I didn’t want to read Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. My friends posted about it on Facebook, and it stared at me from large posters at Barnes and Noble. Amazon suggested it to me relentlessly. But I resisted.
I had my reasons, of course. As far as I’m concerned, the Harry Potter books are some of the most captivating in existence. I read them all during my senior year of college, in a two-week period. During those days, I really needed a break from thinking about the daunting reality of the future. All too soon, I knew I had to grow up and leave the safe, forgiving collegiate environment. The idea of job hunting, figuring out housing, and feeding myself far from the dining commons pressed down on me heavily.
In Harry’s world, there were big, scary problems, too, but there was also magic. There was often a spell or a potion that could help with issues I would find insurmountable. Also, unlike the often ambiguous situations I knew I would find in the “real world,” good and evil were usually quite clearly defined. Plus everything turns out all right in the end. The day is saved.
When I got to the end of the series, I was filled with a sense of deep satisfaction. The books included sad things, of course, but for the most part, I liked to think about my favorite characters moving on with their lives. The giant specter of evil had lifted for a while, and there could be peace. As I navigated my own ambiguous waters, I held tightly to the peace present at the end of the books.
This is why I didn’t want to open the covers of Cursed Child, or see it on stage. I didn’t want to break the spell of comfort I could access every time I went back to the original books or movies.
When my roommate brought The Cursed Child home and stayed up way past her bedtime finishing it, my curiosity became too much for me. I wanted to find out about the complexities of my favorite character’s lives, even if it felt a little too realistic. I couldn’t hold out against a new opportunity to see what was happening to my favorite characters in the world.
For them, as for me, life had become slightly more muddy. Harry and his classmates and friends were now in mid-life, and they were deep into parenting and careers.
I don’t profess to know anything about parenting, but I know lots about being wrong (which often feels like the theme of adulthood). Magic is all very well, but it can’t mend challenging relationships. I’ve often said that, given his past trauma, Harry Potter would probably end up in therapy. He doesn’t, but in this book, his past is colliding with his present. He sees things in his son that force him to look at his own darkness. From everything that my parent friends have said, this is a realistic part of having children.
The evil in the book becomes more pronounced, as we go, but it comes from a place of past regret. Harry’s son Albus becomes unlikely friends with Draco’s son, Scorpius. Both are haunted by things over which they have no control, just like Harry in the first seven books. Harry has made his peace with many of those realities, but as I’ve learned, what haunts us can come around again sometimes, striking from a different angle. A simple word or phrase from a friend or date can take me right back to something my dad or an ex-boyfriend said. I’ll curl up inwardly, in response to stress, losing myself in books just like I did as a seven-year-old. Letting go of past hurts, sins, and other entanglements is a daily practice, one I need to do over and over, without any magic at all.
Honestly, I didn’t love The Cursed Child. I prefer to think of my beloved characters living out their lives differently. What is the point of being fictional if you can’t be happy all the time, effortlessly living an easy life? However, I’ll admit that one reason I read it, and one reason for the enjoyment I did get out of this book (aside from checking up on some characters’ futures) was the authorial willingness to be honest about what it looks like when we grow up. The day does not stay saved. Every day is an opportunity to unravel, and to be put together again.
I’ve long seen deeply spiritual themes in the Harry Potter books. They beautifully illustrate so many virtues, difficulties, and triumphs of the Christian life (whether or not Rowling intended them to). This book does that, too, in a different way. The war may be won, but we still live in a world where battles rage. Our past is sealed, but things still crop up from time to time. Evil is present, but so often it masquerades as light. Still, as we get older, though it may appear more complex, the rules have not changed. Love still wins. Light still triumphs. Peace sneaks in through the cracks.