If you’re like me, chances are that you love the series more than you could love your first-born child. And because so many of us have been waiting for nine years for another Harry Potter book, expectations for the Cursed Child are sky-high. I read it, I loved it, so I come to you with ways to avoid disappointment.
I know it’s a daunting, somewhat terrifying prospect. The sheer potential for devastating disappointment looms above the book, rendering many readers unable to pick it up. From the get-go, negative reviews started popping up on my Goodreads, saying that The Cursed Child read like fan-fiction rather than an actual book, or that the characters were out-of-character, or that it was such a huge disappointment. Then, I saw some updates from people I’m friends with who simply have no desire to read the book, or are put off by some of the negative reviews.
Which is completely understandable. I am not going to sit here and say that I’m a bigger Harry Potter fan that x or y because I read and loved the Cursed Child. We are fans of the series for its content, for its brilliance, not because we are sheep who follow the majority. And most of the criticism is very valid, and had I not been prepared mentally, I would’ve thought it was a huge disappointment too.
So, here are the things you should know when you go into the book:
It is marketed as the ‘eighth book,’ but it is not
In fact, it’s not really a ‘book’ at all, is it? It’s a script. And not only is it a script, but it also feels less like a continuation, but a simple step into the lives of the characters we loved. It should have been marketed as the eighth story, perhaps, but putting the label of ‘book’ on it is rather unfair, in my opinion. The casual follower is going into this story expecting a full-blown novel, and they are not getting what they had anticipated, resulting in disappointment.
Remedy: Go into it knowing that it is going to be extremely different from books 1-7. If you’re going to pick up the Cursed Child, expecting a straight-up continuation of our beloved series, you’re in for a surprise. Rowling has always said that the series ended where it did- and she didn’t go back on her word. I cannot stress this enough, but know that this is not the ‘eighth book.’
J.K. Rowling did not write it
Most people probably know this, but I know there are many others who hadn’t realized it until they had a copy in their hands. J.K. Rowling did not pen the script; she created the story, yes. The characters are hers, the plot is hers, but she did not write it. So do not expect familiar dialogue or familiar phrases. I’ve always said that reading J.K. Rowling is like falling back into a comfortable routine, like when you come home after a long day of life and ball up in your blankets with a nice cup of coffee and a good book. That’s what reading J.K. Rowling is like for me, even if I am reading about severed limbs and murderous pedophiles re: the Cormoran Strike series. I went into this book prepared that it would not feel the same, and I was right. It doesn’t feel like Rowling wrote it, and that’s because she didn’t. It’s natural. Accept it.
I suspect this is where the “reads like fan-fiction” point comes into play. Because it’s not written by her, it does read a lot like someone who loves and adores the series wrote a continuation. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, though. Because the most important aspects are already laid out: our characters are people we know and love, and the storytelling is freaking fantastic, as it always is with Rowling.
Remedy: expect a great story with great characters. Throw aside your pre-conceived notions about what the writing will be like because you simply do not know since it is not written by someone you have read before.
More dialogue than anything else
This is pretty obvious. It’s a script; you’re not going to have long passages of deep introspection and deliberation. You’re not going to have paragraphs that describe yummy food or beautiful surroundings or the wonders of magic. You’re not going to have character descriptions or vivid world-building. It’s not there, because it’s a script, not a novel.
I think this is the thing people were left most disappointed by, because when read quickly, it does feel flat. Imagine your favorite movie, and imagine not seeing it and just reading the script. It just doesn’t feel the same. The visual elements aren’t there when you’re reading a script, you don’t know what the characters talk or sound like, you don’t see any special effects or anything of the sort. It’s very bare-bones. The characters are talking, you have the setting and the general environment, and you need to work with that.
Remedy: now my remedy for this is more concrete than the previous two. Slow down. That’s it, just slow down. I know we can get carried away in our excitement, in our need to know what happens next, but I cannot stress how important it is to just slow down and read it as if you were watching the play. When the scene starts, close your eyes and imagine where you are. Imagine what’s in front of you, what characters are there, what they sound like, everything. Then read the script as if you were each and every character. Read it aloud, if that helps (it really worked for me), switch up the voices. Make it dynamic. Immerse yourself FULLY in the experience, because if you don’t, it’s not going to be the experience it could and should have been.
The characters are no longer the people you left
And this is perhaps the thing that I was most wary of, and something that almost made me not like the script until I slowed down and thought about it. When we left our characters, they were seventeen years old. Even in the epilogue, we barely got a glimpse of their lives, their personalities as adults etcetera. By all intents and purposes, Harry, Ron and Hermione died when they were seventeen. We knew them to be reckless teenagers who were good and kind and did heroic things, who saved lives by putting theirs in danger, who were funny and were ruled by teenage angst and hormones. Adult Harry, Ron and Hermione – particularly Harry – are vastly different.
Now, some people may say that Harry’s behavior was out of character, and at first, I thought so too. But a lot of it is there, just in different ways: he’s quiet, he’s stubborn, he’s a rule-breaker, and he’s unfair to many people around him, including his children. But he’s trying his best, and that’s who Harry was. Rowling has put a different version of Harry into the story- he’s an adult so he has different things to worry about. Adventure is behind him; now, he has a steady job with a steady family. His problems are no longer about classes and Quidditch and Voldemort, they revolve around family, his relationship with his sons.
Remedy: don’t go into the book expecting 40-year old Harry to be exactly like 17-year old Harry. Don’t go expecting the Perfect Hero, because Harry was never that, and he still isn’t- just in vastly different ways. I know that when teenagers make stupid mistakes, it’s easy to pass off as childhood and inexperience, but we often forget that adults are vulnerable and make many, many mistakes too. They are just less endearing, especially if you yourself are a young reader who expects parents and adults to behave in certain ways. I think Harry’s mistakes in the Cursed Child are less about being OOC, but more about being authentic. Rowling has never been afraid to push her characters, and I’m sure she knew that fans would be unsettled by the shift, but she did it. Because it’s authentic.
Just know that the characters you will read about exist in your head. They do, and it’s so important for you to nurture them. Think about their actions. It’s not laid out for you because it’s not a novel. There’s a huge chunk of story missing – 22 years of it! – so it’s up to you to fill in the blanks. It’s up to you to give the characters you love the benefit of the doubt. It’s totally understandable if you cannot. Script-reading is difficult, especially if you’ve never done it before, so I get it. And this is not a post that’s telling you what to do or what not to do- just a simple set of guidelines in case you want to read the book but are afraid of being disappointed. It’s okay to be disappointed. Just because you don’t like this one doesn’t mean you’re less of a fan. It doesn’t take away anything from Book 1-7. Just know that it’s okay, and loving this script is going to take effort on your part. It’s not all there, you need to do some work too.