Book VIII of the hallowed Harry Potter series has finally apparated to quality book merchants near you and I, like the rest of Umbridge-fearing Britain, immediately raced to the nearest bookstore to pick up my long since preordered copy of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. And then I let the tome sit in Gaius’s bedroom for more than a week before actually opening it.
It was a mix of lazy trepidation and an increasingly self-sabotaging brand of procrastination that was at fault. The former because, as someone who’s been reading HP fanfiction more or less non-stop since the third book came out, I had to wonder what this new instalment would have to offer that wasn’t already being passed around the internet like some half-empty bag of Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans, versus what potential headcanons it would be crushing underfoot. Meanwhile, the latter has been getting a little out of hand because I’m now not only procrastinating in rebellion to things I don’t want to do, but to things in general. Clearly the spiral is firmly lodged in the ‘down’ position.
Around ten days post-release I did manage to sit myself down and hunker through Part I, which started a bit shakily (Lily – ‘I’m so excited.’) but climbed valiantly until it hit the threshold at Act II and, apparently, its cue to plummet (albeit exhibiting some spikes later on in the trajectory).
My non-spoilery feedback for Part I can be digested as follows:
- More Harry Potter, but not as you know it – a good thing, though it’s likely my quality touchstone in relation to this series has been warped over more than a decade of trawling through Harry Potter fanfiction, both brilliant and utterly Nott. Saying that, this instalment is very different to the books and is clearly divided from them, both in terms of style and theme – Cursed Child focuses on relationships, discrimination and identity, with the magical setting acting more as a familiar backdrop
- HP stage edition – the book is of course intended to be a play, which is great for getting more people in theatres (and helping tide us over until Hamilton finally makes it to the UK and we all combust from the sheer euphoria), but less great for people unused to reading into scripts. The humorous tone of the thing does come across through the speech and admittedly scarce stage direction, but it’s obvious that a lot will be added by the actors – for instance, there’s a lot of what I’m going to call ‘stage banter’ evident in the writing just waiting to be kicked off by the addition of comic timing and delivery
- It’s fun to think about – giving us more fodder for fan theories and lengthy, pink-eared, cross-book, connect-the-dots lunchtime discussions (and this post)
And this is where the spoiler-free portion of the post finishes.
Now, for some speculation.
!Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Part I spoilers ahead!
You have been warned. And do bear in mind that I’ve kept away from reading any other reviews of the book and haven’t started Part II yet, so apologies for any overlap with popular theories.
So, firstly, I’m assuming Delphi is something more than she lets on. Whether knowingly or not, she’s being influenced by Voldemort to coerce our protagonists into going back in time and changing history in favour of the Dark Lord.
She drops into conversation that she never went to Hogwarts. Instead she was ‘homeschooled’ for some unattributed reason, meaning she may well have been raised quietly by people who wanted to exert control over her (or perhaps she says she was homeschooled as a reason for no one at Hogwarts being able to recognise her). In another conversation with (I want to say) Scorpius, she says that she was lonely growing up and that her best friend was an ‘imaginary friend’, which could reasonably be read as Voldemort, one of his subjects or some lost-in-time, depressed version of some other character. If I was prone to wild speculation (and I am) I’d say this could have been some version of Albus, corporeal or otherwise, though the reasoning for that would be exceptionally tenuous.
Is it a coincidence she happens to be caring for Amos Diggory, who is fixated on getting his son back from the dead despite this not being something that generally happens even in the wizarding world? I know he’s family, but it sure is a position of power from which one could manipulate the old man into believing he can resurrect his son and that the only thing in his way is Potter. And he’d heard a ‘strong rumour’ about the time-turner even though he’s in a caring home? I wonder if that was left vague deliberately. And Delphi just happens to find Albus eavesdropping, befriends him and drops into the conversation where he might find her – and tells him to visit? At this point it feels like its being laid on a bit thick.
Also, how old is she? A few years older than Albus and Scorpius, likely planting her conception around the time Voldemort’s sexy parties were in full swing (I’m assuming a Dark Lord that goes to the trouble of horcruxing his soul would have the foresight to impregnate a few eager followers, right? I’m thinking Eyes Wide Shut).
Albus is Voldemort
And while we’re on the subject of blackening the little guy’s name, why not? This did cross my mind, but it seems highly unlikely, given what we know of Riddle’s history and what with Albus not being a total dick (and a bit rubbish at magic). But I do think there’s potential for him to be someone out of time. After all this spiel about how he doesn’t want to be Harry’s son, and with access to a time-turner, it wouldn’t come as a big shock if he decided to move to a different timezone, but I can’t think of a way that this would work in the current universe and still make sense in the context of the plot.
As an aside, what do we think of the cover of the book? If that’s Albus hiding in the weird snitch nest/thorny crown thingy, and snitches are made to be caught, it would imply that his fate is up in the air (ha ha) and whoever gets him on their side can ‘win’. Yes?
The golden trio dynamic
Central to the story is the somewhat clumsy need to return to the Scooby gang dynamic of Harry–Ron–Hermione that worked so well before (and it’s most apparent when our new boy/boy/girl trio guzzles polyjuice potion to literally transform into them – and as an aside, Hermione what is the matter with you – why hide an object with the power to upturn the whole status quo behind a few riddles easy enough for a small troop of kids to solve? Eh, perhaps she was feeling nostalgic).
One other thing the return to the trio style does is lull us into immediately accepting that the main band of kids – Albus, Scorpius and Delphi – is ultimately good. Which would certainly help with the shock factor if, say, it turned out Delphi was an imposter.
I’m not even going to rant about this one… much. Time travel is always going to be basically ineffable, so it’s standard to have to accept whatever rules are presented to you in context and just run with it – including any logical portkeys employed in explaining how it works, and why this time-turner works differently to Hermione’s old study aid. But never mind.
Now, for what is undoubtedly the most obvious point but I might as well cover it for my own peace of mind.
Why Cedric has to stay dead
Because otherwise what’s the point or value of anything? If we can save Cedric, we can save everyone – and where does it end? We’d all just end up stuck in some loop of perpetual heroics necessitated by the fact that not everybody can be and remain simultaneously saved. I assume the founding reason for having this story be time-turner-centric is the backlash that followed Book 4: we must save Buckbeak but screw everyone else. They need to illustrate why the time-turner can’t be used to save everyone.
Who is the cursed child?
For the reasons outlined above, I would wager Cedric, the poor kid. Then on another facet Harry, because his entire childhood; Albus, because he’s having an all-round crap time; Scorpius, because Albus is the shining light in his otherwise depressing existence; and Delphi, because I’m convinced there’s something weird about her non-Hogwarts, imaginary-friend-filled, hush-hush childhood.
Needless to say I would have preferred Draco and Harry to actually be an item by this point, but I suppose I must settle for the suggestive back-and-forth (and mild bondage) actually included in Part I; also, the fact that Draco seems to be a pretty ok dad does soften the blow a bit, even if the description does make a point of saying he’s the spitting image of his father.
Sins of the fathers
And speaking of daddy issues, a particular bit of Part I bothered me: when Albus and Scorpius get back together and Albus goes on about how Scorpius couldn’t possibly be Voldemort’s son because he’s so lovely (#ship). The implication being that evil spawns evil, that a child born to a bad guy is automatically bad themselves.
I’m not convinced the wonderful JK would want to push that sort of awfully pessimistic and inherently problematic notion, particularly after demonstrating the destructive, cult-fuelling power of discrimination in the previous books, what with the whole mudblood/pure-blood war.
So where does that leave us on the Voldemort-baby front? a) Scorpius the wouldn’t-hurt-a-fly wonderful is Voldy’s son, thus crapping all over the idea that some people are destined to be bad; b) Voldy’s kid is someone who becomes bad – e.g. Albus or Delphi, perhaps – and then potentially repents/tries to kill everyone; or c) there is no Voldy Jr and the rumour that there is is just that, a rumour, intended to distract us from the actual pieces of the plot falling into place.
But at least the friendship (and prospective AS/S ship, but let’s not go there right now) between Albus and Scorpius is absolutely adorable, with Scorpy coming across as a sort of Ron/Hermione/Draco hybrid if someone threw sugar, spice and all things nice into the mix, while Albus is sadly affected by the lingering spirit of caps-lock-Harry. This furthers the theme of friendship transcending barriers of bloodline etc – again standing in stark opposition to the above section re: Voldy’s child, cursed or otherwise. After all, the blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb, and all that.
All in all, I enjoyed it – Act I significantly more than Act II, with the exception of Umbridge’s genuinely hilarious ‘Voldemort Day’ proclamation at the very end. It’s definitely and appropriately more suited to the theatre than the page, as the stage banter built into the dialogue is palpable and no doubt will be hilarious to watch play out.
As mentioned, perhaps it’s because I’ve spent more than a decade reading fanfiction, but I’m ready to forgive Harry Potter and the Cursed Child its shortcomings – at times unconvincing characterisation, logical portkeys, even Harry’s first-class parenting – and enjoy it for what it is: a popular follow-up to a childhood classic; more of the same to satisfy the desire for HP adventures among the unfortunate majority who don’t frequent AO3 or ff.net. And I for one am looking forward to Part II.
The edition of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by JK Rowling, John Tiffany and Jack Thorne reviewed here was published by Little, Brown on 31 July 2016, ISBN:9780751565355.