All Was Well

WARNING: Spoilers abound throughout as I emote through my thoroughly irritating reading of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. Read at your own risk.

They just couldn’t help themselves. They couldn’t allow us to end with ‘All was well.’ Because, apparently, all was well only until the end of that sentence, which is where the play Harry Potter and the Cursed Child picks up.

All was well. A child’s dream, yes, but one worth allowing. Hadn’t they all suffered enough? Didn’t they deserve ‘all was well’?

It’s a play.

I enjoy reading plays. This is not the first I’ve owned. A play can be a wonderful reading format because it cuts through all the world-building and gives you dialogue and action.

This play, however, is a bit of a cheat. You can understand it only if you are familiar with the world-building from the books or movies. The writer relies on the reader’s knowledge of the wizarding world. That, alone, is not terrible. It’s just not ideal for reading and understanding a play.

The dialogue felt foreign (to the wizarding world), stilted. Unlike the books, the play gives differentiated voice to almost none of its characters. Like the play it is, the whole thing is extraordinarily play-ey. You know? It’s the wink to the audience. It’s the exposition. That’s what will make it work as a play.

The play itself should have been packaged with a paper cut-out of each character to make group reading more straightforward without needing to say the speaker’s name every single time.

Finally on this point, I have no doubt the spectacle of the play is awesome. The effects and the acting are no doubt superb. But what of the story?

This is really where you should abort the reading of this blog if you want no information on the play’s content.

The play is everything the books aren’t, and I don’t mean that in a good way. The books were written for children and enjoyed by all kinds of people. The play is clearly written for adults. It degrades the careful kid-advocate position the books have always held.

What do I mean? This play is still about Harry Potter. Only, not Harry Potter the child or even the young adult. Harry Potter the thirty-seven-to-forty-year-old. And yet it’s still his story. Magic broken.

The reason the Harry Potter books worked as well as they did to engage readers: kids dealt with life on the outskirts of adult-awareness. In the play, even when the kids are the ones acting, they aren’t the heroes. They require adults to save them. They require a pack of adults to follow them into adventure and fix their mistakes.

Every one of the children’s problems revolves around their parents’ leftover issues, daddy issues, who-had-sex-with-whom issues, and days gone by. The main thing I wanted to scream as I read:

HARRY POTTER, YOU ARE FORTY YEARS OLD. NOT EVERYTHING IS ABOUT YOU!

Replace Harry’s name with any of the other adults, and it reads pretty much the same.

It was not fun. Knowing that their marriages are imperfect. It was not magical. Knowing that they struggled with parenthood. It was not empowering to kids who couldn’t escape their parents’ pasts. It was the opposite of fun, magical, empowering. It was grown-up realities shoehorned into a magical childhood that was theirs no longer. They forgot to abdicate. They forgot the whole, “you’re the young ones now,” sentiment.

What doesn’t hold water for me in the play:

Consider this your official spoiler alert.

  1. Ron has no agency in the play. He is treated as he always feared he would be: best friend to the hero, love interest to the smart, powerful, out-of-his-league woman. But he’s okay with this. He has nothing of his own, not really. He’s the embodiment of the dad joke, all the way down to the comment on his dad bod. As someone who feared she was the Ron of the group, this is unforgivable.
  2. Ron wants to ‘renew his marriage’ to Hermione. You’re going to really tell me that Hermione did not insist on the unbreakable vow the first time around? Really? And can you even imagine a similar conversation in any one of the books?
  3. The trolley cart lady from the Hogwarts Express is some kind of ancient enforcer whose hands turn to spikes on top of the train WHAT?!? This is not The Polar Express, Evil Undead Edition. Stop. No. I say no.
  4. Some magical rules were broken, seemingly. Unless they found a new way to reduce the timetable for making polyjuice potion. Obey your own rules.
  5. SPOILER: Some characters set out to undo a death from the past. Why this death? Why this person? It’s not as if only one person ever died because of Harry Potter’s existence in the world. For that matter, if you’re going to try to change the past, why not just kill Tom Riddle? Because plot devices. Obviously. This was the only death that served the plot.
  6. SPOILER: Every future-change caused by meddling with the past is also about the adults and the impact on the kids comes primarily in the form of who-had-sex-with-whom.
  7. SPOILER: No, this one is really a spoiler. Like, a big one. Do not read if you don’t want to know. Last chance. Bellatrix gave birth before the Battle at Hogwarts?! Are you kidding me? A million times, no. This did not happen. This is a plot device for the play. She was too open, too well-known. Everybody would have known if she was pregnant. Plus, not to be crass, but I’m totally crass here, Voldemort no longer even had a nose at the end – I find it hard to believe he could father a child in his last state.
  8. SPOILER: Again, there’s no way around this being a spoiler. So, you know, don’t read if you don’t want to know. Harry transfigures himself into Voldemort from 1981, pre-rebounding-love-curse Voldemort. Two things: a) do you have to know what something looks like before you transfigure? and b) did Harry know what Voldemort looked like before the curse? And maybe one more thing: the Voldemort described is monstrous.

The big takeaway: grown-ups ruin everything.

The less big takeaway: you cannot recapture lightning in a bottle.

Read it. Or don’t. Decide for yourself.

Book Camp 2016, Day 4

“Is anyone ready to come in and shower?”

“NOOOOO!” Their five voices far surpassed mine.

The poor dears have had precious little screen time this week, aside from about a movie a day. But games! Texts! Videos! Whatever shall we do?!

They worked a long afternoon on plot structure using the five-act model. We dug into what constitutes exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and denouement (their new favorite word – so cosmopolitan!). We also discussed the corollary with the three-act structure, using the inciting incident or catalyst as the end of the first act and the final suspense as the end of the second act. It looked like this:FiveActStructure.20160608.jpg

We used the gorgeously illustrated Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (much thanks, Jo Rowling and Jim Kay!) to break down the story into these two structures. We read portions of it, though we have all read the book in the past. We discussed and defined when we think the book breaks up the acts.

We also discussed that the graph will look different for different books, because the stages aren’t fixed but variable. We looked at the downsides to deciding things like, “I’ll write four chapters then the inciting incident then fourteen chapters for the rising action.” We prepared to loosely determine a few points on the graphs for each of our own stories before diving into writing, knowing that the graph will morph and that’s a good thing.

When we finished, the clock read 5:35. I proffered a deal: I’ll cut a watermelon and they go outside to play in the water, then I’ll make dinner and they can come in to shower and have dinner and screens until bedtime. Fastest deal ever! I barely got them smeared with sunscreen before they were out the door. I took them their watermelon and a vitamin B6 tablet each (to ward off mosquitos).

When I went out just before seven, I asked the question at the top of this post. The giggled as only 8-, 9-, and 11-year-olds can and shooed me away with some verbal force. In the calming light of an early summer evening, they forgot all about their screens in favor of a water hose and brothers/sisters/cousins.

Some moments have been thorny, as only 8-, 9-, and 11-year-olds can be. But I’ve got the best job ever. You see, many long years from now, they won’t remember who took the best pencil or who shot who with the water gun first. Nope. They’ll gild this experience in their memories and it will morph into something greater, smoother, cleaner, and brighter than reality. That’s storytelling magic and mom/aunt gold.