Re-Hashing, Re-working, and Resurrection: The Cursed Child and Why Authors Cannot Settle for Re-Visiting their Texts.

In a few days, bookstores will be beset by eager readers, online vendors will mail out hordes of pre-ordered packages, and costumed fCursedChildWindowDisplay (1)ans will squeal with delight as they crack a fresh cover. Like the days of old when the release of a new Harry Potter book incited epic expectation and fan reaction, the publication of the rehearsal script for the first two parts of the play, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, is already surrounded by attention that not only echoes the releases of the seven books in the Hogwarts Saga, but that also recalls the kind of fascination and frenzy that has prompted other artists to do what J.K. Rowling has done: trying to re-create a phenomenon when the original source of that phenomenon, at least from an artistic and symbolic standpoint, has concluded and needs no further additions.

When C. S. Lewis completed his seven-book Chronicles of Narnia, he resisted requests for more installments, even suggesting that readers who enjoyed the novels should write their own stories. Other authors have not been as able to resist the attraction of trying to return, again and again, to the fictional worlds they have created, even when the journey has been completed. While J.K. Rowling is already being censured by Potterphiles and critics alike for engaging in an unnecessary new story or tampering with the cohesive artistic unity of Harry’s story by collaborating on what will inevitably be mislabeled the “eighth Harry Potter novel,” she  is certainly not the first author to engage in such shenanigans, and it is unlikely she will be the last. So why do they do it? Why do authors, like filmmakers, actors, and other artists, go back to a completed work and add to it? [Read more…]

Off the page: why the Cursed Child script is bound to disappoint

by Emily Strand

My favorite English teacher in high school used to begin each new Shakespearean play we tackled by 220px-Hw-shakespearerunning into the classroom, shouting, “Off the page and onto the stage!” I still remember the particular gleam in his eye on such days, reserved for the cusp of a Shakespearean work, and how he would creep around the room, carefully selecting people to read the different characters. (Unlike most in the class, I always hoped he’d pick me, as I’d rehearsed them all the night before.) We’d try our best to give voice to the verse, stumbling over the Elizabethan strangeness of it all, our slightly unhinged teacher shouting us down if we dared display insufficient enthusiasm or gravitas.

My teacher may have been unhinged (it’s why I liked him), but his point was coherent, and important. It was that theater is meant to be seen, heard and experienced, not read. One can’t appreciate the impassioned vitriol of a Kate, the joyful mischief of a Puck, or the infuriating inertia of a Hamlet from the flat confines of the printed page, no matter how well-penned.

My teacher’s catch phrase, “Off the page and onto the stage!”, has crossed my mind more than a few times in the lead-up to the release of Jack Thorne’s script of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child this week. More than our host’s fine arguments for why this work may be poised to disappoint, more than the hastily-compiled and unflattering plot summaries anyone can find online, it is this realization of the incompleteness of what we’re receiving in Cursed Child that has kept my own expectations low. We’re Harry Albus and Ginnyreceiving what Louise Freeman rightly described as only about 10% of the magic of the story. We’re receiving a bare-bones skeleton: the flesh, sinew, organs and skin of which, we’re just supposed to imagine from the words on the page, and a handful of cast pictures.

I’ll admit that my imagination is not that good. And as my teacher always suggested, it’s not supposed to be. Plays are meant to be acted, not read. So, to Potter fans, no matter how die-hard, who rush out and purchase their copy of the script on July 31, I say: don’t be disappointed when you don’t like – or perhaps don’t even understand – the so-called “eighth Harry Potter story”.

Now please don’t confuse me with the imaginatively indolent: those who Tolkien said roundly reject fantasy due to their discomfort with the “arresting strangeness” of the genre: those who are too tired, or too preoccupied with the “real world,” or simply too lazy for the hard work of filling in the mental details of what a school of magic or a hobbit might look like. That’s not where I’m coming from. I truly believe that our imaginations are mighty muscles that, if trained to their full potential, will move us a long way toward saving the world. And, as an exercise toward that end, I love the work of supplying the mental images of characters and settings which are foreign to this mundane world in stories like Potter. Even outside the fantasy genre, I love letting my brain make movie versions of the beautiful emotion and the narrative tension to which the words on the page of good stories merely point.

But plays are not supposed to be words on a page. Like liturgy, they are supposed to be enacted, either by us, or by a competent crew of actors, directors and dramaturgists.

Which begs the question: if Cursed Child really is the eighth installment in a very complete, internally interdependent, seven-part series (a bold claim in itself, as John Granger has wisely insisted), a series that so many millions (billions?) of fans lay claim to, then why this medium? Isn’t it necessarily a bit exclusive, even elitist, for what it claims to be?jesus_canaanite_woman

Rowling has tweeted that, once people have seen the play, it will be clear that the theater is the “only proper medium” for Cursed Child. Sadly, her reasoning for this statement will remain a mystery for us Muggles with no access to the work in its intended form. We’re left, as the Syrophoenician woman from the Gospels described it, like dogs beneath the table, snapping up the crumbs that fall from children’s plates. We can only hope that, like the woman, our faith will be rewarded someday. But given what we know about the relative racial and socio-economic exclusivity of Broadway audiences, it’s hard to see how.

Cursed Child Comments From a Theater Junkie.

95875-300x211-Comedy_tragedyLive theater is absolutely my favorite form of entertainment. Most years, I get season tickets to the Mary Baldwin theater and I try to see at least a few shows a year at the American Shakespeare Center or ShenanArts. When my husband asked me how I wanted to celebrate my upcoming 50th birthday, I immediately said, “I want to go to New York City and see some Broadway shows.”  He just texted me that we have tickets for Wicked and Fiddler on the Roof.

I also love reading plays. It was always one of my favorite parts of English class, because we would often read the entire play aloud in class, with different students taking different parts. I remember Romeo and Juliet and The Glass Menagerie in 8th grade, and Julius Caesar and A Doll’s House in 9th:  the teacher particularly liked my interpretation of Krogstad.  As I got older, acting was one of my major extracurriculars.  I played such roles as Ruth in Blithe Spirit, Marilla in Anne of Green Gables and Mrs. Sowerberry in Oliver!

CCSo, am I looking forward to the publication of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child? Merlin’s beard, yes!  If I were wealthy enough to hop on a plane to London and see the shows I would already have done so.  I can’t avoid spoilers until the play comes to Broadway (maybe as soon as next season?) so reading is the next best thing.  I don’t care so much about whether the story is the “8th book” or not. I don’t care if there are some changes from the cannon of the book, which there certainly will be.  I confess to being vaguely curious to see if young Scorpius Malfoy has a henchman, and if so, is his last name Goyle (book-cannon) or Crabbe (movie-cannon). What I am most looking forward to see seeing the wizarding world in a different medium. [Read more…]

Not What You Think It Is: Five Thoughts on ‘Harry Potter and the Cursed Child’

Cover 1I was contacted yesterday by a reporter at the New York Times and asked “whether or not fans will embrace a play that she co-authored but did not write entirely on her own.” She called this morning and we spoke for about half an hour.

I’ll be talking about this and other subjects this Sunday at Oklahoma City’s largest bookstore’s Midnight Madness Potter Party. I share here the gist of what I said to the Times reporter and a shade of what I’ll talk about at the Party. It is the first of several Posts this week by your friends here at HogwartsProfessor about what to expect in the draft script. Stay tuned!

To the reporter’s question, there isn’t any doubt about fan response to the script marketed as the “Eighth Harry Potter” story. Harry Potter fandom and readers have already embraced ‘Cursed Child.’ It has approached records for pre-publication orders, records that were set, of course, nine years ago when the series finale was released. That the story is not hers and that the script was drafted in much the form it is now in, i.e., that she acted as an editor or at best a contributor but not as author per se, means very little to her millions of fans.

Harry Albus and GinnyIt’s better, though, to think of them as Harry’s fans, not J. K. Rowling’s, however much they hang on her twitter blasts and PotterMore posts. Sales of Rowling’s non-Hogwarts books, Casual Vacancy and the three Cormoran Strike mysteries, would be considered very impressive from other writers, especially within the genres she’s chosen, but have never begun to approach Harry Potter sales figures.

There’s something about Harry Potter which causes the excitement about the ‘Eighth Book.’ I’ll go out on a limb, though, and suggest there is going to be significant disappointment among even the most ardent Potter fans about this Midnight Madness experience around ‘Cursed Child.’ Let’s be clear about five things ‘Cursed Child’ is not: [Read more…]

A Slice of Divergent Fandom, as seen through Twitter

MaeAAMThe Divergent series may not have the dedicated fandom that Harry Potter and Hunger Games had—otherwise the movies would have done better and this post would not even be necessary. But there is clearly a core group of fans that are most distressed at the news that the final installment (Ascendant) will most likely appear as a TV movie rather than in the cinema. Several hashtags (#AscendantOnTheBigScreenm #MakeAscendantAMovie, #MakeAsendantMovie) have cropped up on Twitter. I was surprised by a few things as I read through them and so, like a good Erudite, I decided to do a little very informal analysis.

flyingallegiant-640x345Of the 126 tweets I read and classified, slightly more than half (70) were in English. The rest were all in other languages, the majority (35) Spanish.  Other languages I recognized were Portuguese, Italian and French. I knew Divergent had a strong international audience but I was surprised by how strong an international voice turned up on Twitter. I guess that is why Ms. Roth’s jetsonsnext book (Carve the Mark) will be released in 33 languages when it debuts.  It also reaffirms my opinion that lots of the movie decisions (e.g. replacing the rickety old planes with George Jetson-style sprockets) were made based how they would play in international markets, or how they would fly (pardon the pun) in future theme park attractions.   [Read more…]