While Harry Potter is a fantastic, engrossing, reading experience for anyone of any age, I’ve always believed that it was most special for kids who were growing up with Harry — the kids who were adolescent around the time he got his letter to Hogwarts, and verging on adulthood by the time he left it. That generation — my generation — got the special magic of living things out alongside him, our imaginations inhaling each glimpse into his world, our hearts seeing him as an intimate friend, despite never seeing him at all.
Close to a decade later, and that feeling of childish wonder — or perhaps more specifically, the want of that feeling — still hasn’t really left us. Any of us.
Nostalgia is a funny thing, though. It’s a tricky, an impossible thing, actually, if you look at it closely enough — because even if the thing itself, a movie, a book, a tv series, is recreated to perfection, the conditions for that feeling still can’t be. Ever, actually. Try as we might, we’ve all grown away from that moment when we were simply in love with the adventure itself, reading whole-heartedly, and without question.
I think it’s best to read Harry Potter and the Cursed Child with all this in mind — with the expectation that it will still be familiar, meaningful, magical, but that it is no longer exactly what we saw when we were children.
It shouldn’t be. Nostalgia is a funny thing, a wonderful thing, an impossible thing, and it can be a stifling one, too. Tying the Cursed Child too closely to the Potters we once read before is to hold it to an unreasonable standard, for what the work is itself. It isn’t meant to be that identical reading experience we once had, not only because we have had it already, but because even in the literal, logistical sense, it cannot be — this is a play, and not a novel, a medium that strips out much of the background and scenery writing that made Hogwarts once feel so whole. Instead, things are delivered mostly verbally, sometimes even clashing with what we would have expected the characters to be like.
Without going too much into details, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child carefully tries to fit in the established universe, yet move it forward, too, a tension that is managed effectively at times, and ham-fisted and gimmicky at others. And truthfully, I still found it to be a satisfactory experience, even as it fell far short of what I was hoping it to be.
No, it did not transport me, entirely, back to being under the covers late at night, reading way past my bedtime in wonder. But it did so in moments, with lines and scenes here and there that struck deep into the veins of my memory.
And ultimately, that’s enough for me, as far as nostalgia goes, because no media or art will ever be as perfect as it was when you view it as a child. But for brief glimpses, I still got to feel young again, and that, for me, overcame a whole host of flaws in the play, including the disappointment of this not exactly being a main Harry Potter universe title — it is, instead, more of a semi-distant offspring.
Besides, I don’t surrender under the spell of this universe to be surprised anymore. We have always known how it had to end, how it was destined to end, but we followed, so we could reunite with some of the most familiar, reliable friends we will ever know, if even only briefly now.
And after seeing them all again, I’m glad to report all is well enough.