Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by various parties

911Xmhn9+rLHarry Potter and the Cursed Child

by John Tiffany and Jack Thorne; based on an original new story by J.K. Rowling

Being a late-blooming Harry Potter devotee (I only finally read the HP series a couple of years ago), I was ambivalent about reading The Cursed Child for various reasons.  But, like four million other readers, I got the book as soon as it was released.  Unlike a lot of those readers who read the entire book in a couple of hours, though (two of my kids among them), it took me a week to get through it.  And it wasn’t a very enjoyable week, either.

The plot in a nutshell:

The Cursed Child opens exactly where The Deathly Hallows closed: with Harry and Ginny, and Ron and Hermione at Platform 9 3/4, sending their firstborn off to Hogwarts.  Harry and his eldest son, Albus, have a strained relationship.  Albus is a sullen teen, tortured by his father’s fame, blah blah blah.  Albus becomes besties with Draco’s son, Scorpius while at Hogwarts.  They get ahold of a Time Turner and decide to mess with the past.  We get lots of flashbacks to scenes in the original (real) Harry Potter books, mainly The Goblet of Fire.

I’ll just be blunt: I hated this book.

First of all, it’s actually a play (as if you didn’t know), not a novel like the previous Harry Potter books.  Plays are great!  I adore theater.  But plays are not fun to read.  Reading a play is reading a script – and stage directions.  Unlike a novel, there is no narrator – no first person, third person omniscient, or any other type of narrator who allows the reader to get inside the minds and hearts of the characters and become intimate with setting and plot.  A play reads rather like a robot.

Furthermore, the plot of this particular story is confusing (it involves a Time Turner, and so there is lots of going back and forth in time, and I found it hard to keep track of when in time any particular scene was).

The storyline is also contrived.  It was just … meh.  I felt no suspense, no drama (both of which I think I was supposed to feel).  The plot just cranked along on this weird track.

The characters!  They feel like imposters!  I understand that they’re all 19 years older, and people (sort of) change as they grow older, but Harry, Ron, Hermione, Ginny, and Draco all seem completely reimagined to me.  And I didn’t like any of them!

Probably the biggest problem – and the cause for all of its other failings – is that this story was NOT written by J.K. Rowling, and it shows.  Oh, I know her name is on it, but what it says on the cover is “BASED ON AN ORIGINAL NEW STORY BY J.K. ROWLING.”  It’s no secret that what this story actually is is fan fiction.  My understanding is that Rowling wanted to promote British theater, and lent her name to the project mainly for that purpose.  Had this story – or any eighth installment to the Harry Potter series – actually been written by J.K. Rowling, it would have undoubtedly looked, read, and felt much different.

I’m all for theater, but I wish this particular story had never been published.  And as a HP purist, I cannot accept it as a genuine part of the Harry Potter canon.  So Ima just pretend it doesn’t exist, and the story ended with The Deathly Hallows.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling

Kkhp7-lg Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Book 7)
by J.K. Rowling

You’ll have to excuse me; I’m in mourning.  You see, I finished the final installment of the Harry Potter series last night.  With tissues in hand and tears streaming down my face, I turned the final page.

In this, the seventh installment, Harry and company are seventeen and should be entering their final year at Hogwarts School of Wizardry and Witchcraft.  But there will be no seventh year at Hogwarts, because the wizarding world is at war with Voldemort and his Death Eaters.  The Ministry of Magic has been infiltrated and taken over by the Dark Lord’s soldiers, and Harry is on the run – frantically trying to fulfill the mission left to him by Dumbledore, after a surprisingly somewhat touching parting with the Dursleys.  All Harry has left in the world is what he has learned at Hogwarts and through his own trial and error, ingenuity, and perseverance – and the love and loyalty of his friends.  Is it enough to see him through to a victorious end?  Well, I won’t give it away.  I will say that, with six books behind me, I couldn’t imagine any more twists or turns to Harry’s odyssey, but I was left with my jaw hanging once again.  The final battle scene is intense, and although in the end, the story wraps up neatly, I felt a little emotionally drained – in a good way.

I am left with a number of questions, which, I’m sure, either don’t have answers, or whose answers probably could be found with a little digging:

  • What ever happened to Harry’s grandparents – why didn’t they raise him rather than his aunt and uncle?
  • Who pays Muggle-born students’ tuition to Hogwarts?  It’s not as if Muggle parents budget for the possibility of their children being witches or wizards and therefore requiring magical education at a unique and prestigious magical boarding school.
  • For that matter, how did the Weasleys afford tuition for SEVEN children at Hogwarts?  I mean, they barely made ends meet.
  • How in the heck do the powers-that-be convince Muggle parents that their child is, in fact, a wizard or witch, and needs to be taken away by strangers to go be educated at a far off magical boarding school?
  • Who pays the salaries of the teaching staff at Hogwarts?
  • Why are none of the professors at Hogwarts married, and why do none of them appear to have children of their own?
  • How is it that once witches and wizards reach eleven years old, they are immersed in magical education but cease “traditional” education – no more math, literature, geography, spelling, etc.

I also have to say that with everything Harry went through – with all the terrible losses he sustained, the torture and injuries, there is just no way he wouldn’t be completely and utterly tweaked, am I right?  But I know, it’s just a kid’s story, and we prefer our heroes resilient and well-balanced.  Also, after seven years of high adventure and danger, I don’t think there is any way Harry Potter could have gone on to live a sedate, steady life with a wife and kids.  I can’t picture it.  At the very least, he would have become Minister of Magic . . . or Headmaster of Hogwarts.

But we, the readers, are left to imagine Harry’s future for ourselves, I suppose.

In any case, I grew far more attached to the characters populating these books than I ever imagined possible – and I truly loved the adventures and the story from beginning to end.  I am serious when I say that I feel a sense of loss to have finished the series; it feels like saying goodbye to old friends.  Part of me wants to take up the first book again, just to bring it all back.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (Book 6)
by J.K. Rowling

I’m sure I’ve mentioned this, but for years I steered clear of the Harry Potter series.  My oldest son, now 17, started the series when he was in second grade and has since read the series in its entirety probably a dozen times, and for years he urged me to read it, and I resisted.  I resisted even when all of my grown-up friends were reading it and raving about it.  I had ZERO interest in a children’s fantasy series, and honestly couldn’t understand why everyone and their brother seemed to be so enamored with a kids’ book series which I vaguely understood to be about wizards.  It wasn’t until I read J.K. Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy last summer (and loved) that I decided that reading Rowling’s other work might be worth a shot.  And even then, when I finally picked up the first book in the Harry Potter series, I could not have imagined how invested I would become in the characters and story of Harry Potter.  I get it now.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince takes us back to Hogwarts once again.  Harry, tortured but ever resilient, is sixteen years old now, and Voldemort and his Death Eaters are on the loose.  Something fishy is going on with Draco Malfoy and Professor Snape, and Harry is determined to find out what, exactly, they are up to – but nobody, not even Dumbledore, will take Harry’s suspicions seriously.  Quite by happenstance, an old, marked-up textbook lands in Harry’s hands that allows Harry to excel at Potions; this old textbook claims ownership by a mysterious self-proclaimed “Half-Blood Prince.”  Who was the Half-Blood Prince, and how and why did he create the secret spells and potions contained in the margins of this old school book?

In the midst of learning to apparate, trying to solve the mystery of the Half-Blood Prince and Malfoy’s suspicious activities, and meeting with Professor Dumbledore for private trips into the past via the Pensieve to learn everything he can about Voldemort, Harry is also very much a typical teenager who is feeling the first stirrings of romantic love.  Can he betray his best friend to go after the girl he wants?

Rowling does a fabulous job of taking the story line down more mature paths as the characters mature.  The story has become darker and more sinister, more grown-up, and more adventurous.  The end of this book left me reeling – and bawling my eyes out.

Harry Potter And the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling

harry-potter-order-of-the-phoenix-kazu-kibuishi-coverHarry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Book 5)
by J.K. Rowling

This, the fifth book of the Harry Potter series (which I was never going to read), might be the best so far.

Harry and his cohorts are fifteen now, and full of teenaged piss and vinegar.  I am very much appreciating the character development as the series progresses, with the characters growing and maturing along with the original readers of the series.  I’m also appreciating the fact that for a hero, Harry is in most ways a typical, angsty teen prone to fits of temper and acts of rebellion.

The Dark Lord is back, but the Ministry of Magic is in complete denial about it.  Instead, Cornelius Fudge, Minister of Magic, is convinced that Dumbledore, Headmaster of Hogwarts School of WizardryIMG_3455 and Witchcraft, is conspiring to push Fudge out and take the position of Minister of Magic himself.  Fudge installs one Dolores Umbridge at Hogwarts to ensure that the school is being run up to snuff in the eyes of the Ministry, and under her direction, Hogwarts goes to hell in a handbasket.

The power struggle between Fudge and Dumbledore – purely a product of Fudge’s imagination – is, unfortunately, a terrible distraction from the real problem at hand – the return of Voldemort.

Meanwhile, Harry is painted as a lying, attention-seeking, addle-brained adolescent by the Ministry and the Daily Prophet newspaper, and Harry suffers being treated more and more like an outcast by his peers at Hogwarts.

The bonds forged between the characters is a beautiful thing – between Harry, Ron and Hermione, between Hagrid and Harry, between Sirius and Harry, between Dumbledore and Harry.  Though more and more an outcast, Harry has some big supporters.  Still, he is a boy in adolescence, a boy in a suspended state of grief, a boy with no real place to call home.

I loved this book.  Hopefully it won’t be too long before I can get to the next one, although I’m already finding myself sad that there are only two more books left in the series.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling

kkhp4 Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Book 4)
by J.K. Rowling

Things are getting heavier at Hogwarts in this, the fourth installment, of J.K. Rowlings’s Harry Potter series.  Harry and his cohorts are now fourteen-year old fourth years at the school of witchcraft and wizardry, and their adventures are becoming more mature, and laced with not a little teen angst.

The story rolls out with the Weasleys appearing in the Dursleys’ fireplace to retrieve Harry in order to attend the Quidditch World Cup – and you know how the Dursleys feel about magic and magical people.  The guests are not well-received by the Dursleys, to say the least.  But Harry is, as ever, glad to make his departure from his aunt and uncle’s house after another tortuous summer break spent with them.

At the World Cup game, a melee ensues after the Dark Mark appears in the sky, warning of Lord Voldemort’s imminent return.  Is it a hoax?  Nobody seems to know for sure.

Back at Hogwarts, an announcement is made that a Triwizard Tournament will be held for the first time in many years – and will be hosted by Hogwarts.  The Triwizard Tournament is a contest of three tasks, spread over the course of many months, in which the contestants – traditionally three students, one from each of the European wizarding schools – must exhibit bravery and skill to win the Triwizard cup.  Because of the dangerous nature of the tasks and the level of wizarding know-how necessary to compete, students under the age of seventeen are prohibited from entering their name into the Goblet of Fire – the magical goblet that chooses the contestants.  Somebody puts Harry’s name in the goblet, however – somebody who wants Harry dead.  The goblet chooses the three contestants from the different schools . . . and then also chooses Harry to compete (of course – you didn’t think this whole book would just be about Harry observing the contest, did you?).

Well, I won’t spoil the rest for you, in case you haven’t read it.  Suffice to say that high adventure abounds, and the adventures are growing darker.  In this book, Harry definitely turns a certain corner of maturity – thanks both to his age and the events he is subjected to.

I’m not ashamed to say that I turned the final page of this book with a few tears.

I’ve got quite a few other books to read over the next few weeks, but hopefully it won’t be too long before I get to the fifth Harry Potter book.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling

Harry_Potter_and_the_Prisoner_of_Azkaban_(US_cover) Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
by J.K. Rowling

Okay, I’m hooked.  Satisfied?

In this, the third installment of the famous Harry Potter series, Harry enters his third year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry – but not before another dramatic exit from his Muggle family’s home, involving the blowing up of an aunt.

Harry is yet again the target of evil forces – this time the evil forces are embodied by one Sirius Black, former best friend of Harry’s deceased parents, believed cohort of Lord Voldemort, and thrown into Azkaban – the hardcorest of hardcore prisons – twelve years ago after allegedly killing thirteen people with a single curse.  Now Black has escaped Azkaban and is believed to be on the hunt for Harry.

Meanwhile, Hagrid, the Hogwarts gamekeeper, has been installed as a teacher at Hogwarts of the Care and Keeping of Magical Creatures class.  Only, something goes awry during the very first class he teaches, setting off a chain of events that will culminate in . . . well, you have to read it for yourself if you haven’t already.

Two things:

1.  Harry is a bit of a pain in the ass!  His life is constantly in danger, and all these people are constantly going to great lengths to keep him safe, and he thumbs his nose at all of them in the name of seeking adventure and having a good time.  Don’t get me wrong – I like Harry, and I know he’s a good egg whose character will grow and develop over the course of the series as he matures, but sometimes I want to smack him upside the head.

2.  I am completely smitten with Hagrid.  That is all.

I enjoyed this book immensely, although I felt the last third of it or so dragged a bit – but overall, a rollicking good story.  I’ve been watching the movies with my two oldest boys as I finish each book, and this particular movie is my oldest son’s favorite of all of them, apparently.  I thought it was well done, but somewhat disappointed in how much of the story was left out.

In any case, I probably won’t get to the fourth book for a while, as I am currently committed to reading several other books over the next month or two – but I will get to it as soon as I can!

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling

9780439064873_p0_v1_s260x420 Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (Book 2)
by J.K. Rowling

Okay, I get it now – the appeal of the Harry Potter series.  All these years, I’ve thought, “I’m not interested in a children’s series.  I’m not interested in wizards and fantasy.”  But I get it now.

The first book, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, left off with Harry and his Hogwarts friends returning home for summer break after their first year at the school of wizardry and witchcraft.  In this, the second book of the series, the story opens with summer break coming to an end – and not a moment too soon for Harry, who has spent a miserable few weeks with his adoptive Muggle family, the Dursleys.  Harry is visited in his bedroom by a house elf, who warns Harry not to return to Hogwarts – but returning to Hogwarts is what Harry longs for more than anything.  After a dramatic rescue from the Dursleys by the Weasleys in an enchanted car, Harry does return to Hogwarts and embarks on a new year of wizard education, and a new adventure.

Residents of Hogwarts keep turning up petrified – the first a cat, which is found under the ominous message scrawled on the wall of the corridor:


And so the rumors and questions begin swirling: Slytherin . . . Where is the Chamber of Secrets?  Who is the Heir?  Who is petrifying Hogwarts inhabitants?

When Harry becomes a prime suspect, he is determined to get to the bottom of the Chamber of Secrets – and get to the bottom of it he does.

Told with humor and just the right amount of suspense and intrigue, I was hooked, and finally closed the book feeling satisfied.  I’m eager to get back to Harry and his friends at Hogwarts – but, as I’m committed to several other books at the moment, they’ll have to wait.  Hopefully not for too long!

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling

51MU5VilKpL Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (Book 1)
by J.K. Rowling

This is going to be short and sweet, because, really, what can I say about Harry Potter that hasn’t already been said?  I finally read it – the first book of the series, anyway – sixteen years after it was published, and almost as many since it became one of the biggest deals in children’s literature.  I hadn’t planned on ever reading it, but I appreciated Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy so much that it warranted, finally, a look at what else she’s done.

On the off chance that you haven’t read Harry Potter and don’t know what it’s about, it’s about a young boy in contemporary England who is orphaned as a baby and unwillingly taken in by his mean aunt and uncle.  The circumstances of his parents’ demise are rather mysterious, but it’s well known – at least among witches and wizards – that it was at the hands of the evil Voldemort, although Harry believes that they died in a car accident.  Poor Harry, neglected and abused by his aunt and uncle and tormented by his spoiled cousin, has little to look forward to, until one day – shortly before his eleventh birthday – a letter arrives for him.  Actually, a deluge of letters, the contents of which have his aunt and uncle scrambling to ridiculous lengths to run from.  Finally, the letter catches up with them on a deserted, storm-swept island, by way of Hagrid, a giant and gamekeeper of Hogwarts, the premier school of witches and wizardry to which Harry is being summoned by the letter.

And so begins Harry’s education as a wizard.  It is at Hogwarts that Harry learns of the true circumstances of his parents’ death, his own seemingly royal status, and where he befriends Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger who accompany him on his many adventures.  Harry proves to be a good student, a formidable Quidditch player, and a brave wizard who finds himself in numerous scrapes in his quest to fight evil.

The beginning of the book reminded me very much of Roald Dahl’s writings, and although I’m not much a fan of fantasy, I enjoyed the book and can see what kids find so appealing about it.  Rowling is a talented and imaginative storyteller; I’m looking forward to reading her newest grown-up book.  Maybe I’ll find time to read the second Harry Potter book before too long.

The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling

200px-The_Casual_Vacancy The Casual Vacancy
by J.K. Rowling

First, a confession: I have never read J.K. Rowlings’s Harry Potter series.  I very well may be one of very, very few holdouts.  There are a couple of reasons I’ve never read them: first, I’m not necessarily a big fan of YA or children’s literature – not that I absolutely won’t read anything in those genres, but they are not my preferred genres.  Also, I have found that the more everyone and their brother is reading something, the more I balk.  Not that I don’t read best sellers!  It’s hard to explain.  It’s like this: if people keep telling me, “You have to read this!” the mule rebel in me silently yells, “Back off, Mofo!”

I bought The Casual Vacancy when it was first released a while back – mostly for my then-fifteen-year old son to read because he’s a huge J.K. Rowling – or at least Harry Potter – fan, and I also thought I might read it eventually, because it’s not Harry Potter.  Kevin read it and enjoyed it but advised me that I probably wouldn’t like it because it’s “depressing.”

Then it was chosen by my book club for this month, so I read it.

I liked it.  A lot.

The setting is Pagford, a quaint little town in England, situated next to the larger, much less quaint town of Yarvil.  A certain plot of land was transferred from one to the other town a number of years back, and on that plot of land a housing development named The Fields went up.  the Fields houses hoodlums, ruffians, junkies, prostitutes, dealers, and down-and-outers.  Oh, and Bellchapel Clinic which doles out methadone and treats the addicts.  The Fields is a blight on Pagford’s topography, and the citizens of Pagford want it transferred back to Yarvil.

The story opens with the untimely death of one Barry Fairbrother, Pagford Parish Council member and beloved citizen and resident.  Fairbrother was one of the few champions of The Fields and Bellchapel, and with his death, which creates an empty seat on the Parish Council (or a casual vacancy), the disagreements that quietly simmered below the picturesque surface of Pagford blow up into an all out civil war of sorts.  Families are at war with each other, council members are at war with each other and with town residents, teens are at war with their parents.  There are so many memorable characters and intersecting of relationships – for the first third or so of the book I had trouble keeping track of everyone, but that’s probably the only negative thing I can say about this book.  At the center of the story is a family who live in The Fields, and their plight is bleak and heart wrenching.  The story culminates in events that completely took me by surprise – all along I saw what I thought was foreshadowing and I thought I knew exactly what was going to happen – but boy, was I wrong.

Very adult themes – reading it, I was cringing a little knowing that my teenage son had already read it (although I know I read at least as bad, if not worse, when I was his age).

This story really got in my head, and I think it will stay with me for a while.

And, I may even read Harry Potter now.