There’s no polite way to say it: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is not a successful Potter story by any stretch. While it contains a few nice moments — redemption for Draco, his son Scorpius briefly being coined with the nickname “Scorpion King;” Hermione as the Minister for Magic — the play’s plot ranges from sloppy to nonsensical.
Ron’s characterization; Voldemort’s secret daughter; Harry’s son traveling through time and somehow making Cedric Diggory a Death Eater are all bad enough, but it’s also filled with tropes straight out of bad fan fiction. On that note, did we mention Voldemort has a secret daughter? And that there’s time travel involved? But if the play’s haphazard quality puts you in a Dementor-like depressive fog, here’s a Patronus for you: Good news, it’s not canon.
Cursed Child not being canon isn’t merely a wishful plea from a lifelong fan who abhorred the play. It’s true! If we examine the beloved and high-functioning components of the Potter canon, there are none here.
First of all, J.K. Rowling did not write Cursed Child. Playwright Jack Throne did. The project, therefore, is nothing more than fan fiction that has been given an official blessing. It doesn’t make it any better than internet fan fiction — which is why it isn’t any better. If our definition of Potter canon is “material written by J.K. Rowling,” this does not pass the first test.
A different medium
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is being advertised as “the eighth story” in the Potterverse. It’s not. Every other volume of the series was a novel; this is a play. The significance here is twofold. First, all Potter fans are not on equal footing, able to access the story in the same way all at once. The play received favorable reviews, which means that the acting and set designs probably disguised the flimsy plotting in a live performance.
But most fans are not able to see a live performance due to financial or geographical constraints. This script is their only means of experiencing the story. In all previous instances of Potter canon, every fan had access to the story at the same time. The narrative emphasizes equality, and that was mirrored in the fan experience. That’s not the case here.
Secondly, the reason the Potter books resonate with generations of readers is that in spite of the fantastical backdrop, it felt deeply human because it dived into the psyches of characters over time, in subtle ways. The stage doesn’t allow for this, which leads to scenes in Cursed Child like Harry and Dumbledore’s portrait professing their love for each other in a heavy-handed way. The very means through which we experience Cursed Child differs from the way we experience every other volume in the series.
As much as they jumped around to magical hijnks and events that were far too dangerous for schoolchildren, the Potter books never felt incredulous because the characters felt like real people. Nobody was one-dimensional: Hermione could be arrogant about academics, but it was balanced by her insecurity in interpersonal matters. Ron was a mixture of deeply loyal and carelessly cruel. Neither story nor character ever conveniently forgot a past experience. But in Cursed Child (pg 39), Ron sends Harry’s son a love potion as a gag gift. Harry waves it off with, “I think it’s a joke about — well, Ron’s Ron, you know?”
No, we don’t know, and neither does Harry.
Recall that in The Half Blood Prince, Ron almost dies in a love potion incident (he eats a potion-spiked Cauldron Cake intended for Harry and inadvertently chases it with poisoned wine that Draco intended for Dumbledore. His brush with death is so serious, his parents even visit him in the hospital wing). Ron would not forget about that and subsequently send a love potion to his young nephew as “a gag gift.”
And considering the fact that Harry saved him, he wouldn’t wave it off as, “that’s just wacky Ron!” He’d be far more likely to be skeptical of the potion’s origins. Similarly, Cursed Child contains a scene in which Harry and Hermione storm McGonagall’s office, demanding that she keep an eye on their kids. In Order of the Phoenix, they were disillusioned by the Ministry’s interference at Hogwarts. Even if they both now work at a less corrupt Ministry, it isn’t consistent with either Harry or Hermione’s characterization that they would consider themselves an exception to the line between government and school.
The Potter stories were not entirely free of plot holes, but characterization, especially of its central trifecta, was always consistent. Here, it isn’t.
The events of Cursed Child also directly contradict the Potter canon. Toward the end of the play, Harry’s son Albus travels back in time and sees Lily and James pushing baby Harry in a pram shortly before their deaths. This never happened. In Deathly Hallows, Harry finds an old letter Lily wrote to Sirius that reads, “James is getting a bit frustrated shut up here,” (pg 180). Because Lily and James were in hiding before their death, they were not taking neighborhood strolls. And if this seems like nit-picking, part of why the Potter stories remain popular is that, unlike many other fantasy stories, they lend themselves to revisits precisely because they hold up to this kind of scrutiny.
Rowling spent over a year on each volume, plotting the series meticulously. Although the idea of horcruxes isn’t introduced until the sixth book, we get hints at Voldemort’s system in book 2 (Riddle’s diary) and book 5 (the locket at Grimmauld Place that nobody could open). Even plot turns that seem last-minute — like the Bloody Baron’s true history, which Harry learns right before the Battle of Hogwarts — find their roots placed early in the narrative.
But Cursed Child hinges on two plot points that have less than no foundation in the narrative: first, that Cedric would turn into a Death Eater just because he was humiliated. Cedric was “a good and loyal friend” and “a hard worker who valued fair play” (Goblet of Fire, pg 722). One instance of public embarrassment wouldn’t be enough to send a boy who was “good and kind” running to Voldemort.
The second instance of plot-fuckery is that Voldemort would have a child. Although Bellatrix was indeed described as speaking to Voldemort “as if to a lover,” (Deathly Hallows, pg 724) her infatuation was one-sided. As Dumbledore says time and again, Voldemort had no regard for the finer points of humanity. He’s clearly telegraphed as asexual — and he was so quick to condemn any kind of human ties, he would never feel the need to have a child even as a back-up plan to horcruxes. He had no backup, because the entire point of his personality is that he was arrogant enough to assume nobody would catch on to his plans.
The Harry Potter series endures because it’s meticulously crafted. Every element from plot to characterization clearly took Rowling years, and it shows. It’s not perfect, but it wouldn’t have resonated for so long if it seemed sloppy. Cursed Child feels like it was patched together in two days, by people who gave the series a cursory skim. From its authorship to its medium to its very construction, it stands apart from the rest of the Potter canon. Like help at Hogwarts, it’s out there for those who seek it, but make no mistake: Cursed Child is not canon.