What’s this? A Quick Read of something brand new? That’s right. Strap on your wizard goggles, because it’s time to dive into the latest Harry Potter thing.
In case anyone’s not sure exactly what this is: it’s the script (the SPECIAL REHEARSAL EDITION, whatever that means) to Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, which is a play that recently opened in London. Note the multitude of names and qualifiers on the cover; from what I can gather J-Row, Johnn Tiffany and Jack Thorne came up with the story together, but Thorne was the one who actually put the words down on the page. Which makes sense, since Rowling herself is presumably busy
mountain-skiing down her piles of money writing those new movies.
I actually wasn’t going to read this at all, scripts not really being my bag, but then two things happened: I glanced over a plot outline that sounded hilariously awful, and someone whose opinion on entertainment I generally trust raved about it on twitter. These two wildly contradictory reactions convinced me to give the thing a look, which means you’re getting a review once I’ve finished it.
But first, let’s over-analyse the first few chapters. Or scenes, I guess.
ACT ONE, SCENE ONE: KING’S CROSS + ACT ONE, SCENE TWO
PLATFORM NINE AND THREE-QUARTERS
The first question that comes to mind when tackling a project like this is how you go about taking a massively-popular, well-known story that ended very definitively and doing a sequel to it. It’s only been nine years since the publication of Deathly Hallows rather than the thirty-odd years separating Return of the Jedi from The Force Awakens, and the Harry Potter franchise isn’t labouring under a string of reviled prequels, but it still has to be one of the more daunting pop-cultural revivals in recent memory.
Which is why it’s kind of baffling that the story opens with an expanded version of the final scene from Deathly Hallows. You know, the epilogue everyone hated, and which concluded by assuring the reader that everything was peachy-keen and there were no more adventures left for these characters? That epilogue? Yeah.
In case you’re not familiar with said epilogue: it’s nineteen years after Harry de-Voldemorted Voldemort, all of the main characters are married to each other in various configurations and they all have kids with stupid names. On this particular day Harry is seeing his youngest and worst-named progeny, Albus “Al” Severus, onto the Hogwarts train for his first year of wizard school. Then Ron shows up and goofs around a bit.
His hand is empty. It’s a lame trick. Everyone enjoys its lameness.
Albus is worried that he’s going to get sorted into Slytherin (if you’re reading this far I assume you know what those words mean, and I don’t need to explain them). This was also present in the Deathly Hallows epilogue, where it felt like a really strange thing to end the series on, but I guess Rowling and crew decided to run with the idea because take a wild guess what happens once Albus gets to Hogwarts.
ACT ONE, SCENE THREE
THE HOGWARTS EXPRESS
CHUGGA CHUGGA WHOOOOO
On board the train there’s a somewhat amusing bit of meta-humor as Albus and Ron and Hermione’s daughter comment that their parents all met on the Hogwarts Express, so they’ll have to be careful who they sit next to.
ROSE: On the contrary, it’s exciting. I’m a Granger-Weasley, you’re a Potter — everyone will want to be friends with us, we’ve got the pick of anyone we want.
ALBUS: So how do we decide — which compartment to go in . . .
ROSE: We rate them all and then we make a decision.
As far as I can tell Rose is just fanfiction-Hermione, ie the original character except with her personality dials turned up to eleven and a few new skills bolted on to make her seem awesome (later she becomes good at Quidditch, for example).
They end up sharing a compartment with Scorpius Malfoy, son of Draco “asshole” Malfoy, and he and Albus instantly hit it off, presumably over the fact that they both have terrible names. Rose isn’t keen on him though, both due to his Malfoy heritage and a most sinister rumor doing the rounds.
SCORPIUS: The rumor is that my parents couldn’t have children. That my father and my grandfather were so desperate for a powerful heir, to prevent the end of the Malfoy line, that they . . . that they used a Time-Turner to send my mother back . . .
ALBUS: To send her back where?
ROSE: The rumor is that he’s Voldemort’s son, Albus.
So here’s where the format of this book gets a bit tricky. To me, just reading this on the page, Scorpius’ explanation of the rumor seems really exposition-y and heavy-handed. But maybe in an actual production with actors delivering this dialogue alongside proper stage direction, it would come across more naturally. I guess I’d have to see the play to know for sure, and since it’s booked out through December 2017 (no, that’s not a typo) there’s no real way to know.
Anyway, Rose storms off and Albus decides to stay, and a bromance for the ages is born.
SCORPIUS and ALBUS are left — looking at each other — unsure.
SCORPIUS: Thank you.
ALBUS: No. No. I didn’t stay — for you — I stayed for your sweets.
Hang on, I’ll be back in a minute. Need to go check something.
Why yes, there is already tons of fan-art of wispy manga versions of these dudes giving each other moon-eyes. I’m glad to see the internet hasn’t let me down.
(Unless Rowling decided to make good on the whole invisible diversity thing and they actually do fall in love)
ACT ONE, SCENE FOUR
The play obviously can’t do the usual Harry Potter deal of detailing the character’s everyday school lives, so we get a montage of various scenes from the beginning of Albus and Scorpius’ school career: Albus getting sorted into Slytherin and everyone else being like “zomg woah”, he and Scorpius turning into instant social outcasts due to both this and the Voldemort rumour, Albus sucking at magic, etc.
Then we’re abruptly at the beginning of his second school year, and it becomes apparent that Albus blames his dad’s reputation for the hard time he’s having at school, which is driving a wedge between them. So it looks like this is a story about Fathers and Sons, which for my money is perhaps the least interesting topic a book can cover next to people getting divorced. No, I’m sorry, I meant A Portrait of A Relationship (which ends in the protagonists getting divorced).
After Albus trundles off, Draco comes over to Harry and asks him to do something about the rumours regarding his son’s parentage, since Harry works for the Wizard Government now.
DRACO: These rumors — about my son’s parentage — they don’t seem to be going away. The other Hogwarts students tease Scorpius about it relentlessly — if the Ministry could release a statement reaffirming that all Time-Turners were destroyed in the Battle of the Department of Mysteries . . .
Man I hope you’re up on your Potter plot details, or this story is going to be incomprehensible. If I hadn’t re-read the books semi-recently I’d have no idea what the fuck he was talking about.
There’s a strong whiff of Deathly Hallows around the way this time-turner business is being brought up. I peeked ahead a bit, and the plot pulls out an extra-strong one that can be used to go way further back in time than normal, which feels a lot like Harry’s invisibility cloak suddenly becoming a super-invisibility cloak so it can count as one of the Hallows.
And since time travel is now being introduced, I assume that means the story is going to involve a ton of Bioshock: Burial At Sea-style retconning and over-complicating the backstory by “revealing” that, I don’t know, Voldemort is actually an older version of Albus who went back in time or something. Actually, since the Scorpius = Voldemort’s son thing has been brought up so much, I bet someone else is actually Voldemort’s son. If I’m right about any of this don’t tell me, I want to experience the magic on my own.
HARRY: If you answer the gossip, you feed the gossip. There’ve been rumors Voldemort had a child for years, Scorpius is not the first to be accused.
Where exactly are these rumours coming from? If it was just “this dude was in tight with Voldemort, maybe his son is Voldemort’s son secretly” that would be one thing, but the business with the time turner is pretty damn specific. How would that information have gotten out in the first place? Only four people would know, and one of them has been dead for twenty years.
It would have been way more elegant to have the rumour be that Draco’s wife had an affair with Voldemort (/was forced into it, if you want to go grimdark), and then when the characters actually find a working time turner later, bring up the idea that it had something to do with Scorpius’ creation. As it is, it just feels like they needed to mention time turners as early as possible because they’re important to the plot.
Anyway time-skip to the beginning of Albus’ third year, he has a big fight with Harry because he’s a surly git, Scorpius’ mother dies of wizard cancer or something.
As he tries to melt into the background, the other students laugh. He looks up at them all.
I didn’t choose, you know that? I didn’t choose to be his son.
Gotta say, I’m not liking this character very much. He’s like Asshole Harry from the fifth book, but without the mitigating factor of having watched one of his classmates get Voldemorted to explain why he’s so moody.