Yesterday, J.K. Rowling released Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, a new Harry Potter story, and the world — including me — was skeptical. Instead of writing a new novel (the profits of which undoubtedly would’ve allowed her to buy a couple of castles or maybe a small country), she told the story as a play. Um, yeah. In the world of Snapchat and instant gratification, of ebooks and book trailers and literary hashtags, she chose a storytelling method that hasn’t changed much since Shakespeare. (Which was probably the point.)
If you haven’t been keeping up with Harry Potter Reddit feeds, you might not have heard much about this book/play hybrid, so here’s the deal: J.K. Rowling collaborated on a play that picks up where the end of book seven — that chapter about Harry marrying Ginny and having kids (James and Albus and Lily) and Hermione marrying Ron and having kids (Rose and Hugo) and Draco marrying having a son (Scorpius) — lets off. The play is currently being performed in England, so most fans would have to make a trip to see it. Oh, and you’d need to stay overnight, because the play is in two parts, and you have to go to two different showings if you want to see the whole thing. But if don’t have a portkey handy (or if international travel isn’t in your budget), you can read the script as a hardcover book — and it’s that book that was released yesterday.
The whole play-to-book thing isn’t what made me skeptical about this new story. Technology is evolving the definition of a book in our culture, and J.K. Rowling is one of the few authors keeping up: She helped develop Pottermore, an RPG with bonus content; she circumvented the usual publishing players with the initial publication of her Harry Potter ebooks; she’s telling another part of the Wizarding World story through a movie coming out later this year; she tried using a pseudonym to write her mystery novels. Basically, she’s bringing playfulness and experimentation to publishing in a time that it seriously needs it. Has everything she’s tried been a home run? No, but that’s not really the point.
What made me hesitant about The Cursed Child was the fact that Rowling didn’t actually write the play — Jack Thorne did. Yes, she worked with him, and with John Tiffany, and the rumor was that she was hugely involved. But what does that mean? I was scared to hand some of my most beloved characters over to strangers.
The little I read about what the play was actually about concerned me, too. I read articles saying the play was adult and heavy and about Harry grappling with middle age. That the happy ending we got at the end of the last book was warping under the weight of life’s ordinary drudgeries. It seemed like the magic, as they say, was gone.
After spending a pretty lovely Sunday reading the book (and playing the soundtrack to the first movie in the background, naturally), I’m happy to report that none of my fears were realized. For one thing, Harry and company are in their mid-thirties … not exactly middle-aged. Most of the action revolves around Albus and Scorpius anyway, so the story feels very fresh and young and a lot like the seven books that we already love. Our favorite characters, even some very unexpected ones, are back (I want to add spoilers but I’ll resist), and they’re wonderful players in a complex story, not just cameos. Sure, reading a play is different than reading a novel: Some of the description seems weaker than it did in the novels because it’s designed to be made fuller and given life through the action on the stage, and the visuals are drawn to be dramatic in a theater, so they’re a bit different than we’d expect from a novel. But that’s what makes it a great play — one that I’m very much hoping I’ll eventually get to see come to life in a theater.
One thing is clear: J.K. Rowling was very much a part The Cursed Child. Several strands of story are woven together perfectly in the end; the themes of friendship and character that she focused on are still front-and-center; magic is filtered through legend and prophesy and a bit of silly fun; and the characters interact in wonderful ways that are familiar and signature-Rowling. If you’re a Harry Potter fan wondering if you should read The Cursed Child, my answer is, absolutely.
Carrie Rollwagen is a book reviewer Southern Living and BookPage; she’s also Communications Director at Infomedia and wrote a book about local buying, The Localist. Find her on Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat and Twitter @crollwagen.