Thursday, August 4, 2016

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child - Jack Thorne

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child
Title: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child
Author: Jack Thorne, J. K. Rowling, John Tiffany
Publication Date: 7/31/16
Pages: 330
Genre: Fantasy / Play / Fiction
How I Found It: Is this even a question?
Date Completed: 8/1/16

Summary: Nineteen years on from the ending of the iconic series, Harry Potter is now a Ministry employee and sending his middle son, Albus, off to Hogwarts. However, neither father nor son feel settled in their new roles. 

What I Thought: One of my dearest friends and fellow Potter fans once said to me, "The best thing that could happen to Harry Potter would be for J. K. Rowling to die." While I find this sentiment more than a little overblown, I get where he was coming from. Rowling gave us one of the best book series of this era. She's inspired thousands if not millions. She's become one of the richest people in the world. And, yet, she cannot leave Harry and his story alone.

I don't blame her for this. As she's said in interviews, she's spent far longer with these characters than any of us. Over twenty years, now. Her emotional connection to them is indisputable deeper than any of us will ever really understand, despite feeling like Harry and company are practically family. So, when she drops new, little ideas on Twitter or talks about the characters in interviews, I get it. I understand that this irks some fans who would rather she let the books alone be canon (my friend included). In general, though, it doesn't bother me. I can separate the books from everything else. In a lot of ways, I think it's neat to sort of pick and choose what of her new ideas I want to accept and which I want to reject. The idea that it should have been Harry and Hermione together in the end? Hard pass to that one. But knowing that Teddy Lupin grew up to become Head Boy. It warms my heart. 

It's doing something like this where things get really tricky. I mean, this is not drips and drops meant to satiate a thirsty fandom. This is a whole other thing. This is a complete work, a new story, a big addition to the narrative. And it's where my feelings about adding to the story of the magical world get as complicated as a House Elf trying to disobey the orders of an evil master. 

I wanted to love this new story. I still want to. I'm not totally sure I don't. I love stepping back into this world. I love touching base with these characters I love. What I don't love is how divergent this play is from the original series. 

The magic is missing. Rowling did such an incredible job of developing her characters in the books and really making us care about them. Her books are crazy long because she lovingly crafted every detail. A 300-page play simply cannot reach the depths of the books. We're wadding in the same pool, certainly, but the experience is far different than diving into the deep end. 

I do think that reading this particular work does not offer the full picture. I'll wait to read more reviews of the play, but I found it clear in the stage directions that much of the magic happening in this story is meant to be visual. The characters are meant to find their soul through stirring performances, not exclusively in the words on the page. I'm sure the cast and crew in London add so much to this story and I don't want to count them out of the equation. I'm glad that those of us who can't pick up and fly off to London to see the actual show still get this element of the experience, but it's certainly not a complete package.

What I don't really understand is why Rowling went this route. If she wanted to tell a new story, and one that really could have been fleshed out so much more than it was in this play, why didn't she write another book? Or a spin-off series about the next generation of Hogwarts students? At one point she said it would be clear why this story had to be told as a play and not a book, but I've read it now and still don't see a clear answer to that question. Rowling has well proven herself to be a wizard of words, so why did she choose to invite more players to the (literal) stage of her storytelling?

Sigh. I'd love to sit down and have a cup of tea with Jo - for about a million reasons and to discuss a million topics. Today, though, I'd ask her why she felt this was the right path for this particular story and if she regrets anything about taking this turn into the theatrical world. 

Now, before I bum any of you out too much, I do want to say that I enjoyed the play. When I woke up the morning of July 31st and saw I had an email from 12:03am notifying me that my months on the library's electronic reserve list had paid off, I was ecstatic. I spent a good part of the day reading the play and would easily have finished it that day were it not for my husband wanting to spend time with me. The nerve, right? Haha. I polished off the last 15% easily the next day. Reading a play is such a different experience than reading a novel and it's really fun to do once in a while. I was gripped by the story and the need to know what happened next. 

The old characters were fun to revisit and I came to love some of the new ones. I'm not going to spoil anything, but I love the ironic twist of Scorpius being the Hermione of the next generation. That brought me a good deal of pleasure. I loved the reconciliation between old enemies and how it came about through the shared experience of parental love and heartache. I thought Ron was a bit too bumbling, but I think a good actor could add some depth that he didn't necessarily have in the script. Strictly on the page, though, I thought he had taken up Fred and George's mantle a bit too much. He's the only one who I really did not feel had ended up somewhere I would have expected. He wasn't bad, but, as with this play, I thought he could have been so much more.

The story was good. It had a lot of potential and they did a lovely job tying it back to the events of the books. I gave a little side eye to the presence of a Time-Turner. After all, every Potter fan and even Rowling herself know what a messy business it is to involve time travel. I felt Rowling may have been trying to achieve some penance for the plot holes in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and I didn't love that. I also felt that the new threat seemed a bit far-fetched. Not the presence of a threat or that there would be some aching for the return of Dark Magic, but the way in which that was executed left me a bit dissatisfied. There were a few moments that felt like a cheap payoff and that feels unfamiliar in the Potter universe. Overall, though, it was a good story and I loved the emotional journey. Rowling has grown and changed in the intervening years and that was certainly reflected in her older Harry who finds dealing with parenthood and adulthood challenging in a whole host of new and unanticipated ways.

I could probably keep talking about writing about this for ages, but I know plenty of others on the web are already beating it to death. And now I've done my own share of that as well. I'm anxious to hear how others feel about it and what their experience with this new installment was like. I have read very few other perspectives thus far, wanting to preserve my own opinion until after I wrote this. I will say that Amy from Read a Latte really nailed it in my opinion. So, if you want more opinions about this book sans spoilers, go read her review as well. Otherwise, my strongest encouragement is for everyone to just read it for themselves. As with last year's crazy hyped sequel, Go Set A Watchman, let this stand on its own and don't expect more from it than it can give. Don't let your experience be shaped by me or critics or others or even your own expectations. Enjoy it for what it is and then come back and tell me what you thought so we can talk about it!

Rating: ★★★★☆
Will I Re-Read: Yeah, probably
Other Books By J. K. Rowling: The Harry Potter series / The Casual Vacancy / The Cuckoo's Calling

A Reduced Review: No matter how much we may want it to be, this is not an eighth Harry Potter book. But that doesn't mean it cannot be enjoyed for what it is. 

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