Spoiler free musings on the release of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child
The Elf King contemplates his life of wizardly crime.
Saturday night, standing between the trolley witch’s cart and the wand maker, surrounded on all sides by charm and wonder that was the world of Harry Potter, I couldn’t help recall how I had come to be there.
The first time I ever heard of Harry Potter was nearly two decades ago. John had been reading an article that mentioned complaints about some “overly-masculine” book from England, where children characters still punched each other.
Some months later, I walked into Barnes and Nobles, and they had a display showing a rather charming book cover. The title of the book had the boy’s name in it. It reminded me of Encyclopedia Brown, Tom Swift, and other books John had loved as a boy. I called him over and showed it to him. His face lit up. “That’s the book I told you about!”
The title was: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
Doesn’t the cover even look like one of those old boys adventure books?
The title made me smile, because it reminded me of the Philosopher’s Stone (Little did I guess that it actually was Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, only they’d dumbed it down for Americans.)
“Let’s get it.”
We read it to each other on our Christmas trip to John’s mom’s. We LOVED it.
It was entirely enthralling. It had the cheer and the wonder of a fairy tale, but the concreteness of the modern—or at least semi-modern day. There was a lonely orphan boy and a talking snake. A friendly giant who told the lonely boy that he was a wizard. (Even today, that scene brings tears to my eyes, every time I reread it.) There was a magical boarding school with moving staircases, cruel professors–though no more cruel that the real professors at the boarding school C. S. Lewis attended, and a Forbidden Forest.
What more could the child-like heart of a fantasy fan desire?
Even today, the first Harry Potter book remains one of my favorites of all time (though I think the third book is my favorite of all Harry Potters.)
John and I were so enchanted, that, upon finishing it, we immediately went out and bought the newest one…in hardback.
A huge investment for us, young parents that we were.
We decided to keep to our tradition of reading the book together. The second was just as good as the first one—with ghosts and taking diaries and a basilisk.
After Christmas, we discovered that a good friend had also discovered the wonder that was Harry Potter, after receiving the books for Christmas from his sister. And so our experience of sharing Harry Potter fandom began.
Then came more books…and movies.
And the video games.
Soon, not only were most of our friends fans of Harry Potter, the whole world knew who Harry was!
This charming story we had fallen in love with that Christmas had conquered the world.
So, when it was announced, in 2008, that the last Harry Potter book was coming out, Book Seven, I decided to do something daring. I would take my eight year old to the midnight release party.
Midnight was very late for him. But, I thought it was a once in a lifetime event. The kind of thing he might remember years later.
He didn’t make it until mid-night, if I recall. But he enjoyed the wonder and bustle. But I waited and I bought the book.
And then I took it home and John and I sat and read it aloud to each other until 5:00 the next day (whether we read until 5pm or the following 5am, I cannot recall.)
Why did we read non-stop, going nowhere, and pausing only to feed the children.
Let us jump back to the release of Book Six.
In some ways, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is the book I recall the best. There are two reasons for this:
1) Normally, we read the books together rather quickly. When this book came out, however, John was very busy at work, so we read something like a single chapter a day.
So I had a looooonnnnggg time to ponder every clue and every turn of the story.
I still remember being on my hands and knees in the hallway, scrubbing the tile of the floor (housecleaning project), thinking over each turn and twist of the story, wondering about it and trying to put the clues together.
Who can explain why the oily Snape became so popular with moms?
2) Book Six. It was the one with all the secrets. All the real twists and turns. The day after it had come out, when we had hardly read any of it. John was getting his hair cut.
You know what barbers are like. You sit in a chair. They cover you with a cloth to keep the hair off your clothes. With the cloth in place you can’t raise your hands quickly to do things like…you know…
Stick your fingers in your ears.
John was sitting there, waiting for the trimming of his beard, (Yes, he does occasionally trim back the great, old-forest growth!) when the chipper DJs on MTV decided to announce the three great secrets of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince: Who the Half-Blood Prince was, What beloved character died, and who killed him.
John desperately tried to cover his ears, but—trapped by the barber as he was—he never had a chance.
MTV…how could you?
Kindly, John did not share the secrets he had learned with me, but it cast a gloom over our reading experience. It is not nearly as much fun to spend hours wondering about the identity of the Half-Blood Prince when the person you are supposed to be in cahoots with already knows the answer.
So, when Book Seven came out, we decided that we would not leave the house or listen to the TV until we had read it. We ploughed through at such a dramatic pace that, to this day, I sometimes wonder if I might have missed part of it. (Actually, not to this day. The two part movie reminded me of the parts I might have forgotten…but there was a while there…)
My eldest attending a friends Harry Potter birthday party.
He is wearing my grandmother’s graduation robe from Cambridge,
which she attended in the 1920s.
New Harry Potter play coming out. New movie in the background. Rowling has write several other books, two of which I loved and one of which I found very painful to read, but very moving when I finally reached the end and understood it.
And, oh, of course…I suppose I should mention the three years of living hell playing a roleplaying game set some 20 years after the Battle of Hogwarts, which—despite the tremendous pain suffered by all four of the people involved with this game—I fell so in love with, as a story, that I threw aside everything else I had been doing and devoted the next five years of my life to transforming this painful, painful game into the best (non-Harry Potter) YA fantasy series I could make it.
Note that Rachel is wearing the same robe as the picture above.
So, when it was announced that the new play would open 19 years after the official end of the previous series, I guess I could not help being mildly curious as to how it might turn out.
But it was a play. In London.
And they were only releasing a script.
I wasn’t really interested.
Outside the theater in London where Cursed Child is playing.
J. K. Rowling asked those who saw the play before it formally opened to “keep the secret.” One online site told, though. They wrote out a description of the entire play. (Having now read the actual play, I must say that this sight offered the most spoilerific version of a spoiler ever known to man. They recorded EVERYTHING.)
I wasn’t that interested. Didn’t plan to read the new script, but…I clicked on the link.
The story was kind of dull and simplistic. Just little bits about Harry’s youngest son at school…
…until it wasn’t.
My favorite of the currently available shots from the London play.
Mainly, because the others look posed.
What started as a slow beginning suddenly was rolling down hill at Hogwart Express rates. There were twists and turns and unexpected reversals. Using portraits and dreams and other canon-established methods, the author had found astonishingly clever ways of bring onstage not only charming new characters, such as the Potter and Granger-Weasley children, but the dearly-departed ones as well.
At the end of the write-up, I sat blinking with wonder at the complexity and cleverness of the thing, how charming it was, and how well it rewarded Harry Potter fans, showing them things they wanted to see or had wondered about.
But…I still wasn’t really interested.
I mean…read a script?
Especially since everyone who had seen it agreed that the most amazing part was how fantastically high tech the production was in their special effects and scene changes. (There’s a montage scene. I have never seen a montage scene in a stage play before.)
So, what benefit would come from reading it?
Flash forward to Saturday night. It was around 8pm. I had gone to bed early for reasons after a difficult week, and I suddenly woke up and realized that:
Tonight was the night.
The Harry Potter and the Cursed Child was coming out.
Barnes and Nobles was having a midnight party.
We could go.
I mean, we didn’t have to buy the book to enjoy the festivities, right?
It took until about 10:30pm for me to lever myself out of bed, find the appropriate Hogwarts robes for those who wanted them, and drive over to Barnes and Nobles.
On the way, I wondered if this gamble of a mid-night release party nine years later would pay off for B&B, Would anyone be there?
The first thing I noticed upon arriving was that the parking lot was packed.
Inside, costumed figures were everywhere. The line for the café went all the way to the front door…and it stayed nearly that long for the whole hour we were there. And inside, delights galore.
Nine years before, there had been a few kind of dull activities at the midnight release party. Now, nearly a decade and the rest of the movies later, all was wonder.
There was a sorting hat. a trolley witch selling treats, a wandmaking station, a ‘add-to-the-story” activity, potions games, as well as other stations we never investigated. Nearby stood a life-sized dementor with a sign that said FREE KISSES. There were Harry Potter books, and Harry Potter toys, and a 3-D puzzle of Hogwarts on display. And at the café, after the long, long wait, there was a poster on the wall—as official as all the others—for a Passion Potion drink, made just for this evening.
And everywhere, everywhere, were Harry Potter fans. Little boys with the round glasses and a scar on their forehead. Older boys in their Slytherin Quidditch robes. Girls dressed like Hermione or Cho Chang. Adults in witch hats or clever tee-shirts.
In line, in front of us, as we waited for our Passion Potion, was a young man in his twenties, clearly of the Wizarding world, who had carefully attempted to dress as a Muggle in order to join the festivities. Only he had sadly failed…his plaid pants not quite matching the patterns of his shirt, suit, and tie. Beside him was another young man (they both turned out to be software engineers) wearing a Pokemon TV. He enjoyed our conversation, but his face really lit up when he described his last month…living his childhood dream of actually catching Pokemon himself.
And somehow, the magic was all the more wonderful because Scholastic had finally, at long last, gotten it right—and released a new Rowlings book on July 31 – Harry Potter’s birthday!
The first movie is still one of my all time favorite films.
As I stood amidst the enchantment and wonder, sipping my grande Passion Potion, I slowly realized:
A) My little eight year old was 17. My youngest was 13. He was taller, significantly in some cases, than many of the other children here.
That meant: many of the children who had come had been born after that fateful midnight in 2008 when Orville and I had last waited for a Harry Potter release.
The Elf King, back before his wanted picture days.
This is the same Hogwarts robe he’s wearing in the wanted picture.
B) While this was, by chance, the bookstore where I had first discovered Harry Potter, it was not the bookstore where Orville and I had waited 9 years before.
That store had been a Borders. It was gone now.
C) What an extraordinary impact J. K. Rowling’s orphan wizard boy had had upon the lives of, not only millions of readers all across the worlds – she has sold over 450 million books. That is one and a half books for every single man, woman, and child in America—but upon my own life, as an author, spending my days writing a series that—even if it was quite different from Harry Potter in mood and direction, had started life as a Hogwarts roleplaying game.
And I felt so happy.
…and so grateful.
And, suddenly, I did want to buy the book.
D) This was not 2008. I didn’t have to wait until midnight.
We left after about an hour, went home, got a good night’s sleep…and I bought the book on Kindle, for half the hardcover price…the next morning.
I have read the play now. It was an experience both bittersweet and joyous.
The strangest part was when there would be some hint of Christianity, such as the mention of a church, and I would remember suddenly that this was not Mark Whipple’s game version of future Hogwarts, where all monotheistic religions had been removed by magic from everyone’s memory.
The most amusing moment was chortling with joy when a character used flipendo. A favorite spell from the video game that never appeared in the books (and therefore Mark had not allowed us to use it in the game.)
Either way, it’s so much fun to say!
Was the experience of reading a script worthwhile?
It was. Partially because it was Harry Potter.
Most fantasy worlds need lengthy description to make them come to life. But this was Hogwarts! We all know what everything looks like. We’ve read the books. We’ve seen the movies.
One funny thing was that without thinking about it, when reading, I pictured an older version of the movie Hermione in my mind, but for her daughter, Rose, I pictured the smart young woman playing Rose in the play. I didn’t notice this mental discrepency until I came to a passage in the script that dealt with how much Hermione looked like her daughter.
Hermione and Rose
My mental Hermione had longer, frizzier hair.
Of course, my two mental images didn’t look anything like each other. But it did not interfere with my enjoyment of the play.
Did Harry Potter and the Cursed Child have any flaws?
A few. The writing was a bit simplified, too emotionally obvious—which might be signs of where Rowling’s original short story ended, and the scriptwriter’s dialogue began. But I bet that might be the script’s fault as well, Many of the slightly awkward lines, if said with humor or with deep emotion, would be hilarious or moving in the way that no short stage directions could make them.
Obviously, seeing the play—or even a filming of it—would be a much better option.
But, in the end, it was very enjoyable to read—even though I already knew the entire story.
And so, that was my weekend.
Didn’t end world hunger.
Didn’t save the universe.
But it did lift the spirits and bring joy.
Ron and Hermione: Lifting spirits–and feathers–for nearly two decades.
God bless J. K. Rowling.
Long live The Boy Who Lived!