Just a disclaimer to say that while the views below are my own, J.K. Rowling has been my writing guru since I was six, and I’m sure that Jack Thorne and John Tiffany are wonderful human beings. I mean them no disrespect in any way, no matter how vehemently I dislike this iteration of their work. No bitterness toward the people; only the thing. Capisci?
The spoilers were true.
I’m not entirely sure what to say about that, but I will attempt some sort of effort. For Craig Bowker’s sake, you see.
(That was a joke. I don’t give a fig about Craig Bowker. And what kind of a name is Craig Bowker? The name of a Bachelor contestant, that’s what. The kind with badly-placed facial hair and sunglasses surgically fused to his face, and not for sun sensitivity reasons. Certainly not a Jo Row name. Where’s the Latin? Where, I beg you, is the Latin?!)
The thing about writing fantasy, as countless authors have said and will continue to say, is that there are rules. There’s a podcast I love, called First Draft with Sarah Enni, and there’s an episode where Sarah quotes Holly Black. Holly says that you’ve got to have rules. The more fantastic elements your story has, the more it needs to feel real. The more it needs to be grounded in real life. The more you need to create your own rules, rules that govern those fantastic elements and keep them in line.
And until the wee-est hours of July 31, I had considered J.K. Rowling the utmost upholder of this philosophy. Every plot point, every character arc, every spell and curse and charm, was held together with the tightest of logic. (Well. Except for the question of why on earth Remus Lupin forgot to take his potion at the end of Book Three, which will haunt me until my dying day, or until I can convince Jo Row to have tea with me, whichever comes first. But everyone makes their mistakes.) At any rate, I was absolutely sure that she wouldn’t have given her okay to Jack Thorne and John Tiffany for the Cursed Child script unless they swore upon Dumbledore’s fictitious grave that they would keep to the canon, using the twin powers of fannishness and common sense.
But they didn’t. They didn’t, and now Time Turners work completely differently than they did in the books, and the Fidelius Charm apparently doesn’t exist, and Snape is all cuddly, and Harry’s scar hurts despite no Horcrux trying to get out of it, and Ron and Hermione raise their daughter to be a terrible human being, and—and—
And I think I knew, in my core, that the spoilers were true, because they were just so consistent, and there was that cast list leak to drive the final nail into the coffin. But I didn’t want to believe it. I wanted to take that Lupin quote—“Dumbledore trusts Snape: therefore, I do”—and say “Jo trusts Thorne: therefore, I do.” (I know that’s horribly cheesy. I didn’t say it out loud, I promise.)
But now. Now.
There are so many problems. So many, and it’s not only the inconsistencies. There’s a sense of terrible on-the-nose-ness that the sly humor of the books never possessed. Old plots are needlessly rehashed, in much the same way Steven Moffat is known to rehash plots in Doctor Who, cheapening their value in the stories that came before. The emotional heft of Voldemort’s defeat is gone if all that’s needed to reverse it is a couple of twists of a Time Turner. And when you consider the metaphorical value of Harry’s fight, the parallels we fans have drawn to our own lives throughout our childhoods and throughout our readings, those moments when Luna’s oddness or Lupin’s Patronuses or Harry’s trembling walk through the forest helped us get through our own dark moments as teens… then this cheapening feels almost like a betrayal. Garish and pointless and painful.
There was so much potential for a next generation story. Brilliant, ridiculous inventiveness has always been a strong point in Rowling’s world, and I was excited to learn about the changes that would surely have come to Hogwarts post-war. There would have to be new spells, new creatures, a new Ministry complete with new corruption. New villains, entirely unrelated to Voldemort, with vastly different motives. New characters, with their own hopes and dreams and fears. New adventures, standing apart from Harry’s Hogwarts days.
We ended up getting very, very little of that. I’m going to put my indignant spoilers below, so if you don’t want to see them, don’t read further.
The plot mostly revolves around young Albus Severus Potter and Scorpius Malfoy, who start Hogwarts and are both sorted into Slytherin (though for unknown reasons. The Hat never clarifies, and Scorpius reads like the Ravenclaw-est Ravenclaw to ever Ravenclaw, while also being adorable. Fine, there were a few things I liked about this script, and all of them were Scorpius Malfoy). They become best friends and Harry doesn’t like it and Terrible Rose Granger-Weasley decides she hates both of them—because there’s an insidious rumor going around that Draco Malfoy’s wife went back in time and became impregnated by Voldemort. Despite the fact that this is clearly stupid. Despite the fact that the epilogue expressly states that Scorpius looks exactly like Draco. Despite the fact that this is clearly stupid.
We then get a nice dolloping of angst, as Harry and Albus have a variety of father-son problems and we learn that the Potter family is “off sugar”. (Does this mean that poor Harry doesn’t get to eat treacle tart anymore? Not that! as Harry says later in the play.) At this point, the only thing making me happy, other than Scorpius and his beautiful one-liners, was the romantic tension between Scorpius and Albus, which was really very cute and seemed like it was going to be a crucial plot point. Then the other shoe dropped. The other shoe, of course, being Delphi.
Much has already been said about the Mary Sue-like qualities of a twenty-something character with silver hair and a bird tattoo stretching across her back, so I don’t feel my voice will add anything new to the discussion, but just try to picture an evil version of Tonks (without her “wotcher!” charm and interesting character arc), and you should get the idea. She manipulates Albus and Scorpius into the time travel plot, which I won’t get into here, except to reiterate the fact that Snape Is Cuddly. Eventually, in Act II, she reveals that she is the child of Voldemort and Bellatrix, and has orchestrated this highly convoluted plan in order to stop Voldemort from killing James and Lily, thereby returning him to power.
(Did Delphi consider the unpredictable results of the Butterfly Effect? Did Delphi realize that she’d likely have not been born if Voldemort had stayed in power, as her particular date of conception was probably related to whatever Voldemort’s plans were at the time? No, Delphi did not. Because that would be silly and would surely ruin Voldemort Day.)
For me, this was the end. If the story has now stooped so low as to tell me that Voldemort and Bellatrix had a child, I’m done. Finished. There is cheese, and then there is the kind of cheese that oozes its bright orange gloopiness right onto the tip of your nose. This kind of cheese breaks all the laws of subtlety and respectability enforced by the Governing Board of Fantasy Sequels. This kind of cheese turns my soul into a very sad, very shriveled cabbage.
Then a bunch more ridiculous things happen, like Harry Transfiguring himself into Voldemort, and everything culminates in the cast hunkering down and watching Lily and James die, in order to make sure that Voldemort’s first defeat actually happens. Harry is engulfed in paroxysms of grief, and it’s meant to be a very emotional moment. But it isn’t. It isn’t because I still have cheese dripping down my face, and it isn’t because Harry took seven books to (subtly, beautifully, importantly) come to terms with the deaths of his parents, and now this story is telling me that we haven’t actually resolved that character arc. So if your narratological sensibilities haven’t been shaken up prior to this point, they now have been, and if you’re like me, you’re probably rather annoyed about it.
Naturally, Harry and co. defeat Delphi, and the proper timeline is restored, and everyone returns to present-day England to have heartfelt father-son talks. We get deep apologies from Harry about his efforts to keep Albus and Scorpius apart, and anyone with a sense of foreshadowing is champing at the bit to see Albus and Scorpius finally get together. We could ignore the cheese, then, perhaps. We could revel for a while in some Albus and Scorpius banter, and also just everything about Scorpius, and maybe draw some awkward but heartfelt fanart of the two of them on their way to Hogsmeade together after we turn the final page.
But no. We don’t even get that. Instead, we get Scorpius, completely out of the blue, excitedly going “I can’t quite believe I did that. I asked out [Terrible] Rose Granger-Weasley.” And that is the proper time to smack your head against the page and sigh very loudly.
Look—I don’t doubt that this play is amazing onstage. The special effects must be beyond incredible; I can’t begin to imagine how most of them are done. I’m sure it’s a real experience, to sit in the audience in London and see your favorite childhood books be turned into something sparkling and alive, and I would absolutely go—and very probably enjoy it—if a ticket-stealing Niffler appeared in my apartment right now and offered one to me. But for those of us who read the script, all we got was the plot. And the plot didn’t work for me. And I’m going to have to try to forget it.