Did I (okay, my husband) purchase the most anticipated book of 2016 on the day it was released? Yes. Did that day also happen to be our anniversary? Yes. Did we plan to get married on Harry Potter’s birthday? No, but it sure worked out well, because the boys were staying with my parents and we could randomly drive to a book store to purchase it. Did I wander around the book store, cradling it like a new baby? Maybe.
In spite of all my excitement about this release (a new chapter in the Harry Potter universe! A play! About Harry Potter’s offspring!), I kept my expectations low. Obviously, Rowling has little more to do with Harry/Ron/Hermione/Ginny. Their story is told. They are now boring thirty-somethings with jobs and kids (just like me! Well, at least the kids part). Their kids, though. Their kids are now at Hogwarts. I was almost as excited about seeing what Rowling did with the story as I was about reading the actual thing. Who would the villain be? How would the original gang be involved? I devoured this play in an afternoon (there is a ton of white space, after all) in between breaking up sibling squabbles. My parenting game was not strong that day.
I don’t want to give much away. With that said, I can’t write about the play without giving something away, so fair warning. If you’re attempting to avoid all spoilers like I did, maybe come back after reading the play (or, better yet, seeing it performed).
The premise was, I will admit, a tad disappointing. On the other hand, I understand why Rowling did what she did. When you’ve spent seven novels with three key players fighting one heinous villain, you can’t really switch to a totally new villain/conflict when you decide to do an unexpected bonus text. Time travel is always feels a little deus ex machina to me, whether it’s used for resolution or providing a central conflict, unless you’re The Doctor. With that said, the devices used for it were well-established canon, and a new player (offspring!) was involved in the conflict. I applaud Rowling for coming up with a conflict that both expands the Potterverse and stays true to the world building she’s already done.
Seeing so many second-string characters – or at least getting a passing mention of them as adults – was by itself worth the price of admission. Neville Longbottom is an accomplished professor at Hogwarts, for instance. Draco Malfoy is still kind of an ass, but fatherhood has softened him. The untimely death of his wife, however, has hardened him back up somewhat. Still, his greatest concern is for his son, Scorpius, who befriends Harry’s son, Albus. In addition to their unfortunate names, the boys share their house assignment (Slytherin), a certain outcast status (Albus is the younger son of the great Harry Potter and doesn’t seem half as accomplished as his big brother, let alone his father) and soon become inseparable, despite their families’ misgivings. As out of character as it seemed for him, as a reader, it was refreshing to see Harry Potter judge someone based on his parentage alone simply because he’s an overprotective father like everyone else (including Draco). Harry Potter may be The Boy Who Lived, and he may have saved the world from Voldemort, but he still makes mistakes.
In spite of his perceived shortcomings, Albus (with Scorpius’ help) undertakes an ill-advised but noble mission to prove something to himself and to his father, but also to ease the suffering of another person. Naturally, things go awry, he discovers that things are not as they seem, and the plot really gets exciting. So exciting, in fact, that it requires Draco to team up with Harry and Company. One of my misgivings about a Harry Potter play was that Rowling’s style would be lost in the absence of exposition. It’s not. Even though she had cowriters (presumably because this is her first published play), she still shines through in the stage directions from time to time. Example:
DRACO: Then it’s a negligence I too should should face.
Draco walks up to the stage and stands beside GINNY. This is almost a Spartacus moment. There are gasps.
I think the stage directions remind me more of Rowling on Twitter than in the original seven Harry Potter Books (she’s cheekier on Twitter), but her voice does come through. And, God, I’ve missed it. I have yet to read the mysteries she published in recent years. I’m almost afraid the magic of Harry Potter will be tarnished, a bit, if I read her voice telling a story about something as mundane as a murder instead of as magical as Hogwarts. I’ll get over it, though. In the meantime, I may have to finally read Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. And then go see the movie.