KARACHI: With years of begging and living off scraps of information that J K Rowling released little by little, Harry Potter fans rejoiced far and wide when ‘the eighth book’ was announced. They probably did not understand the way Harry Potter and the Cursed Child was coming about. The very first announcement did make it clear that it will be the script of the Broadway play; it did let us know that it would not be the usual Potter book.
One would need to be exceptionally simpleminded to assume that reading the play would not require any prior knowledge of the Potterverse. The combined effort of Rowling, John Tiffany and Jack Thorne tells a story that relies heavily on the well-laid foundation of the Harry Potter series. Events from different parts are referenced and with the constraints of time and space in play they aren’t always elaborated upon.
The play familiarises the reader with the dynamics of Potter’s new life. Nineteen years down the road, he is the head of Magical Law Enforcement and his friends too have new and interesting, if not unexpected, roles.
A lot has passed since The Battle of Hogwarts; the absence of some characters is noticed from the get-go. Even so, Rowling cleverly incorporates scenes from the epilogue of the series to give us a sense of time. We see an elaboration of the train station scene. This is smart as it gives the reader perspective and builds on the familiar. It almost feels like coming home.
The plot, however, is lacking, for want of a better word. It lacks the charisma one expects from the series and leaves one desperately wanting to say ‘finally’. The climax is thoroughly disappointing. It lets readers down by any standards, not just the exceptionally high ones, of a Potter fan. You are left a little baffled and very disappointed. It leaves you wondering about how much say Rowling had in the book. There is also a lot of rapid change in the timeline and a couple of different alternate realities in play, which make the whole thing a little confusing. It looks like the writers almost tried too hard.
Some good does, however, come out of the whole thing. Rowling’s final gift to her fans is bittersweet. It almost lets us forgive the playwrights for the disappointment. With years of references to it, the fans finally get to witness the moment where it all began. The text is 350 pages long; one does not need more than a few hours to get through both parts of the play. It takes a little longer for one to digest the emotions, from confusion, to bafflement to outrage and, finally, a sense of loss. It would take the reader a lot to look past that array of emotions and be grateful for another chunk of detail about the world they have adored for so long.
It is difficult to classify The Cursed Child as a great piece of contemporary writing. It is also difficult to classify it as a Harry Potter book. What one can do, at most, is to call it an extension of the story and thank Rowling for the nostalgia. To say that our childhood memories have forever been tainted would be harsh; the memories are too strong to be hurt. But to not admit that the release was more a result of commercialism than fan requests will also be naïve.
Title: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child
Authors: J K Rowling, Jack Thorne, John Tiffany
Publisher: Little Brown
The writer is a subeditor at The Express Tribune. She tweets @bhandprogramme
Published in The Express Tribune, August 7th, 2016.