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Harry Potter and the Cursed Child: I need a Time Turner to un-read this

Durga M Sengupta | Updated on: 3 August 2016, 1:30 IST

I woke up this morning to the message that my Amazon package had been delivered. I jumped out of bed, eyes wide open and sprinted to the living room. There it was on the table, neatly packaged, waiting to be cherished. I picked up my copy of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child and hugged it.

Most remnants of childhood for 90s kids like me are lost thanks to technology speeding up at breakneck pace. The return of Harry Potter meant an undoing of that, of revisiting the magic we grew up with, of getting the chance to relive the fantastic parallel universe that JK Rowling gave us. A universe that often helped us forget homework to be done, naps to be taken, and even food to be eaten.

Also read -Harry Potter and the Cursed Child preview: Fans 'keep the secrets' but can't hide joy

So once I got my hands on the 'eighth book', as it says on the back, I wasted no time in lapping it up. For the uninitiated, the Cursed Child is a play in two parts. It's co-authored by JK Rowling, John Tiffany and Jack Thorne and is the same as the script for its onstage counterpart in London.

Hopes dashed

I read page after page with the wide-eyed anticipation that comes with every Harry Potter book, brushing aside the obvious difference in format and reining in old expectations to read about the good people at Hogwarts, minus Rowling's elaborately descriptive writing.

I imagined it would pick up. I needed it to pick up. But after Part I came Part II and the deeper I got into the story, the farther I felt from the Potter universe.

The characters barely stick to those we've come to know. Ron seems a dull replacement to Fred and George, while Ginny is suddenly the sharpest of all, and Hermione is unthinking and unusually clueless.

Harry, at least, maintains some semblance of the character we knew - continuing his internal struggle with being too famous for his own good.

Also read - The Boy Who Lived turns 36! Rowling rings in 51st birthday with Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

The book though, reads desperately like fan fiction. Because now, beyond the Potters, no one matters. True to Potter fan fic, Cursed Child doesn't take you 19 years forward realistically. It just coolly picks up from where it left off, as though in a magical world like Potter's, nothing would've happened.

The book though, reads desperately like fan fiction. Because now, beyond the Potters, no one matters.

At the center of the story is an object as quick-fix as the play itself - the Time Turner. In Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, the Time Turner is a device worthy of the 'smartest witch her age', but it can only go back a few hours, making it a useful plot device. Useful yet not gimmicky. Or a cop-out.

Cursed Child lacks this complexity - complexity that makes an object like the Time Turner sacred and not just a shiny deus ex machina.

While Harry and his friends were children in the seven books prior to this, not everything was child's play. The horrors were real, the losses were real. They were children and young adults who had to grow up in a difficult world. But here, adults behave irresponsibly, so not much can be expected of the children.

Potter and co., other than their physical age and important jobs, have essentially not grown at all. And yet, the story lacks continuity. So much so that there's absolutely no need for a reader to revisit the old books (or films even) to pick this one up and finish it in less than 3 hours.

It retains the characters mentioned in the last chapter of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallowswithout adding any layers to who they've been through the years, or what experiences they've had. In fact, the only two characters that don't seem depressingly flat in Cursed Child are from the next generation - Albus Potter and Scorpius Malfoy.

Probably better on stage than in text

The play, as I would like to call it hereafter, I'm willing to believe is probably a lot better on stage. There are many touching moments, including dead characters we grew to love, that would be wonderful to watch.

While the plot line would remain overly simplistic and at times completely illogical, the story may be palatable as the theatre production it was meant to be.

Harry Potter is no longer about reading first and watching in theatres later. The book, however, only serves as a painful reminder of what we're missing out on by not being able to see the play in London.

Harry Potter is no longer about reading first and watching in theatres later.

The language of the play is nothing like the wonderfully imaginative and descriptive narrative we're used to. And, while I've read enough plays to know that descriptions are functional to explain positions on the set, you can't accuse me of expecting better after reading these lines:

"The books pull him inside them; he's powerless. This is terrifying. There's silence."

"He climbs up the bookcase, which is horrifying as it rises up at him. Grabbing at him with his every step."

Evidently, the description is meant to create an image in front of the reader, not unlike the books. And yet the writing is poor and resorts to telling instead of showing. This is definitely not a problem a play-goer would face.

How's this the eighth story?

If Cursed Child is indeed the eighth story it should, if nothing else, maintain the standard of the canon. Instead, it conveniently reuses storylines that exist in the older books, remixes them, and regurgitates them in a most unsatisfying way.

A self-righteous student dies for no fault of his. Three truant students, two boys and a girl, enter the ministry after consuming polyjuice potion. All these are simple rehashes of important incidents that occur in the books, and in some ways they insult the memory of Potter.

Have we simply outgrown Harry Potter?

I can't help but wonder if I should re-read the seven books. Would I find the story just as loose? Have we simply outgrown Harry Potter?

Cursed Child has left me terribly uncomfortable. Thanks to Rowling's association with the play, I cannot dismiss it as fan fiction and move on with life. While she has said she's "done with Harry Potter," will she continue to feed us tales from Albus, Scorpius, Rose and Lily?

Also read -JK Rowling is done with Harry Potter and as much as that hurts, it's the right move

Rowling brought magic to our childhoods, and it would be heartbreaking if she undoes the wonderful legacy she created. However, it seems that she has already set the ball rolling.

Now, can someone please hand me a Time Turner? Even Hermione's would do. I just need a few turns to take me back a couple of hours and stop myself from reading this book, one that has tarnished the absolutely perfect memories I had of this iconic series.

First published: 3 August 2016, 1:30 IST
 
Durga M Sengupta @the_bongrel

Feminist and culturally displaced, Durga tries her best to live up to her overpowering name. She speaks four languages, by default, and has an unhealthy love for cheesy foods. Assistant Editor at Catch, Durga hopes to bring in a focus on gender politics and the role in plays in all our interactions.

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