Sunday, 31 July 2016

Book Review: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

Warning: There will be spoilers, but don't worry, I'll give you plenty of warning!

I've had a bit of a Harry Potter weekend, thanks to the release of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child today. And it's been awesome, recapturing a little bit of that feeling from a decade ago when I would read forums and countdown and speculate about what was coming in the next Harry Potter book by carefully poring over the clues on J.K. Rowling's website or interviews.

And on a smaller scale, it happened again this weekend.

Obviously, it's a much smaller scale than the previous books which have taken us to Hogwarts. Whereas nine years ago Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was released with a huge amount of fanfare, this one has slipped under the radar for a lot of people.

And there's a good reason for that. Although it's J.K.'s name on the front cover, although it's got Harry Potter in the title, and although it's taking us back to Hogwarts again, it's not technically just a Rowling Harry Potter story. It's a playscript (a format which I know has put some readers off); the writing credit is shared by John Tiffany and John Thorne; and the main focus in this story is the next generation of Hogwarts kids, specifically Albus Potter and Scorpius Malfoy.

None of that bothered me though.

I'm one of those teenagers who came to Pottermania a little late in the game (shortly after the publication of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire) but was instantly hooked, discovering it when I moved to Scotland to start a new school. I guess I could see some parallels between myself and the title character; though thankfully Voldemort never made an appearance at any of my end-of-term events.

I still reread the series regularly, including the three additional books. I watch the films. I read websites and chat to friends and generally keep the magic alive. So I knew Harry Potter and the Cursed Child was a book I had to read.

And I made its release into a bit of a mini-event in my house.

Our local bookshop announced a midnight opening, so all my planning stemmed around that. Many moons ago, when Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince was released, I had to go to work the next day, preventing me from staying up all night reading as I planned and putting me somewhat behind the action when people were discussing important moments on social media.

Not this time!

I pulled out of all obligations for today so I knew I'd have the full day to just read if I wanted to. Or sleep if I'd spent the wee hours reading. Or writing incredibly long blog posts about what I'd just read if I was awake.

I laid the groundwork for my ride to town for midnight (by bribing Mr Click with a Chinese takeaway, offer him Chinese food and he'll do practically anything) and also recruited him to come up with suitable Wizarding World snacks to keep me fueled during my marathon reading session. I ended up with a stash of jelly beans, fruit pastilles, custard creams, and flying saucers (the closest thing Mr Click could find to Fizzing Whizzbees).

He even gamely got the ingredients and helped me make Butterbeer, an amazing drink which I'm sure we'll be making again some time, even if it did take a whole bottle of butterscotch syrup to make!

And so I planned out my whole day in my Bullet Journal:
I'm only sharing this page because I drew that wand and I'm pretty proud of it!
Anyway, 11:30pm rolled around and Mr Click and I found ourselves standing outside the doors of our local bookshop. Waiting, and waiting, and waiting. In a way it was a little bit sad. I remember eleven years ago waiting in a queue which stretched halfway across the town square; nine years ago there were so many people attending the midnight opening they booked the castle for a party. This year there was a little huddle of about seven of us waiting outside for the doors to open. I guess that a lot of Harry Potter fans have grown up and now have responsibilities which keep them from attending midnight openings.

But I didn't get nostalgic for too long, because soon the doors opened and I hopped inside the shop. And was the first person on the island to pick up their copy of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child:

As you can see, I was pretty happy about it.

I may have stroked and cuddled and petted it all the way home (after reading the first page or two, just so I can say that I started it right away). Then I went home, climbed into bed in the spare bedroom (so as to finally let Mr Click get some sleep), picked up my mug of butterbeer and got to work.

And that's why you're here, isn't it?

If not, you might want to look away now, because here there'll be spoilers.

I mean it.

Don't say I didn't warn you!

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child picks up literally, right where Deathly Hallows finishes. Exactly there. I finished rereading all the books a week ago and so it was a little like an echo on the page, watching Harry and Ginny taking their children to Platform 9¾, Albus worrying about which house he'll be in, being reassured by his father. It was all familiar ground.

And like Harry, the first kid that Albus stumbles across is destined to be his best friend forever. Unlike Harry, Albus's new best friend is a Malfoy; Scorpius Malfoy to be exact, the only son of Harry's former nemesis, Draco. This wasn't news to me because the BBC had helpfully shared a bunch of photos from the play and captioned one of them explaining that Scorpius and Albus would be friends. I'd been a little worried that it was going to be some sort of rehash of Harry Potter, but with a Potter/Malfoy friendship instead.

It's not. Not really.

It was about this moment that I kind of fell in love with Scorpius. If Albus thinks he's got things bad, Scorpius has things ten times worse. He's the son of a known Death Eater, whose family were seriously tied up with Voldemort, his mum's not well, and there's been a rumour going round that Voldemort fathered a child and that he's it. Rose does helpfully point out that this is unlikely because Scorpius has a nose and all.

Scorpius has all the best lines in this book as well. He's really deadpan, smart, and has a great sense of humour. I'm honestly a little bit in love with the kid.

So we head to Hogwarts and low and behold, guess which house Albus Severus Potter is sorted into?

If, like me, nine years ago you read that Harry had given his son the initials ASP and guessed that Slytherin would be the best fit for him, you'd be right!

Time sort of skips ahead from there and Albus has a touch of the Neville's. He doesn't feel like he belongs, he's fairly certain he's disappointing his father, and Harry doesn't really know how to deal with his strange little emo son. So he deals with it badly and causes a nice little rift to widen between them.

And then Harry starts having nightmares, his scar starts to hurt again and I begin to panic because Voldemort can't be coming back?! Can he?!

At this point I decided that if Voldemort did actually come back, I would be really disappointed. I mean, what a cop out? Destroy Voldemort and then bring him back in some convenient way to make a play.

Except he kind of does come back, but he doesn't really, except he is alive and lots of people are dead. It's all very timey wimey and confusing. But also very clever and awesome too.

Basically, Albus and Scorpius hook up with a girl called Delphi who claims to be Amos Diggory's niece. Someone's got their hands on a Time-Turner and Amos wants to bring Cedric back. Al, Scorpius and Delphi get together and steal it from Hermione (who is now the Minister for Magic, go Hermione!) to fix the past.

Except, as is to be expected, this does not fix anything at all. Harry warns Albus off having anything to do with Draco's son; changing time means that Ron and Hermione never get together and things pretty much go from bad to worse.

And then from worse to whatever comes after worse because in attempting to fix the damage they caused, Scorpius finds that Harry Potter died, Voldemort rose to power, and Albus never even existed at all. Luckily Severus Snape is around to help and things get fixed, until Delphi takes them back once more and reveals herself to be a little bit evil.

I was a little unsure of the time travelling thing at first. It seemed like a bit of a gimmick to bring in a bunch of characters who otherwise would've had no part in a story about Albus Potter going to Hogwarts; Cedric Diggory, Victor Krum, Fleur Delacour, Snape, Umbridge. But it works. And how many AU Harry Potter stories have been written where Cedric lived, Snape lived, Harry Potter died; it's kind of cool to see a glimpse of what those outcomes could have been.

And all these people popping up got me to wondering:
Because there's always been that line in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince where Bellatrix is strangely specific 'If I had sons...' and I suddenly had a funny feeling where this was going.

And, it turned out, I was right:
Obviously, everything works out in the end, but it did make me wonder if perhaps J.K. Rowling was planning this all along. Perhaps it was just a happy coincidence in the wording which allowed for this twist in a spin-off over ten years later. But J.K. has such a handle on her world, and things are so meticulously planned, that it does make me wonder if perhaps she's been smugly sitting on this all along!

There were a few moments in this book where it felt like I was reading a work of fanfiction. So many little bits and things which I've seen mentioned in fanworks over the last decade ended up being woven into the story; I mean, I bet if you search on there are hundreds of variations on 'Character X gets their hands on the one remaining Time-Turner and goes back to fix the past'.

Ditto for 'Voldemort has a child'. When I realised who Delphi's father was I felt a little eye-rolly. But now I just want to know more. Was there some sort of Wizarding insemination going on there? Did Voldemort actually want a child? Was this another attempt at conserving his immortality? Was it purely to continue his bloodline to ensure that the Gaunt and Slytherin line didn't die out? I hope J.K. Rowling gives us some more information about this on Pottermore; in the meantime, the fanfic writers will be having a field day with all this new material.

This story is cleverly done. It's a little confusing in places, but I put that down to it being a very visual story being represented by mere words on a page. I think that on the stage it would feel so much more alive. As I was reading, I was trying to imagine the words as spoken by the characters, picture their movements and what would be happening around them. Hopefully next year I'll get the chance to do that for real.

As it's a play text, it makes for a nice quick read. It wouldn't surprise me if in the next few weeks, prose versions of this story start appearing on fanfiction sites around the net. That might make it a little more accessible to fans who aren't keen on the script format. I do kind of wish that J.K. had realised a novel-edition of the script, because there is a certain magic missing from the way that she describes things and sets up little hints of what is to come.

I don't think I can really count this as part of the original seven Harry Potter books; it's got Harry in it, sure, but it's not really his story. This one is about Albus and Scorpius; it's their story about lives in a world where Dark Magic is just a distant memory and the danger and threats of Voldemort are mostly forgotten. I would like to see more of these two, especially Scorpius.

And who is the Cursed Child?

I'm still not sure. I think there's a three-way tie. Albus, Scorpius and Delphi are are carrying the weight of their fathers' legacies and each react to it in their own way. Delphi goes to the dark side, Scorpius goes to the good (he could easily have slotted into any of the Hogwarts houses, but he'd make an especially good Hufflepuff, I think), and Albus? Well, he gets moody and angsts and really needs to learn to think things through a little better.

I finished this book at about 3:30am, after reading straight through with just a loo break and a pause to open a packet of sweets (oh, and the occasional tweets about what I was reading). As soon as I was finished, I was tempted to open it back up and start over again. I feel like there's so much more I'll get from it on a second reading.

I think this is a book for fans of Harry Potter. You'll get the most from it if you're familiar with the characters, with the events, with the world of the original stories. And I definitely think that the seeing it on stage will be a million times better than reading the words on a page.

But if you can't get to the theatre in London any time soon, then read the book. Savour it. Enjoy it. Take a brief trip back to Hogwarts and remember what it was like when you visited it the first time.

It's nice to have a little bit of magic in the world.

Sunday, 24 July 2016

Due Date

I couldn't sleep this morning so I wrote this and posted it on Facebook, but I'm wanting to bring this blog back to life and here's a good place to share it too.

Dear Olaf Albert & Elsa Hilda,

I'm missing you hard right now.

Today could've been your birthday, and while I know that due dates aren't an exact science, it's just another little reminder that you guys aren't here.

But it's not the only date in your short lives which means something to me, in fact it's probably the least important one because who's to say that you wouldn't have shown up early, or late, or one on either side of midnight.

You might never have seen your due date, but how many people know the exact date their offspring were conceived because I do (along with the thousands of other women having IVF/ICSI treatment, of course). It was the 16th of June, though we didn't know for certain until the following day.

You were so special that we put you on ice and didn't get to meet you until the 6th of November. How many other people have time travelling babies? (Again, apart from couples having the aforementioned fertility treatments. And pandas).

You might have been tiny little bundles of cells, but you were the most beautiful bundles of cells I'd ever seen. I know, I'm hugely biased, but it's true.

I'm sorry you never really got proper names until after you were gone. Olaf and Elsa was meant to be a cutsie joke, because you were Frozen, get it? We added the names of one each of your great-grandparents only after you'd gone. It made you feel more real somehow.

Sometimes I still have to remind myself you were here because November last year feels like a bit of a dream. So few people knew about you and your time was so brief that it would be easy to forget.

I'll never forget.

We waited so long for you; five years, eleven months, and two weeks to be exact, but who's counting. And the time we had together was so short.

But I loved every minute of it.

I loved watching what I did and ate because I was responsible for more lives than just my own. I loved the crazy insomnia you gave me, knowing that for those two, or three, or four hours I lay awake at night, I wasn't really alone. I even loved the beginning of the morning sickness and the fact I had to pee. All. The. Time.

They were never annoyances, well, okay, the peeing thing and the midafternoon crash caused by the mad sleep patterns weren't exactly thrilling. But I just enjoyed knowing you were in there and my body was doing this most amazing, natural, impossible thing.

You were worth it all. All the crazy hormones. All the injections. All the hospital appointments. All of it.

Your daddy would probably even say it was worth getting woken up at 2am by the crazy woman who couldn't wait one minute longer to take a pregnancy test!

So while today is a sad day because it's another reminder that I'll never get to hold you in my arms, I don't want to feel too sad; we packed so many happy memories into such a short space of time and I want to focus on those, not some arbitrary date when you might have been born.

And I just wanted to share some of those memories today, on this essentially arbitrary date, because people don't talk about these things nearly enough. I'm that one in eight women who struggle with infertility; you were the one in four pregnancy that ended in miscarriage. And it totally sucks that we got to be part of both those statistics, kiddos.

But I got to have you for a little while, a painfully short time, but a little while nonetheless. While I'll never get to sing you a lullaby (badly, I'm afraid), or tuck you into bed, or watch you negotiate the tricky world of school and relationships (also not one of my strong points, to be honest), I know you existed and that you were real.

I got to be your mummy for those few weeks and I carry you with me in my heart everyday, my special snowflake babies.

Every day.