Last weekend’s frenzy over the new Harry Potter book, “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child,” was much the same as previous Harry Potter frenzies. But the book itself is not exactly the same. For one thing, Harry Potter and his friends are all grown up now, with children of their own, and those children often take center stage. Literally. That’s another major difference: This book is actually the script of a play that is currently running in London’s West End.
The story centers on the difficult relationship between Harry and his son Albus, who feels uneasy and uncomfortable having the world’s best-known wizard for a dad. The two can’t seem to communicate, and things only get worse after Albus goes off to his parents’ old school. At Hogwarts, Albus strikes up a friendship with Scorpius, the son of Harry’s old antagonist Draco Malfoy. But this isn’t enough to keep Albus from feeling increasingly out of place at school. When he decides he has to travel into the past to set right what he sees as one of Harry’s mistakes, he and Scorpius accidentally set off an explosive chain of events that puts everyone they know and love in danger.
The story brings back old heroes and villains (and replays some familiar old scenes) as well as introducing new ones, and the play generally makes for an exciting read. The themes that permeated the original series — themes of self-sacrifice, friendship, love, and trust — are prominent here as well. The characters and their relationships are generally well-drawn and often moving, and many experience significant growth throughout the course of the play and prove themselves capable of great love and courage. Their dilemmas — apart from all the magic, of course — feel real, and easily win the reader’s sympathy. There are also some good moments of comic relief from all the intensity.
Of course, as millions of young readers have now learned, reading a play is different from reading a novel. Though we get to see some new facets of old characters, we have much less access to the characters’ inner lives — instead, we frequently get stage directions like “Harry thinks,” which don’t really tell us much. We also don’t get as many descriptions as we would in a novel. The writing is, naturally, heavy on the action, and there are directions for special effects that must look truly stunning when viewed by theatergoers. But the writing itself is not as always as strong as in the novels; some lines and scenes come off as a bit disjointed or abrupt, though they may play out better on the stage. And the characters’ motivations are not always clear.
As for content issues, there’s about the standard amount of violence, romance, and kids in conflict with adults, for a Harry Potter work, along with the occasional mild profanity. Teenage Albus flirts with a young woman several years older than he is (in her early 20s, apparently), who flirts back, and at one point he’s forced to disguise himself as his Uncle Ron and kiss his Aunt Hermione. Both of these moments are a bit squicky but don’t really go anywhere.
And then of course there’s the ever-present issue of magic, which some Christians have concerns about but many have accepted as simply a part of a fantasy universe. (For some in-depth reading on that subject from Chuck Colson, Anne Morse, and others, visit our Harry Potter resource page.)
Though “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” isn’t the strongest of the Harry Potter stories, nor the strongest of plays, it’s enjoyable enough to lure young readers back for the adventure, and perhaps also to serve as a gateway for future play reading.
Gina Dalfonzo is editor of BreakPoint.org and Dickensblog.