The eighth Harry Potter novel arrived a good nine years later, packaged not as a 600-page fantasy novel that the fans were accustomed to, but as a play; the rehearsal script to be precise. If you’ve missed your letter of acceptance from Hogwarts and thought this was your chance, then you’re in for a disappointment. But if you instead choose to see this as a letter from a long-lost friend, maybe, just maybe, you’ll enjoy this nostalgic ride.
Almost everyone in the world, except the lucky few actually watching the play being performed on stage, have dissed this new release as ‘fanfiction’. Let’s take a look at the plot, or its lack, thereof.
The sequel picks up where it left off, with the Boy Who Lived adjusting to his new life as an important Ministry official and as a dad of three, and he isn’t doing a very good job at the latter. Meanwhile, Draco Malfoy gets a taste of what it’s like to be distrusted, hated and even misunderstood, for once. Their sons, Albus Severus Potter and Scorpius Malfoy, are equally insecure, apprehensive about fitting in and form an unlikely alliance the first time they meet. And quite like the impulsive, adventurous and reckless Harry we first met, the duo decide to use a Time Turner to set things right, beginning with saving Cedric Diggory’s life (and setting off the Twilight vampires, perhaps?) which naturally result in some disastrous consequences. Meanwhile, it turns out that Voldemort actually got laid.
This brings us to the central issue of the play: time travel. Disregarding the rules of the magical world, and ignoring the established fact that all Time Turners had been destroyed, J.K.Rowling manages to smuggle in one, to set the ball rolling, so to speak. The question is, did it work?
The answer is both yes, and no. (I’ll come back to the yes, later.)
No, because it creates way too many plot holes, too many questions, too many possibilities that is impossible to satisfactorily resolve in a 330-something page play. While the plot points does fit in, somewhat cohesively, the story feels altogether implausible and the execution very amateurish, with the twists and turns in space and time, bordering on a Doctor Who episode parody.
And secondly, the characters are not real enough. Yes, there are plenty of cameo appearances and meeting Snape, in particular in an alternate timeline, seemed too good to be true. And indeed it was too good to be true, for the characters feel like pale imitations of themselves, as though someone else followed Rowling’s guidelines to write in a Rowling-esque fashion only to mess it up. Fanfiction, per se.
Then again, this question of authenticity is of course relevant, given that Rowling did not singlehandedly write this. She collaborated with Jack Thorne and John Tiffany, and the sequel was released as a play, not as a book. Perhaps, a part of the disappointment stems not from the vapid script, but from the fact that we’ve barely scratched the surface here. We readers haven’t seen the play with all its glorious special effects that Rowling intended her sequel to be. And judging by the glowing reviews, there is a probability, that watching it might even change our opinion of the sequel.
But if there’s any serious flaw to pinpoint, it isn’t the whole time travel fiasco or that the villain Delphini is a far cry from Voldemort and isn’t even half as menacing as Bellatrix Lestrange. Rather, it is the fact, that even after nine years, the story still clings to hetero-normative standards. Albus and Scorpius would have been the perfect opportunity to showcase a queer relationship, but all the gay subtext only ends up as queer baiting. If the writers were fine with taking a risk with an unreliable plot device like time travel, then it makes no sense, as to why they chose to selectively ignore the LGBT community, and still hold onto the notion of a society that is essentially white and hetero-normative. In this light, introducing a black Hermione seems the only forward step they have taken.
However, coming back to time travel, I’ll tell you why the story actually works. Reading it for the first time on the first day of release, felt like using a Time Turner to travel back to those golden days when I’d eagerly wait for the next instalment, obsess over the characters and come up with wild theories as to what will happen next. For those of us, who’ve grown up with the series, it did feel, for a few precious moments, like revisiting childhood again- after all, this is the same place, the same characters and the very same magic that we first fell in love with.
Think of it as a favourite dish. Perhaps it’s not cooked as perfectly every time, but it is the same dish, the same brand of fantasy you grew up with and still adore. And maybe if you can shut the judgemental critic within you and let go of all preconceived notions and curl up in your armchair, like you did many golden summers ago and simply read for pleasure, the way you did as a child, perhaps you’ll find that this ride, this hilarious, bumpy, nostalgic rollercoaster ride was in fact, worth it, after all.
This isn’t for those who were once diehard fans and have now grown out of that magical phase. This is for those who still believe that Hogwarts is their home and will always be there to welcome them back.
Previously published in Open Road Review