Pepperdine’s Premiere Potter Pundit James Thomas Reviews Jack Thorne’s ‘Harry Potter and the Cursed Child’

f21780006I met Pepperdine’s James Thomas in Toronto just a few days after the publication of Deathly Hallows. I think I may have asked him during this conversation over breakfast if he would consider contributing his thoughts here at HogwartsProfessor. I know the Potter Pundits adventure at LeakyCauldron began soon after as did James’ published guides to the literary depths of the Hogwarts Saga. If you haven’t read Repotting Harry Potter: A Professor’s Book-by-Book Guide for the Serious Re-Reader or his Rowling Revisited: Return Trips to Harry, Fantastic Beasts, Quidditch, & Beedle the Bardyou’re overdue for a treat.

I’ve never given up on his joining us here and on MuggleNet academ
ia. Years of teasing, cajoling, out right begging were rewarded yesterday when James sent me his review of the Rehearsal draft script of a story Jo Rowling is said to have something to do with, 
Cursed Child. Enjoy!


Review of Jack Thorne’s Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

by James Thomas

CursedChildWindowDisplay (1)I Don’t Know What It Is, But It’s Not the Eighth Harry Potter Book

A few weeks ago I was teaching in London only three miles from the theater where Harry Potter and the Cursed Child was to open.  Ten or twelve of my students went to see the play, and three of them experienced a Rowling sighting.  While I envied their having seen The Presence (as John Granger calls Her), I didn’t regret missing the performance and didn’t mind waiting a few more weeks to read the “Special Rehearsal Edition” of the play.  All my instincts and previous reading experience told me that whatever I was going to read by Jack Thorne wasn’t going to be an eighth Harry Potter book—no more than the wretched Go Set a Watchman is the second To Kill a Mockingbird.

In fact, having just sailed on another voyage back through the seven-and-only Potter books in my London class, I came away from the rough seas of Cursed Child a bit seasick.  This was an exercise in anticlimax, not unlike rereading Moby-Dick and then encountering Free Willy.  Books that have only one thing in common—whether Harry or whales—can differ in every other conceivable way—in tone, depth, style, and overall literary worth.  I’m certain that reading the play is a far cry from experiencing the wonders and pyrotechnics of the performance; but, having read more than my share of plays, I can also testify that a good play can radiate power and come to life on the page without the “bangs and smoke” of the stage.

batmanToo Many Bangs and Too Much Smoke

Speaking of bangs and smoke, do you remember this gem from “The Cave” chapter of Deathly Hallows?  Rowling writes, “He had never seen a wizard work things out like this, simply by looking and touching; but Harry had long since learned that bangs and smoke were more often the marks in ineptitude than expertise.”  I appreciate this contrast on a figurative level because I believe that we initially enjoy the Rowling books because of the bangs and smoke and that later, as re-readers, we appreciate them for the looking and the touching.  (I also think of this passage when I try to explain why I am less than enthusiastic about almost all film adaptations of great books—Rowling’s included.)  Even Jack Thorne’s words describing the special effects are indicative of the pyrotheatrics of his play.  The words explodes, noise, whoosh, smash, flash, and bang occur over twenty times (Holy Batman!—remember Sock, Pow, Bang, etc.?).  True, Aunt Marge doesn’t float and desserts don’t splat in Cursed Child; and Thorne’s noises and explosions are in a dark context and are matters of life and death.  Yet they still seem to me “more often the marks of ineptitude than expertise.”  Jo surely knows that many of her bangs and tricks are for kids, and she also gives us an abundance of “looking and touching” scenes; Jack doesn’t give us much beyond all the bangs and smoke.

Harry Bad DadMy Harry Is Not a Bad Father

Early in Thorne’s play, when Albus Severus is worried that he may be sorted into Slytherin, he pulls on his father’s robes, and “HARRY looks down” and speaks reassuring words (11).  In Deathly Hallows, Harry offers similar reassurance, but only after he “crouched down so that Albus’s face was slightly above his own” (758).  Actions as well as words play a part in allaying a child’s fears, and Thorne’s Harry looks down on his son while Rowling’s Harry—my Harry, our Harry—looks up to his son.  Moreover, Thorne’s Harry, “(seeing red),” utters the awful words “Well, there are times I wish you weren’t my son” (41).  Harry can’t believe he said that; Ginny can’t believe he said that; I can’t believe he said that; and I can’t believe many playgoers or readers can believe he said that.  So the line is, in my view, unbelievable; but not in the wow sense of the word, but in the not credible sense.  It’s like Hamlet saying to Claudius, “I wish you and my mother well” and toasting to brighter days in Denmark.  I wish Thorne had considered that we all already know Harry is far from perfect before he made his Harry England’s Worst Father, childhood bed wetter, and pigeonophobe.

JamesIn the Deathly Hallows Epilogue, as the train bound for Hogwarts begins to pull away, Harry smiles but feels something “like a little bereavement, watching his son glide away from him . . . .” (759).  Thorne’s Harry essentially tells Albus that being a father scares him so and is so difficult because he had no father to use as an example of parenting (306).  Nature trumps nurture for Rowling’s Harry, however:  Dursley-raised Harry himself had no experience or example to draw from to understand a parent’s bitter-sweet farewell to a child, but he seems to have inherited all the skills and instincts he needs from James and Lily.  It’s not until perhaps these final pages of the final book that readers fully appreciate how much more than James’s unruly hair and Lily’s green eyes were passed on to their son.

ron 4My Ron Is Not a Buffoon

Thorne’s Ron runs a joke shop; he lamely jokes with Lily, his favorite niece; he says things like, “Oi droopy drawers” and “every time I sit down now I make an ‘ooof’ noise” (66-67); he (as Albus-Polyjuiced Ron) blocks Hermione with his hips and proposes that they have another baby or go on holiday (77-78); and he speaks stuttering nonsense to an alternate-time Hermione in excruciatingly painful dialogue (147).  Moreover, Ron points his wand the wrong way (182); he tells Draco he has “really nice hair” (273); and with these words he agrees with Harry and Hermione that Delphi shouldn’t be killed because the trio are not killers: “Yeah, it’s annoying, but it’s what we learnt” (293).  Overall, Jack Thorne gives Ron all the depth and dignity of Nick Bottom, and his painful scenes with the love of his life are reduced to Bottom’s antics with Titania.

Cover 2Did Jack Really Write That?

As Emily Stand has recently reminded us, Harrison Ford wondered how any actor could say some of the stuff (stuff is a euphemism) George Lucas wrote.  Some of Thorne’s stuff comes to mind, and I suppose we would all have our least favorite lines.  Mine include Albus’s assurance to Scorpius that his friend is kind from “the depths of your belly, to the tips of your fingers” (143); Scorpius’s neologism “engorgimpressed” (150); Scorpius’s exclamation when seeing Bathilda Bagshot: “Oh my, that’s her.  Wow.  Squeak.  My geekness is a-quivering” (255); the description of silence as “One that sits low, twists a bit, and has damage in it” (21); and this description of silence: “There is a bang and a flash.  And then silence.  And then there’s more silence” (195).  When I read that last line, I hear Ethel Merman in my head: “There’s no silence like more silence, like no silence I know.”  Another odd little matter involves a rather inexplicable preposition switch.  Why is Hermione Minister for Magic?  Will this become a trend?  Later this year will either Hillary or Donald be elected President for the United States?  Is Elizabeth Queen for England?  Was Mary Queen for Scots?

Ron Hermione and RoseYes, Of Course, There Is Some Magic—How Could There Not Be?

Dealing with Harry’s saga even in such a derivative way, Thorne or almost any writer familiar with and appreciative of that story must inevitably strike gold.  Each reader or playgoer will have his or her favorites, and, based on my own reading and on comments from some of my students who attended Cursed Child, here are some memorable moments worthy of praise:  Snape’s few scenes and his willingness to sacrifice himself again (187); Ron and Hermione’s kiss despite alternate time’s having kept them apart as life partners (192); Harry and Draco’s brief moment as friends rather than enemies (261); and, most notably, James and Lily of necessity dying the sacrificial death once more, witnessed by those who love them and lament their loss most keenly (296-97).  For many of us, such scenes alone—even four or five moments (or pages) of gold—may mitigate the dross and prevent a total literary loss.

chestnut hill logoThe Review Within the Play

Lastly, I think Jack Thorne may have unwittingly written his own review of his play in the play.  Here are my top five unintentional self-descriptions of Cursed Child in Thorne’s dialogue and stage directions.  I’m assuming that explanations as to why I chose these lines and that commentary on the context are unnecessary for HogPro readers.  I offer them in reverse chronological order for your consideration (they are found on pages 285, 280, 106, 89, and 10).  (1) “I just—don’t want to see him like that.  The man I love shrouded in the man I hate”; (2) “The group are gathered and full of confusion”; (3) “There’s a slightly limp cheer”; (4) “So I suppose it’s only ourselves we’ve got to blame that you’ve turned out . . . such a limp disappointment”; and (5) “His hand is empty.  It’s a lame trick.  Everyone enjoys its lameness.”

Super HeroAfter Cursed Child, I Don’t Want My Money Back.  I Just Want My Harry Back.

Don’t you miss Harry?  Doesn’t a play wherein he’s (sort of) a character make you miss him even more?  If so, here’s a recommendation, and it’s free—both the advice and the remedy for missing Harry.  Pick up Sorcerer’s Stone and start reading all over again (again).  I deeply appreciate Elizabeth Baird-Hardy for her comments on this matter in the “Re-visiting instead of Re-Hashing” part of her piece on Cursed Child recently.  My university teaching allows me to return to the blessed books on a regular basis—again next Spring term in fact.  So I invite you to join me, in spirit though not in class, and return to the 4100 pages, paradoxically, again as if for the first time.  As I wrote a few years ago, we’ve all felt the joy and the power of “rereading a rich text, of reliving a story that resonates so deeply with us all—a story, such as Harry’s, that is both in our heads and real.  When the story has ended, and the book is done, and when we must say good-bye to the characters we love (and hate), we need only say good-bye for the present—only until we open the book and begin to read again.”


  1. Emily Strand says

    [Applauding enthusiastically…] Delightful review of a far-less-delightful work! Thank you Professor Thomas. My favorite line: “Harry can’t believe he said that; Ginny can’t believe he said that; I can’t believe he said that; and I can’t believe many playgoers or readers can believe he said that.” Still laughing! Too true!

  2. Most of the article took the words right out of my mouth. I wondered more than once as I read the Cursed Child if Jack Thorn had really read the Hogwarts Saga as he didn’t seem to know or understand any of the characters. He mostly relied on clichés to identify many. It felt like he wrote the play he wanted and then just borrowed her characters names to drop into the story. If he knew Harry at all, he wouldn’t have been able to write those words. We know these characters well, so well in fact that much of their interactions in this play were not believable.

    In the epilogue of Deathly Hallows, I think it is clear that Harry and Albus have a special bond and that Harry recognizes that his second son is sensitive like himself. His green eyes are the link to Lily and the compassion Harry shared with her. To find them here unable to communicate and full of angst feels OOC. This Harry isn’t at all right. I have read the seven Rowling books many times and they will always be “the truth.” But I have also read a lot of fanfiction and I have to say that there are a lot of very good writers out there writing very creatively and often beautifully about these characters. Jack Thorn’s Harry is the worst one I ever read. One of the most consistent qualities of Harry through all fanfic is his goodness and instinctual kindness. My final comment is that Jack Thorn didn’t really get Harry at all.

  3. Kathleen Van Every says

    And Nana took the words right out of my mouth. I couldn’t agree more.

  4. Re: Minister for Magic – That was the original title. Minister of Magic was a result of “translating” the books for American audiences (remember Sorcerer’s vs. Philosopher’s stone).

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