Saturday, 3 September 2016

The Trouble with Harry

I love Harry Potter. J K Rowling is a genius and the wizarding world she created has given me and millions of readers so much joy over so many years. I have read all the Potter books many times, seen the films, played the video games, spent far too many hours dueling in Pottermore, had my photo taken at Platform 9 3/4 in London, and been sorted into Ravenclaw. Yes, I love Harry Potter.

So naturally I was ecstatic to hear that Rowling had a new story to tell, the eighth story which takes up 19 years later featuring Harry Potter as an adult. This new story would be written as a play and launched at the same time as it premiered in London's West End. Keen to return to Hogwarts, I purchased Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (2016) and boarded the Hogwarts Express.

In many respects it is a journey I wish I had not taken. While I loved being back in familiar places with characters I love, this play did not work for me. I don't want to spoil the plot, but essentially this story is about the children of Ron, Hermione, Harry, Draco and others and their adventures. There are familiar faces (Hagrid, McGonagall etc), devices (floo powder, spells etc) and settings (Hogwarts, Privett Drive). But in some respects this is a weakness - the story should have moved on, away from the past into something new.

It is interesting to see Harry as a forty year old father, but there were so many things that annoyed me. Ron comes across as a total buffoon, and while he was never the sharpest tool in the shed, here he is an absolute idiot. I had imagined Hermione would have had a more glittering career and chosen someone other than Ron to be her life partner. But it is good to see them roughly the same age as me, grappling with life in the way that many muggles do.

It is important to note that Rowling crafted the story, but Jack Thorne wrote the play, and I think it is lacking Rowling's gift for language.  As a result, in some places it sounds like poorly written fan fiction. There are some twee conversations between father and son that lacked conviction.

However it was intriguing to read the play and imagine how in they would stage it. There are so many scenes, special effects moments, and quick costume changes. If staged well, it will be an absolutely magical night of theatre (or two as it is a five-hour play told in two parts). Not that I will ever get to see it... even though I will be in London next year, the tickets are already sold out!

Perhaps I should have known better. At the end of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (2007) Rowling wrote an epilogue featuring Ron, Harry and Hermione 19 years after the events in the book. They have gathered at Kings Cross to send their children off to Hogwarts. At the time, when I read the epilogue, I felt betrayed. I didn't want to be told what happened to them, but rather to imagine them as forever young or come up with my own postscript. I read that book as I travelled the Trans-Siberian railway and when I got to that part I almost chucked it out the window into the Gobi Desert!

I will always love Harry Potter. I just prefer to leave him as he was, the Boy who Lived.