In many ways, the Harry Potter stories and films were the fairytales with which an entire generation grew up. At least this was true for me; a large part of my emotional and moral development comes from the time my imagination spent within the wizarding world. I’m perhaps being a tiny bit emotive and nostalgic but the seven books are certainly “moral” texts. JK Rowling herself intended the series to be a child appropriate treatise on death, loss and mourning.
Well if we’re willing to accept the original books as a modern fairytale then Harry Potter & The Cursed Child, the new play sequel, is its postmodern deconstruction.
For the last decade or two, there has been a trend of returning to the classic fairytales with a fresher, but perhaps more cynical slant. Look at Shrek, released in 2001, which deconstructs the tropes of the European fairytale through contemporary culture and pop culture. When I was roughly eight or nine I distinctly remember reading, as my school reading book, The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales which flipped many of the tropes on their head. For example, the central premise is a pseudo Gingerbread man, made from cheese, that everyone runs away from. I particularly remember one retelling of Cinderella that emphasised the abuse of her labour (this genuinely might be where my marxist leanings come from) and ended with the Ugly Step Sisters slicing their bunions off trying the glass slipper on, and dying from the resulting blood loss.
I bring all of these up because I think they might explain in some way exactly why I liked “…The Cursed Child” just as much as I did. Like all of these examples, the new Harry Potter book is similarly postmodern as it explicitly subverts the trope of “the happy ending”. The Deadly Hallows wraps up the original narrative arc in such a neat and perfect way; the characters are older, all married to one another, still friends and sending their children off to Hogwarts for the first time. The last line is literally “All was well”, which implies that there’s no story to tell because the characters have achieved their story book “happily ever after”. But …The Cursed Child returns to these characters in the decade immediately after that scene at Hogwarts to question whether any of them are really happy? The audience steps back into this narrative world to find: Hermione as the minister of magic, but struggling under the pressure of politics; Ron still managing the family joke shop, but is overweight and having marital problems; Harry, a bad father who is still unable to reconcile is guilt over the death of Cedric Diggory. All these beloved figures are now leading miserable lives.
I understand why this might be heartbreaking to some people, but I adored this narrative decision. I know this is a fantasy, magical world but it just seems realistic to me. Harry Potter may have been the chosen one as a child, but now he’s resigned to an unfulfilling government job. Maybe I’m too cynical, but for the first time since I was about eleven years old I can relate to these characters again; they couldn’t keep achieving greatness forever, eventually they’d all have to settle. The beauty of the Harry Potter series was always that it spoke to you in an honest and frank way, and …The Cursed Child continues this by grounding its characters within the actualities of adult life.
But for what purpose do JK Rowling and Jack Thorne deconstruct this fantasy world? As previously mentioned this writing style is perhaps more honest and grounded within our post modern society. But, like all Harry Potter books, this also contains a very clear moral – there’s no such thing as a happy ending. I understand that this might be too cynical for some of us who grew up part of this world, but I feel like this is the most important morality explored within the entirety of the series. Rowling and Thorne make a case that happiness isn’t stemmed from a fantasy “happily-ever-after”, even for wizards, but rather that happiness is something you must constantly fight for. The beauty of life comes, not from the aim of unrealistic eternal happiness, but rather the constant working toward and protecting of a happy life.