Book review: ‘Harry Potter and the Cursed Child,’ by J.K. Rowling
August 20, 2016
If there exists a contemporary author who does not need introduction, it is Harry Potter creator, J.K. Rowling, who rose from the troubled ashes of her life like Fawkes the Phoenix from her stories.
Through her own remaking, she transformed the literary world and, as a result, turned reluctant readers of the digital generation into dedicated bibliophiles with the wave of her wand-shaped pen. Rowling's fame has reached such levels that her tweets and utterances are followed as closely as those of many influential politicians, and any rumors of details from the shadows of her Harry Potter world are treated with reverence and snatched up by her adoring fans as tantalizing morsels of her beloved magical realm.
Most people who spent a decade following the exploits of The Boy Who Lived would jump at any chance to return to the world that has captivated millions, young and old, and the recent release of "Harry Potter and the Cursed Child" might be just the vehicle to deliver. Long anticipated, the book is the dramatic script of the recently staged London production, which was written by playwright Jack Thorne but which was based on a short story by the queen of magic herself.
If it all sounds confusing, it is, as there were several hands involved in the creation of the first of two installments that are set 19 years after Harry Potter left Hogwarts and defeated the Dark Lord Voldemort. Rowling hinted at this glimpse of Harry's future in the epilogue of "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows," and some of that much-analyzed final chapter is overlapped nearly verbatim in the play's script; indeed, it serves as a jumping-off point for a new and wondrous adventure for Harry, his cohorts and the next generation of wizarding offspring. For true Potter fans, this might be enough to be pulled back into the story.
That said, the very nature of the play format of "Harry Potter and the Cursed Child" allows for very little detail, which is where Rowling's real storytelling gifts reside. Her ability to build fully developed characters is unsurpassed and is what comprises the center of the allure of the Harry Potter series.
Nonetheless, there is still plenty in this new release to tempt fans, for familiarities abound and the magic is intact, if fleeting. Details are minimal for settings, as can be expected given the format, but it works, as there clearly was an assumption that anyone reading the book knows the world inside and out and can paint the pictures in the mind.
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In fact, fans will find much that is recognizable in the new story, in spite of the altered vessel of delivery. It is worth noting that there is no effort made by either Rowling or Thorne to acquaint a Harry Potter newcomer to the world, so it is advised for those not familiar with the original series to read the books in sequence. From the opening lines — once the reader adjusts to the pace and syntax of the script format — a comforting feeling descends, for the world seems just as it was left when the last pages of Book 7 were reluctantly closed.
Rowling never misses a chance to raise a moral conundrum, and characters are always deeper than two-dimensional, even in script from. Albus Potter, bearing the unwelcome burden of being the son of the most famous wizard to live, is faced with having to navigate Hogwarts with the same lack of anonymity as his father did. The first person young Albus encounters on the train is Scorpius Malfoy, the son of Harry's nemesis, Draco Malfoy. Young Rose Weasley, daughter of Hermione and Ron, heads off to make other friends, but Albus stays, and in typical Rowling fashion, he befriends the last person that his father would expect him to. These sorts of moral twists are some of the reasons Rowling's books resonate so deeply, as they appeal to our better natures.
The twists and turns continue, and preconceptions and expectations are turned on their heads, as though Rowling is reminding the reader that change is good and an open mind should always be the goal. Not only are the characters' prejudices challenged, but so, too, are those of the reader, and once again Rowling takes a fantasy and elevates it with characters that are distinct, flawed and endearing. There will be plenty who denounce Rowling for reopening Harry Potter's world, but for those for whom the loves run deep, treasures await.
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