As I usually like to do, let’s get this part out of the way first. This article will contain MASSIVE spoilers for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, so if you haven’t seen the play or read the screenplay yet and you don’t want spoilers, stop reading this now.
A second warning; this is going to be a long one. I’ve never been able to parse my thoughts down to a few words. You may want a snack.
Cursed Child is not a horrible story or addition to the Harry Potter series. The longer I’ve had to think about the screenplay’s revelations and reveals, the more I find myself accepting it. I say screenplay rather than play because unfortunately I live in the States and doubt I will ever get to watch the play unless a recording of it is released. But much like a script is only the skeleton that a movie is built on, a screenplay does not show you the ultimate final product that is the play. The actors will put their talent into the performance, words or lines can be said with certain inflections or implications, the atmosphere of the surrounding effects on the stage play into the emotions of the scene; all these turn the play into a vastly different beast than the screenplay. For example, there is apparently fantastic romantic tension between Albus and Scorpius to be found in the play, but this is not noticeable at all in the screenplay. And examples like this, I think, is where Cursed Child loses much of its intended audience. It is not a novel, where thoughts and feelings and inner conflict can be described, enunciated, and spelled out for the reader. I’ve mentioned in a previous piece (also about Harry Potter, funny enough) that the medium through which a story is told is vastly important, and that what works in one medium often does not work in another. I think fans tend to have a hard time appreciating how a difference in medium effects the work, and so they don’t compensate for it.
When you consider this fact; that Cursed Child is a screenplay and not a novel, then many of the issues I’ve seen pointed out ad nauseam across the Internet actually aren’t really huge issues at all, and can be chalked up to people either not knowing how a play works, or just not liking them.
“The dialogue is terrible.” Every single screenplay I’ve ever read has terrible dialogue. Because you aren’t supposed to be receiving it as words upon a page. You’re meant to be hearing it spoken aloud by an actor who inflects and uses their body and emotions of the scene to convey the meaning. Even Shakespeare’s screenplays have horrible dialogue when you are just sitting there reading it. I’ve seen at least one person claim the dialogue is too “play-ish.” Yeah; because it’s a play. Cursed Child as a story shouldn’t be judged harshly for that, though I understand if people just don’t like plays.
“Harry and the others shouldn’t have been able to see James and Lily’s house in the past, as their home was protected by the Fidelius Charm.” True, but this is not the first time (nor will it be the last) that a play has ignored physical or mental boundaries in order to tell a story. The Audience Monologue, for example, is a pretty popular trope found in theater where a character speaks directly to the audience on some topic. But in the concept of the story being told, there is no audience within the universe.
Take Dr. Martin Dysart in a little piece known as Equus.
From the beginning of the play, Dr. Dysart speaks frequently with the audience. Of course, these monologues do not necessarily require breaking the fourth wall; many of Shakespeare’s characters who direct their speeches toward the audience are speaking to “spirits” or “the gods.” Sometimes, as pointed out by TVTropes.org, “the audience is supposed to be a projection of the character’s own consciousness, making the monologue reflect an interior thought process.” But this exactly leads me to my point, as TVTropes goes on to say. “…when the Fourth Wall is left otherwise intact, an Audience Monologue technically is talking to someone who is not there, at least In-Universe.” The point of this? Audience monologue is one example where the actions within the play do not represent what is actually happening in-universe per se. It is an example of a non-literal method of story telling.
In the case of Cursed Child, Harry and the others are able to look in and watch his parents be killed in order to better show Harry’s acceptance of the situation; that as much as he wants to save them, he knows he cannot, and so the event is allowed to play out in full. The violence and turmoil of the attack on his parents mirrors his own inner turmoil until the attack ends, just like his turmoil does. And while in a novel we would be able to read paragraphs about how Harry comes to terms with their deaths, in a play we can only watch it happen, even if it doesn’t make literal sense to do so. Could this scene have been done with the internal logic of the series intact? Sure, probably. But that’s not what plays are concerned with.
I think this is where a lot of fans get their frustration from; plays are less literal than most other media. Coming from a novel series which grounds itself in logic means that a medium which is historically not logical creates some issues.
But I think there’s one part of the screenplay that has a majority of people’s panties sufficiently bunched: the time travel.
The common consensus is that Cursed Child turns the concept of time travel in the Harry Potter series on its head for the worst. The logic of how time travel works as presented in Prisoner of Azkaban is ignored, and the rules changed.
But I disagree.
Let’s look at how they differ; what people are mad about. In PoA, time travel is presented as a Fixed Timeline; the actions of a time traveler won’t negatively affect the future, because their actions have already become part of history and the timeline. Harry and Hermione go back in time worried that they might cause damage, but find out that their actions were already accounted for and thus they don’t damage the timeline at all. This is also known as the Novikov self-consistency principle; a time traveler cannot do something in the past that changes the future, because the laws of reality will not allow it.
But in Cursed Child we appear to have a Dynamic Timeline with the possibility of Alternate Realities, as the actions of Albus and Scorpius in the past result in the future as they know it never existing. In one alternate reality Ron and Hermione never get married, meaning that their daughter Rose and son Hugo are un-born. In another alternate reality Cedric becomes a Death Eater and kills Neville Longbottom at the Battle of Hogwarts, which results in Harry’s defeat and death and Voldemort’s ultimate success and rule over the wizarding world, meaning that Albus no longer exists once Scorpius is thrown back to that alternate reality’s future. Only by going back in time again and preventing these actions from taking place does Scorpius fix the timeline, setting everything back to the way it was.
So on the surface it doesn’t make sense; how can we have both a fixed timeline, where a time traveler can’t change the past (and was part of it the whole time), and a dynamic timeline where the actions of a time traveler can change the past and thus affect the future, creating alternate realities? The answer is one principle reason; Professor Croaker’s Law.
Presented in Cursed Child itself, Professor Croaker’s Law is a magical law that describes the limitations of the universe, similar to Gamp’s Law of Elemental Transfiguration (or the Law of Conservation of Mass, like we have in the real world). According to Croaker’s Law, the maximum amount of time that an individual can travel back in time “without a possibility of serious harm to the traveler or time itself” is five hours. It’s as simple as that. Harry and Hermione only go back three hours in PoA. Because they go back only a short time, Time itself is not dangerously affected. Their actions fit into the design and events of history for anyone looking closely, and no paradoxes are made. There’s no alternate reality created, because the magic of Time fits it all together properly. We thus appear to have a Fixed Timeline.
But this is not what happens in Cursed Child. Albus and Scorpius travel back many many years over the course of the play. Their actions, thus, are not compensated for by the magic of time itself; the timeline is damaged and thrown off, unable to reconcile their actions. This results in terrible things happening in the future, like the aforementioned un-birth of Rose and Hugo, or the death of Harry. The teens violated Professor Croaker’s Law, and the consequences are obvious. We thus appear to have a Dynamic Timeline. But the truth is that time in the Harry Potter series is both fixed and dynamic, just like we learn that light is both a wave and a particle in physics class. To the observer, time will appear to be one or the other depending on how much damage is done to the timeline, as described by Croaker’s Law.
I’ve seen individuals call foul in regards to this claim. The rules, to their mind, have been violated and changed. Time was strictly fixed in PoA, and making up a rule in Cursed Child that changes that rule under certain circumstances is lazy writing and a poor excuse.
But there’s evidence aplenty that the fixed timeline theory was never technically true in the first place.
First of all, there’s Hermione’s words in Prisoner of Azkaban itself, which for me is on page 424 of the paperback New Bloomsbury Children’s Edition published in 2004, in chapter twenty-one Hermione’s Secret, “‘Professor McGonagall told me what awful things have happened when wizards have meddled with time … loads of them ended up killing their past or future selves by mistake!'” But wait; this line makes no sense if time really is fixed. A wizard might be able to go back in time and be killed by his past self in a fixed timeline, but one wouldn’t be able to kill his past self. That would create a paradox; he’d be unable to actually go back in time in the first place if he killed his past self. If we assume that McGonagall is telling the truth, which I have no reason to believe she isn’t as Hermione is not a student who needs to be lied to in order to ensure she behaves herself, then even as early as PoA itself we have to assume that time is not fixed. If it were, such fears wouldn’t exist at all, because no one could have done “awful things”because it wouldn’t be possible! There’d be no fear of “meddling with time.” You wouldn’t be able to do it.
That’s not the only bit of evidence. Pottermore, back when it was a fantastic companion website for reading the books, contained a story about a Miss Eloise Mintumble. She was an Unspeakable who experimented by going back in time more than 5 hours. Only she went back much more than five hours. Much more than the 15-40 years that Albus and Scorpius end up traveling. Eloise left 1899 and ended up in 1402, where she was stuck for 5 days before eventually returning to 1899 with her body aged 500 YEARS as a result of her actions. And through her interactions with the people in the past, she ultimately caused the un-birth of 25 individuals. That’s not a term I made up, by the way, and it’s one I used earlier on purpose; un-born is actually used in Eloise’s story,describing people who cease to be when someone meddles with time. The un-birth of those people isn’t the only damage she caused; that Tuesday after she reappeared lasted for about 60 hours, while the Thursday after that lasted a mere four. Eloise ended up dying soon after reappearing, the logical result of her body being over 500 years old.
Eloise’s story fits perfectly into Cloaker’s Law and justification for Hermione’s claim. Her nearly 500-year long trip back in time had disastrous consequences. As did Albus’ and Scorpius’ various trips in Cursed Child. But Harry and Hermione in 1994? No perceivable damage, and thus no alternate realities or changed futures; they just didn’t go back far enough. This explanation fits together perfectly with the narrative we have had for years now. Just because we’ve assumed things have been one way doesn’t mean that was the truth. If Hermione’s claims about “awful things” and Eloise’s story didn’t exist I would have cried foul as well, but the fact is they do, and well before Cursed Child came to be.
With all of this you may be thinking “Oh, Jeff really liked Cursed Child.”
Erm… well… I suppose I kinda did. Like I said, the longer I think about it, the more of it I accept. Take the fact that Michael Tabb’s on Twitter finally got an answer.
@michaeljtabb Does a dehumanised wizard killer who murders in the pursuit of his own immortality forfeit the right to ALL privacy, Michael?
— J.K. Rowling (@jk_rowling) June 17, 2014
Voldemort had a kid, as revealed in Cursed Child. Now, the idea of Voldemort having a kid within the HP universe itself, and the way its characters would react to that concept? I can say immediately that I like that. It’s a legitimate fear; the world’s more dangerous dark wizard was finally killed, sure, but it’s logical that people would still fear the return of that wizard a second time or, perhaps even more unspeakable, his secret son. I greatly liked the idea that Scorpius is accused of being Voldemort’s son throughout the play. It’s one of those ideas that’s so illogical when you actually think about it that you can’t help but imagine there have to be plenty of idiots in the world who believe it. I was incredibly pleased when it ended up being false; Scorpius is a great character who I liked a lot; he doesn’t deserve to have that hanging over his head.
And then Delphini shows up. And I just… I didn’t know how I felt. Initially I thought it was stupid, as I’d guess do more people. Part of what made Voldemort Voldemort is that he was incapable of any sort of connection with another human being. Unable to feel love or pity. Certainly sex doesn’t require love, so I suppose there’s nothing directly preventing this situation, but it’s such a strange angle. Perhaps because it’s the obvious thing; a lot of people said Cursed Child reads like fan fiction. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if “Voldemort’s kid” is one of the more common tropes in Harry Potter fan fiction, which is where I think this complaint comes from (and the use of time travel, which I’ll fully acknowledge is probably also a retired trope in the HP-fan fiction world). I did think right away that Voldemort’s secret child ended up being a daughter rather than a son as the play kept pushing; gives the idea that the world was so obsessed with the possibility of Voldemort’s son that it never considered that a girl could be a threat to them. And even Voldemort, as far as I can remember, wasn’t particularly sexist. I mean, Bellatrix Lestrange was basically his #1 Death Eater, perhaps tied with Snape.
Oh god…. Bellatrix. Well, I suppose if there was one woman in the world who was willing to let Voldemort practice his wandwork on her, it would be Bellatrix. It’s logical in a way, but at the same time carries that air of fan fiction; Voldemort and Bellatrix being together in some way was certainly a popular fan theory. I just never thought it would be confirmed. But then when you think about it, the timeline makes sense. Bellatrix wasn’t there when Dumbledore fell; she was in fact completely absent from the story after the Battle of the Department of Mysteries in mid 1996 to the Seven Harry’s mission in mid 1998. That’s two years, plenty of time to conceive, carry, birth, and recover from having a child. And thinking about it even further, Voldemort also disapparates away with Bellatrix at the conclusion of the Battle of the Department of Mysteries, the sole Death Eater he bothered to help and secure her escape. Seen with the new information of Delphi…. perhaps Rowling planned Voldemort’s child all along? Could they have already conceived at that point in time, and Voldemort was ensuring the woman carrying his child didn’t fall? Not out of love for Bellatrix of course; just a practical matter that she can’t exactly birth his child if she’s in Azkaban. Curious.
But the puzzle here is still Voldemort. He seemed quite asexual in his ideals and desires; he never showed any interest in women (or men, for that matter). All he wanted was power and the right to rule. But we must be reminded, love or desire is not necessarily needed for the act of conception. But then, why would he even want a child? To carry on his legacy? He never intended to die. To teach what he knew to another like him? Well, he did teach some of his Death Eaters his tricks, but a child isn’t necessary for that. To carry on the Slytherin name legacy? That’s something. Voldemort may have only cared about himself in most ways, but he did care about being the heir of Slytherin, and it’s possible that he’d want that legacy to continue beyond him; nothing suggests that’s impossible. What about to grant him some power he couldn’t have otherwise? Possibly. Perhaps Delphi was meant to be part of some particular plan. Or maybe Voldemort believed the merging of his and Bellatrix’s blood would produce an extremely powerful individual who could serve him faithfully. That’s not unreasonable, nor beyond Voldemort’s mindset as we know it. That even fits into the “more heirs of Slytherin” idea. Bellatrix was probably all for it, being herself from an pure-blooded and ancient wizarding family.
Looked at it from these perspectives, it’s not entirely crazy to imagine Voldemort would have a child. He wouldn’t love her, wouldn’t wish to be a good father to her; he wouldn’t care. But to have her for his own twisted reasons? I could see it.
There are other things I liked. Albus’ attitude toward Harry are believable, though extremely frustrating. He’s a teenager, living in the shadow of one of the most important and famous wizards in history. He’s bound to be angsty and illogical about it. The revelation that he was actually in Slytherin was an absolute shock. I think Rowling could have done the safe thing and put him in Gryffindor like the rest of his family, but Albus’ ambition is clear from the get go. He wants to be someone people like and look up to, he has “a thirst to prove [himself].” That’s a Slytherin-like trait; Harry himself was of course very much like that when he was 11.
I enjoyed Snape’s cameo, even if I do feel like Snape never would have been referring to Ron and Hermione by their first names and cracking jokes with them, no matter what timeline we’re in. It was nice seeing him appreciate what he had done, and nice as well to see him sacrifice himself again. I’ve always said, Snape is not a villain. He’s a completely asshole, a horrible bully, but he wasn’t a villain. He’s the guy that will make fun of you for your silly glasses, but will run into a burning building to save a group of children. And that much I can appreciate about him.
Draco was great. I always hoped Draco would go on to be a decent guy. He still has a bit of his father’s attitude in him, that habit to swing toward insults when he’s upset, but throughout the play he did his best to be a good person. He and Harry are getting along. They’re not best friends, but they make it work, especially for the sake of their kids. And speaking of their kids, Scorpius was also a great character. Kind from the get go, the moment Albus walked into his compartment on the train I inwardly pleaded that he would stay and befriend the blond boy. The second chance for a Potter and a Malfoy to be friends. And Scorpius’ sudden position as the main character midway through the play was unexpected but very interesting. I’ve seen it said before, but I think the title Cursed Child actually refers to multiple people. Albus, cursed to find a way out of Harry’s shadow. Scorpius, cursed as the boy everyone thinks is the Dark Lord’s son. And even Delphi, cursed as the daughter of the most evil man who has ever lived. Of course, in Delphi’s case she embraced her position, but I wonder if she had terrible assumptions about how Voldemort would treat her. Then again, in the darkest alternate reality we see, when Voldemort is in power, Delphi was the Augurey, implying that her father did see value in her and placed her in a position of great importance.
I could go on further discussing the screenplay, but I don’t see the need. Most fans, by my reckoning, are absolutely disgusted with the story. Again, I see why, but I truly feel that delving deeper will show these fans that Cursed Child is not nearly as horrible as they initially felt, much in the same way that even today you can find some things from the Star Wars prequels that were good. Really. You can. I’m serious.
Not everything in Cursed Child is great. I think they should have found another way to keep the story going that didn’t involve Albus and Scorpius literally running into Lily and somehow modifying her blanket. I wish Ron wasn’t made to look so stupid; comedy relief is fine, but it’s a bit excessive when an ex-Auror doesn’t know how to properly hold their wand. And Harry’s attitude frustrates me a bit, though I’m sure it’s not easy being the father of an angry teenage boy who keeps trying to alter time. He says some mean things that, even with Albus acting the way he is, I don’t think are really justified. But perhaps when said in a play those scenes would have worked out better. See? Problems with the medium.
I’m sure there are more examples, but from my perspective the screenplay walks away with a net positive. I’d at least give it a passing grade of a C, with a hope that we could see a novel written with this story. Maybe then it would be appreciated by more people. I only hope Rowling herself knows that not everyone despised the latest installment of the Harry Potter series.