It’s Not a J. K. Rowling Novel

The title of this post says what you need to know about this play, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, bearing the ascription, “based on an original new story by J. K. Rowling, John Tiffany, and Jack Thorne; a new play by Jack Thorne.”

Here are my complaints, as they come to me:

  • The characters are flat and boring and say the kinds of dumb things we say in real life with all our cliches and banality. These hacks have the same names, but they are nothing like the surprising, funny, noble, sincere, honest, endearing, real characters in the Rowling novels. One of the bad guys in the novels tells Harry that if he’s going to use an unforgivable curse, he has to mean it. These characters don’t seem to mean it.
  • The plot fails to grip. The book arrived on my doorstep last night. We got the kids in bed, and I started reading around 10pm. At the end of Act 1, I went to bed. It was about 11:30. And I had done other things than read in that hour and a half. If this were a J. K. Rowling novel, I would not have been able to put it down to do other things, and I would not have gone to bed at 11:30. I likely would have read into the early morning, unable to stop until I simply couldn’t read any more. But this isn’t a Rowling novel.
  • The plot fails to convince. In a Rowling novel, the spell is cast convincingly and both the story-world and the events that take place in it so fit that we never pull up from the book and say to ourselves: that would never happen. Or: there’s a simpler fix for all this. Or: this is preposterous. Or: I don’t think these characters would act in these ways. Everything in a Rowling novel is right and feels inevitable. She does the necessary work to set us up, and she does it in a beautiful way. But this play by Jack Thorne isn’t a novel by J. K. Rowling, so I repeatedly found myself broken out of the weak spell of its world, unconvinced by the unnecessary events, the dumb solutions, and the trite words and actions of the characters.
  • Whatever has been said about him since the end of Book 7, Ron Weasley is a great guy in the Rowling novels. He’s a big enough person to be normal around the boy who lived when he first meets him, and then at the end of the first story sacrifices himself for his friends. He is funny, principled, heroic, and true to the right. His barbs toward enemies have teeth, and his dialogue is sharp and witty. In this stupid play Ron is a worthless doof of a loser. That’s not fair to him, and I don’t know why J. K. Rowling signed off on letting this be done to someone she cared so much about as she wrote those magnificent novels. She should have had more dignity. She should have loved Ron now as she loved him then. And she should not have let her name appear on this new play by Jack Thorne. She should not have let Jack Thorne and John Tiffany do this to her creation. And if it’s her fault it’s the way it is, she should have let the creation stand as it was rather than risk ruining it with this failed add-on.
  • Even worse than Ron is the way Harry is presented in this play. If he’s going to be such an incompetent father in this disappointment, why not just leave the hero alone and the story untold? I simply do not believe that the Harry Potter of those seven great novels would be as bad a father as this play tries to make him. The Harry Potter in this play never could have done what the Harry Potter in the novels did: The play-Harry could not have loved people, understood what was at stake, been taught by Dumbledore, and sacrificed himself the way the novel-Harry did. If he could have done all those things, he wouldn’t be the loser-dad the play-Harry is. So even though the play-Harry has the same name as the novel-Harry, they are not the same character.
  • Please. The adult novel-Harry would never say to Dumbledore-in-the-portrait: “I have proved as bad a father to him as you were to me.” I’m just not buying it. Adolescent Harry who didn’t know or understand the whole story could have blown up at Dumbledore the way he does when he throws a fit in his office. But then the rest of the story happened, and the characters both matured through their experiences and came to understand the necessity of everything that happened in the novels. In this play, the main characters are childish, even though they’re presented as adults. And these characters went through too much in those seven novels to be childish adults. Adults in our culture are childish, but adults in our culture haven’t been through what Harry, Ron, and Hermione went through, nor have they stood up the way the threesome did.
  • If J. K. Rowling wrote the lines of these characters in this play, she didn’t begin to approach what she achieved in the dialogue of the novels. So I’m inclined to think that either she didn’t write the lines and someone without her genius is responsible for the tripe, or that she’s too busy now, or that she failed to enter into this new story with all her emotional range and creative power. Because the dialogue stinks.
  • This play is a sappy, uninteresting attempt at sentimentality that fails to convince and just leaves me disgusted that someone would attempt to manipulate my emotions rather than earning the right to move me with real goodness, deep beauty, and high truth.

To sum up, the difference between reading a J. K. Rowling novel and reading this new play by Jack Thorne is like the difference between watching LeBron James play basketball and watching yours truly attempt the same. The one is dynamic, mesmerizing, awesome in his physical prowess and dominating presence. Thousands gather every time LeBron takes the court, and even more tune in for the spectacle. The other is the attempt of a guy in his 40s to get some exercise, not something even friends and family would have any reason to show up to watch.

Maybe Cursed Child is better on stage than read as a script, but I doubt it. Shakespeare’s plays do just fine when you read the script instead of seeing them enacted. Not this one. This is no J. K. Rowling novel. There’s no magic here.

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