EVERYONE loves Harry Potter. The series’ generation- and globe-spanning appeal is rivaled only by that of Star Wars. But the Harry Potter books have a unique resonance with millennials whose growth mirrored Harry’s own during the course of the seven original novels. I first read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone as a third grader, a few years after its publication; I was in my late adolescence when I read Deathly Hallows, a book that coincided with and felt symbolic of my generation’s entry into adulthood—these characters I had spent my entire youth with had reached maturity and were about to disappear (seemingly) forever.
The story of the Boy Who Lived is ultimately just another take on Joseph Campbell’s “Hero’s Journey” template. The wide-eyed “Chosen One,” the sagacious elder figure, the tragic antihero—these are all well-worn tropes, thanks to Disney, Star Wars, and every superhero narrative ever. While there’s no shortage of familiar devices in The Cursed Child—the latest and presumably final entry in the series—it is, at its heart, a more mature, domestic story. Picking up directly where the Deathly Hallows epilogue left off, The Cursed Child largely concerns the fraught relationship between Harry Potter—now an employee at the Ministry of Magic—and his son, Albus Severus Potter, a confused young wizard who sucks at performing spells and has been placed in Slytherin, much to the wizarding world’s dismay.
It’s a little bit misleading that The Cursed Child is presented as a new Harry Potter “book.” It’s actually a script for The Cursed Child West End theater production, intended for Harry Potter fans who don’t live in London and can’t see the play (which is most of them). This is its biggest shortcoming: While some people might be accustomed to reading scripts (e.g., English majors and actors), it’s probably not the most accessible or enjoyable format for an average reader, especially a younger one. Take a scene early in the book, when three of the main protagonists—Albus Potter, Scorpius Malfoy, and Delphi Diggory—drink the form-altering Polyjuice Potion and transform into the original trio of Harry, Ron, and Hermione. For the next two scenes, the characters’ names appear as “Albus/Ron” or “Scorpius/Harry,” and things get even more confusing once they start interacting with the characters whose likenesses they’ve assumed—the whole routine is probably hilarious on stage, but it feels totally inorganic translated to text.
But those are minor gripes. Fans who worried The Cursed Child would merely be an extended epilogue to Deathly Hallows can rest easy: This is a complete, self-contained story worthy of the Harry Potter canon. In addition to introducing a new, memorable cast—Draco Malfoy’s precocious, self-deprecating son Scorpius is the real star—the story ties up the few loose ends left by Deathly Hallows (yes, Harry and Draco finally formally make up). Younger readers will probably identify with Albus—the fiery, smart-aleck, renegade Potter. But veteran fans will inevitably identify with the mature Harry, whose main struggle in The Cursed Child is coming to terms with his role in the adult world—something every grown-up can relate to, whether they’re witch, wizard, or Muggle.