in Scorpius Malfoy, who has had to dodge vicious rumors spread by his peers. What begins as an attempt to right the wrongs of the past quickly spirals out of control, and Albus discovers that evil emerges from the most unlikely places.

Before I get into spoilery territory, here’s some non-spoilery ramblings about what I liked about the play. In the past, I (and many others) have complained about the lack of heroic Slytherin characters (despite being a dyed-in-the-wool Ravenclaw), so it’s nice to see not one, but two Slytherins with major, unquestionably heroic roles in the plot. Out of all the characters, I was most surprised by Draco Malfoy, of all people, who obviously cares for his son and is at times seemingly the only character who knows what he’s doing. He’s come a very long way from the bully fans grew up with. I would be lying if I didn’t say that it’s also very nostalgic, revisiting places that I visited in the previous books. It’s like reconnecting with an old friend (and I for one will never see the Trolley Witch in the same light again). Regardless of anything I will write below, it was nice to see these characters again, even if the focus is now on the next generation.

Unfortunately, here’s where the non-spoilery bits end, so I’m going to cut this. If you don’t want to be horribly spoiled, don’t read past this point.

Oh gods, this trainwreck.

I’ll be honest, I love a good time travel plot. I especially love watching characters fuck up and completely change the future. Time travel plots, in my view, are one of the cheapest forms of fanservice, because readers (or viewers, as the case may be) get to experience events from the past from a new perspective, and who doesn’t love a good bad future where a hero becomes a villain or the villain wins and the heroes are screwed? Then again, I’m happy with the most cliche plot if its done well, if it’s done well.

Actually, before I get into the time travel thing, let’s talk about the characters some more. I mentioned above how I loved Draco and Scorpius Malfoy, but you’ve probably noticed by now that I didn’t talk about any of the other characters.

That’s because the other characters annoyed the shit out of me for various reasons. Take Harry Potter, for instance, you know, the hero of all the books up until now? In this book, Harry Potter is a neglectful parent who doesn’t know how to relate to his son, apparently because he didn’t have a father figure, disregarding the notion that boys who grow up without father figures will always be fuckupa, hello? Hagrid? Remus Lupin? Sirius Black? Even Arthur Weasley could all be considered “father figures” in a sense to Harry, and I refuse to believe that Harry would be such a horrible parent after all the shit he went through with the Dursleys. Also did I mention that in one possible future, he threatens Minerva McGonagall into placing his son under surveillance? What the fuck, Harry? I know this is an alternate future and you’re concerned for your son’s safety, but you do not yell at McGonagall okay she is a queen and you are an asshole. As for his partners in crime, Ron Weasley is relegated to comic relief, and Hermione mostly exists to…stand around and call for meetings? Okay, she does come up with a plan near the end, but overall it’s a waste of some amazing characters. In fact, the female characters in general are barely present. Astoria, Draco Malfoy’s wife, is only ever referred to, not seen, and is fridged early on in Act I. Ginny mostly exists to tell Harry (and to a lesser extent, everyone else) to calm down and act like a nurturing mother figure, McGonagall is practically bullied into watching Harry’s spawn, and Rose, Hermione and Ron’s daughter, appears in one scene at the beginning of the book to warn Albus that Scorpius is Bad News before disappearing for much of the play until she reappears in the second to last scene in the entire production. Seriously, what the fuck? Why the fuck would you waste an opportunity to have Ron and Hermione’s daughter rag along with the boys? It’s just so obvious that this play was written by a man (although based on a story that Rowling wrote, and she also approved of the play). I’m not even exaggerating when I say that Cursed Child is pretty near to a complete sausagefest were it not for Delphi, Amos Diggory’s neice….who is immediately prevented from participating in time-traveling adventures. I’m just really disgusted with the way this play takes some really powerful ladies and sidelines them because men are doing important things.

Here, I’ll give you an example. In one of the alternate timelines Albus and Scorpius end up in, Hermione is a bitter, mean-spirited Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher. What happened to make her like this? Apparently, it’s because she didn’t marry Ron, which somehow translates to a less ambitious career choice, because she didn’t marry this particular man. Seriously, where is Hermione Granger and what have you done to her? Once again, I refuse to accept that such an over-achieving student could let a man stand in her way of achieving her dreams, but this is apparently what’s happened. Maybe the book should have been called Harry Potter and the Male Gaze instead (not that the books didn’t have various issues, mind you).

So, about the time travel plot, basically Albus is an angsty teenager and wants to go back in time to save Cedric Diggory by interfering with the Tri-Wizard Tournament. As you might expect, altering the past creates problems in the future. Meanwhile, Harry has no idea where his son is. As a plot device it’s kind of….silly? (Although, as I said before, a good opportunity for fanservice.) In particular, there are a couple of twists that I thought were kind of…pulled out of the playwright’s ass. Some fans have pointed out that the way time-turners are used is contrary to canon, but I’m not that well versed in the canon anymore. I will say that they handwave it by saying this is a *new* kind of time-turner. Also it turns out Delphi is Voldemort’s daughter because someone has to wear the villain hat. It could have been worse, I guess, it could have been Scorpius all along.

As if the jerkass characters, sexism, and silly time travel plot weren’t bad enough, now I’m going to talk about queerbaiting. The relationship between Albus and Scorpius is pure queerbait. These two engage in awkward, long hugs no less than four times in the entire play, Scorpius is emotionally devastated when Harry forbids Albus from even being in the same room with him, characters say things like “you belong together” and the word “heartbroken” is used to describe a scene in Act 2 when they are both standing on Hogwarts’ moving staircase, wanting to connect but being unable to (because, once again, this is the timeline where Harry is an asshole). In fact, one review talks about how their relationship is a classic romantic arc:

“It is not that the play didn’t include a gay storyline that I take issue with. It is that it did include a gay storyline and then decided to ignore it. It is impossible to read this script and not recognize that these boys are developing deeply special feelings for one another. It requires absolutely no imagination whatsoever to see that this is a classic romantic arc. The two love interests find each other, they grow close, they are pulled apart for reasons out of their control, they realize their need for each other, they reunite. It’s all there, complete with needing each other to save the world and intense hugs that last far too long. To ignore the story that is explicitly set up makes absolutely no sense.” – Tamar Barbash, “The Disappointing Heteronormativity of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child”

But of course, we can’t have nice things, because the second to last scene of the entire play has the two boys enthusiastically asserting that they are in fact straight. In fact, this is one of the only scenes where Rose shows up, so the boys can basically reaffirm that they are straight.

I know what you must be thinking. “But Gef can’t straight boys be touchy-feely with each other and be straight? Isn’t that a good thing? Aren’t men encouraged to not express affection? Is it possible they’re bi?” And yes, it is a good thing for friends to be affectionate with one another. It is good for boys to see characters express emotion, and certainly there is a possibility that Rowling will Word of Gay (or bi, in this case) Albus and Scorpius’ relationship in the future, like she did with Dumbledore (although Dumbledore doesn’t really count as representation for a few reasons). What disappoints me is that there was a golden opportunity to have young, queer, heroic characters in one of the most beloved and best-selling franchises of all time and it went nowhere. The best case scenario at this point is if JKR would Word of Bi their relationship, but once again we’re left with another Dumbledore looks-like-representation-but-isn’t situation, and that is disappointing, because it could have been so much better.

Part of me was honestly hoping that the leak was a complete lie, that somebody had “leaked” their fanfiction and the media bought it. Unfortunately, it’s real, and honestly, I can’t even enjoy the trainwreck, really. I grew up with these characters and loved them and they don’t deserve this book, no matter how nostalgic it makes me feel. It’s not so much funny as it is….sad. That’s how I feel, sad.

This review has left me (emotionally) numb, to be honest. I t

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