Harry Potter: What To Expect When You're Parenting Cursed Teenagers.
Here be spoilers (but not big ones).
Has ever a book had such a build up? In this household we’ve had seven books, eight movies, badges, games, colouring books and pencils beyond count, at least five dressing-up costumes (including homemade wands and hand-knit Gryffindor scarves), and one very serious obsession with Alan Rickman. Let’s just say expectations were high.
It's been one week since the publication of Harry Potter and The Cursed Child. It is a script, written by J.K. Rowling together with playwright Jack Thorne and director John Tiffany. Four of us have read it, in turn by ascending order of age (11, 15, 17 and, ahem, not telling), each doing their best to hold the story in and resist spoiling it for the next in line. As each new family member reaches the final scene, we have huddled in quiet corners of the house (in cupboards, yes, though not quite under the stairs) to repeat the jokes, confess our tears and generally stretch the experience as far as we possibly can. We are doing our best to keep the Potters and the Weasleys and the Malfoys in our home a while longer.
The first obvious point is Cursed Child is a play, not a novel. I was concerned that my eleven-year-old daughter would find a play difficult or disappointing to read. The script of a play provides the dialogue alone and lacks the expression of the actors. In general, a play also lacks the descriptive prose to set the scenes and fill in the history. In this case we are already familiar with more than half the cast. We know what they look and sound like. We are party to intimate details of their formative years. We have consumed 1,084,170 words of back story. This play has a head start.
We know this play was written for a HUGE production with spectacular sets, props, and special effects. We were going to have to stage this thing in our own heads. Luckily, as if by magic, some impressive stage directions are thrown in to set the imagination off in the right direction.
J.K. Rowling has admitted to mapping out the lives of all her characters. The world of Harry Potter is real, inside her head at least, and has continued to exist – whether we had a window to it or not. This play is simply another door through which we may enter it.
We rejoin Harry and his friends as they face the trials and tribulations of parenthood.
Hermione is the Minister for Magic. She is as efficient, conscientious and dry of wit as ever (‘drier than dry’). Her only vice is a liking for toffees. Ron, her ideal sidekick, runs Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes and, as ever, steals every scene and this reader’s heart. They have a daughter, Rose, and a son, Hugo.
Harry and Ginny are busy, aren’t we all? Harry is the over-worked Head of Magical Law Enforcement. True to form, he excels at field work and neglects the paperwork. Ginny is Sports Editor at The Daily Prophet. They have three children, James, Albus and Lily.
Act One, Scene One finds Albus Severus Potter at King’s Cross Station (platform 9¾, obviously) about to depart for his first year at Hogwarts.
Things go pear-shaped almost immediately when the sorting hat decides Albus is, horror of horrors, a Slytherin. He’s useless at spells, hates quidditch and his only friend in the world is Scorpius, son of Draco Malfoy. Albus believes he couldn’t be less like his father, everyone’s hero, and deems himself a failure.
Scorpius Malfoy has it even worse. What could be worse than being the son of Harry Potter? Well, as he deals with his mother’s terminal illness, poor Scorpius must also fight a persistent rumour that he is, in fact, the son of Voldemort. Now, that’s bad.
Albus and Scorpius, together, intend to set right a distant wrong, prove their bravery and show the world who they truly are.
The plot is at once satisfyingly fresh and reassuringly familiar. We didn’t really want a new story, did we? We wanted to turn time and enjoy the old story all over again. J.K Rowling worked her magic.
All our favourite ingredients have been included: spells and prophecies, incantations we know off by heart, and riddles we have learned how to solve. The audience is rewarded, over and over, for reading the books, for reading them more than once, for being a fan, for loving Harry Potter. It feels great.
As I see it, there are three themes running through the play.
Cursed Child is about fatherhood.
I was on bed rest in my second pregnancy when a friend gave me the first two Harry Potter books to help pass the weeks. I was an adult and mildly embarrassed to be seen reading books written about and for children. This time around, Harry and I are almost the same age. I’ve caught up with J.K. Rowling or, possibly, Harry has caught up with me. Either way, we are on the same page. Harry Potter and I are in the middle of a chapter entitled Parenting Teenagers and it is a SCARY one.
There has been some criticism of Rowling for making Harry Potter a bad father. He is desperate to protect Albus at all costs. ‘I want to protect him,’ is Harry’s mantra but the costs are heart-breaking. It falls to Dumbledore to hammer home the terrible truth:
‘We cannot protect the young from harm. Pain must and will come.’
Our job is to prepare them to face that pain.
Sure, Harry makes some mistakes, almost unforgivable mistakes, but when I read them a warm glow of gratitude to the writer spread through my chest. Harry admits to lacking a role model. He is learning on the job, just like the rest of us. Children’s books feature good and wise parents or, just occasionally, bad parents or, perhaps most frequently, no parents at all. Harry Potter, as a parent, is downright, bog standard, normal. I know him. I love him.
Cursed Child is about friendship.
Draco and even Ginny admit to being envious of the Ron-Harry-Hermione triumvirate.
‘You- the three of you- you shone you know?’ (Draco Malfoy)
For better or worse, it is those who haven’t had a best friendship who most appreciate its value. A friend makes you stronger; they fight alongside you even when they’re not with you. The danger is that, while the heroes might willingly give up their own lives in the fight against evil, they would sacrifice the whole world to save their friend.
Cursed Child is about fighting the darkness.
Albus is depressed and Scorpius bereaved. They must fight with great courage because the darkness, just like the dementors, thrives on fear. They must each find the thought, the one person to light up the darkness.
‘All it takes is one person.’
Harry and Albus begin the story poles apart. Albus doesn’t understand what it is to be fatherless any more than Harry understands what it is to be without friends. They are more alike than they think and must find their common ground.
‘Harry, there is never a perfect answer in this messy, emotional world. Perfection is beyond the reach of humankind, beyond the reach of magic. In every shining moment of happiness is that drop of poison: the knowledge that pain will come again. Be honest to those you love, show your pain. To suffer is as human as to breathe.’ (Albus Dumbledore)
Last week, I admit, I was feeling a little peeved. It seemed unfair, this whole West End razzmatazz show that most of us will never see. I didn’t think reading a measly script could possibly be a patch on seeing the live production. Perhaps it’s not, but I don’t care so much anymore. It turns out I have a pretty glitzy playhouse inside my head. I heard the laughs and felt the applause resounding.
And something else...Snape.
Oh, Snape. You know, when he died, in the book I mean, I was sad but I coped. I’m a grown-up and it was, after all, only a story. But then, he died again, only this time it was real. It was real. I sobbed and wiped tears in the sleeve of my pyjamas and was glad to be alone in my bed. So, I probably won’t see the West End production but, as my hero says,
‘Sometimes costs are made to be borne.’ (Severus Snape)
I firmly believe that J.K. Rowling has magical powers. She has captured reality and convinced the world it is only a story. To enter her world is a privilege and a joy, the only drop of poison being the knowledge that we must, eventually, turn the final page.
‘Thank you for being my light in the darkness.’ (Scorpius to Snape)
I'm off now to start knitting Slytherin scarves.