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Harry Potter and the curse of expectations

| ACHALA UPENDRAN
Published : Aug 21, 2016, 1:25 am IST
Updated : Aug 21, 2016, 1:25 am IST

One of the legendary hallows of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is the resurrection stone. It is a small, unassuming black rock, that holds an extraordinary power: to “recall” the dead.

Here & Now
 Here & Now

One of the legendary hallows of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is the resurrection stone. It is a small, unassuming black rock, that holds an extraordinary power: to “recall” the dead. The first owner of the stone, Cadmus Peverell, used it to summon the girl he had once hoped to marry, and at first he is overjoyed when she arrives. But soon, it becomes clear that she herself is not happy to be back, for she does not “truly belong” in this world. Cadmus, “driven mad by hopeless longing” and the sight of her suffering, kills himself out of despair.

I cannot think of a more apt metaphor to describe the experience of reading Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. When the script, based on a short story by Rowling, John Tiffany and Jack Thorne, arrived on the scene, it was greeted with nostalgic look-backs, midnight queues outside bookstores, 20- and 30-somethings reaffirming their love and faith in the “Boy Who Lived” by declaring how he had changed their lives. I confess to being one of these people. But the Cursed Child just proves that some things, when over, should stay that way.

What can I say about the plot Rowling’s original series had many strengths: brilliant characterisation, comedy, a deft handling of heavy themes, wonderful world building and, more than anything, careful, concise plotting. Where did they disappear now

It’s a mystery worth Rowling’s writing talents.

Cursed Child begins where the Deathly Hallows’ epilogue leaves off: Albus Severus Potter, second child of Ginny and Harry Potter, is about to start school. He is, for whatever reason, evidently different from his brother and sister, the very creatively-named James and Lily. He worries about going into Slytherin house, and true to every novel, lands up there, shocking fellow students, who promptly declare that he is “not much” like his famous father. Fortunately, he has company in the form of fellow outcast, Scorpius Malfoy, son of Draco and Astoria or maybe not.

You see, the premise of this book is that Scorpius, blonde, lonely, sheltered, is not the son of Draco, but Voldemort. Apparently, the Malfoy family was so “desperate” for a “strong heir” that they sent Astoria back in time to have Voldemort’s baby. This is the gossip of the wizarding world, and what’s more, people take it seriously. Seriously enough for Draco to show up at Harry Potter’s office in the ministry and demand that he “put a stop” to the rumours.

While Scorpius dwells on the possibility that he may be the child of dark magic, Albus, who for reasons unknown and unshown, is thoroughly misunderstood by his overworked father, struggles with that most common of character traits: Daddy issues. He’s not talented — at Quidditch, at spells, at anything, it would seem. So, when Amos Diggory (you remember him ) randomly shows up at the Potters’ house, demanding that Harry turn back time and bring back Cedric Diggory, Albus decides to right the wrongs committed by the great Harry Potter, and show him up as “not so great” after all. He and Scorpius embark on a journey through time, messing things up royally in the process.

Convoluted Yes. Magical Well, yes since it involves a time-turner. Does it work Absolutely not.

The Harry Potter books, though written for children, never seemed ridiculous in their premise. The world was built so lovingly that even before the movies, we saw the Hogwarts Express, wafting steam over the heads of waiting passengers. We watched Harry, Ron and Hermione grow up into strong, capable 17-year olds, and we assumed, based on all they had been through, they were going to make incredible, strong adults.

Forget all that. The trio we meet in Cursed Child are nothing like the ones we left behind, victorious after the battle of Hogwarts. Ron is an idiot, good for nothing but making lame jokes, gifting his nieces and nephews questionable “joke” presents.

Hermione is a minister for magic who has time to do everything but attend to her meetings, or secure her office (there’s a particularly galling security lapse which I just cannot believe she let happen), and can be fooled time and again by 14-year old boys, neither of whom possesses anywhere near the intellect, or reasoning ability, she had at their age. Perhaps the only sort-of-believable one is Harry, who is wracked by nightmares and guilt from his teenage experiences and, lacking a good role model himself, ends up being what appears to be a horrible father to his son.

Ron and Harry no longer share the camaraderie they once did, and the tight bands that once bound the trio seem to be missing, swept up in larger, adult concerns.

Of course, this might only be expected, since Harry and company are approaching 40. This is no longer his story, but that of his son and the other children who grew up in an age that has not known Voldemort. The people who rescue the play, who make it worth reading are Albus and Scorpius, and the friendship that evolves between them. Even so, knowing and accepting this fact does not exactly make Harry’s strange characterisation, and that of the people we do know, any easier. It’s a harsh way to be “done” with Harry, as Rowling has claimed to be, and old readers might not be able to help but feel disappointed by what’s on offer here.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is a play about the past and how it literally haunts us all — those who have lived through it and those who live in the latter’s shadow. It’s about overcoming it, accepting it and moving on from it, learning from mistakes and not being afraid to carve new paths. There’s no doubt that this would be a spectacular play, peppered with magical effects and scene changes, but as a story, it leaves me with one image: Harry dropping the resurrection stone in the Forbidden Forest. I rather wish someone hadn’t gone scrounging for it afterwards.

Achala Upendran is a writer based in Hyderabad. She writes about fantasy books, including the Harry Potter series, at achalaupendran.com