So I would say I’m something of a Potter fan. I’ve seen all the movies and loved every single one of them. In terms of the source material novels, I’ve read them all except for the first three. The only reason for this being was that I was exposed to the movies first and I was so in love with the way Prisoner of Azkaban finished and how much more adult oriented than the previous stories it was that I didn’t want to wait for the next movie to find out what happened. So I picked up the books and continued to chug along. I have plans to go back and read them all in order but I figured I would be upfront about that fact before I get into the meat of this article. Take it for what you will.
The months leading up to the release of this story, I’ve had cursory knowledge of its existence as a stage play then eventual release in novel form. So I kind of came into this experience cold in terms of story details and general knowledge of what I was getting into. I also wasn’t aware until I had the book in hand that Rowling only has a story credit and the actual scripting and structure of the plot were handled by Jack Thorne with help from John Tiffany. So before I sat down to read, nerves began to set in that maybe this wasn’t going to live up to the gold standard set by the previous 7 novels. Also something I wasn’t entirely aware of was the fact that the “book” wasn’t an actual book but a recreation of the rehearsal script for the stage play currently under way over in London.
So armed with all this knowledge I sat in my favorite reading chair, and set about digesting the 8th and ostensibly final story in the Harry Potter saga ready to see what I got myself into.
I finally finished the book last night and overall it is a worthy if not somewhat flawed final chapter in this epic saga. The structure of the writing is a little jarring at first. It is very much in script form with stage directions that describe the action and scene changes. The whole thing is broken up into 2 parts which each part is broken into several acts. At first I found it kind of distracting to read it in this format. The usual long form novel allows for more nuance in different scenes and there’s a much more descriptive nature to the story that allows moments to breathe and realize their full impact. Here the script zips along from scene to scene with huge time jumps in between. This doesn’t really allow you to stop and absorb what’s going on in the current situation of the scene you’re reading. I suppose that’s the nature of reading the script of a stage production with limited time to tell its story. Eventually I settled into a groove and allowed the plot to wash over me and became fully invested.
Another gripe I had was that there were times that this felt more like a type of fan fiction. Characters that we’ve spent so much time with felt very different than what we were used to spending time with previously. Now I get that the story takes place much later after the conclusion of Deathly Hollows so I know Harry and Co. are not still going to act like children in their 40s. It’s not just the actions they take but huge sudden shift in personalities that really betray the way Rowling built up the characters from before. I don’t want to spoil anything for those who haven’t read it, but certain character motivations just seem to come from left field and are not in any way based in what previously existed. This is probably a product of Rowling not actually writing the story herself but it’s noticeable enough to at least make mention to those expecting same old Harry Potter and his friends and family.
Now I’d like to focus on what worked. First and foremost, the story itself is at all times equal parts epic and intimate. While there’s a lot of time traveling to be done and most of your favorite locations from the previous books are re visited here, there’s a level intimacy in the narrative spine of the tale you’re being told in these 300 pages. Though Harry’s name is blasted in large print on the front cover, this is ultimately his son Albus Severus Potter’s story. The question of his legacy as the son of The Boy Who Lived and Harry’s struggle to be a proper parent to the boy are really the focus even in the fantastical scenes of time travel. The whole plot is set in motion by Albus’ need to stand apart from the shadow cast by his father. This desire to prove something gets him and his friend Scorpius Malfoy (yes, the son of Draco) into all manner of hijinks that mess with the very fabric of time and threaten the nature of the universe they inhabit.
The Harry Potter saga has always been known for its relatability to its audience. It was a story filled with magic and all sorts of wonder but at the end of the day something its core audience can feel a sense of familiarity with. However, most of that audience has grown up since the last novel and the same sort of story just wasn’t going to click. We needed something that could speak to us at this point in our lives. Thankfully when the novel focused on Harry and the old crew, it did just that. Whether it was the struggle of parenthood or the mundane drone like feeling of every day adulthood, we’ve all at one point in our lives felt inadequacy in the wake of something bigger than us. Harry Potter may be “the boy who lived” or the “savior of the wizarding world” but when the dust settles and the pomp and circumstance of being a hero fades away… What’s left?
When the writers focus on Albus and Scorpius, it’s pretty much business as usual over at Hogwarts. That’s not to say that it’s necessarily a bad thing but you pretty much know what you’re going to get if you’ve read the entire series up until this point. The time travel hijinks are fun and visiting past events from a different angle provide a unique perspective on landmark moments in the HP saga, but it’s not quite different enough to really excite you. It’s all the stuff going on with Harry that really kept me turning pages all hours into the night. This is a man who had the whole world (literally!) resting upon his shoulders, so it felt natural that his story progresses to this point. Reading about the prophesied savior of the world struggle with being a parent and the everyday aspects of normal life felt wholly different from the days of managing mischief and horcrux hunting. I’ve only just recently become a parent myself, so to see some of my own nerves about this newfound role which has been given to me so brilliantly represented in the pages of a fantasy story added to my enjoyment of the proceedings.
I could probably keep going on the ups and downs and the various intricacies at play here. Overall despite the truncated and different format, and the sometimes fan fiction feel, this is a rather worthy follow up and conclusion to the Potter saga. It won’t take up much of your time and you’ll feel completely entertained all the same. If you check expectations at the door, realize that this isn’t full-fledged Rowling novel like you’re used to and give yourself over to the powerful narrative and thematic elements at play, you’ll still be just as rewarded.