(Published in the Business Standard, August 2, 2016)
Mrs. Darling came to the window, for at present she was keeping a sharp eye on Wendy. She told Peter that she had adopted all the other boys, and would like to adopt him also.
“Would you send me to school?” he inquired craftily.
“And then to an office?”
“I suppose so.”
“Soon I would be a man?”
“I don’t want to go to school and learn solemn things,” he told her passionately. “I don’t want to be a man. O Wendy’s mother, if I was to wake up and feel there was a beard!”
~ Peter and Wendy, by JM Barrie, 1911
Peter Pan was the boy who never grew up, and looking back, perhaps that’s why children love him a little less than Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, or Sam and Frodo in The Lord of the Rings, or Meg Murry in A Wrinkle in Time.
Peter Pan had adventures, and bravely faced death itself, but by placing himself beyond the reach of ageing, he set himself apart from the children who went to school to learn solemn things, and would some day become men and women who went to office, too. Most of childhood’s heroes and heroines face trials, and monsters, enchantment’s snares and magic’s spells, and they also face age, from Charlotte the spider in Charlotte’s Web, downwards.
That is part of what makes you love them. And almost 20 years after JK Rowling published Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, it is a pleasure to have it confirmed that The Boy Who Lived did grow up.
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is a play script co-written by JK Rowling with Jack Thorne and John Tiffany, based on an original Rowling short story. Muggles and Potterheads swarmed bookstores across the world this week, bringing back memories of the Potter Parties of 2007, when Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows came out.
Reviewing a book like Cursed Child without giving away spoilers is like muttering gnomic tarot card predictions out of the side of your mouth:
“A dark fog of evil surrounds a character you don’t know yet, but whom you will come to care deeply about.”
“A mysterious stranger is not whom they pretend they are.”
“Alternate pasts are way scarier than alternate futures.”
“One of your favourite characters – two of your favourite characters – will return. Kind of. Don’t get too attached.”
At the heart of Cursed Child is the unlikely friendship between two Hogwarts pupils – Harry Potter’s son Albus, and Draco Malfoy’s son Scorpius. It’s rough being the son of the Boy Wizard if you can’t play Quidditch, if the Sorting Hat puts you in Slytherin, and if even the portraits on the school walls look the other way in disgust. It’s even rougher being Scorpius, when the school speculates that Voldemort might be your real dad. The growing friendship between these two will spawn a million fan-fiction tributes.
Rowling has been heartbreakingly true to the thread that winds through the Harry Potter books – for all his heroism, Harry didn’t find real life easy, and as an adult, he is no ruler over a Voldemort-free realm, nor does he occupy a grand role, for instance, as a headmaster of Hogwarts. “Meet the once-great Harry Potter,” Amos Diggory says bitterly, “now a stone-cold Ministry man.”
Hermione is the Minister for Magic; Ron works at the joke shop; Ginny worries about Harry’s inability to connect with young Albus. Harry says bitterly that he’s as bad at fatherhood as he is at paperwork; Albus wishes he wasn’t a disappointment, and the burden of his legacy weighs heavily on his shoulders.
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is all about growing up – facing adulthood, facing childhood, neither of which are as easy as you’d like them to be. It’s also about parents and children, but more starkly, about fathers and their children, and at least three (and possibly four) fathers with different shades of dark pasts behind them, stumbling, failing and succeeding at getting to know their kids.
You would have to be a Mudblood or a Dementor to kvetch at reading a play-script rather than a book, or at its triple authorship. All of the Harry Potter world was intensely visual, and while a novel might have had more layering and more landscape, the script is a surprisingly powerful, emotional read. Especially if you read it out loud, with friends (or to your cats, whichever group makes for a more appreciative audience).
The Cursed Child has flaws – much of the plot leans too heavily on the limitations of Time-Turners and time travel in general – but it is as true as a unicorn-hair wand to the intricate, well-loved inner world of the Harry Potter stories.
JK Rowling’s readers grew up with the Harry Potter books in real time, over a decade. As Voldemort made the world of the books darker, so too did politics grow grimmer in our own real world, because the barriers between fantasy and reality are never as solid as you imagine. She promises there will be no more Harry Potter books, but an astute reader might wonder whether that leaves the door open for more books starring Albus, Scorpius, Rose Weasley and the rest of the new generation.
The Cursed Child brings back creatures and people you loved, or feared. It also places the characters you love in danger that feels all too real. The play is probably far more dazzling than the script, but I dare you to read even the script without feeling your heart break – and heal – over and over again. The boy who lived grew up, but the magic still lives.