Wednesday, August 10, 2016
Book Review: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (SPOILERS)
Since this is the first time I've discussed anything Harry Potter related on this blog (the final movie was released July 2011, six months before I officially started this blog), allow me to do a brief history of my experience with this franchise. I didn't keep a record of the exact dates of when I read each book, but I remember not quite jumping on board right away. Looking at the release dates, The Sorcerer's Stone was released in the U.S. in September 1998, which would've been the beginning of my fourth grade year. I think I remember The Goblet of Fire being released before I was sucked in. That was released in July 2000 both in the U.S. and the U.K., which was the summer before my sixth grade year. I also think I remember my sixth grade teacher reading The Sorcerer's Stone to us, which I'm pretty sure was what actually got me hooked on the series. So let's say it was my sixth grade year when I got into the series, which would've been sometime shortly before or shortly after my 12th birthday. When I was finally sucked in, I was in for life. This was such a magical world in many ways and I absolutely loved it. I enjoyed reading every book and enjoyed watching every movie. And yes, I did like all the movies, but we'll dive into those later this year before the release of Fantastic Beasts.
When they announced that they were making a new play with the script being released in book form to the world, I was ecstatic. I purchased The Deathly Hallows the midnight of its release during the summer following my high school graduation and was done within a day or two. That was the end of an era for me, which was sad. When the final movie came out five years ago, that was even sadder because I thought that was the end Harry Potter in any form. This is a franchise that began in Elementary School for me and finished (or so I thought) well into my college years. That's a big chunk of my life growing up. I feel that these Harry Potter stories are a part of who I am because of it. Thus I love this idea of beginning a new era of Harry Potter starting with this play right now and the new spin-off movie later this year. These are exciting times! As this is such a great universe with so much story potential, I hope this is the beginning of many new Harry Potter stories, be it prequels, spin-offs, sequels, or whatever. In a day where Hollywood is definitely obsessed with sequels, remakes, and adaptations, I'm often an advocate of them pushing on the breaks a bit. But not with the Harry Potter universe. This is a world that needs to be mined and explored in depth. Bring on the new plays, new books, new movies, or new TV shows. I'm totally down with it all!
With all of that said, I'm about to do something with this universe that I've never done before. I've never hated any of the books. I've never hated any of the movies. But I suppose there is a first for everything. And I really hope it's the last. Because I absolutely hated Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. HATED. With a fiery passion. I bought it the day after it was released for about $17 and I really wish I could get my money back. And the time I spent reading. In fact, I kid you not, I finished this story out of complete obligation because I knew it wouldn't be fair to voice my opinion unless I had finished it. But halfway through reading, I had no desire to finish. I got through most of it that first night because it's a really fast read. But when I woke up the next morning, instead of jumping right in, I literally stared at the book for several moments and then decided to do something else before finishing it off. I didn't want to. Compare that to when I read The Deathly Hallows. I literally lost the ability to do anything else but read and thus I finished The Deathly Hallows in less time than I did The Cursed Child. At 759 pages, The Deathly Hallows has well over twice as many pages as the 308 pages that is The Cursed Child, with quite a bit more words per page. That should tell you something in and of itself.
You can probably tell that this is going to be a long post, but it's one that needs to happen. And if you have made it to this point and haven't read this story, this is your final spoiler warning. Let's get into specifics because there is a lot to say. First off, this is a story that should've been written as a book by J.K. Rowling before being turned into a play. And she should've taken her time with it. I have absolutely no problem with the idea of Harry Potter books being adapted into plays. In fact, I think that's an excellent idea. But let it be a book first. I definitely knew what I was getting into when I purchased this, so it's not like I was shocked to see a script of a play instead of a book. But if I'm being honest, reading a script for a play is just not the same as reading a book. The reason why reading the Harry Potter books was such a great experience is that a book can do something that a play or movie can't. You can go into far greater detail. You can take your time. You can really get lost into the universe or world that your book takes you into. I loved spending time with all of the characters in Hogwarts. I loved the detail that the books allowed and all the quality time I spent with the characters in Hogwarts. Due to the nature of this being a script for a play and the play having a limited time, this element of spending quality time with our characters is just not there and thus everything feels rushed.
If this were the only issue with this story, I was totally willing to accept that. I knew I wasn't going to be able to dive into great detail with story, but I was still excited for some good characters and an intriguing new story in this wizarding world. I was excited to see where all my beloved characters were 19 years later and I was hoping that I would develop a new found love for this new generation of Harry Potter characters. And I'm not going to lie, this had a good start. Here we have Harry's son Albus going to Hogwarts for the first time right along with Ron and Hermione's daughter Rose. Rose is essentially like a clone of Hermione and wants to make sure she does everything Hermione did in the exact same way. Albus is a little more relaxed in this element, but he's super nervous that he'll get sorted into Slytherin. Harry assures him that if he doesn't want to be sorted into Slytherin, he won't be. The sorting hat takes his wishes into consideration. That's how it works. Right? Anyways, they both run into Scorpius Malfoy, son of Draco Malfoy. Albus and Scorpius start to become good friends, but Rose is like, heck no. Steer clear of him. But Albus makes friends with him anyways and thus we have some interesting tension right off the bat. Harry's son becoming friends with the son of Harry's longtime rival and enemy at school? That's pretty interesting.
Enter Hogwarts. Rose goes to Gryffindor. No surprise. Scorpius goes to Slytherin. Also no surprise. Albus' turn under the hat and he gets sorted into... Slytherin? Wait, what? I thought he was dreading that. And given the rules of the sorting hat as established in the original book series, there's no way he should've been sorted into Slytherin. Unless he had a change of heart on the train ride. Or unless he had a change of heart when he saw his new friend be sorted into Slytherin. Neither of which this story gave any clues of, so I doubt that was the case. Instead I got the feeling that he hated this and essentially had his hopes and dreams crushed. Which is kinda interesting, but kinda annoying because we're kinda breaking the rules here. Oh well. This actually didn't bother me too much because I liked the idea of having our protagonist this time around in Slytherin and having his best friend be the son of Harry's enemy. There seems to be this stereotype in the Hogwarts world that all the heroes come from Gryffindor and all the villains come from Slytherin, while the other two houses are more of an after thought. So I was ready for them to flip the script on this. We already had some interesting dynamics set up and some honest, believable tensions ready to happen. I was all ready to thoroughly enjoy this new year in Hogwarts with all of these new characters in this situation.
Next year at Platform 9 3/4. Wait, what? No! Tell me this isn't happening. Tell me I read that wrong. Those were my exact thoughts when I read that. We literally went from the sorting hat scene to one Quidditch class scene with Madame Hootch that was taken almost directly from The Sorcerer's Stone (that will become a theme with this play) to next year at Platform 9 3/4. We're page 22 in this script and we've already started year two for Albus. This was the second big twist of the play, but this time around I was not in. I did not like this idea at all. I really liked the previous formula with the books where each book was one year at Hogwarts. That gave us plenty of time to develop our characters and our story. Given the fact that they had a really intriguing set-up, I honestly felt short-changed that I wasn't able to experience that first year of Hogwarts. When that time jump happened on page 22, this play lost me. Page 22. And keep in mind, act one, scene one, actually starts on page 7. That's the 16th page of actual dialogue and story out of the 308 pages total. I spent the whole play hoping that this story would recover after I felt like I got brutally slapped in the face on page 22. Spoiler for the rest of this review: it never did. In fact, it just kept getting worse.
Act one of this play goes from page 7 to page 86. Which by the way, there are 19 scenes in act one. That's an average of about four pages per scene. Many of those scenes are two pages or just a page and a sentence. And remember, our average word count per page is not very much at all. I'm not judging the play here as I'm not a play expert, but in many of the plays I've been to they have to spend at least a bit of time setting up each scene. With a ton of really short scenes throughout, I'm honestly curious to know how much of this play is setting up new scenes and how much is actual play. Not going judge there. Just honestly curious. Anywho, back to what I will judge, before act one is finished, not only have we jumped one year in time, but we have jumped three years in time. Suddenly I'm wondering if this short play is going to encompass Albus' entire time at Hogwarts. Thankfully that's not the case, but it's year four where we spend most of our time in this play. But not really at Hogwarts. There's honestly barely any time spent at Hogwarts here, which is frustrating in and of itself. Instead we get this really dumb story line where Albus and Severus decide to jump ship while on the train to Hogwarts at the beginning of their fourth year in order to go back in time and save Cedric Diggory.
That's right. We're going back in time to save Cedric Diggory. Why? Well, you got me. Out of all the people that died in the books, why Cedric Diggory of all people was chosen to be rescued in this story is beyond me. So many other people throughout the series would be totally worth trying to save. But this side character from The Goblet of Fire really seemed like a dumb choice. But yeah, Amos Diggory shows up at Harry's place complaining that Harry killed his son and Harry feels horrible and because Albus now hates his dad he's going back to save Cedric Diggory. Because we have time turners again. We'll get to those in a second. The daddy issues I speak of could've been interesting. The son of the legendary Harry Potter feeling over-burdened by the unwanted weight on his shoulders because of the family he was born into. That's another good setup. That a similar idea that the movie Creed followed, which worked like a charm. In this instance I was more annoyed by it. Albus doesn't like his dad. Harry fails at being a father. I mean, Harry never really had a father, so I can understand the struggle. But this just kept going for an unwanted length of time. I swear it was like the majority of the play. The could've called this Harry Potter and the Stuggles with Being a Father.
They could've also called this Harry Potter and his Stupid Child. The other half of why all these father/son issues didn't work for me outside them spending too much time with it was that Albus Potter is one of the stupidest, most annoying, and most unlikable protagonists in any book or movie that I have watched or read in quite some time. Hey, I hate my father, so let's go back in time and save Cedric Diggory. Once our plan fails and we have screwed up the timeline, let's go back in time again and screw it up even more, causing him to kill his father and thus make it so he was never born and making it so his best friend has to find Snape and Hermione and save the world. Then once Scorpius has saved the world, let's have this genius idea to NOT give the time turner back, but go destroy it on our own away from Hogwarts. And not just that, let's invite Miss Crazy Lady, Delphi the daughter of Voldermort, to join us in destroying it. Of course they don't know the real identity of Delphi at that point, but the fact that she was so totally on board with the whole idea of time travel to change how things transpired should've at least clued them in to the fact that she should not have been invited back. That of course leads to the fourth act of them getting stuck in the time period where Voldemort killed Harry's parents.
Yikes! How many dumb decisions can one dumb teenager make in one short, 308-page story? But fine. Even if we just chalk that off to a dumb teenager doing dumb things like all teenagers do, how about we then address the biggest issue of this entire play? The thing that allowed them to do all these dumb things. The time turner! The object itself is not a bad idea. The idea of time travel is also not a bad idea. The problem here is that they freaking broke their own rules of time travel! I'm perfectly fine with the idea of alternate timelines. I love the Back to the Future trilogy as well as CW's superhero TV show The Flash. Both use alternate timelines and do a great job with it. But both of those universes set that time traveling rule up from the very beginning. The Harry Potter universe set up a different set of rules back in The Prisoner of Azkaban that I think was one of the best set of time travelling rules in the history of like ever. It's the single timeline rule. While you're going through the story, these random events start happening that aren't explained until later. Once you learn of Hermione's time turner, it all makes sense. These random events were future Harry and company coming back through time to save the day. Happening at the same time on the same timeline as our current events.
I absolutely freaking love The Prisoner of Azkaban because of this. It is by far the best stand-alone story in the entire Harry Potter universe. I would still pick The Deathly Hallows as my favorite book because of all the emotion and the huge payoff it gives after years of building up to that moment. But in terms of story, The Prisoner of Azkaban takes the cake as the best individual story and that's because of this brilliant use of time travel that just blew my mind. And the character of Sirius Black, of course. But that's irrelevant to this current review. First off, in general if you start with one set of time travelling rules in your universe you need to stick with it, whether it be single timeline, alternate timeline, or whatever. Second, if the rules you set up in the first place are some of the best rules of time travel ever set up, WHY IN THE FREAKING HECK WOULD YOU EVER DECIDE TO BREAK THOSE RULES AND DO SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?! Forget for a second that our specific time-travelling adventure was a really dumb, boring adventure that I was not invested in at all. I was absolutely furious at the idea that they broke their rules. It made my blood boil while I was reading and it makes my blood boil as I type this right now. Enough to make me yell at you in all caps because of it.
Just a second ago, I told you to forget for a second that our specific time-travelling adventure was really dumb. Let's unforget that now. Should I remind you that the whole point of their adventure is to go back in time to save Cedric Diggory? Cedric freaking Diggory!? Not Harry's parents. Not Dobby. Not Fred Weasly. Not Lupin and Tonks. Not Dumbledore. Not Snape. Not Sirius Black. Cedric Diggory. Even if we look at it with the idea that Albus wants to get back at his father by righting one of his father's wrongs, are we really going to look at ourselves in the mirror and say that the most wrongful death in the entire Harry Potter universe that Harry directly or indirectly caused was that of Cedric Diggory? I mean, we have a time turner, right? We broke our time-travelling rules, right? We can literally go back and save anyone, right? We could even go back and save Harry's parents, making it so that Harry is no longer super famous. That would benefit Albus, right? It would cause a whole bunch of other consequences that they would have to go back and fix, but that would make for an interesting story. But no. We decide to go save Cedric Diggory. After breaking our time-travelling rules. And a big portion of this story is doing this then fixing what they did.
Enter act four. After going back in time to save Cedric Diggory and royally screwing up everything else, thus causing Scorpius to re-save the world with Snape and Hermione, the latter of which was kind of a fun sequence, Albus and Severus end up getting stuck back in the time period right before Harry's parents get killed. I purposely brought up that as an example of what they could've done because that's kind of what happened in the last act. Except this is Delphi's workings. Delphi, who we initially thought was Amos Diggory's crazy niece and thus Cedric Diggory's cousin. Turns out this was just a ploy. Now if we're going to set up another villain after Voldermort, we have to make sure we do a dang good job because of how interesting of a villain Voldemort was. A fantastic option is to have it be a follower of Voldemort who happens to be still around and wants to continue what Voldemort started or somehow try to bring him back. Preferably the first option because I'm down with creating new villains to fight instead of having it always and forever be Voldemort. But if we want to do the second option, then fine. That works for now. And if we want our villain to be a crazy powerful witch, that's cool, too.
Because of this, Delphi almost works for me as a villain. First problem is that she relies way too much on these kids for her plan to work. Second problem is that she's really gullible in the end and gets stopped too easily. But the biggest problem that I can't get over is that she is Voldemort's daughter. But not just that, she's the daughter of Voldemort AND Bellatrix. Because apparently Voldemort was off fooling around with Belatrix while he was waiting to execute his grand plan. Not that he has any moral standards he has to follow, but that's just a disturbing idea. And one that doesn't make much sense. I thought Voldemort was incapable of loving. So are we saying that he fell in love with Bellatrix and had a child with her? Or are we saying that he decided to have a child with her in order to continue his legacy in case he failed, which would infer that he wasn't confident that he would succeed? Pick your poison, I guess. The play doesn't give us any details and regardless of which way I try to think about it, I'm not sold. Belatrix and Voldemort having a child is a huge twist that makes no sense to me at all. I would've prefered Delphi to simply be a follower of Voldemort. Not a daughter of Voldemort.
I could go on about this play. There's so much more I could discuss, but since I've rambled on so long anyways, I'll call it good for now. In summary, this story lost me on page 22 and never recovered. The time jump to year four frustrated me. I didn't like Albus Potter as a protagonist. The father/son issues between Harry and Albus went on way too long. We freaking broke our time-travelling rules to go on an uninteresting time-travelling adventure centered around saving Cedric Diggory. And our twist-ending that Delphi is the daughter of Voldemort and Bellatrix was both disturbing and made no sense. I didn't even discuss that this is essentially like a fan fiction of Harry Potter that combines the third, fourth, and seventh books into one instead of coming up with a new, original story. I don't know whether I should blame J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany, or Jack Thorne for this (those are the three names on the cover of my copy). Perhaps all three. But this is an overall disaster. I'll return to the Harry Potter universe on this blog later this year with my ranking of all eight movies followed by my review of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them in November. Hopefully that'll be a better experience. If I were to give this a grade, I would say it deserves a 3/10.