19 Years Later: Debating Harry Potter and the Cursed Child
Sept. 1, 2017, marks the official “19 Years Later” date from the epilogue of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, wherein a grown-up Harry Potter sees his own children off to Hogwarts. As readers now find themselves older and wiser, EW is celebrating the #BackToHogwarts milestone all week long by taking a closer look at the Wizarding World two decades later.
The Harry Potter fandom has officially reached phase three. With the real-world arrival of Sept. 1, 2017, the “19 Years Later” future proffered by Deathly Hallows is now the present, and there’s no longer a timeline in which the adult Harry Potter has not yet bid farewell to his son Albus on the platform of the Hogwarts Express. #BackToHogwarts Day has come and gone, and with it, we move from a post-Potter paradigm defined by the epilogue of Deathly Hallows to another era, beginning anew with the events of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.
The eighth Potter story is a stage play, penned by Jack Thorne with the conceptual assistance of J.K. Rowling and John Tiffany; the latter is responsible for directing the show’s 2016 premiere production in London and its 2018 Broadway premiere in New York. Hundreds of thousands of tickets have already been sold, as have millions of copies of the published manuscript (released in July 2016). For many without access to transcontinental airfare, the manuscript has been the only obtainable form of the story that existed. But with its Broadway run nearing, access will multiply considerably, and Cursed Child is poised to be a major slice of American pop culture next year.
And yet, Cursed Child still remains a point of heated contention among certain segments of the Potter fan community, and not just for reasons of practical accessibility. From a narrative standpoint, the story has been both lauded and lambasted: Its characters, their fates, the authenticity of their choices, and the dozens of other surprises that rest inside the play’s four-act narrative have all been subject to scrutiny, and will likely continue to do so in their stateside run.
In casual conversation, though, certain questions tend to pop up, and as Cursed Child readies itself to be the next great experience for Harry Potter fans, EW writers Jessica Derschowitz and Marc Snetiker dive into the biggest questions surrounding the production. [Super-light spoilers ahead!]
1. Should you read it first?
MS: When I read the play, I had long assumed that it would be years before either I would make it to London or the play would make it to New York, so reading the script was more of a no-brainer than any real conscious choice. But then I found myself suddenly in London eight months later, with tickets in hand, all completely unexpectedly, and I can’t even begin to tell you how happy I was that I knew the story going in. It’s not that the plot of Cursed Child is some grand head-scratcher, but it is a doozy of emotionality to see so many cameos and conversations revisited through a bonkers time-travel through-line. I feel like wrapping my head early around the madness of it all was instrumental in preparing myself to be more present in the moment during the production, to shut off that plot-analysis part of my brain and wonder not so much what was going to happen, but how.
JD: There was never any question for me. I bought tickets for the London production all the way back in November 2015 for April 2017 performances — yes, a year and a half ahead; my planning skills would make Hermione Granger proud — and I also preordered the script the moment we were able to do so. After picking up the last Harry Potter books at midnight release parties and reading until my eyes crossed, it seemed unthinkable I could let another story from J.K. Rowling’s Wizarding World exist without knowing exactly what would happen next for Harry, Ron, Hermione, and now their children. No way a rogue tweet was spoiling any of that for me. That said, there were still months between when I read the script and when I arrived in London to see both parts of Cursed Child (in the same day, which was both exhausting and thrilling). But even if there weren’t, I think the answer is still the same — as you said, there’s a lot to take in in this story, and I’m glad I was prepared for the trajectory the plot takes and which characters we’d see again. I paid closer attention to the staging and the actors’ performances than I might have had I also been trying to process what was happening in real time.
MS: Plus, let’s be honest — one read isn’t going to turn you into Wikipedia. I’d wager that even if you’ve seen every Game of Thrones episode once, you’d still likely be just as surprised by many of the smaller scenes upon repeat viewing, despite knowing the broad strokes, you know?
JD: I think we also have to mention the reason we can even answer this question at all is that we’ve been lucky enough to see the show — traveling to New York or London and buying tickets to two different plays isn’t doable for most of the world, and for them it’s reading the script or nothing at all (at least until tour productions start). But for those hoping to get tickets and wondering whether or not to read the script beforehand — it’s true there were a handful of moments I was waiting for because I knew they were coming, but it still felt like an entirely new experience seeing it live.
MS: The experience of a play is so much more than just the delivery of a plot. Reading it in advance spoils a few act-break cliffhangers, but the play’s reveals are not its cornerstones, nor are the cameos its greatest shocks. I don’t think the script is strong enough to merit some hallowed reservation, and in reality, Cursed Child is the kind of thing you need to see twice, and most people will likely find it close to impossible to see even once, so why not curate your experience somewhere in the middle? Entering with a foundational expectation for its story lets you more fully embrace why this thing had to be on stage in the first place. Which brings us to our next question …
2. Why did it have to be on stage in the first place?
MS: The play managed to do things I’ve either never seen realized on stage, or never seen realized so well. Not to beat the same drum, but Cursed Child isn’t as captivating for its story as for how the production handles the telling. Rowling has said over and over that this story had to be a play, and it’s not hard to understand her insistence after you’ve just relived James and Lily’s murder in shocking, silent real time. I’d even take my argument a step further and say I don’t think Cursed Child would have even existed had it not been a play. It’s definitely about the presentation and world-building through the closest thing we have to magic — stagecraft — but while all that technological innovation is fine and good, the play also wears its classic dramatic structure quite well.
JD: Yes! One hundred percent. We both mentioned the stagecraft, which really is tremendous, but the thing that makes Cursed Child so successful isn’t those effects. It’s very much structured as two separate plays, with scenes and sequences that would lose their intimacy and dramatic effect if they were put to film. (Also, I’d argue, the cliffhanger at the end of Part 1 would never work as a movie ending.)
MS: I like to say that if you’ve ever seen a serious actor on Broadway, you often wait for their Big Cry — the scene that challenges them and wrecks you, the moment they prove their craft, the most direct explanation for why they chose to do this project in the first place. That’s a casual way of talking about the earned catharsis of a character’s dramatic climax, and it’s something that the movies were far too fast and expansive to properly give to a character like Harry Potter. Cursed Child unlocks this incredibly emotional layer to these characters in pure scenes that could not have lived on film with the same breathing room and raw authenticity as what an actor could conjure up right on stage.
JD: Even if you didn’t love the plot when you read the script, seeing it performed is a whole other ballgame, and it’s because you’re seeing the story unfold on stage in front of you — getting all the intricacies of the performances from this fantastic cast (many of the London show’s original members are coming for the New York bow) in a way a film or TV series wouldn’t be able to deliver. So much of this story is rooted not in the magicness of it all, but in the relationships between these characters — Harry’s struggle to connect with Albus, the evolution of his son’s friendship with Scorpius, I could go on and on — and seeing them in this format is essential to its success.
3. Which character surprised you the most?
MS: Two characters surprised me the most: Rose Granger-Weasley, revealing herself to be such an unlikable character of particularly closed mind (unlike her empathetic parents), and Scorpius Malfoy, who quickly became one of my favorite characters in the series (and may be responsible for why I’m so opposed to some fans’ rejection of Cursed Child wholesale). Scorpius is a tremendous asset to the Potter canon and someone I’m excited for more people to meet. I also feel like Albus gets a slightly bad reputation thanks to an angsty portrayal in the script, akin to Harry’s ALL-CAPS FREAKOUTS in Order of the Phoenix, but in the play, his plight comes across as far more understandable and even, dare I say, relatable. I mean, it must genuinely suck to be Harry Potter’s son. I’m thankful for Sam Clemmett for making Albus far more digestible in person.
JD: I have a good one and a bad one, but I’ll start with the latter. I was pretty disheartened to see the trajectory the play took with Hermione — brilliant, self-sufficient MINISTER FOR MAGIC Hermione Granger — that made her a mean, unhappy Hogwarts professor in the alternate-universe timeline where she and Ron don’t end up together. It all rights itself in the end (if them ending up together really is a solution), but I can’t imagine the lack of that romantic relationship so fundamentally changing the kind of person she is. So yeah, that surprised me. And the happier surprise was that out of all the characters in the play, I found myself drawn to the same person Albus was: Scorpius Malfoy. Someone mentioned as a tiny footnote in the Deathly Hallows epilogue comes alive here as a fully complex character with one of the most emotional arcs in the entire play. As the son of Draco, you’d expect to dislike him — or to want to — but he’s a true highlight among all the young characters in the entire play.
4. Is Cursed Child a valid entry in the Harry Potter canon?
JD: Outside of wishful thinking, I don’t see any way you can argue it’s not. Many people have had qualms about the time-traveling, Butterfly Effect-ish elements of the story — and those qualms aren’t unfounded, believe me — but the fact of the matter is this is a play based on an idea from J.K. Rowling herself, and it says so on the front of the script.
MS: Absolutely. Cursed Child or not, Rowling probably would have found a way to tell the furthered story of Albus Potter 19 years later, and if she did, we’d have no choice but to add it to the heap of other Pottermore revelations that we (appropriately) consider canon. The hitch is that many readers see Cursed Child as some sort of bastardized fan fiction, and some take issue with the fates handed to their favorite characters. I understand those concerns and desires to reject, but it doesn’t make this story any less legitimate.
JD: The world of Harry Potter has been expanding beyond the scope of the original seven books for years now — all that additional text on Pottermore, Rowling’s revelatory tweets, and now the Fantastic Beasts films she’s writing the screenplays for. No one is going to love everything, but that doesn’t negate its place in the canon. Just ask Star Wars fans about Episodes I–III.
MS: Yes! This world is only going to continue growing, and we’re fortunate enough to have Rowling’s hand in it for as long as possible, establishing the morsels and milestones that should be taken as definitive mythos before other people or companies take over that responsibility. I love that you brought up Star Wars, because look at how that expanded far beyond its creator’s personal reach, or how dozens of comic book, literary, and cinematic characters have branched out or reset to the detriment of their central canon. There will absolutely be a time when certain entries in the ever-expanding Wizarding World don’t feel acceptable, but frankly, this is not that time.