The Real Magic of "Harry Potter and the Cursed Child": Takeaways From the Play

Sunday, January 26, 2020


I remember hearing once -- in a monologue given during the acting class I took in my first year of college -- that there are only two stories: a man goes on a journey, or a stranger comes to town.

But the more I consume quality entertainment -- which I define as that which leads us to what's true, good, and beautiful -- the more I am convinced that there is really only one story: the longing to be seen, known, and loved -- and the desires for relationship or achievement that drive that longing.


A Father's Love

I saw Harry Potter and the Cursed Child: Parts I and II in San Francisco last weekend, and, without spoiling anything for those who wish to see the play, I will say that it certainly lived up to the hype. To use a pun that is both one hundred percent intended and undoubtedly trite in this context -- the effects, the music, the costuming, the sheer wonder of realizing Harry Potter's world on the stage were all just so... magical. 

And yet, as impressive as all of those elements might have been, I believe that what makes the play so resonant is, first, that it points to something true: the longing to be in relationship, to be seen, known, and loved.

This sensational piece of theatre is really just about a father and a son who are yearning to be in relationship with one another.

Albus Potter, feeling inferior to and resentful of his father's fame, decides to steal the only remaining Time Turner and endeavor, along with his best friend Scorpius Malfoy, to save Cedric Diggory from dying in the Triwizard Tournament during Harry's fourth year at school. Ostensibly presented by Albus as a desire to do good for its own sake, to right an unnecessary wrong, to "spare the spare," it's also a bid for acclaim and renown of Albus's own.

And though he never claims he wants to do any of that to earn his father's approval (if anything, Albus seems to want to spite his father by correcting what he considers Harry's negligence) the show is filled with missed connections between the two characters.

Before Albus leaves for his fourth year, Harry gives him the blanket he was wrapped in when he was dropped on the Dursleys' doorstep, telling his son (on page 40 of the official script book) that he thinks it "could be good for the two of us..." On the same page, the stage directions reveal that he "looks at his son, desperate to reach out."

Though he gave James his Invisibility Cloak, and Lily a pair of wings -- gifts intended to delight and amuse -- his bequest to Albus is rooted in a desire for relationship, which Albus is quick to spurn: "What did you think would happen? We'd hug. I'd tell you I always loved you. What? What?" (Rowling et al. 41). The scene reaches a heartbreaking climax when Albus and Harry mutually wish they weren't related to each other -- and the rupture that ensues is one they each spend the rest of the play trying to repair. Albus gets in trouble. Harry chases after him.

Until finally, they reach an understanding and "melt together" on the last page of the script. The search comes to a satisfying end.


The Will of God

I've also been thinking a great deal over this last week about the moral of this story; what is the lesson we are meant to walk away with at the end? What else is the play about?

Answering these questions has led me to one of the play's final scenes (spoilers ahead):

Albus's and Scorpius's time-traveling exploits eventually lead them and their families to Godric's Hollow on the night Voldemort kills Harry's parents. As they stand at the edge of the stage, staring straight ahead, waiting and listening for the horror that is soon to unfold before them, Harry laments not being able to stop it. Albus points out that Harry technically is able to stop it, but won't choose to do so. And it's Draco who finally says, "That's heroic" (295).

I've been turning this over in my head all week, wondering what it is about Harry's choice to refrain from acting that makes it a heroic decision, when failing to do good in the face of evil is what we Catholics would call a sin of omission. When I recite the Confiteor at Mass, don't I apologize for "what I have done, and for what I have failed to do"? From that perspective, it seems that if any event were worth intervening in, this would be the one.

We could begin to justify Harry’s inaction by saying, "everything happens for a reason" and things that have already been done happened that way because they were supposed to. If Harry had decided to stop Voldemort from killing his parents, Voldemort would never have tried to kill baby Harry that night, which both reduced Voldemort to a shadow of his former self and gave Harry what he needed to destroy the dark wizard for good someday. But I think that Christian theology leads us to a still more satisfying conclusion here, too.

It wasn't just that "everything happened for a reason," as if James's and Lily's deaths were arbitrary events. Rather, Lily, in particular, had to die that night in Godric's Hollow, and she had to die out of love, out of sacrifice, while she was protecting Harry, in order to leave an indelible mark on his soul that would protect him in the years to come -- in order to give him the tools he needed to conquer the darkness. If events hadn't unfolded exactly as they did in Godric's Hollow, as Harry realizes just pages before, "[Voldemort would] have only got more powerful -- the darkness would have got darker" (279).

Lily's sacrifice mirrors Christ's ultimate sacrifice on the Cross, to save us from our sins and give us what we need to overcome the darkness in our own lives. If Christ hadn't died for us, the darkness would have continued to spread. Instead, the greatest evil -- the Crucifixion of God Himself -- led to a far, far greater good: our salvation. He had to die so we could be free.

I don't think the lesson in Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is that "everything happens for a reason" so much as it is that "all things work for good for those who love God" (Rom 8:28), and that suffering always leads to a greater good when it is surrendered -- as it is when Harry realizes that he could act, but won't do it.

***

Special effects and costuming and staging and music aside, there's real magic in this show, and it ushers us toward what's true, good, and beautiful. I'm still blown away. Go see it if you can!!

1 comment :

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