John Tiffany and Jack Thorne had a tricky task when writing Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. Rather than creating their own world, they had convey a world someone else made. Granted, they had J.K. Rowling’s help but still. They had to adopt her voice and style and ensure every single detail was down perfectly. Many critics think they succeeded.
The play has been nominated for a record number of Olliver Awards including Best New Play. We wish it the best when it comes time for the winners to be announced! But despite the acclaim, the play is not perfect. Some characterization is off, the tone doesn’t feel quite right in places and even the genre isn’t what we expect from Harry Potter. The play could have been even better if these flaws had been smoothed out.
Here are 10 Things Wrong with Harry Potter and the Cursed Child:
In some ways, Cursed Child draws from the movies as well as the books. They quote the movies, the look of the play can’t help but draw from the movies. But there is one thing they took from the movies that should have been left there; Ron’s characterization. Ron is a jokester and incompetent in the play. He’s a far cry from the loyal, kind friend and brilliant strategist we see in the books. Sure, Ron had a wry sense of humor in the books, but he wasn’t really a jokester. And he certainly wasn’t incompetent. In the play, he grabs his wand and points it the wrong way at a threat! The moment is supposed to be comedic, but why would Ron make such a silly mistake? Especially since he’s been around wands all of his life. Whatsmore, Ron doesn’t do much in the play. He does not come up with ideas like he does in the books and is relegated to emotional support and comic relief. While those are important character functions, that’s not all there is to Ron.
Hermione's characterization isn’t as off as it is in the movies, but there are little nitpicks that make her character feel too different from the girl we met in the books. First of all, why would Hermione be Minister of Magic? While she is certainly smart and competent enough to be good at the job, she was never interested in being liked or playing political games. When asked if she was going to go into Magical Law she said, “No, I want to do some good in the world.” That doesn’t sound like someone destined to be a Minister. Her career in one alternate timeline is also bothersome. In the first alternate timeline Albus and Scorpius create, she is a Defense Against the Dark Arts Professor. Okay, we know she’s smart. But why would she teach DADA, the one subject that she wasn’t perfect at? She got the highest marks on her exams, except in DADA. These are just little characterization nitpicks but they are distracting and detract from the verisimilitude of the play.
Time travel works in a specific way in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. You can only go back a few hours and traveling back doesn’t create alternate timelines. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child throws all of this out. Turns out you can go back more than a few hours! Nevermind that all the time turners were destroyed and anyone seeking to create a new one would have to start from scratch. And you can create alternate timelines even though this possibility is never mentioned in any of the books. These changes to the time-travel rules distract from the action of the play. Also, they irritate fans who have ingested these rules and expect for the narrative to stick to them. The writers broke the established time-travel rules to tell the story they wanted to tell. But if they had to break the rules, why couldn’t they just tell an original story and have magic work the way they needed it to work?
Where the heck did this come from? The twist that Voldemort and Bellatrix Lestrange had a child feels like it came out of nowhere. First of all, no one noticed that Bellatrix Lestrange was pregnant? Harry sees Bellatrix when she’s supposed to be carrying Voldemort’s child, but somehow does not notice that she’s far along in a pregnancy. Neither do Hermione, Ron nor any of the good guys take notice and think it’s worth mentioning. The writers of Cursed Child try to give this some set up by having Scorpius be the center of some rumors about a baby Voldemort floating around. But that’s not enough to cover the gaping plot hole that no one noticed one of Voldemort's most trusted lieutenants was carrying a baby! It reads as an incredibly lazy move to make the antagonist of the generation after Voldemort to be his daughter. Why couldn’t we have explore evils in the Wizarding World not related to Voldemort? There are so many other paths the play could have gone down, it’s a shame they took the laziest one.
Where’s the Mystery?
Youtuber Austin McConnell points out that the Harry Potter books are “mystery books disguised as fantasy books.” So where’s the mystery in Harry Potter and the Cursed Child? There is none! The central tensions that made the books great and completely absent. There’s no big questions hanging over the plot like there were in the books. And that’s part of what makes the books great. We get into the mystery of the Philosopher's Stone. We wonder what exactly is the Chamber of Secrets. And where is Sirius Black and on and on and on. Without this tension, we never want to learn more about the Wizarding World. It feels stagnant, and it has none of the wonder that is presented in the books. Without a mystery, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child simply does not feel like part of the Harry Potter Saga.
The Plot Elements from Nowhere
Consistently, plot elements pop up with little to no foreshadowing or set up. There’s a prophecy that plays a central role in one character’s motivation is brought up three-fourths of the way into the play. It only serves to motivate the character and doesn’t add deeper meaning to the play like the prophecies did in the books. We don’t even know where the prophecy comes from! Draco Malfoy randomly has a time-turner. There’s no foreshadowing involved, he just pops up with it when it’s convenient. All the character conveniently have the ingredients for polyjuice potions or actual polyjuice on hand. Even though in the books polyjuice potions are described as hard to get and Harry and company have to go through a lot of trouble to get their hands on some. These convenient plot elements make everything too easy for the characters. Rather than having to actually solve their problems, they can just down a potion or turn the time turner and poof! Plot gap solved. It would be much more satisfying if the characters had to use the resources on hand to solve their problems rather than convenient solutions appearing from nowhere.
Rose is Underwritten
When we meet Rose Weasley, she’s a plucky, funny girl who is Not Interested in Scorpius Malfoy. And that’s all the characterization she gets. Albus and Scorpius get to have character traits, complex relationships with their parents and a friendship with each other that makes us like them. But Rose gets none of that. She does not get to participate in the story like the boys do and go on an adventure even though her pluckiness makes her. She even gets literally erased from time! Which motivates the boys to go back and screw with the timeline again. Which you know, worked so well the first time. (Okay, they’re teenagers, the making good choices part of the brain isn’t fully formed, but still.) Rose should have been a part of the fun, and contributing her mother’s brains and her father’s gift for strategy.
Cedric Becomes a Death Eater
We could accept this; it’s not the most terrible idea in the world. In the Harry Potter world almost anyone could fall to darkness. Peter Pettigrew was turned, after all. It is conceivable that Albus and Scorpius could mess up the timeline so badly that Cedric became a Death Eater. But the reason he became a Death Eater in Cursed Child is so contrary to the Cedric we know from the books. Cedric Diggory becomes a Death Eater because he lost the Triwizard Tournament. Nevermind that he was shown to be a good sport in the short time that we knew him. When it looked like Harry should have won the Third Task, he refuses to take the prize because it would be unsportsmanlike. Why would he turn to the dark side over losing. It makes no sense whatsoever.
Just reading from reading the play, everyone sounds… off. They don’t talk like they do on the books. None of the wry humor J.K. Rowling had perfected is present in the play. Perhaps the dialogue comes off better with talented actors to speak it. But no amount of good acting can make the exclamations of “Thank Dumbledore!” or “No way José!” read as natural. Why do they say “Thank Dumbledore!” in the play? Don’t wizards use Merlin as a swear word, not recently dead Hogwarts Headmasters? Harry Potter and the Cursed Child simply does not sound like the characters from the books that we know and love. And since it’s being marketed as “the Eight Harry Potter story,” this is a serious misstep. The writers could have done a better job at emulating J.K. Rowling’s voice considering that she was in the writing room with them.
It focuses Too Much on the Old Generation
This final problem is probably the most troubling of all. The play focuses on the problems of Harry’s generation such as Voldemort returning. It does not develop new challenges for the new generation to face. When they time-travel, they face the same challenges Harry did. It’s a nostalgia trip for the reader, but why should we have to go to a new source for a nostalgia trip. Why can’t we just reread the books? As a result, the characters are stuck in the glory days of Harry’s time at Hogwarts. They don’t get to flourish on their own terms and have new adventures. It’s not fun to read about people doing the same thing over and over again. But Cursed Child does one good thing. It makes the reader want to go back to the Harry Potter series and read the story of The Boy Who Lived done right.